Stocking your 'real food' kitchen

Tips for cost savings and what to store in your pantry and 'fridge.

Beyond the Peel
Fresh vegetables.

Today’s post is a continuation from "Food makeover: How to set up your 'real food' kitchen." If you haven’t read that, start there first. So, now that you’ve cleaned out the kitchen of processed food, you’re probably thinking, “Now what the heck do I eat?”

Well, it’s time to stock up on the good stuff, but before you fret about spending money at the grocery store, I have good news! Whole foods or real foods, which we’ll refer to as RF for the remainder of this post, are for the most part inexpensive. For those things that can be costly, there are always options. So, don’t worry about cost right now. I’ll provide a list of things you may want to have ready and on hand in your new kitchen.

I also hope to use this post as an open-ended resource for people getting started with real food cooking. If you’re reading this, and you’ve traveled this road before, please add your comments or suggestions for items to keep in the kitchen, here and I will continue to update the list with all your suggestions. We can build the best real food kitchen together!

Frugal Tips To Help You Stock Your Real Food Kitchen

Note: Italicized writing indicates a real life example to illustrate that point.

Buy Smaller Amounts From the Bulk Bin Section (allowing you to buy as little as a tablespoon or less at a time). 

I moved frequently for many years (every 6 months or less) which often forced me to move with what I could fit in my car. I would have to leave everything else in storage or get rid of everything but my most cherished belongings (you’ll have to read the book to find out more…no I haven’t written it yet). Setting up a new kitchen was always the most expensive part. I got wise, instead of going to the spice isle to pay 3 to 6 dollars for a bottle of a specific spice, I often could find it in the bulk section and buy a couple of tablespoons which would cost me usually less than .50 cents ( I also used to do this with pine nuts).

Different stores carry different bulk spices, so just because I couldn’t find it in bulk at the Safeway, often meant I could get it at the local Save On Foods, etc. This system works well with beans and legumes, baking powder, nuts, dried fruit and so on. Quality and freshness can be argued, but if cost is an issue, start here as you build your real food kitchen.

Buying Bulk: Get a Discount For Buying Large Quantities.

Shopping online is a great way to get bulk prices on organic sprouted flour, meat and other products.  You can also stop buy your local organic grocery store to see if they can match the online bulk price.

When we switched over to RF sweeteners such as honey, we found we were going through it very quickly. A post from the Healthy Home Economist recommended we by it bulk in 50 lb. buckets. We’re lucky to have many honey producers in the Valley where we live that produce a very high quality product.

Though I did not buy a bucket nearly as large as 50 lbs., I was able to buy a big enough one for the year. While the initial expense of $50.00 was tough to swallow, we no longer have to make room for it on a biweekly or monthly basis which is so nice, and the overall cost savings is big.

Huge discounts can also be found when buying grass fed or organic meat direct from the farmer or sharing an animal with others looking to stock up on meat. When you buy it in the store there are big premiums on meat. Five years ago my sister would buy a 1/4 buffalo (free range grass fed) for $1.99/lb! I don’t think she still gets that deal, but it just goes to show you the power of bulk. Find local producers and offer to buy a hundred lbs., then split it with 4 or more family and friends so that everyone benefits from the discount, but no one is left holding the burden of 100 lbs. of meat and the expense. Kelly The Kitchen Cop posted a great article about buying grass fed beef at up to 40 percent off. Sure a little planning is involved but I would like to suggest that your body and health is worth it. And your wallet will be happier in the long run.

Buy From a Local Farmer and/or Buy Seasonally (more nutritious too).

We are lucky to live in a fairly temperate climate (at least by Canadian standards), and can buy produce from a local farmer 11 months of the year. I couldn’t tell you how many pounds of produce we would buy, but I would bring a huge plastic bin to the farm, fill it heaping full with everything from beans, peas, corn, squash, cherries, peaches, garlic potatoes and peppers (or whatever else was seasonal) for around $30.

