It used to be that I made an ok living and could afford the nicer foods of the paleo diet-all organic veggies, grass fed meats, farmer’s market, etc. etc. Since moving to a new town without much work, my dollar has been stretched to the limit and I’ve taken on a whole new appreciation for Paleo on a budget. In fact, my budget was so thin, I considered going back to some cheap grain staples, like bread, ramen, or pasta. Don’t worry- I didn’t do that, I’d probably be massively sick if I did. Instead, I’ve just had to get creative and market savvy to more or less stay Paleo but on a very restricted budget. Every other Paleo guru out there has their “Paleo on a budget” ideas, but I thought you might actually find it useful to hear tips from someone who is as broke as you are, if not more.
Tip #1- Conventional meats and veggies aren’t so bad. Sure I don’t like pesticides, insecticides, and the way animals are treated in CAFO’s, but if my wallet is really hurtin and the difference between an organic bell pepper and a regular one is $1.50, and regular beef is $3/lb while grass fed is $7, the choice is easy here. The fact of the matter is you are still eating meats and veggies over processed carbs. I will say that if you can spring for organic greens-lettuce, spinach, kale, whatever, then go for it. This is usually only a dollar difference, and of all the veggies that matter the most whether they are organic, greens are it since they have so much surface area and are consumed completely.
Tip #2- Eggs. Eggs are the most complete food source on earth, and they happen to be cheap. I can get a dozen cage free eggs for $2.79 at my market. If I went conventional I could get them for $1.50. The upcharge for cage free is totally worth it though, and it isn’t that much. More nutrients and better taste. Eggs are a breakfast staple for me. I eat 3 everyday, along with some scrambled veggies and bacon grease (see #3 below) This morning meal is so filling that I usually don’t even have to eat lunch. Just skip it and eat a nice dinner. So there is another way you can save some dough. Don’t skip meals if you are hungry though unless you are doing a intermittent fast, which can be yet another way to save some dough.
Tip #3- Cheap decent fats. Fats are energy dense, fill you up, and are delicious!! Bacon has to be my personal favorite, especially for breakfast. I buy Wright Brand Bacon Ends and Pieces 3 lbs for $6. Super cheap, and a package last a few weeks. Most of it is fat, but there is a little meat. I throw a few pieces in the skillet and let the fat render down and then I have some great fat for cooking with. Unfortunately, this brand is cured, but if your store has it, you can get uncured brands. I think they have Pederson’s at Whole Foods. After bacon, my next favorite is butter. Ideally, you would buy some that is raw from grass fed cows, but seriously? This stuff is hard to find (and sometimes illegal) and super expensive. I just buy mid grade stuff that is affordable, or on sale. Last time I went shopping, Challenge Butter was on sale 16 oz. for $2. That is a steal! I stocked up! It’s pretty good stuff. You can probably find something similar at your store.
Tip # 4- Make your own fats. Did you read that post about me rendering goose fat? If not, go read it now. You can do this with any animal that has good fat, and the cool thing about it, most people consider cuts of fat as waste. See if you can’t go to a butcher and ask for their fat scraps, or if you’re at a friend’s place and they are grilling and trim all the fat off ask if you can keep it. Make your own chicken broth. You can buy those rotisserie chickens at delis for like $6. That will feed two people easily. Save all the bone and skins and put it in a pot with some water over low heat for an hour or two and now you have some awesome chicken stock to make a soup with! If you cook a lot of bacon, or other fatty meats and aren’t sure what to do with the leftover grease, pour it in a mason jar, freeze it, and keep it to cook or bake with. Use it like you would with butter.
Tip #5-Make soups! When you notice a lot of your veggies going bad or meat nearing the expiration date, it’s time to make soup, or stew, or whatever you want to call it. I have a crockpot and use the heck out of it. Just throw a bunch of stuff in there with some kind of seasoning and let it sit for a few hours. It’s a good time to use that chicken or beef broth you made in tip #4. Pork loins, chuck roasts, and tougher cuts of meat are not only cheaper but are excellent for these concoctions. I recommend making large batches and freezing the leftovers
Tip #6 Buy frozen veggies. Frozen veggies are usually flash frozen at the time of peak ripeness. This locks in more nutrients and preserves flavor. Frozen veggies tend to be cheaper than produce veggies. Additionally, you can buy mixes that give you a good variety of flavor and color AND they are already cut up for you. Heat them up with a little butter and serve on the side with some fish or other protein and you have a cheap easy meal. I also use frozen veggies in my breakfast scrambles, in soups, and in curries.
