On a mission to eat healthier this year? You may want to try the diet you’ve been hearing so much buzz about: paleo.
In case you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t heard of this diet (which would be super ironic), it’s based on the idea we should eat what our ancient ancestors ate.
There’s one big problem, though: Going paleo is expensive.
Of course, there are long-term benefits of better health, but purchasing paleo-friendly food can quickly eat up your food budget.
To help you try this new style of eating, we scoured the web and found 14 tips for eating paleo on a budget.
What is the Paleo Diet?
“The Paleo Diet is based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors,” explains ThePaleoDiet.com.
It promises eating like this “will help to optimize your health, minimize your risk of chronic disease, and lose weight.”
Paleo-friendly foods include meat, seafood, fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds and healthful oils.
Paleo no-nos include grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, processed foods and refined oils.
How to Eat Paleo on a Budget
If you want to go paleo on a budget, here are some general tips. A little further below, we’ll get into finding produce and meat on the cheap.
1. Go Part-Time Paleo
Want to dip your toe in paleo? Go ahead!
No one’s saying you have to go all-in right away. By going part-time paleo, you can slowly let your body and budget adjust to your new diet.
“If the idea of switching to a completely paleo lifestyle sounds too scary or expensive, try switching to 80% instead (heck, even 50% is better than 0%),” explains Joel Runyon of Ultimate Paleo Guide.
“Just try it and see what happens,” Runyon says. “Something is a whole lot better than nothing. And you might just find out firsthand that things aren’t nearly as expensive as you expect them to be.”
2. Purchase Items in Bulk
Buying in bulk is good advice for any grocery-buyer, but it’s particularly true for paleo — the diet features expensive oils and flours.
You’d be surprised what you can buy from warehouse stores like Costco and Sam’s Club.
Think: olive and coconut oil at a fraction of the grocery store’s price!
3. Use Coupons and Rebate Apps
One of our favorite tools is Ibotta — the app gives you rebates on things like eggs and vegetables!
4. Get Creative
Just because the paleo gods say you’re supposed to eat something doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you can eat.
Finding cheaper substitutes for common paleo foods will greatly reduce your costs.
On his site, Runyon suggests:
- Getting protein from hamburger patties, pork, chicken and eggs
- Getting healthy fats from avocados instead of nuts
- Substituting apples for berries
5. Find Inspiration Online
The online paleo community is huge. There are tons of blogs and forums dedicated to supporting and informing you in your paleo journey.
How to Buy Paleo Produce on a Budget
Fruits and vegetables are the staples of a paleo diet. Here’s how to get them cheaper:
6. Buy in Season
Don’t try to buy green beans in January — they’re not in season, so they’ll be both expensive and hard to find.
Instead, join a CSA to receive produce boxes with whatever’s in season.
Also, try visiting your farmers market near closing time. Barter with farmers trying to offload their extra items.
7. Grow Your Own Garden
One of the best ways to save on veggies? Starting your own garden. It’s a great workout, too!
You can also can, freeze and pickle your garden’s bounty and can reap the benefits all year long.
8. Don’t Buy Organic
The jury’s still out on whether organic food is actually better for you. It seems like it should be, but there’s not really any scientific evidence to back up the claim.
It’s probably better for the environment, but strictly speaking about your health and wallet, you can probably opt for non-organic.
I’ve read time and time again it’s important to consume more fruits and vegetables — organic or not.
9. Learn to Love the Frozen Aisle
If you can’t afford to buy all fresh fruits and veggies, it’s OK.
Frozen foods are packaged right after they’re picked, so they’re sometimes fresher than what you’d find in the produce section anyway.
In addition to being affordable, frozen fruits, vegetables and seafood are quick and easy, making it convenient to cook even when you’re tired.
How to Buy Paleo Meat on a Budget
The other mainstay of paleo eating? Meat. Preferably grass-fed, but it doesn’t have to be.
Here are a few tips for finding meat on a budget:
10. Rock the Crockpot
The crockpot is your friend.
Why? It turns tough into tender.
“You can buy cheaper cuts of meat and slow cook them for hours, and they will turn out
delicious every time,” explains George Bryant of Civilized Caveman Cooking.
11. Go for Odd Cuts
Which leads perfectly into this next tip, also from Bryant: “Learn to love undesirable cuts of meat.”
In other words, organs.
“They are usually the cheapest cuts of meat since many people shy away from them,” he explains. I guess if you’re putting it in a crockpot with yummy seasonings, who cares what it is?
Don’t forget: You can also eat roadkill.
12. Look for Meat That’s About to Expire
Nearly every grocery store has a section of discounted meat.
Check here first, and you might find great bargains.
“Go to the grocery story just before your evening meal,” suggests Runyon. “Cuts of meat that are coming up to their ‘sell by’ dates are often quite heavily discounted. Don’t worry – they’re still good!”
Another trick? If you’re not ready to eat the discounted meat right away, stick it in the freezer.
13. Leave the Bone In
Not only is bone-in meat cheaper, it also allows you to make stock, which you can use for cooking all sorts of recipes.
“If you always chose your meat bone-in, you’ll have a steady flow of bones to make stocks all the time,” explains Sébastien Noël of Paleo Leap.
“Having stock as the basis of most of your meals won’t just cut your bill, it’s also very healthy. Stocks are full of nutrients that we only find in good quantity in bones.”
14. Buy an Entire Cow
Want to take it a step further? Buy the whole animal!
“Join a cow- or pig-share,” suggests Steph Gaudreau of Stupid Easy Paleo. “You chip in to buy a large quantity of meat, and the price is often cheaper per pound than the grocery store. You’ll need a large amount of freezer space.”
To help you get started, check out this post about buying and storing local meat from Paleo Plan.
Is Eating Paleo Expensive?
It can be. But it also might be worth it.
As Runyon points out:
“Paleo can change your health and your life but you have to engage with it in order to make that happen,” he explains.
“It takes a willingness to invest time, money, and resources… Instead of seeing the extra money you’re 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 expenses it could help you avoid.”
Your Turn: Will you try the paleo diet? How do you save money on your meals?
Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.