Paleo on a Budget

Paleo doesn’t have to be expensive, but if you’re not careful it can be! It’s an unfortunate statement about our country’s food priorities that grain-based products are the cheapest you’ll find in the grocery store. Healthy foods like vegetables and meat pack far more nutrition, and grocery stores are glad to make you pay for it! Is the Paleo diet only for rich families?

The primary difficulty with eating Paleo is not that it is expensive. It’s getting enough caloric intake after removing grain products. Hunger will try to drive you to spend more on food or crash you off of the diet. But don’t fret. Excessive hunger normally means you need to tweak the diet a bit. I’m going to give you a few tips to help you reduce your costs or alter the diet so you and your family can stay Paleo without needing a second mortgage.

Tip #1: Control your meat portions

Most diets have an extreme relationship with meat. Either it’s completely avoided or should be devoid of fat, or it must be consumed in massive quantities. Paleo is a meat-positive diet, but not nearly to the extent of an Atkins-style diet. For most people, a palm-sized piece of meat is all you need for each meal. Stricter definitions such as 0.7 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass don’t need to be religiously followed. Let your gut be your guide.

Tip #2: Fill up on beans if needed

Paleo books encourage people to eat more and more if they feel hunger cravings. However, on a strict budget that may not be possible, especially if you’re using meat or avocado as your main calorie source. Paleo books differ on the position of legumes and beans in the diet of paleolithic humans, but they have far more nutritional advantages than grains. Beans can help supplement protein levels and provide enough caloric intake to prevent hunger cravings. Stick to beans with low carb counts, such as black beans and pinto beans.

Tip #3: Avoid fillets, organ meats

Your kids might not like liver, but your wallet will sing for joy. Organ meats just aren’t that popular in the U.S., which means you can get them for very cheap. Ethnic cuisines everywhere use organ meats like tripe and kidneys and get them at an absolute steal. Find a local carniceria or other ethnic grocery store and be shocked at the prices. Then hit up your library and learn how to cook these versatile meats. Start with learning how to make a Paleo-style menudo, or simple liver and onions.

Tip #4: Find a CSA

Community Supported Agriculture groups, or CSAs, are co-operatives that pool money together and seek out local farmers and wholesale distributors of fruits and vegetables in order to get a deal. Members generally get a “box” of whatever is seasonal once a week. For about $15 a week, I can fill up an entire reusable grocery bag with fruits and vegetables. Your local CSA may also have swap rules or additional produce for sale if there’s something you don’t like. This beats the pants off of any deal a supermarket chain might offer. You also get to learn who is growing what in your area, and also opens up educational opportunities to teach your children where vegetables come from.

Tip #5: Skip organic food

I might get pilloried for this, but organic food is still far more expensive than conventionally grown food. If your budget is screaming at the cost of organics then avoid them until your circumstances change. Just don’t jump back to cereal and junk food because it’s so cheap! Non-organic meats and vegetables are still far healthier than grain products for your family. You might even be surprised that there was a recent meta-study done by Stanford that conducted a nutritional analysis of organic vs non-organic produce and meats. The nutritional levels were very similar on average. The big advantage to organic food seems to be the avoidance of pesticide residues and artificial hormones, not the nutritional value.

Tip #6: Seek out simple recipes that can be made in quantity

You may have heard the term “peasant foods.” These are recipes that are designed to be both low-cost and hearty. Seek out these recipes and see what you can find that fits the Paleo lifestyle. Try finding recipe books from the Depression era for some suggestions. Your best bet is to find potato-based recipes, as many of the world’s staple foods are grains.

Tip #7: Join a cow share

Cow shares, also known as meat shares or beef shares, are like CSAs for animal products. Families agree to buy either a portion of an animal, such as a side of beef, or a farmer offers a set box of meats. If you have a deep freezer this is an excellent way to save money. However, you’ll probably have to live either near a major city or in a beef-producing area to find one.

Tip #8: Make or grow your own ingredients

This is a long-term solution, but take a look at your options for growing your own vegetables, harvesting your own eggs, or processing some foods yourself. Making your own jerky or picking your own kale is extremely worthwhile and cheap. Also, as a gardener, you have far more control over the nutrient levels of your food by adding the proper components to the soil. I garden myself and can definitely say that growing food is worth it!

Tip #9: Invest in a freezer and buy frozen foods

I’ll admit that I do can my produce, but if you have the space and money to run a deep freezer then freezing is a better option. When vegetables and meat are properly prepared for freezing there is minimal loss of nutrition, unlike canning. Frozen foods are also cheaper in quantity than canned foods if you get them from the store. Here’s an article that talks about the nutritional value of frozen foods.

Tip #10: Buy in bulk

Finally, whenever you can, buy your foods in bulk. While it’s easy to envision sacks of grain in bulk, there are other staple items you can get like oils and spices (no more than 6 months at a time) to cut down on costs. If you have access to a deep freezer or other food preservation system like a dehydrator, you can process more perishable foods. Finding a book on food preservation at the library is a good way to learn about how to preserve foods in different ways, but if you pick up a book on canning you’ll want the latest edition you can find.

If you and your family are looking to learn more about how to embrace the Paleo lifestyle while on a budget, click below to check out Robb Wolf’s Paleo Diet Budget Shopping Guide.

Photos: money, beans, produce, vegetable garden

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