We investigated foodways at Real Alto, an early Formative (4400–1800 BC) Valdivia site in coastal Ecuador, using starch and phytoliths recovered from 50 stone tools from three residential and two ceremonial structures, as well as 46 human dental calculus samples, to explore how food reflects the social relationships and economy of the community. Maize was important in daily meals and ceremonial foods by the Middle Valdivia (2800–2400 BC), but it was only one component of an agricultural system that included yuca, arrowroot, llerén, canna, yam, jackbean, squash, gourd, chili, and cotton. Ceremonial and everyday foods at Real Alto did not differ: actions surrounding food were both domestic and ceremonial, depending on context. Households had equal access to annual crops and to root-tubers with longer growing seasons. Gelatinized starch was commonly recovered on tools, indicating the processing of cooked foods. Dental calculus residues confirmed common consumption of cooked foods, fruits, and root-tubers. Cultivating crops with different water and growing season requirements necessitated diverse practices, potentially including selection of short-season varieties, hand watering, and growing crops over multiple rainy seasons. The latter two practices required increased labor inputs: access to labor was likely a key element supporting the nascent social hierarchy that emerged by the Middle Valdivia.