Eating paleo is, for many of us, one of the best dietary choices we've ever made. Cutting out bread, legumes, dairy, and other digestively agitating foods can eliminate food allergy symptoms and other modern ailments that come from a Standard American Diet. Of course, living on fresh natural foods can get fairly pricy. So what can we do?
I went to my Paleo community for answers. Here’s a compiled a list of their top eight tips for grocery shopping on a budget.
1. Know Your Local Butcher
For the best prices, get your food right from the source. The more times food is bought and sold, the higher the markup will be.
So if you want good cuts of meat—and a lot of meat each week—find a local butcher to shop with. You may have a grocery store with a real butcher or you can find a local butcher shop in your region.
You can also join in on whole-animal sharing programs, pitching in for part of a whole cow or pig. The discounts on these cuts are profound compared to grocery store filets and steaks.
2. Focus on Seasonal Produce
Don't get hooked on one kind of fruit or vegetable. Routine is nice, but good prices are better. Seasonal produce is what is harvested and available right now. This means the supply is high and the demand is low (AKA lower prices).
On the other hand, out-of-season produce needs to be imported or grown in controlled environments (like greenhouses), which incur additional expenses, making them costlier for consumers. By choosing seasonal produce, not only can you enjoy fresher and more flavorful options, but you can also save money and support local farmers.
3. Meal Planning & Ingredient Sharing
Plan your meals ahead. Whether you're cooking from inspiration or cookbooks, there are several ingredients that may pop up or need purchasing.
Instead, plan for the meals you'll cook based on the ingredients you can find in bulk. Then, choose recipes where the same ingredients are used. This will keep your grocery list short and your variety of meals long. (Just consider the many meals you can make with fresh chicken and mixed chopped vegetables! Roasts, stir fry, soups, kabobs, salads, curry, fajitas.)
4. Buy Produce Directly From Farms
Direct connection to nearby farms is the key to affordable and high-quality produce. You can join a farm-sharing group of people who buy a percentage of a local farm's produce or join a produce delivery service for a box of fresh produce each week.
Many paleo home chefs shop at the local farmer's market. This is a gathering of local farmers and other fresh food providers to sell their product directly instead of through grocery stores. Shopping at the local farmer's market can put you in touch with your local farms and provide a great place for seasonal produce.
5. Work With Whole Animals & Parts
Want a lot of meat for a little price? Buy a portion or an entire animal carcass. You don't have to buy the whole cow, but join a cow-sharing program where you and a few others might split up the large cuts of an entire cow along with the organs, bones, and connective tissue that make highly nutritious (but more challenging to cook) ingredients.
Cook a whole chicken into soups and stews. Buy whole haunches of beef, pork, or lamb to work with. The more of an animal you can commit to purchasing, the more affordable each pound of meat will be. You can always freeze what doesn't get eaten within the week.
6. Render Your Own Fats
Fats are a very important part of the paleo diet. They make up the bulk of your calories and provide the oil for most of your cooking. Buying cooking oil is hardly necessary if you know how to render fats. Keep your bacon grease in a jar. Buy well-marbled cuts of meat and keep the drippings. Put pieces of fat in a slow cooker on low to melt. (Once fat is cooled and solidified, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.)
7. Try New Cuts of Meat
Another thing you can try is unusual or unfamiliar cuts of meat. Your local grocery store likely always has a few deli cuts on sale. The reason is low demand. You might find that you like shoulder, strip, or rump roast instead of the center steak cuts we're trained to recognize and trust. There is stew meat, chuck, chops, and other cuts you may be wholly unfamiliar with.
Instead of only buying familiar meats, try these unusual cuts. Discover their flavor and find recipes that work for these less expensive cuts of meat.
8. Buy on Sale & Freeze the Extra
The paleo diet focuses on natural ingredients, but they don't have to be fresh. Thawed frozen foods are almost as good as farm-fresh ingredients when it comes to cooking paleo at home. Here are two ways you can do this:
- Buy large bags of frozen foods when they’re on sale. Things like huge sacks of chicken legs or frozen chopped vegetables can be a real investment for paleo on a budget.
- Buy fresh food in bulk and freeze the extra. Pat dry and freeze extra ground beef into single-servings ready for the pan. Make casseroles and freeze extra portions. Anything you don't eat this week becomes frozen ingredients for future weeks of already-budgeted paleo cooking.