If you’ve recently started down the path of a Paleo lifestyle, you probably almost had a heart attack at your first grocery receipt. Since there’s a very good chance you used to eat totally different foods, it can be quite a challenge to buy the food you need – or want – to eat on a Paleo diet and stay within budget. It is possible, of course; you just have to know what you’re doing, which our Guide to Eating Paleo on a Budget will do!
The good news is that the longer you spend eating Paleo, the more likely it is that your grocery bill will level out. You’ll start buying a lot of the same things, fewer novelty items, and you’ll always have staple foods in your pantry or fridge.
The absolute best part about eating Paleo is that you will eventually be able to go to the grocery store or farmers’ market and know exactly what it is you need to buy. You’ll know that you will probably stick to the outside edges of the grocery store, where all the fresh food is, and will only rarely have to venture in to the inner workings of the store for non-perishable items like coffee, tea, dried spices, and things like honey or maple syrup.
The first two things you need to eat paleo on a budget are: prioritize your grocery budget and create a master grocery list.
After that, to eat Paleo on a budget, you can buy in bulk, turn large parts into smaller parts, buy directly from the farmer, buy online, buy in season, buy ground meat and meat with the bone-in, make one purchase last several meals (like a chicken or a turkey), make broth, grow your own, keep your menu simple, eat less, and plan ahead. You can stop buying luxury items (or start making your own – ice cream, nut butter, dehydrated foods), and ferment, freeze, dry, and can foods you can get in abundance in-season. Finally, if you can’t afford buying all organic produce, shop from the “clean 15” list.
If you do dairy, make your own yogurt and kefir, which are cheap to make and very nutritious. You can make a cream cheese-like product (called labneh) from yogurt and you can also use yogurt where a recipe calls for sour cream.
Prioritize Your Grocery Allowance
The very first thing you need to do when you realize you simply cannot afford to buy all the Paleo foods you want on your budget is to prioritize and re-assess your grocery allowance. How much are you spending right now on food? How much are you spending on unnecessary luxury items like Starbucks coffee three times a day? What else do you spend your money on? How important to you is your health – can you give up some of those luxury items in order to add more money to your food budget? Are you getting the most out of your food money?
If you make a list of everything – and we mean everything – you spend your money on each week, there is sure to be some leeway or wasted money or unnecessary spending that you could do without, in order to boost your food budget. You may not be able to buy all pastured, grass-fed meats, all organic produce, or raw dairy (if you do dairy), but you will be able to get more food than you would have otherwise. Also, good, real, whole foods are much more nutritious (and less expensive) than packaged, pre-made, or otherwise processed foods.
Create a Master Grocery List
Everyone’s list will be different according to your likes/dislikes, budget, and access to certain foods, but generally, you’ll have a Meat section, Vegetable/Fruit section, Spices and Seasonings section, Nuts section, a Dried/Frozen/Canned section, and possibly a Dairy section.
It may take a few weeks or so to get your master list hammered out, but once you have it, you’ll find it invaluable. You can write down the best prices and where you found them for each item, and the best time of year to buy.
Buy in Bulk
A lot of times, you will save yourself a ton of money if you buy in bulk. When meat is on sale for a decent price, don’t be afraid to buy many packages. You can do a cook-everything-at-once day, or freeze everything you don’t use right away.
You can also check your store or market and find out when they mark down the meat. Get it a day or two before it’s due to come off the shelves, and you’ll save boatloads of cash – sometimes up to 75 percent off! Just make sure you cook or freeze the meat the day you buy it.
Turn Large Parts into Smaller Parts
A lot of the money you spend on groceries goes to pay someone’s wage to break down large parts into smaller parts. For example, cutting a whole chicken into parts or making almond butter. You’ll save a huge amount of money if you do this yourself, and you’ll make the most of everything you have.
First off, buy whole poultry. Chickens, turkeys, ducks – whatever it is you buy cuts of, you can buy whole for a lot less per pound than the premium cuts. Out of a whole chicken, you will get white and dark meat, shredded chicken, chicken stock, and cooking fat. Here is a quick video that will help you cut a whole chicken. Out of a whole or partial cow, you’ll get meat, beef stock, and cooking fat. Out of coconut flakes you can make coconut milk, coconut butter, and coconut flour besides using it for actual coconut flakes in any recipes. Finally, out of whole raw almonds, you can make almond butter, almond milk, almond flour, and of course, you can eat the almonds whole.
Buy from the Farmer
When you cut out the middleman – the grocery store – you’ll have a whole lot more money for food. You can buy all of your staples from a farmer: meat, eggs, produce, almonds, and milk (again, if you do dairy) and often, you can buy in bulk which will save you even more money. For example, it’s not unheard of to spend only three dollars a pound (hanging weight) on a partial cow that has been pasture-raised. Some health food stores charge upwards of 10 dollars a pound for some cuts. Who has the money for that? With a partial cow purchase, you’ll get fat to make tallow, bones to make broth, ground beef, steaks, ribs, and various cuts of beef as well as whatever organ meats were in your portion of the cow.
