How can I eat Paleo/Primal on a budget?

This is the question that everyone I know has been asking me lately.  I get it, you guys. The kind of meat and veg we think is best to eat is more expensive than their conventional counterparts.  I have a family of four (soon to be five!), a part-time job at a non-profit, and my husband is a public school teacher.  We don’t have money coming out of our ears, at all.  But, I’ll begin with the phrase that has become a sort of mantra for me, when it comes to this issue:

If your health, and that of your family, is not important enough to spend your money on, what is?  Food is fuel for your body.  If you put crap (pesticides, additives, preservatives, grains, sugar) in your tank, you will get crap (illness, fatigue, skin conditions, headaches) as your output.  

So, assuming this fact as our guiding principle, let us begin.  I have some practical suggestions to help you, some of which relate directly to saving money, and some indirectly related.

Things you can do asap to make a difference in your wallet:

1.  Invest in a separate deep freezer.  This might not make sense right off the bat, but if you invest some hard-earned savings in a deep freezer, you will be able to buy your meat in bulk- as an example, the grassfed beef I buy from Hedgeapple costs $5.95 per pound.  When I buy the 21-pound box, though, the price per pound drops to about $4.25 per pound.  My other source for grassfed meats, US Wellness, also gives quantity discounts.  You can take full advantage of sales when you have somewhere to store all that meat.

The second advantage to having a deep freezer is that it allows you to be able to create your own “convenience” foods.  We all have busy schedules, at least at some point or another.  If you’ve got a place to put them, it’s easy to make double your dinner for foods that freeze well (meatloaf, meatballs, stews, soups) so that you’ve got something to pull out on a busy evening, rather than stopping somewhere for bun-less burgers or Chipotle.  You can also freeze your homegrown produce when you’ve got a deep freezer, everything from shredded zucchini to tomato sauce.  Save up and invest in a good one.

2.  Join a CSA.  Community Supported Agriculture is the best way to save money on organic produce, but it also accomplishes other awesome things- it forces you to flex your creative muscles in the kitchen (kohlrabi, anyone?), makes it easy to eat in season for your geographical location, and it supports local farmers.  You’ll definitely save money in the long run, but again, you’ll have to plan ahead, as you pay for the whole growing season at once (some big farms offer payment plans, though, and don’t be afraid to ask!  Farmers are such nice people!).  I also get my eggs from a local farmer, and although it’s not a csa setup (yet), it’s a friend of my mother’s who raises the eggs, and since I’ve been such a loyal and high-volume customer, she gives me a price break.  I pay only $2.50 per dozen for foraging, free-range, cage-free eggs.  At Trader Joe’s, which is the next cheapest I’ve found, similar eggs (which have likely sat around on a truck and in a warehouse for a lot longer) cost $4.50 per dozen.

To find a CSA near you, visit Local Harvest.  *See item number 3 for more info on how to make a CSA work for you.

3.  Spend one afternoon (or several evenings) each week doing a big cook-up.  This one is indirect.  Once you’ve got all this lovely produce and meat, you’ve got to process it.  When you let things sit in the fridge, growing ever drier and browner by the second, you’re basically flushing that hard-earned money you spent down the drain.  Don’t do it!  Now, I’m lucky.  I know this.  I have two weekdays off a week, plus Saturdays.  It isn’t difficult (usually) to make time to cook.  But, going to back to our mantra, if you don’t think cooking healthy fuel is a good use of your time, then I’m not sure what is worth your time.  If you turn off the TV, shut the laptop, and just get in the kitchen, you’ll find that your time investment is well-rewarded.

The trick to making a three-hour cooking session work is having a plan, then working your plan.  I’m in the middle of a big cook-up as I’m writing this post.  I started at 12:30, it’s now 3:30.  In that time, I washed and cut four quarts of strawberries, pureed them, and made them into Strawberry Banana muffins (with coconut flour).  The rest of the puree went into the freezer, to be used later.  I also baked four pieces of lemon butter flounder in the oven.  Then, I washed and tore two huge bunches of kale.  Since I had the salad spinner out, I went ahead and washed and tore a head of green leaf lettuce and two bunches of spinach, then stored them wrapped in paper towels inside ziploc bags in the fridge.  Next, I seasoned two pounds of ground pork for italian sausage.  Half of that became patties that I sauteed for tonight’s dinner.  The rest went in to be browned for the kale.  The kale is bubbling away on the stove now, and I’m halfway through cutting up a bag of celery.  Next I’ll move to carrots (these are for lunch prep for the week).  Last, I think I’ll steam some broccoli to go with the fish.  I could have done more in the oven, like roasted some sweet potatoes wrapped in foil, but I already had some in the fridge, so I skipped that.  I hope you see my point, though- you can get SO MUCH DONE in the kitchen in three hours!  Let your kids and significant other help- they’ll be  much more likely to eat things that they helped make.

4.  Stick to this meal-making formula: Protein + Veg + Veg.  The best way to cook paleo, especially at the beginning, is to follow this formula.  When you try to duplicate a lot of old favorites, you usually end up baking too much.  Almond flour, while very nutritious, and certainly delicious, is exorbitantly expensive.   Save the treats for once or twice a month, rather than once or twice a week, and your pocketbook (and waistline) will thank you.  Cook up your main dishes ahead of time (see #3: cook-up, above), and prep your veggies so they’re ready to saute, steam, or roast right when you walk in the door from work.  If you’re a family who always ate dessert before, indulge in some beautiful, in-season fruit with coconut cream instead.  Which brings us to our last tip…

5.  Amazon’s Subscription program.  Just so you know, I’m not an Amazon affiliate, so I’m not making any money by telling you about this program.  I just am a happy user, and want to share.  Now, you can’t get organic produce and grassfed meat here, but you can get coconut oil, coconut cream, coconut flour, maple syrup, Larabars, and tons more.  The trick is, you have to know how much you use those things before you subscribe, but this can be figured out and written down, and then acted on later.  Every little bit you save is worth it!

6.  Break out of your comfort zone.  If you’ve gone to the trouble to buy a pastured, local chicken, why would you ever throw out the giblets?  That package of grassfed beef liver in the case at the farm that’s priced way cheaper than any other cut?  It might as well be solid gold, nutritionally.  Eating offal (organ meat) is the best bang for your buck, again, nutrition-wise.  One really easy way to incorporate these foods into your diet is to grind them together with other meats.  Then, you’re making that pound of ground beef go a little further, and getting all the great benefits the organ meat as well.  My favorite way to do this is with liver and beef, and make meatloaf with the mixture.  My family likes it, and it’s easier on the pocketbook.  Win-win!

I hope these tips help, happy cooking!


2 Responses to “How can I eat Paleo/Primal on a budget?”

  1. I like your mantra of keeping one self healthy and support the local economy by buying a organically grown produce, 5 star for the great tips

  2. Truth abounds in this article!

    The type of work and prep involved here is something our society is not used to doing anymore because of the huge market for/availability of “convenience” foods. I am incredibly guilty of being lazy and wanting to stay that way! HOWEVER, this work is satisfying and makes me realize how valuable my time is. I daresay it is even… FUN!

    Also, I am constantly fighting the penny-pincher within me that still argues with the price lables at the grocery store (I shall refrain from inserting a sample conversation). To my surprise though, I stayed within a reasonable budget, cooking for two people, buying roughly 75% organic foods. I was shocked.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing and re-motivating. As always.

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