11/21/2011 08:40 am ET | Updated Jan 21, 2012

Shopping for Real Food on a Budget

My last blog "How to Grocery Shop Like a Hunter-Gatherer," generated a lot of discussion. One complaint was that eating real food is too expensive for many Americans. I present ideals when I write about food. If only everyone could eat real, whole, living food our health care problems would decline. Unfortunately tax dollars do not go to subsidizing small farmers and ranchers, but to corporations that grow the soy, corn and wheat that go into making the factory food products that are ruining our health. Although I could go on a major rant about that, it's more productive to think of ways to help financially challenged Americans find ways to improve their nutrition.

If you're struggling financially, you may become discouraged and sink into the convenience of eating factory produced food. Eating factory produced food can be a slippery slope to ill health, which I believe will tether you to doctor's appointments and the frustrating world of healthcare/insurance. The reason we want to eat real food is to build up more than we break down. Our bodies are constantly breaking down on a cellular level. The dead material is swept away, new building materials are brought in and the repair, maintenance and rebuilding begins. Building materials are the biochemicals in real, whole, living food. If you don't supply your body with building materials, it will break down more than it builds back up again. Eventually this will lead to accelerated aging (obesity, disease and the outward manifestations such as wrinkles, cellulite, thinning hair, tooth loss).

If you're game to begin a real food diet on a budget, begin by committing to a food hunt and to preparing what your hunt brings home.

Cut the obvious toxins
I suggest avoiding the obvious toxins like soft drinks, chips and other snacks, cereal, nondairy coffee creamers and bottled salad dressings/sauces. Use the money you would spend on these products to buy real food, even if it's not organic.

Avoid toxic fats
I believe in avoiding margarine or any other partially hydrogenated fat. Avoid canola, corn, safflower, sunflower, peanut, and soy oils. These are omega-6 oils that create inflammation that are potentially linked to degenerative disease. Cook with olive oil, even if you can't afford organic olive oil. Buy olive oil in small tins or dark glass, and keep it in the refrigerator. (Exposing oils/fats to heat, light and oxygen creates free radical oxidation.)

Avoid eating food products that contain the fats listed above.

Make your own

  • Make your own soups, casseroles, enchiladas, beans, legumes, chili, lasagna, and other recipes that you can section out and freeze.
  • Make your own tomato and other sauces, jellies, chutney and marmalade.
  • Bake your own cakes and cookies using real butter, even if you can't afford organic.
  • Air-pop your popcorn, sprinkle with salt and melted butter. (Buy an air-popper at Target or Amazon for less than $20.)
  • Make your own trail mix.
  • Make your own granola (see recipe below).

Buy in bulk
Beans, legumes, grains and nuts are generally cheaper when you buy in bulk. So is meat (see below).

Animal products differ from animal foods. Animal products have been raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These products contain numerous toxins that can be harmful to humans including hormones, drugs, pesticides, herbicides and GMO residues. Animal foods come from humanely raised animals that have been fed species appropriate food.

One way to save on humanely raised meat is to buy in bulk from suppliers. By my calculations, bulk meat is several dollars to one-half the price of butcher shop cuts. Eat Wild is a comprehensive resource to purchase healthy meat in bulk.

Sportsman Against Hunger has organized numerous meat suppliers to supply meat to people in economical hardship.

I called around to find out about buying meat from hunters. This is apparently not legal because the meat doesn't meet USDA requirements (in other words it can't be inspected and taxed). But if you are a hunter, or you fish, you can enjoy true range free elk, deer, turkey, bison, water fowl, geese, pheasant and even cottontail rabbits, as well as fish.

Farmers markets are closing down in snowy states now. But when they do resume, farmers markets are the place to shop for bargains in produce. It takes three years to obtain the "certified organic" label. Many farmers are transitioning to organic, so be sure to ask and find out who sells organic produce.

Get to know the farmers at your market. Ask them for bargains. For example, most sell seconds, which are the less beautifully shaped fruits and tattered looking (but perfectly nutritious) veggies. Go in with friends and ask for discounts if you buy in bulk. Talk to farmers about buying their produce at the end of the day -- stuff they really do not want to haul back to the farm.

Another option is buying a share in a community-supported agri program (CSA). Shareowners chip in to help with a farm's operating expenses. You get boxes of weekly produce. Find CSAs at Alternative Farming Systems, Organic Consumers and Local Harvest.

You can also join a member-owned food cooperative. Many co-ops are organically minded and buy from local family farms. You can look for a co-op in your neighborhood at Cooperative Grocer and Local Harvest.

As snowdrifts blanket farmlands, many people will be forced to buy commercially grown, trucked-in produce. To rid your produce of pesticides, fill up your sink with water and add one cup of vinegar to one gallon of water. Submerge produce, swish and soak for five minutes then scrub with a veggie brush and/or your fingers. Rinse well.

Although some real foods are more expensive than processed foods, there are many examples of factory products that are more expensive than real food. Cereal is one. A box of cereal can run between $2.50 to as high as $6. Amaranth and steel cut oats are considerably cheaper. Hot cereal in the morning is delicious with slivered almonds, dried fruit, butter and whole cream. You can also make your own granola.

Hippie Girl Granola

Makes 10 Servings

1 cup organic rolled oats

1/4 cup each raw, organic pecans, walnuts, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds -- or nuts and seeds of your choice

1/8 cup coconut oil, melted

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon allspice

1/8 cup unrefined, organic honey

1/8 cup organic currants
(or any dried fruit -- figs, raisins, pineapple, apples, bananas)

Pre-heat oven to 350°. In a medium-sized bowl, combine all ingredients except currants, which become teeth-shatteringly hard if you bake them too long. Spread over a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in currants or other dried fruit. Bake another 10 minutes. Remove and cool. Keep in airtight container.

Snack ideas on a budget
I've found that crackers, pretzels, chips, bagged popcorn and other factory made snacks are often filled with toxic oils, sugar, and mineral stripped salt. And they can be expensive. When you're feeling hungry, it's your body requesting building materials. Leftovers from dinner are a perfect snack when you're feeling hungry in the afternoon.

Other snack ideas
Peanut, cashew or almond butter on celery stalks

Sliced apple, sprinkled with cinnamon
Cottage cheese 
with fruit
Avocado with tuna salad

Dried fruit and string cheese
Mixed nuts or homemade trail mix
Devilled eggs
Hummus with carrot sticks and bell pepper strips

City water can be contaminated with aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, chlorine and the disinfection by-products of the chlorination of water, fluoride, fungicides, herbicides, hormones, industrial solvents (such as vinyl chloride, dioxin, benzene, acrylamide and polychlorinated biphenyls), lead, mercury and pharmaceutical compounds, including pain killers. These toxins will chip away at your health. I suggest installing a point of use water purification system under your kitchen sink for drinking water and cooking.

Countertop water filtration systems don't filter out all the toxins. Reverse osmosis is considered the best system for overall water purification because it removes 95 to 99 percent of all contaminants from water. Looking online I found systems as cheap as $199. But you want to make sure that the supplier guarantees that the system you buy removes at least 95 percent of contaminants.

I realize that eating real food and drinking clean water on a budget takes more effort than strolling into a glitzy health food store and piling up your cart. I'm on your side and hope that more people will turn into modern hunter-gatherers who eat only real food.