I've covered the topic of healthy eating on a budget once already in my Priorities for Eating Paleo on a Budget post. And Robb Wolf has a post on his site about it. And I've covered this in my book Practical Paleo, in a bit more detail, but it seems we can never share enough information and tips for making eating real, whole foods easier for as many people as possible. So, in light of a ton of new readers hitting the blog, I decided to share with you some more tips of my own, as well as many user-contributed tips for healthy eating on a budget.
Some of these tips are directly grocery-shopping money-savers, while others are going to challenge you to rearrange your budgeting priorities to allow for more dollars towards food each week and month. I realize that many of you are not in a position to make those changes – and those points are not directed at you.
Also, be sure to check out my video on eating Paleo on a budget – there's lots of helpful info to keep your budget on track!
Buy locally and in-season.
Food that you buy from a local farmer is fresher, and generally less expensive since there are no additional transport charges that are normally factored in for items like fresh produce from other countries (kiwis from New Zealand, avocados from Mexico, etc.). Additionally, if you can buy directly from the farmer outside of a farmers' market, you'll likely get the best deal possible since there is no middle-man at all. Farmers' markets are often pricey to sell at, so be aware of this when you baulk at prices of items and try to buy directly as often as possible. I know that, for example, my local farmers' market in San Francisco (CUESA at the Ferry Building) carries a hefty fee for each vendor, but the crowd is huge and I'm sure they all sell very well each week.
Buy larger, less popular cuts that work well when made in bulk, as roasts, or in braised/slow-cooker recipes.
This often seems to make people feel like they're buying something “less-than” since it's not a steak, but the reality is that less expensive cuts of meat that are slow-cooked are not only some of the best tasting, but also some of the healthiest. Cooking foods at lower temperatures generally makes them easier to digest, which is also a very good thing. And, I'm a huge fan of meatballs and burgers, as evidenced as well by recipes within Practical Paleo, so go on ahead and get into some ground meat, will ya? I eat ground meat very often myself – probably more so than any whole cuts.
Buy in bulk when items are on sale.
This is especially true for meats and fats like grass-fed butter and coconut oil. Whether it's via an online merchant, in stores like Whole Foods where grass-fed ground beef often goes on a pretty hefty sale, or in bulk at Costco, this tactic is a great one all around. I actually encourage people to buy meat in bulk even if they aren't as budget savvy because it doesn't take much space to store it if you invest just a little bit of money in a good drop or chest freezer. You can often find a freezer via a site like Craigslist, NextDoor, or Facebook Marketplace locally, but stores like Best Buy also sell new ones for pretty reasonable prices considering how much money you'll save on meat when you can purchase more than a few pounds at a time. I recently bought several pounds of grass-fed butter from Whole Foods when it was on sale for $1 off each, then froze it for later when I was ready to clarify it. This approach also guarantees you'll have meat and quality fats on-hand at all times.
Cook in bulk so that what you buy in bulk is not wasted.
Many of you with busy lives and families know how hard it can be to cook an entire meal from scratch for a family every night of the week. When you buy in bulk, and cook in bulk, you guarantee you're using up everything you purchased, rather than letting any go to waste. Be sure to stock up on freezer and oven-safe glass containers that are durable and useful in reheating in the oven or toting to work.
Find a local pasture-raised animal farmer, become his/her friend, and go in on meat shares with friends and neighbors.
This is hands-down the best way to purchase meat. It's the most cost-effective and also yields the highest quality food. If you aren't going to grow it yourself, this is your next best bet! It's also always less expensive to buy directly than to have any sort of middle-man involved. This approach also requires an extra freezer as you'll not only be getting a lot of meat at once, but often your farmer will freeze it before it even gets to you to preserve its freshness.
They're often less expensive since most people are not buying them and are extremely nutrient dense. If you really want to get the most nutrient-density-bang-for-your-buck, organ meats are where it's at! Liver, heart, kidneys, brain, sweetbreads, adrenals, etc. You name it, they're almost always richer in micronutrients than our old favorite: muscle meat.
Not sure how to cook organ meats? Here are some recipes from a few trusted Paleo chefs in the blog-o-sphere as well as one of my own:
Make bone broth.
If you're looking for amazing minerals in your food, broth made from bones (or even from some veggies if that's your taste) will extract as many minerals from the food as possible. Minerals don't get destroyed when cooked but they will transfer to the water to make the broth an extremely cost-effective, nutrient-dense food. You can cook bones until they are gone if you want to make the absolute most of them! This is just another part of the ultimate nose-to-tail dining experience to enjoy alongside muscle meats and organ meats.
Fermented foods tend to be among some of the more expensive in the grocery store, but are some of the cheapest to make at home from very few ingredients. You can get a huge nutritional bang-for-your-buck by making your own sauerkraut, kombucha, or even fermented pickles.
I'll be writing a lot more about kombucha and other fermented goodies soon, but for now check out these at-home, good-bacteria-growing recipes:
Raw Sauerkraut (Balanced Bites)
Fermented Dill Pickles (Primal Palate)
Kombucha: How To Make Your Own Scoby (The Kitchn), DIY Kombucha, Second Fermentation (Cultures For Health)
How to Make Kefir (Cheeseslave)
Re-prioritize how you spend your money.
The constant struggle to be able to spend more money on food may ultimately come down to priorities. Do you have a nice car? A big home? An extensive cable TV package? What about a fancy coffee habit? Where are you spending your money that does not directly and positively impact your physical and emotional health that could be otherwise directed into it? Challenge yourself to look at your finances and see where you spend more than is really necessary, and perhaps a few dollars each week will reveal themselves as available for higher quality food.
And here are more tips from my readers:
- Use local butcher ads to make your meal plan.
- Buy pantry items (like nut flours) in bulk to save.
- Bake items using more “exotic ingredients” (like above-mentioned nut flours) less often.
- Grow a garden.
- Farmers markets!
- Shop at Costco.
- Roasted chicken = a few meals worth of meat, plus bones to make bone broth. All for around $12.
- Eat organic vegetables only from the list of The Dirty Dozen.
- Avoid convenience, pre-cut, and prepared foods.
- Don't waste parts of vegetables: use stalks of broccoli to make slaw, tops of beets or carrots can be juiced or used in broths.
- Keep backyard chickens.
- Hunt your own meat.
What are your favorite money-saving tips for eating healthy?