Do you ever question the meat you buy isn’t paleo? See this article about how to tell if your meat is paleo.
Depending on where you live and shop, you can often find really good deals online. The Subscribe and Save on Amazon is a great way to save yourself money and time.
Buy In Season
When produce is in season, it’s plentiful and it’s often very inexpensive. If you have a chest freezer, buy as much as you can and freeze it so that you have it to eat year-round. Otherwise, avoid produce when it’s out of season – it won’t taste as good, and you’ll pay a premium price for it.
Buy Cheaper Cuts (ground and bone-in)
Don’t turn your nose up at the more inexpensive cuts like ground meats and ones with the bone in. You can make a variety of different dishes with ground meats (chili, shepherd’s pie, “lasagna” using zucchini noodles instead of pasta, pasta sauces, and more) and bone-in meats often taste better.
When you buy meat with the bone-in, save the bones! Toss them into a large freezer bag and when the bag is full, dump it into a crockpot, add water and a tablespoon of vinegar, and simmer it for up to 24 hours. Strain off the bones and you have amazing chicken stock that is not only delicious but also nutritious! You can use stock in many different ways, too.
Make One Purchase Last Several Meals
As mentioned above, you can buy a whole chicken or turkey and make it last a very long time. One large chicken will feed a family of four quite comfortably for four or even five meals: the initial meal where everyone gets a piece of their favorite cut, a meal made of shredded meat from the leftovers, a meal made from the remaining shredded meat (soup, curry, or chili), and then at least one meal using the chicken stock you will make as a base.
Grow Your Own
Even if you don’t have a yard, you can grow some of your own produce or even herbs. You can grow herbs indoors so even if you don’t have a patio or outdoor space, you can grow a little bit and save a few dollars on your grocery bill. Here is a link on how to grow indoor herbs.
If you have lots of space, you could theoretically grow all the produce you would need to feed your family all year.
Going one step further, if you have the space, inclination to do so, and permission from the area where you live, you can raise backyard chickens for eggs or even meat.
Keep It Simple
Cut out the fancy ingredients and use spices and herbs to change the flavor of a few basic meals. You can make a huge batch of turkey or chicken and add seasoning to make it Indian, Mexican, Asian, Thai, or American inspired. Throw in a different vegetable with every meal and you won’t be complaining of boredom anytime soon.
This may sound strange, but you’ll find once you’re eating whole foods, you will actually eat less. Once you cut out grains and processed sugar, you won’t crave those items, and you’ll snack a lot less.
Another way to eat less is to take up intermittent fasting. There are a couple of good authorities on the subject. You can either fast for 24 hours once a week or so, or just extend your daily fast to last from when you go to bed until around noon. You’ll cut out a whole meal – how much will that save you in a month?
You’ll save a lot of time, energy, and money if you plan your entire week (or two weeks, or a month) out in advance. Write down what you’ll have to eat each day for meals and for snacks, if applicable, then do your trip to the store or market. This way, you’ll buy only what you need, won’t forget items you’ll require, and won’t have any wasted food.
Make Your Own Luxury Items
If you can’t stop buying luxury items altogether, you can make them yourself and save a lot of money. Coconut milk ice cream, almond butter, chocolate bars, jerky, and dried fruit or trail mix are just a few of the things that are quite simple to make if you have the right equipment. Here is a link that shows you how to make homemade beef jerky.
Speaking of equipment, if you’re making these items for yourself, you’ll want an ice cream machine, a food dehydrator, and a food processor.
Ferment, Freeze, Dry, and Can Foods
If you preserve or otherwise store your foods, you can eat delicious foods year-round, even when they’re out of season. You can ferment, freeze, dry, and can foods. A few examples of fermented foods you can do at home are sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, homemade ketchup, and kombucha. You can freeze almost all produce (some types require blanching first). If you have a dehydrator – or even an oven – you can dry meats, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and more. Jerky is a lot less expensive when you make it yourself! Finally, you may can any acidic foods in a water bath in glass jars. For non-acidic foods or ones with meat, you’ll have to get a pressure canner.
Shop from the Safe 15 List
If you can’t afford to buy all organic produce, then buy as much as you can off the “Clean 15” list: asparagus, avocados, cabbage, cantaloupe, sweet corn, eggplant, grapefruit, kiwi, mangos, mushrooms, onions, papayas, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, and sweet potatoes. The “Dirty Dozen” list is 12 items you should avoid unless you can buy organic: apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, hot peppers, imported nectarines, peaches, potatoes, spinach, strawberries, and sweet bell peppers.
- Shop with a calculator.
- Use coupons when you can, and if the store offers price compare, take advantage.
- Watch the cash register when the cashier rings up your order.
- Watch weekly specials.
- Only buy what you need.
- If you can’t afford grass-fed beef and must buy grain-fed, purchase the leaner cuts as fat holds the toxins more (and get your fats from elsewhere).
- Buy cheaper, tough cuts of meat and use your crockpot to make them tender.
- Organ meats tend to be very inexpensive, and are good for you – eat them once a week, particularly liver.
- Buy sardines – they are cheap and full of protein and healthy fats.