What does a family of 5 eat while saving money and eating healthy? How do you celebrate birthdays and deal with food restrictions on a budget? Here is exactly what we bought and what we ate on our fourth week of #RealFoodCheap.

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Real Food Cheap: Week 4

Our family of 5 big eaters eats real food on a $90/week grocery budget, or about $360/month.

Saving money and eating healthy is challenging! Our goal is to inspire, encourage, and equip you by showing you how we do it.

Whether you are just trying to make ends meet, paying off debt, or saving for a big dream, you can care for your body and your finances in the tight seasons. Get our Food Rules and why we are doing this here.

We share weekly updates here, but I also post to Instagram and Facebook throughout the week with the hashtag #RealFoodCheap.

happy birthday candles

Birthdays on a Budget

This week, we celebrated a birthday and hosted out of town guests. We aren’t big spenders when it comes to birthdays. In the past, we’ve done everything from not buying any gifts (cheers for grandparents who mail gifts and for preschoolers who don’t notice!), to thrifting all of their gifts, to letting our kids choose between a birthday party and gifts.

Once, we got our son a bike. Since that was basically his only gift, we created an elaborate scavenger hunt to make the memory extra special.

Birthday parties can get expensive, and we want our kids to decide what they really care about instead of feeling entitled to everything.

I’m positive no parent raises their kid perfectly, so we’ll see how this worked in 20 years after mine go to therapy.

A few frugal ways we celebrate each kid:

  • Decorations when they wake up in the morning – simple, fun. Right now it mostly means streamers taped across their bedroom doorway so they have to break through it in the morning.
  • Birthday kid gets to choose breakfast, lunch, and dinner on their birthday
  • And of course, they get to choose their cake/dessert
birthday groceries

The “compromise foods” we bought for this birthday

This Week’s Birthday Menu:

Because my kids eat mostly real food, their birthday food choices are typically junk food. I tell myself it’s a compliment that these feel like special-occasion foods. Whatever makes me feel better.


Aldi brand frosted flakes with almond milk


Domino’s pizza

Vanilla ice cream for dessert


Aldi’s gluten-free chicken nuggets

Romaine lettuce salad with goat cheese

birthday cake

We had a Hogwarts-themed birthday party, and the cake decor was in reference to the books and movie.

For his birthday party, we made this sour cream pound cake (the best) in two round cake pans a few weeks ago and froze it so we had less to do on party day.

Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free

New curveball this week. In general, we try to avoid a lot of gluten. We are not allergic, but we have a mild intolerance. This week, I had to crack down on that.

And sometimes our family has to avoid dairy. We’ve had a lot more than usual the past few months, and we all started exhibiting symptoms that tell me we need to be more careful.

We were strictly gluten-free and dairy-free for many years on a tight budget, so this is nothing new. But you might see some weird allergy-friendly ingredients in our grocery hauls.

kroger haul

Grocery Haul

We ended last week $19 under budget, so this week we had $109 for groceries. Here is what we bought:


15-oz canned coconut milk – $1.99/each

Dairy-free yogurt (almond and coconut milk) – $2.99

15-oz canned pumpkin (scratch and dent) – $.49/each

Broccoli pearls (markdown) – $1.99/lb

Multi-grain Cheerios (scratch and dent) – $2.29/family-size box

Total spent at Kroger $15

costco haul


Kirkland sharp cheddar cheese – $2.50/lb

Kirkland colby jack cheese – $2.50/lb

Organic romaine hearts – $4.99 for 6 hearts

Frozen fruit blend – $1.92/lb

Udi’s gluten-free bread – 4.99/loaf (these loaves are larger than what I find at Kroger or Aldi! I hate paying this much for bread, but sometimes convenience wins)

Total spent at Costco $35

aldi haul


Gala apples – $1.33/lb

Butter – $2.56/lb

Goat cheese – $1.99/8-oz pkg

Unsweetened almond milk – $1.89/half gal

Eggs – $.88/doz

Bananas – $.44/lb

Whole carrots – $.49/lb

Celery – $1.29/bunch

Grape tomatoes  – $1.69/pint

Half & half – $1.69/qrt

Hummus – $1.89/8-oz

Compromise & Birthday Foods

I lost my receipt so I don’t have exact prices for all of these. But whatever, it’s just the junk food, and I don’t recommend buying it anyway.

We bought these for my son’s birthday wish list and for a social gathering I hosted one evening this week. I provided assorted dips and snacks.

Gluten-free crackers

Pita chips

Gluten-free chicken nuggets

Frosted flakes

Microwave popcorn

Ice cream (clean ingredients!) – $4.19/48-oz

Total spent at Aldi $46

Total spent this week: $96

($13 left for next week)

toasted oatmeal

Toasted oatmeal – a new recipe we tried and loved!

Real-Life Menu

Since real life doesn’t usually look like the cute menu plans we try to make at the beginning of the week, here is what we actually ate on our fourth week of Real Food Cheap.


We had green smoothies, apples, or frozen fruit a few times between meals, and we frequently eat a fourth small meal.

What we ate:



The kids took care of themselves today, so they had some cereal (our hidden stash in the top of the pantry), apples, etc.

I ate “brunch”:

Chicken with spring mix salad, organic dried cranberries (super cheap in Kroger’s scratch and dent section), almonds, goat cheese, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette (a recipe I have yet to perfect – if you have any you love, please share them in the comments!)


Free pizza at a community event


My family had chicken, rice, salad, and chips and salsa

I spent the evening at a surprise party for a friend and ate a salad there



Kids ate:

Demolished the tail end of the clearance cereal. I promise, I will start feeding them better in the mornings.

I ate:

Brunch again – spring mix salad with scrambled eggs and toast. Weird but good. Kids did not complain that I fed myself better than I fed them.


Kids ate:

Sandwiches, salad, and frozen fruit

I ate:

More salad – I bought like two lbs of it, so I’m kind of committed until it’s gone.


Spaghetti squash with simple homemade pumpkin marinara (marinara plus pumpkin puree. Done. So good.)



Toasted Oatmeal and Soft Scrambled Eggs from Pretty Simple Cooking (a new favorite cookbook!)


Smoky Lentil Stew (from the same cookbook – seriously, I love this thing)


Leftover lentil stew



Toasted oatmeal, smoothies, and 3-Ingredient Pumpkin Pancakes (1/2 pumpkin + 2 eggs + pinch pumpkin spice)


Leftover lentil stew and salad


Ladies’ night:

Veggies & hummus

Pumpkin pie hummus & apples

And a friend brought some delicious samosas!


The rest of the week was full of birthdays and house guests, so I didn’t record what we ate. However, we stuck to our budget and are ready for week 5!

Week 4 Thoughts

Birthdays and food restrictions on a budget: these have been a bigger part of our lives than I ever would have guessed or preferred. We’ll see how next week goes as we finish the rest of the dairy in the house and revisit our favorite alternatives.

Save Money, Eat Healthy!

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Week 4 pin graphic