A Day in the Life: Diana (Real Food Mama Shopping for the Healthiest Food at the Lowest Prices)

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Written by Diana, Contributing Writer

I don’t know about you, but these past few years have been the most challenging, economically, for my family.

When my husband and I had our first child six years ago, we made the decision to sacrifice my career in favor of raising our children at home. Three children later, it’s been an up and down struggle, but through every situation God has provided for all of our needs.

What’s been truly amazing is witnessing how our dependance on Him strengthens my family’s love for one another – through every valley we continue to press on.

Rising Cost of Food

One of the ways this economy has challenged my family is in the rising cost of food.  Four years ago, I was able to spend $100 a week on our groceries.  Today,  I struggle to keep my costs under $140 a week.  Without a pay increase over the past four years, you can see how this directly effects our budget.

However, I’m a determined real food mama and one thing I will not sacrifice is the quality of food to nourish my babies.

Follow me along on my normal Saturday routine to shopping for the Healthiest Food at the Lowest Prices.

7am: Farmers Market, Spending Allowance $20

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This year I’ve had so much produce growing at home that I didn’t need to go as often to the farmers market; however when I do go (as I did this past weekend) this is my routine

The best place to save money on vegetables, besides growing your own, is at the farmers market.  Not only are you supporting local farmers but you’re getting vegetables with the highest amount of nutrients grown chemical free.  It doesn’t get better than that, folks.

So on Saturday mornings, I nurse little mama and head out to arrive at the Des Moines Farmers Market by 7am… on the dot.  Like clockwork, I arrive downtown in about 10 minutes, pull out $20 from my bank, park in my usual spot, and head up the street to start my rounds.

This is the street I start on.

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There are a couple of reasons that I intentionally make sure to be there for the opening bell.

1. Des Moines is a multi-cultural city and let me tell you, people of all different ethnicities hit the farmers market at 7am to get the best pick of the day.

Here’s my first stop.  Yang’s.

Yang and his family wave me in every Saturday morning when they see me walking up the street and always send me off with something new to try.

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However, this is 7am on the dot.  You see what I mean?  Now that it’s preserving season, people of all different ethnicities literally leave with bags of peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, and greens.   They walk off with boxes or carrying bags on their heads.  It’s really neat to see.

2. At around 8:30am – 9am,  the rest of Des Moines make their way to the market and this is what it looks like.

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This is why I get there early; to avoid the crowd.

The picture below shows you what I purchased this past weekend.

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A box of tomatoes, Fall lettuce mix, sour leaves, green onions, melon, jicama, 3 bags of mini eggplants, cilantro, onions.  All for $23.  A little over budget but not a big deal since I walked away with a box of tomatoes to preserve.

8am – Head home

I like to be done at the farmers’ market by 8am to avoid the madness as I showed you above.  Once home, I nurse little mama and head out to West Des Moines to finish my shopping.

10am – Trader Joes, Spending Allowance $50 – $70

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I can’t even begin to tell you how blessed we are to have a Trader Joes in our area.  Their prices can’t be beat and neither can the quality of their products.

I try to keep my budget at $50 for Trader Joes; however, depending on what I’m buying this price can fluctuate.  If I need to get organic hot dogs, or chicken legs etc… the price is closer to $70.  (Oh yeah, organic Spanish tempranillo wine as well ;)

Items I buy at TJ’s include… bananas, organic potatoes, organic onions, organic garlic, organic spinach, oranges, organic strawberries, organic chicken legs, organic plain whole milk yogurt, butter, grassfed cheese, cheese sticks, organic raisins, raw almonds, organic rolled oats, tortillas, pita bread, Spanish extra virgin olive oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil, organic peanut butter, organic mac and cheese, organic pasta, organic basmati rice, organic chocolate, organic Spanish wine, nourish shampoo, natural soaps… just to name a few.

10:30am – Costco

I shop at Costco about every two to three weeks.  Generally, the food I buy from Costco is pure maple syrup, organic tortilla chips, cheese, organic frozen broccoli, and corn.

11:00am – Walmart, Spending Allowance $40

I know… many of you may not even like to say the word Walmart; however, there are only a few things I pick up from there in order to save money for my family.

Specifically, fruits on the clean 15 list.  Currently, avocados and mangos.  I also pick up Muir Glen organic canned tomatoes, cottage cheese, and Spanish chorizo sausage.  Also, we buy natural cleaners and toiletries from there as well.

As you can tell, what’s missing is our milk and meat.