Tip #7- Buy nuts in bulk. When you buy nuts in bulk, you can not only get them raw and unsalted, but it is cheaper than buying in packaging. Most nuts go for around $6-7 a lb. You pay the same thing for nuts in a 12oz package
Tip # 8- When you see a good deal stock up. If I see one of my favorite foods on sale, I go crazy. At my store, that means large avocados are 10 for $10, challenge butter is 2 for 1, bacon ends are $2 off, Lara bars are $1 each, eggs are 25% off, there is deal on wild caught salmon or shrimp, coconut milk is .50c off, etc. etc. Forgo one of your usual items and buy more of the stuff on sale, then put it in the freezer (if applicable) Chances are the item you skipped will be on sale next week and you can stock up on it then.
Tip #9- Mealshare. Food is normally more economical when bought in bulk. If you have a large family, this is easy. If you are single, either buy in bulk and freeze, or try to start a mealshare program with other paleo friends, ideally like 5 people total. Each person would be responsible for one meal a week and weekends everyone is on their own. I used to live in a co-op with 6 housemates and each person was responsible for cooking a certain night of the week. We had a $20/meal budget, which came to $2.86 per person. A lot of the time, meals would only cost $15, making it even more economical. The benefits of a meal share program go beyond saving money though. Socializing with good friends over good food brings about an intangible aspect that makes it more enjoyable and improves happiness.
Tip #10- Thick Red Line. There is a theoretical thick red line separating quantity, quality, and economics. Theoretically, if you are eating higher quality foods, you will need to eat less of them because your body is getting the nutrients it needs. Higher quality of course costs more. There comes a point where it is more economical to just eat a higher quantity of lesser grade foods to get the amount of nutrients you need. Even though you are eating more, as long as what you are eating isn’t total crap (bread, cereal, rice, pasta, hydrogenated fats, everything non-paleo) I think your body will find a way to even things out. Vegetables for instance, are mainly water and fiber, so eating a whole lot of conventional vegetables compared to organic isn’t really going to affect you that much.Unfortunately, I don’t have a good objective way to help people find this thick red line (at least it’s thick, so you have room to play). You will just have to experiment and see what your body and wallet are comfortable with.
Tip # 11- Cook at home. Paleo meals on a budget are probably going to cost you between $3-5, maybe $2-3 if you are super crafty. Eating out and trying to stay paleo is probably going to cost $6-10. This is a no brainer. Stay home. Cook. Eat better food, save money.
Tip# 12- Cut back on non necessities. This would be things like red wine, dark chocolate, coffee, tea, herbs, spices, etc. All these things add a certain level of enjoyment to our diets, but you would never have seen a Caveman consuming them. They aren’t essential to good health, so if you can do without them, I suggest doing so.
The Bottom Line- Higher quality foods are always going to reign supreme. However, for those of you who just can’t afford grass fed buffalo, organic bell peppers, farm fresh eggs, raw grass fed butter, etc., simply just sticking to your Paleo guns and NOT EATING grain based foods is going to give you the majority of Paleo nutrition benefits. Don’t feel inferior when you’re hanging with your paleo buds and they start talking about the local grass fed sirloin they’re eating or the funky veggies they picked up at the farmers market yada yada yada. When money is tight, it’s tight, I understand, because that’s how things are going with me at the moment. I have no problem dropping back down to a “conventional” level of food, as long as I don’t fall back to thinks like milk and breakfast cereal, bread, or spaghetti. There is no denying that these items are ridiculously cheap, but there is also no denying that they are absolutely horrible for your body. Stay strong in your paleo mindset, practice patience, watchfulness, and frugality, and stay healthy, my friends.