There is a common misconception that eating healthy is expensive, and some people think it’s not a realistic option for their family given the price. In fact, one of the biggest myths about a Paleo lifestyle is that it costs too much.
It’s one of the most common excuses people tell themselves (and us) to explain why they do not follow a Paleo diet. Over the last few years, we have figured out some of the best ways to work within a reasonable budget, but still eat high quality, real food for every meal.
Inexpensive Paleo Alternatives To Expensive Staples
Often, Paleo foods can be expensive but, more often than not, there are much cheaper alternatives that still fall well within your Paleo framework. Some great options to save on groceries, and still eat high quality foods:
- Instead of steak, sub in a hamburger patty (just try to find the leaner cuts – 80% or higher).
- Pork and chicken are great substitutes for other protein sources.
- Eggs are another great source of protein, and they are great value for money.
- Eating nuts as a snack can add up. Instead get your fats from the delicious and cheaper avocado and snack on that.
- Berries tend to be expensive. Eat apples instead. You can get a couple of pounds of apples for a very little money.
- Chop your own vegetables rather than buying the bagged or pre-cut stuff. These vegetables are also fresher and cheaper. Double win.
- If you know your local butcher, you can often get higher grades of meat for less by buying directly through them.
If you are lucky enough to have multiple supermarkets in your area, research their weekly sale fliers before you go shopping. Even if you have a favorite store you shop at, you might be surprised by the prices other stores have on items you plan on purchasing.
This doesn’t only apply to weekly sales at your local grocery store. There are many produce wholesalers that are open to the public, and sell produce at a significantly lower price than the normal supermarket. It is well worth your time to shop around, learn where to get the best deals, and alternate shopping trips between stores.
Buy Organic Selectively
When following a Paleo diet, every little bit counts. It is not a zero-sum game; you are not either perfectly healthy or a total train wreck. The key is to get the most bang for your buck, literally and figuratively, and organic is definitely more important for some foods over others
Organic candy, for example? It’s still candy.
Of course, it would be ideal to have a 100% organic diet, but that might be financially unrealistic. Pay extra for organic when it counts the most. As a general rule, anything with a thick, non-porous skin or rind that you throw away, like citrus (unless you plan to zest it), mango, or pineapple, is not worth buying organic.
Anything with a thin skin that you either eat, like apples, cucumbers, bell peppers, and berries, is worth the organic price tag.
For a more specific guide, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen (buy organic if you can) and Clean Fifteen (conventional is fine if you’re trying to stretch your dollar) lists, which get updated annually to reflect changes in growing conditions.
Buy In Bulk
Of course, this won’t work for everything, but anything that keeps well in the pantry or freezer for several months is a good candidate for this strategy. When you buy in large quantities you save the most money.
Aside from nuts, seeds, dried fruit and other things you might find in the big bins at the grocery store, meat is a good candidate for this. The best way to save on meat (and that includes poultry and fish) without sacrificing quality is to buy in bulk. Join a warehouse club (for food and non-food items), shop farmers’ markets and CSAs (community supported agriculture) and buy pig and cow shares. All of these are typically cheaper than grocery stores.
Reaching out to your local farmer and buying portions of a grass-fed cow or pastured chicken or pork directly from them seems to be the absolute best way to purchase quality, hormone-free protein with no question about how it was raised.
This trick also applies to freezer-friendly fruit and vegetables, like berries, pineapple, mango, and even bananas (think smoothies or Paleo banana bread) or green beans, peas, spinach, or kale. Thoroughly wash and dry them, peel/stem and chop if necessary, and freeze in airtight zip top bags with the extra air squeezed out.
Before you go out and buy a freezer full of food, do the math. Make sure you don’t look at prices alone, but rather at the price per pound or ounce and compare the regular price for the average sized container to the bulk price.
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Buy In Season
Produce is at its most affordable (yes, that means organic produce too) when it’s in season in the area/country you live in. Planning your meals around what in season in your area is bound to save you on your grocery bill.