Milk, Spending Allowance $24.50

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For the past three years we have been purchasing raw milk from a local farmer.  This past week; however, we found out that the price per gallon has increased by $2. Our DARNED ECONOMY!!  We had to make the difficult decision to stop buying raw, for now.  We’ll be buying a local VAT pasteurized milk which will save us money as well.  We’ll now be spending $14 per week on milk.

Meat

All our meat is also purchased from local farmers.  We’ve been blessed to have been able to barter for our meat which has saved my family a considerable amount of money.  I wrote about this on a series I had on my website called, A Real Food, Food Budget.

12:00pm – Home from an entire morning of shopping… whew!

All in all, each week, I try to spend $130 – $140 a week on real food for a family of four.

If I have to buy from Costco, I cut my spending at Trader Joes and Walmart.

It’s a lot of work shopping at all of these different places but it’s what I have to do in order to be able to buy the quality of products that I do.

To save further, I  make my own bread and we have our own backyard chickens for eggs.  On this budget, I’m still able to be committed to buying local, growing and raising my own, and buying organic.

The economy may have effected my family; but as you can see, God continues to provide daily.

Stephanie’s note: I love what Diana has shared in this post and it’s so helpful to see the step-by-step process of how she buys her food! Her strategies for saving money on whole, real foods are similar to many of mine that I shared in my book Real Food on a Real Budget. If you’re trying to figure out how to keep your expenses low without compromising on what you feed your family, I think you’ll find the book extremely helpful.

Do you shop at different locations to save money on your groceries?  Please feel free to share any tips you may have.

About Diana

As a first generation American, Diana shares her family’s traditional Spanish and Mexican recipes at her blog, My Humble Kitchen. As a mami and urban homesteader she also writes about her faith, family, organic gardening, raising backyard chickens and preserving the harvest.

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Comments

  1. I have home schooled for that last 20 years or so and have been at home with all 4 of our kids. It was never an option for the kids to be with any one else but me while they were growing up. I do the same thing, I go from store to store, getting what we need, it is a bit of work, but it works for our budget. We have Aldi’s here, and Walmart, and Publix supermarkets with their Bogo, buy one get one free. Love it.

  2. So encouraging to know that accross the nation others are making crazy shopping trips too. We used to have “Farm Day” when we purchased more than half of our weekly groceries directly from local farms. Unfortunately one of my main sources of proteins closed last year. Thanks BIG food. . . As a result I’ve spent a better part of the last year trying to find our new groove. I think I’ve found it. Local deli-market for raw milk, raw cheeses, whole fat yogurt, pasteured pork products and local eggs. ( We are working toward sneeking past township zoning rules for chickens) Weekly CSA for about half our fruit & veggie consumption in the week. Local orchard for the other half of the fruits and honey, maple syrup & locally roasted coffee. Everything else, which is only about $50 worth of my $150 weekly grocery budget is from Aldi or Giant and things like spices, flour, rice etc. It takes intention but so worth it.

  3. I LOVE reading how other moms provide food for their families! Thanks for sharing. I really wish I lived in an area where I could have chickens just for the fresh eggs. Our family eats a LOT of eggs. Right now I by the 5 dozen package at costco and it doesn’t last the whole month :)

  4. I do the same shop around to find the healthiest things at the best prices. Congrats on having such a great system! Our local clean meat comes from a network of farms and is delivered flash frozen so I only have to make a trip to the basement freezer for the days meat. Very handy but definitely was a splurge.

  5. I also wanted to mention the scratch and dent stores (salvage groceries). You need to check the dates on some things but they have tons of organic canned goods really cheap. Another huge saver for us is the Amish. We buys gallons of maple syrup for $35 a GALLON. No one, not even Costco, can touch that. I also buy their jams by the case as we are moving to acreage (December) but are still building right now. At that point we will also have chickens for eggs and meat when they are done laying.
    My husband loves shooting so he will be getting some wild game once we move as well.

  6. This series has been such a blessing to me. I, too, am a momma of a fast growing family. Days are packed just like these other women are describing. I try to keep up a blog, but lately, my blogging time has been filled with adoption paperwork.

    I’m just now reading through these “day in the life” posts. We are taking a much needed sabbath and the babes are all resting.

    Thank you for showing me that I’m not crazy (well, maybe a little crazy, but not alone) for having “too many children”, trying to be healthy, and keep up a blog at the same time. :)

  7. I really appreciated this post! We too are on a limited budget and rising food prices are making it hard, but I will give up my cell phone which is our home phone right now) before I will compromise on the quality organic food we are eating right now. But its hard! Your post has motivated me to go back to the farmers markets. Unfortunately, organic produce is still hard to find even in the biggest markets. One thing we do to save money is to raise rabbits for meat ( they taste like chicken – lol) and go in with other families for a portion of a grassfed cow.

