How to lower your real food grocery bills to $100/week

July 17, 2013

Lower your grocery bills to $100/weekRecently I’ve been posting photos of my grocery receipts to Facebook and I’m surprised at the attention they have received. Apparently, you are spending too much on groceries. Not a little too much – like a lot too much.

And I’ve done it too. When I’m not paying attention, when I’m rushed or stressed, the bills can go up to crazy high, budget-breaking numbers. Eek.

So I’m going to swoop in today and stop the bleeding for all of us. Because I want you to eat real food, oh yes, certainly I do. But this idea that healthy food is expensive?


Let’s kick that notion in the ass right now.


Real food is as close as possible to how Mother Nature presents it.

That means, humans haven’t done a lot to it. They haven’t processed or added anything to it. They probably haven’t designed fancy packages for it or spent very much money marketing it. When was the last time you saw a TV ad for fresh carrots?

In short, real food is generally inexpensive.

So why does Whole Foods get the nickname Whole Wallet?

You want to be healthy. So do I. Know what that’s called? A marketing opportunity. It means they can take carrots and carve them into attractive nubs and sell them as “baby carrots” for twice as much. Or find “organic” carrots grown in Mexico (where organic standards are less strictly adhered to) and sell them for three times as much.

I’m not saying that’s exactly what happens or that you shouldn’t buy carrots. But this IS the kind of thing that happens to food, in general, to take advantage of “healthy shoppers.” Get my drift? But don’t send hate mail to Whole Foods. They are just doing their job, which is to sell food.

Don’t get mad. Get smart.

How do I shop for a week, feeding my family of 2 adults and 1 hungry toddler, for about $100?

Start with a plan
Going shopping with no idea what you are shopping for is an excellent way to spend money on things you won’t use. Or buy duplicates of things you already have. The best way to lower your grocery bills is to decide what you need and make a list.

Shop from your pantry first
If you’re like me, you have half a grocery store in your house. Plan to cook the food you’ve already paid for. Big savings there!

And before you leave for the store, cross check your list with your pantry. Maybe you already have that cinnamon. Bam. Just saved $3.

Buy what’s in season and on sale
This requires a bit of flexibility on your part. But say you are planning to make a cherry pie and cherries are $9.99/lb. Then you notice that blueberries are at the height of their season and on sale for $3.99/lb.

A blueberry pie just became a delicious, cost-saving technique.

I use this substitution idea a lot. Always look for similar items at a lower cost. Here are some common items I swap to save money if it makes sense for my recipe:

Baby spinach –> regular spinach, Swiss chard or romaine lettuce (depending on use)

Quinoa –> brown rice or millet

Pine nuts –> sunflower seeds

Steak –> ground beef

Compare prices, being aware of pricing structures
It’s easy to compare the price of one item to another. But make sure the items are of equal amounts. Sometimes, a 10 oz. package of plain crackers will be $5. A package of sesame crackers by the same brand will also be $5. But the sesame crackers, in the same size box, may only hold 8 oz.

Another example is how, for some reason, kale is usually sold for $2.99/bunch. The bunches vary in size, but they are always the same price. So buy the biggest one! On the other hand, cabbage is sold for $2.99/lb., which means if you buy a big head of cabbage, you’re going to pay more. Do you need all that cabbage?

Eat less meat
Animal products are more expensive than plant-based food. It’s true. Choosing to eat vegetarian meals a few times a week is a huge way to save – and I think that’s a healthy way to eat. A little bit of everything.

When you ARE buying animal products, keep in mind that some are more economical than others. Buy a whole chicken instead of boneless breasts – you can use the carcass to make homemade stock. Buy ground beef instead of sirloin steak – it’s half the cost. Eggs are perhaps the least expensive source of animal protein. And all of these tips are particularly important when you are buying top-quality products from pastured animals.

Cook in big batches
If you cook 5 different recipes, you’ll need unique ingredients for all 5. And you’ll invariably end up wasting half a bunch of parsley or half a can of coconut milk. It’s most economical to double or triple your recipes and use more of the same ingredients.

Plus, you won’t have to cook as often. Win!

I could go on and on. When I go grocery shopping, it’s like a full contact sport! Remember that show “Supermarket Sweep”? It was my favorite!

Here are some last simple tips:
– Get familiar with the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide so you know when it’s really important to buy organic, or not.
– Buy nuts, grains, beans and dried fruit from bulk bins
– Buy only what you need
– Don’t buy something just because it’s on sale
– Shop from the top and bottom shelf (where lower-cost brands are usually hiding)
– Buy fewer packaged, prepared, processed foods
– Shop at a variety of places. Your Farmer’s Market may have better quality and prices than the grocery store.
– Make your own, when possible. Dried beans are cheaper than canned. Homemade stock is practically free.

You’re off and running!

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