Is the Paleo Diet Expensive? Eating Paleo on a Budget

eating paleo on a budgetFor many people thinking about following a paleo lifestyle, the potential costs associated with the primal diet are often a concern. It was for me when I first learned about the diet, and I wasn’t sure it would be possible to follow paleo on a budget.

I learned about the benefits of grass-fed, pasture-raised and free-range meats and poultry. I knew the merits of organic fruits and vegetables, and the reasons to eat cold-pressed, high quality fats like coconut and avocado oil. But I was nervous. How could my meager budget support this kind of lifestyle? And would I still see results if I couldn’t buy the highest quality meats and fats?

So, is the paleo diet expensive? My answer today, after more than a year of following this lifestyle, is a resounding…it doesn’t have to be.

I won’t lie. I spend more money now on food than I did before starting a paleo diet. But in part, that’s my own fault, and it’s not all the time. In fact, the only reason I do sometimes over spend in the food area of my budget is because I am so excited to try all of the paleo friendly products I hear about, and because I love to develop new recipes and frankly, that requires a lot of food and new ingredients.

But in all honesty, the paleo diet does not have to be more expensive than a Standard American Diet (SAD). In fact, I think it can be even less expensive. When I was eating SADly, I was buying meats, fruits and vegetables, but I was also buying pasta, rice, bread, cheeses, canned soups and beans and pre-packaged convenience foods.

Have you ever really thought about how expensive those items are? A can of pre-made soup costs anywhere from two to four dollars at my local grocery store. And who doesn’t eat the whole can? That’s a single serving of soup for $4! Buy your own bones from the butcher (or save them from a prior meal) to make bone broth and add some veggies, however, and you could spend $10-$15 to make 10 servings of soup! It’s cheaper, just as easy and far healthier.

The key is this: while you will likely spend more on meats, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats on a paleo diet than you did following a SAD diet, it all evens out. You won’t be buying processed dairy products, you won’t be buying chips (unless they’re Jackson’s Honest, of course!), you won’t be buying granola and protein bars (unless you buy Epic Bars, Lara Bars or the Granilla Bar!), you won’t be buying pre-made and pre-packaged convenience foods.

Instead, you’ll be investing your money in your health. And that, in the long run, is the best way to reduce your costs. (Do you know how expensive diabetes testing supplies are?!)

Want more tips to save money on a paleo diet? Here are some of my best:

1. Choose high quality meats wisely. My husband and I can’t afford to always buy the best quality meats. We just can’t. I wish we could buy all our meat from a local farm, or from the Whole Foods butcher counter, but we can’t. Still, we do it as frequently as possible, and we do it strategically. For example, we may not be able to buy the grass-fed sirloin and filet, we can afford to buy grass-fed ground beef. And why not eat ground beef? It has the same healthy fats, vitamins and minerals as the sirloin and filet, and it’s super versatile. Whip up some lettuce wraps, burgers, meatballs or meatloaf, or just throw it in a pan with some veggies for a stir-fry. Similarly, when we’re buying high-quality chicken we try to select fattier (read: less expensive) cuts of meat. Not only are they full of healthy fats, but cuts like chicken thighs are significantly less expensive than chicken breast. Buying full roasting chickens is also a great option to save money because you can use the leftovers for later meals and use the bones to make broth for homemade soup.

2. Don’t be too dogmatic about organic produce. Yes, organic produce is great. And if you’ve got plenty of discretionary income, then go ahead and buy every organic item you can think of. For many people, that’s just not an option. So don’t skip on nutrient-dense fruits and veggies because you can’t buy the organic version. Instead, follow the guidelines for the “dirty dozen”, those fruits and vegetables most likely to contain high levels of pesticides, and focus your organic produce budget on those foods. Everything else, feel free to buy conventional produce. Wash your produce well, and then move on. It’s better to eat a plate of conventionally grown kale than to not eat it at all.

3. Be strategic about meal planning. Meal planning can be a challenge. It requires you to select meals days in advance and create a schedule for meals that can be hard to stick to. But in my experience, it is absolutely key to saving money. By planning out meals that use similar ingredients, you can get in and out of the grocery store without buying every vegetable available, and without bundles of expensive herbs, obscure ingredients and a variety of meats. One of my favorite things to do is to make a big batch of a meat, like pulled pork, beef roast or a chicken, and use the meat throughout the week for other meals. So don’t plan to eat pork tenderloin one night, chicken thighs the next, burgers the night after that, then a grilled steak. Instead, make a big pork tenderloin one night (or make two at the same time), use the leftovers to make pork fried cauliflower rice or pork lettuce wraps the night after. Make double the baked chicken thighs you need for dinner and use the leftover meat to make a quick chicken, zoodles and tomato sauce dish the next night. Making a beef roast? Have it with some veggies and potatoes one night, use it to make omelets for breakfast the next day. Use the leftovers for tacos and stir-fries, or just put it on top of a baked sweet potato for a quick, simple meal.

4. Don’t be afraid to buy frozen. A lot of people who start a paleo diet think it means they need to swear off the frozen food section. And while there are many things in that area of the grocery store that are certainly not worth anyone’s time (or money), there are plenty of budget-friendly options that are perfectly healthy, too. Especially at a store like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, you can find plenty of organic frozen vegetables, fruits and other items that can make meal prep simpler and less expensive. Trader Joe’s even carries frozen riced cauliflower! Just be sure to check labels on frozen products carefully. A lot of frozen fruit, for example, contains added sugar, while some frozen vegetable products may contain industrial seed oils you’re trying to avoid. But as long as you’re careful about choosing the highest quality frozen products, there’s no reason to avoid them!

5. Don’t be afraid to buy local. Are you a regular yet at your local farmer’s market? Well why the hell not?! It’s a pretty common misconception that the produce and other items at farmer’s markets are more expensive than those found in grocery stores. And while this may be true in some cases, I’ve found it’s usually just the opposite. Farmers are often willing to negotiate, and if you’re buying local than you’re buying what’s in season. Joining a farm share is another great way to get fresh, local foods at a good price. While farm shares often require a lot of money up front, the per week price breakdown is actually a great deal and is a fantastic way to get the freshest produce possible (and try items you may never have thought to purchase!). A lot of farms in my area also offer more than just fruits and vegetables in their farm shares, with options to get free-range eggs, pasture-raised pork and grass-fed beef once a week or once a month. Some farms also offer the option to buy a whole cow, or half a cow, and have it butchered to your liking. Again, this requires a big ol’ pile of money upfront (not to mention a lot of freezer space), but if you plan in advance and save up the funds, you’ll be getting great prices per pound for high quality meat and will dramatically reduce your grocery bill for months.

What are your best tips for eating paleo on a budget? Share your tips in the comment section!

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