  8. I our house we are carnivores. So stretch our meat ( ground meat) I have been adding our abundant supply of zuchhini while it browns. I sliced the zucchini thin and froze it. Then when I need to brown some meat for a meal. I just chop the still frozen zucchini (it kinda of shatters into small pieces) then add to the browning meat. I also add it to any sauce that I can put in the blender. My son is very anti-veggie right now. So when he asked what the yellow stuff was I just said it is flavoring. Thankfully he ask for details.

  9. I just wanted to add in that since meat is going up so high there are alot of ways to stretch hamburger. I have recently added oatmeal while browning it and then only putting in half the amount in. Yes, are diet has become alot of rice in beans. In fact, i have been making black bean brownies, white bean cake, and choc. chip cookies with garbonzo beans….haha! Also, along the meat issue, our local processing business sells soup bones from grassfed/ hormone free beef for $1 pound. Therefore, i can still get nice healthy beef stock for soups etc w/o buying alot of meat. We have alot of diet restrictions (GF, DF) and i am learning not to depend on buying special flours or special yogurts. Those items add alot to a budget. Instead, we do without dairy and i use oats/ brown rice to make anything gluten free. Good luck ladies and keep on keeping on! We are the keepers of our homes and it all starts in the kitchen!

  10. Thanks for this post! Yes Diana, I really agree about getting “real food” for your family. I admire you because you have time for your family and you always put them first. Was it hard for you to give up your career? I believe that family is always priority.

    • Hi Dream Maker. At first it was very difficult. I’m a driven person and before I had my first son was pretty active in my community as a young professional. It really took God to make me realize how important it was to be at home with my children and I was just obedient to his voice. I could definitely go on but it’s been the best thing I could have ever of done for my children and especially my husband. It’s made me depend on my hubby and to admire him for all the work he does to keep our family going. I still work part time (I teach one evening web class a week at a community college) but through everything it’s made us depend on God and to really understand the differences between wants and needs. God is good and faithful!

  11. For those of you around Des Moines you should go to Hillsong Produce Auction in Lamoni Iowa (about 45 min. from Des Moines). It would be well worth the trip. Last week I got butternut squash for .10 each! They have a web site where you can see sale reports.

  12. Wow! I only wish I had that much money to spend on groceries! I guess I’m poor! lol! For our family of 4, I’ve been spending half that(around $60-$70), though each week is a struggle to keep it that low. And no, that is not eating as healthy as all of you. Not much organic, or good meats, etc. We mostly eat basic, whole, foods, as opposed to processed foods. Certainly a step up from the typical American diet, but I don’t think you’d call me a “real food mama”! It’s simply not possible right now. (And, yes, we’ve cut everywhere else, and there’s still no extra. I say that, because most people say cut other expenses and anyone can afford organic food.)
    But anyways, I don’t say that for anyone to feel sorry for me! I know life won’t always be this way. And honestly, I am so blessed….just not with money right now! ; )
    I also shop at different stores to save $ when possible. Typically I go to Sprouts and our local regular grocery store. I am actually quite blessed with tons of different stores to choose from….now there’s even 3 Whole Foods in our city! They’re crazy expensive and a bit out of the way for me, so I don’t frequent it… Sprouts has great sales on produce, bulk items, and meats. I’ve never been to a Trader joes, but I think it’s similiar. I used to go to more stores each week, but now I usually only have a short window of time to shop since we only have 1 car and hubby is usually gone working. But that’s ok…I’m learning to pray and ask the Lord to help me make the most of what time and money I have!

    • Lyss, I completely understand. Many people often give their advice to cut spending. It’s funny to me because we live off so little already, we really can’t cut anything, lol! I think you’re doing a great job. Beans and rice are definitely a staple in my household and also keep our costs down. Thanks for sharing!

    • Lyss,
      Kudos to you for working to make your grocery budget stretch on such limited resources! I’ve just been reading over this post tonight and feeling so encouraged: so I’m NOT crazy that I can’t seem to buy groceries for my growing family of 6 on less than $140/week! But I SOOO get the wrestling with guilt we mama’s feel when we can’t provide “organic” everything/anything for our crew. I think you’re right: the key is in seeking the Lord for wisdom and grace to steward well the time and finances and energy we do have, and just do the best we can. I definately have to just focus on “whole foods” too, and rest in the fact that it’s a WHOLE lot better than the mac ‘n cheese in a box that I grew up on! :-) Be encouraged, that your love for your family and the journey of faith the Lord has your family on right now will yield abundant fruit – organic or not! :-) Blessings!