One of the most common reasons people shy away from adopting a Paleo diet is what is often perceived as a prohibitively expensive price tag. “Grass-fed,” “Pasture-Raised,” and “Organic” signal one big red flag to budget-conscious shoppers. But, with a few simple swaps and a little extra effort and planning, a Paleo diet can be doable on any budget. Here are some tips and tricks to get the most Paleo bang for your buck.
Buy local, seasonal produce.
There’s a simple reason why a local tomato in July costs less than a flown-in-from-Chile tomato in January—airfare. When we buy fruits and vegetables grown near where we live (which is only possible when they’re in season), it costs less, because the produce doesn’t have to travel as far. Plus, it’s fresher, more nutrient-dense, way better tasting, and we get to support our local economy and leave a smaller carbon footprint at the same time. It’s a win-win-win-win-win.
Consider a cow or pig share.
If you have a decent amount of freezer space, consider going in on a pasture-raised cow or pig with a few friends. It takes a little bit of research and planning, but if you put in the work, you will be rewarded by a steady supply of high-quality meat for as little as $3 per pound. This is one of the absolute best ways to reduce your overall food costs. (Check out our Go Paleo ebook for more info on sourcing and purchasing meat in bulk.)
Speaking of meat, embrace cheaper cuts.
Forget about boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Instead, go for bone-in chicken thighs, or what’s sometimes called the “whole leg.” It’s incredibly cheap (usually $2-$2.50 per pound), and unlike its boneless, skinless brethren, it’s loaded with flavor and just enough fat to keep it moist.
If it’s steak you crave, go for top sirloin. This cut of beef is my pick for making steak at home. Since a one-pound steak can easily be split between two people, it’s a pretty sweet deal. Top sirloin is fabulously tender, and it needs little more than some liberal seasoning with salt and pepper, a quick sear and then a little visit to a 375-degree oven to finish cooking to your desired doneness. I also love to throw a seasoned steak on the grill for 4-5 minutes per side (for medium-rare doneness), and top it with a touch of garlic-herb butter (just mix softened butter with finely chopped garlic and fresh herbs of your choice). Better still, it runs for around $6 per pound.
And if you haven’t done so yet, become friends with your market’s meat grinder. Even when you buy the highest possible quality of pasture-raised, organic
ground meat (ground beef, pork, and lamb tend to be the tastiest), you’re still rarely apt to spend more than $6 per pound. Stir together the ground meat of your choice, chopped garlic and onions, an egg and fresh herbs to make tasty meatballs or burger patties for just a few bucks per person. I love to make a big kale salad and top it with freshly cooked meatballs. Not only is it high in protein and low in carbs, but the leftovers reheat like a dream.
Learn to love the bulk section.
Learn to love your grocery store bulk section. It’s great for when you need a lot of something (no packaging means the product you take home is much cheaper), or a little (why buy a twenty-four-ounce package of walnuts when you only need a quarter cup of them for a recipe?). Buying in bulk means you can buy exactly how much of something you need, for the lowest price possible. It’s worth the annoying twelve-seconds it takes to wrap a twist-tie around a plastic bag and write the product code on it. Invest in a 12-pack of cheap jumbo-size mason jars to store things like nuts, dried berries, and shredded coconut from the bulk section. The seal on the jars keeps food fresh, so it lasts longer.
Build some of your meals around eggs.
Sure, meat is king, but once a week (or more, if you’re inclined), try basing a meal around eggs. Though high quality, pasture-raised eggs can run from $5-$9 per dozen, that’s still a good deal cheaper than a lot of meat. Eggs are a high-quality, inexpensive protein that is versatile, easy to find, and delicious. By making eggs the star of the plate in simple dishes like frittatas, omelets, and baked eggs in tomato sauce, you’ll find that you can indeed afford nutritious, protein-packed meals that satisfy your palate and keep you full for hours.
Befriend your local farmers market vendors.
(and don’t be afraid to ask for a deal if you’re buying in bulk!)
I got a huge bag of poblano chilies for free at my local farmers market recently. Yes, free. Why? Because the purveyor at one of my favorite vegetable stands thinks I’m charming—and also because he appreciates that I show up every week without fail to buy big bags of kale, onions, and sweet potatoes from him. He almost always throws in a little extra something for me when I stop by, and never fails to cut me a great deal. The farmers market is also where I learned to bargain. Farmers work hard to grow their goods, so I’m not a fan of bargaining down on one or two tomatoes. But if you’re buying 10, it’s worth asking for a price break. You may get turned down, but more often than not, vendors are happy to hook you up if you’re buying a large amount of one thing. (Check out our Farmers Market Guide for more tips on navigating your local farmers market.)
Buy ingredients, not products.
Sure, almond butter is a wonderful treat. Those store-bought kale chips that happen to be totally Paleo-friendly and convenient? An awesome savior when you find yourself needing a snack on the fly. And coconut and almond flours are a great way to indulge in “safe” versions of the baked goods you loved during your pre-Paleo days. But if you have limited funds to spend on food, your focus should be on whole ingredients, not processed (even if minimally and in a totally pro-Paleo way) foods. Stick to fresh vegetables and affordable animal proteins. Not only is this healthier, but it also creates a little extra flexibility in your budget to indulge in your favorite Paleo products now and then.