I remember it as if it happened yesterday.
"Honey, I feel like we don't have any food in the house. I feel like we're always eating out of boxes."
As I looked around the kitchen, I realized he was right.
Our kitchen was filled with all sorts of boxes that were supposed to be food, but very little food itself. This was the result of a year worth of couponing and stocking up when the prices were too good to pass up. Of course it was never my intention to feed my family boxes, but manufacturers don't issue coupons for bananas or beans or whole chickens. We were on a very tight budget, so I used coupons and bought only what was on sale. Unfortunately, that meant we were buying mostly food that came in boxes.
However, the fact that my husband noticed the boxes and brought it to my attention meant that something had to change.
I started to read about the dangers of the processed foods in these boxes, disguised as "ready to eat meals," and what I learned scared me! To think that I could be harming my kids instead of nourishing them made me think twice about what was in our kitchen.
In two short weeks, I threw away most of the boxes that were in our kitchen and got rid of all the junk. I stopped worrying about the boxed foods that were on sale and concentrated on the single ingredient foods on sale instead. We've now been on a real food journey for almost 18 months and we haven't looked back. In fact, not only do we eat better food, but we spend less money too!
Here are three simple steps that you can take to start eating real food, instead of pre-packaged, processed food from boxes:
1. Eliminate every item in your kitchen that has either trans fat or high fructose corn syrup.
For trans fat, you'll have to turn each item around and read the list of ingredients since the nutrition labels don't always tell you the full truth. Foods can contain less than 0.5g of trans fat per serving and still have "0" listed on the label. Manufacturers wiggle around this rule by reducing the serving sizes. You can be smarter by throwing away anything with the words hydrogenated and/or partially-hydrogenated. High fructose corn syrup is an artificially made, cheap sugar substitute that is proving to be very addictive and quite dangerous to the body. Both of these additives are in foods you might not expect - hydrogenated oil is in coffee creamer and high fructose corn syrup is in salad dressings. Don't assume any food is safe. Read every single label. This step alone will eliminate 90% of the junk from your kitchen!
2. Buy simple foods that contain only one ingredient.
Bananas are bananas. White rice is white rice. These types of foods takes the guess work out of mystery ingredients listed on labels. It also means no more "just add this" type of meals. So be prepared to do a little bit of leg work to find recipes that are both delicious and easy to make. My favorite real food dinners for under $5 are listed here.
3. Read every single label from here on out. No exceptions.
It's ingredients that really sets apart processed food from real foods. Despite their savvy marketing techniques, manufacturers of processed foods can't get around this simple fact. Arm yourself with knowledge and don't buy anything that has anything listed that you're unsure of. It's easy to get lax and reach for a box of something when you're shopping. Instead be mindful by reading the label. This makes every purchase purposeful, so there's no more excuses as to why there's boxes in the kitchen instead of food.
Does the idea of eating real food overwhelm you? Do you need some help with eating better without spending more money?
First, remember that real food is a journey. It's a lifelong process, made up of baby steps taken one after the other in the direction of "better."
Here are some additional resources to help you achieve your real food and grocery budgeting goals:
22 Days to a Fresh Start - A free eBook for subscribers of Don't Waste the Crumbs. It will help you clean out your kitchen and pare down your budget so that you can start your own real food journey with a clean slate.
Frugal Grocery Budget Printables - Five pages to get you started on the process of creating a frugal grocery budget, also free for subscribers of Don't Waste the Crumbs. They'll ensure no stone is left unturned as you set boundaries and goals for your own real food spending.
Money Saving Tips - A compilation of frugal ideas to help you stretch your pennies both in the kitchen and around the house
Tiffany is a frugal foodie – passionate about feeding her family healthy food while being a good steward of her family’s finances. She's a homeschooling mother of two, loving wife to one, and a child of God blessed in more ways than she can count. She shares her enthusiasm for affording real food without going broke at Don’t Waste the Crumbs. Join Tiffany and the Crumbs Community on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter, and subscribe to the weekly newsletter for encouragement on taking small, simple steps to healthier living.