This is the best way to buy produce at reasonable prices; when something is in season, it is cheaper and easier to produce, more nutritious and more abundant than shipping it in.
Want to know what’s in season in your area? Get Chef Pete’s Book: Paleo By Season. You'll learn what's in season in your area for each part of the year, along with essential kitchen skills from roasting poultry to keeping your knife sharp to sautéing vegetables are all clearly explained and broken down into easy-to-follow steps.
Try Different Cuts
Meat can be a huge expense, and usually the source of the most sticker shock, especially for those just starting a Paleo diet. One of the biggest mistakes that people tend to make when switching from the Standard American Diet to a Paleo lifestyle is assuming they need to fill up on a giant steak every single night.
Premium cuts like chicken breast come with a premium price tag. Luckily, the leaner cuts are usually the pricier ones, and when following a Paleo diet, you might want and appreciate richer cuts with more fats because naturally occurring fats are nutritious and delicious (and keep you full!!) full!
You can buy less-premium cuts of meat and slow cook them for hours, and they will turn out delicious every time. Consider switching your chicken breast recipes for recipes using drumsticks, or thighs. Likewise, make steak a special occasion food and plan to make meals that call for cheaper cuts of beef or less expensive meats like pork.
Read on here for more on Paleo meat to fit your budget
Looking to add some odd and grisly bits into your rotation – read more on why you might want to consider budget friendly organ meats here
Frozen fruits and vegetables are typically frozen at the height of their growing season, and shortly after being picked, which translates into greater nutrient density and lower prices than buying the fresh version in the off season.
Frozen meat and fish are also cheaper than their fresh counterparts because it is easier to transport and store these foods when frozen, and there is less costly spoilage and waste.
Beware that all frozen foods are not created equally. Shop carefully and read the ingredients to make sure that there are no unwanted ingredients, fillers and flavour enhancers in your package (this is most common with mixed vegetables).
Similarly, confirm that you are buying fish fillets, not fish sticks. If possible, choose organic chicken, grass fed beef, and wild-caught fish – all of which you can usually find in the frozen section if you look carefully.
Make A Plan
Make a meal plan that fits within your budget and stick with it! When you have a meal plan for the week, you know exactly what to buy at the grocery store. That way you won’t waste money on foods that may end up in the trash, and you won’t be tempted to throw in the towel and order take out.
Meal Planning can take on any form that works best for you. When you know what you are eating every day, when you plan to meal prep, cook and eat it, and know just how much of it you need to buy, you are far more likely to avoid expensive surprises.
If planning and prepping entire days’ worth of meals is too much for you, focus on dinner. For lunch, all you need is leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, so no need for dedicated planning there either. Breakfasts are simple, quick and easy to prepare and many people eat something similar at the start of each day.
Focus On The Long Term Costs
No matter how many options we provide, many people will still complain that a Paleo lifestyle is simply way too expensive.
This view may be extremely short-sighted Sure, all those grains, cheap oils and processed foods may seem cheap now, but what about the health problems that they might cause further down the road? Heart issues, strokes, cancer, along with many other chronic illnesses dare expensive. The average hospital stay in the US costs $18,000. That’s expensive!
How much would avoiding many of the issues caused by poor eating habits be worth? Simply avoiding one hospital stay because of a major health incident could save you close to $20,000.
People live longer these days but they don’t necessarily live better. Hospital stays, nursing homes, and other health problems that stem from poor eating and lifestyle habits degrade the quality of life. If you could gain an extra ten years of good living because you decided to change your eating, how much would you be willing to pay?
Is that worth an extra $100 /month?
A Paleo lifestyle can change your health and your life but you have to engage with it in order to make that happen. It takes a willingness to invest time, money, and resources. This is a reality.
In addition to making eating a Paleo diet easier and less expensive using the suggestions discussed, you can also change your entire perspective on your view of food. Instead of seeing the extra money you are spending on your diet as an “expense”, think about it as an investment, and look at the long-term health benefits it could bring and at the long-term costs it could help you avoid.