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In my opinion, meal planning is the key to saving money at the grocery store. It allows you to look at your pantry before heading out and take inventory of what you have in order to plan your purchases around that.

Two key elements that saves my family money is having a well stocked pantry and buying our meat in bulk from family farmers. I plan on writing a post about each of these topics in the coming week.

For now, I’d like to share with you how I meal plan and where I shop to buy organic/real foods to stay within my grocery budget.

Meal Planning 101

Before I start to plan my meals for the week, I review what food I already have in my deep freeze, pantry, and upright refrigerator/freezer.

Once I’ve taken a visual inventory, I’m able to plan my meals around what meats I already have and re-stock with items that I need.

When I start to plan my meals, I go through some of my cookbooks and any new dishes I’ve pinned on my pinterest, “scrumptious food” board.

Since I blog about food, I like to try something new once a week and keep things simple throughout the rest of the week. This is especially true on two nights of the week I teach during the evening.

In my head, as I’m planning I generally know how much things are going to cost for what I need.

My families weekly budget for groceries is $120 a week.  I try to hit $100 and not go over $120.  Sometimes we spend more and other weeks a lot less.  This is where I’m excited to start an envelope cash system.  Starting next month my family will be budgeting and paying in cash.  This will allow me to save from one week to the next and hopefully be able to save some money for bulk Azure Standard buys.

Below is a pdf file of my meal plan for this week.  Click to Enlarge.

How I Save Money on Real Food

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1. In order to buy the foods that I want at the prices that fit within my budget, I shop at 3-4 different stores per week.  

Generally, Trader Joe’s, Costco, Walmart, and my family farmer.  Since the first three grocery stores are all next to each other, I shop at those three places on one day.

From my grocery list above, you’ll notice that the majority of my purchases are produce.  Vegetables and fruits.  Once the farmers market starts on May 5th and my gardens start producing I’ll see a dramatic decrease in my grocery bill (and a lot more produce as well).

2. In order to stay within my budget, I buy my produce according to the dirty dozen list and top 15 clean list.

The Dirty Dozen List  

  • celery
  • peaches
  • strawberries
  • apples
  • domestic blueberries
  • nectarines
  • sweet bell peppers
  • spinach, kale and collard greens
  • cherries
  • potatoes
  • imported grapes
  • lettuce

I purchase most of these vegetables organically at Trader Joe’s.  Once my gardens are producing and the farmers market starts, I grow my own and shop local.

Top 15 Clean List

  • onions
  • avocados
  • sweet corn
  • pineapples
  • mango
  • sweet peas
  • asparagus
  • kiwi fruit
  • cabbage
  • eggplant
  • cantaloupe
  • watermelon
  • grapefruit
  • sweet potatoes
  • sweet onions

I buy most of the items above at Walmart.

3. I buy my produce in season.

Although I can buy organic strawberries in February, I won’t purchase them until they are in season during the Spring. If you buy them during the off season they can cost up to $8 a quart or if you wait until they are in season during the Spring, you can purchase them at $3 a quart.  You’ll always get the best quality and best prices when you buy in season. 

I won’t spend less and buy non-organic produce out of season, this holds especially true if it’s on the dirty dozen list.

One thing that works well for people living in colder climates is that tropical fruits are in season during our winters.  They’re on the clean 15 and make up most of the fruit my family eats during the winter months.  (mango’s, kiwi, pineapple, grapefruit, and oranges)

4. I don’t buy processed foods.

If you look at my grocery list above, I don’t buy many processed foods.  Every now and then a bag of chips or a box of cereal gets put into the cart.  However, that’s few and far between.  By making all of my meals from scratch, I save money.

If you look at my meal plan, just because I’m cooking from scratch doesn’t mean I’m taking a whole lot of time to do it.  Most of my meals take 30-45 minutes to prep and cook.

5. I stick to my list.  As best as I can, I try to stick to my list and not let other items enter in.  If I don’t get something on my list, then I usually allow a substitute 😉  However, sticking to my list ensures that I stick to my budget.

Total Grocery Bill This Week:

Trader Joe’s: $48.19

Walmart: $40.65

Total: $88.84

I still need to purchase raw milk and grassfed beef from my family farmer this week at a total of $18.00.

Grand Total: $106.84

Under budget!

One thing to remember is that many of the items I needed for my meal plan this week I already had. Which brings me to the next few posts I plan on sharing.

Coming Up in the “Real Food” Food Budget Series

Coming up in our series…

The importance of having a well stocked pantry and buying in bulk.  This includes the money my family saves yearly by buying and bartering pastured and grassfed meat in bulk from family farmers.  If it weren’t for the fact that my family still has meat in our deep freeze, our grocery bill would be higher.

It’s definitely worth the investment.

If you’d like your own meal plan printable to use, feel free to download it by clicking here.  I’ve created it for anyone to use free.

Do you meal plan?  Feel free to share any tips on how you save money on real food for your family.

Diana is a mother of three, proud wife, and humbled daughter of God. She finds the most joy meeting with Jesus in her organic gardens. She is completely blessed to be able to call herself a stay at home mom where she home educates her children, joyfully serves her husband, and cooks nourishing, real food, for her family. She loves connecting with people on facebook, google+, pinterest, and instagram.

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