That would last us anywhere from 10 days to 2 weeks. The equivalent amount of food from a grocery store or our farmers market would have cost twice as much. If you live in a large city consider buying from companies that do CSA boxes or deliver fresh seasonal produce right to your door. You’ll be surprised at how much produce you get for your dollar! How do you find one? Google it. Lame answer but it’s true. Every community is different, supporting different farmers, so look around.

Buy From Ethnic Grocery Stores or Aisles (if something seems exotic to you, chances are it’s part of everyday food for someone else, which often translates to inexpensive).

This is one of my favorite tips because it’s amazing how much money it saves me. Large cities have many different ethnic grocery stores to choose from. Cumin for example bought at my local store is about $4 a bottle (small) and coriander runs me about $6. Both of those can be bought either in the Indian aisle or ethnic grocery store for a fraction of the cost. I get a bulk bag for about $4 dollars but get 8 times the amount! The same holds true for chickpea flour, garam masala, lentils, chickpeas, mung beans and so on. The funny part is that I don’t have an ethnic store in our community. These savings are literally found by shopping two aisles over! If you live in the States, finding deals on Mexican spices and peppers are a breeze.


The Specifics On What to Buy

So now that we’re all a little richer with our money saving tips, here’s how to spend your hard earned cash. Now, remember, this is a suggested list. You may only buy a fraction of what is recommended here. Start with the foods you know how to cook or those that most interest you. From there you’ll be able to build on it as you become more confident and proactive at learning new techniques and how to use unfamiliar products.

Note: There are hundreds of varieties of beans, legumes and pulses and I won’t overwhelm you by listing them all, but rather I want to provide you with a list that should get you started. Pick a couple items from every category if you’re feeling overwhelmed. If it comes in a package absolutely read the ingredient list. It’s happened a few times when I’ve bought dried fruit, for example, then I get home and find out by reading the label that they’ve added all kinds of hydrogenated oil and sugars to them. Why add sugar to fruit? Chances are they were very good or ripe to start with. Why add oil? To keep them soft and moist. Done properly these ingredients wouldn’t be necessary.

From the Pantry

Beans, Legumes and Pulses

Natural Sweeteners


Nuts, Seeds and Oils
This could be an endless list, so just pick a couple and build from there. Try to source raw nuts.

Dried Fruit and Berries

Spices and Herbs
Listed here are the ones I keep dry and on hand (basil, sage and mint are listed under fresh ingredients)

  • paprika
  • ground cumin
  • cumin seed
  • mustard seed
  • coriander
  • oregano
  • bay leave
  • thyme
  • rosemary
  • dry mustard
  • clove
  • Chinese 5 spice
  • nutmeg
  • cinnamon
  • cardamom
  • garam masala
  • cayenne
  • chili peppers, dried
  • chipotle peppers
  • turmeric
  • marjoram

Fresh on the Counter or In The Fridge
Buy organic if you can, but it’s not necessary for this step. Remember, not to get overwhelmed, we just want to start taking the steps towards real food. Baby steps are an important part of the process.  


  • apples
  • oranges
  • limes
  • grapefruit
  • lemons
  • pineapple
  • bananas
  • strawberries
  • blueberries
  • blackberries
  • melons (watermelon, honey dew, cantaloupe, etc.)
  • grapes
  • apricots
  • pears
  • cherries

Dairy and Eggs

  • full fat plain yogurt or Greek yogurt (ingredient list should read milk and active bacterial culture and maybe cream)
  • full fat sour cream
  • regular cottage
  • eggs
  • milk
  • cheeses of your choice (no processed cheese slices please)


I won’t provide a list here but rather some guidelines. Buy from a local farmer or grass fed, free range and/or organic if you can and buy in bulk to economize. When buying fish use Ocean Wise Programs or Seafood Watch for buying guides. If you’re really new to RF and the meat you eat usually comes in the form of fish sticks and pre-made hamburgers and hotdogs, first focus on buying meat that still looks like it came from an animal. You can always move on from there when you’re ready.

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