Eating Paleo on a Budget? Make These 3 Inexpensive Snacks at Home
“Wait — so you don’t eat bread?”
This is generally the first question I hear when my low-carb, high-fat diet comes to someone’s attention, usually by way of my turning down an invitation to pasta or pizza.
But once I explain the lack of grains on my menu — and the surplus of meats, eggs and fresh veggies that replace them — there’s a follow-up query I also hear pretty frequently.
“But how do you afford it?”
Eating Paleo Doesn’t Have to Destroy Your Budget
I’ve been eating something close to a paleo diet for about three years now, having slashed carbs to finish up the last few digits of my 80-pound weight loss. (I say “close” because I still, and will always, eat cheese.)
Once I learned how good eating this way made me feel, I never looked back at the fried rice, cupcakes and ramen I’d left behind, regardless of what the scale said.
Well… almost never. I might be lying about the cupcakes.
Although I feel amazing, eating a low-carb diet can be pricy. After all, many of the cheapest, most versatile kitchen staples — like rice and noodles — are off my menu now. Fresh produce can be expensive and finicky, apt to go bad quickly if you don’t properly store it. And meat, of course, is always relatively costly.
The thing that really tripped me up, though? The prepared, packaged snacks specifically marketed to low-carb and paleo dieters, which are delicious, convenient and almost always prohibitively expensive.
But if you want to give the paleo lifestyle a try, you shouldn’t use expense as an excuse. You can just as easily waste money on standard American diet traditions — like a weekly or biweekly pizza night, for example.
What’s more, most of those fancy paleo snacks are actually super easy and cheap to make at home.
Here are a few of my favorite paleo snack recipes — and how much money you’ll save by making them yourself.
1. Kale Chips: Save $2.50+ (and get *way* more chips!)
My favorite brand of kale chips runs about $5 for 2.2 ounces (i.e., a one-sitting, gone-in-five-minutes serving) at my local Walmart — and I’ve seen them at specialty stores for even more.
But kale chips could not be easier to make at home, and you’ll get a whole lot more than a paltry couple of ounces. You can also easily customize them any way you like by adding different spices — the possibilities are endless.
The basic recipe calls for very few ingredients: kale, oil, garlic powder and salt. Just chop up the kale, toss it in your oil and topping, and stick the chips in the oven.
Although the price of the veggies will depend on your market, everything else costs only a few cents, so your whole batch shouldn’t cost more than $2.50.
One bunch kale: $2 (approximately; will vary depending on your market)
Two tablespoons olive oil (35 cents)
Salt, garlic powder, and other spices (15 cents or less)
You can also chip-ify carrots, squash, zucchini and sweet potatoes in a similar fashion — just make sure you slice ‘em nice and thin!
2. Pasta Alternatives: Save $2 per serving
Giving up pasta is a deal-breaker for many would-be paleo folks. I ate so much of it growing up that I wasn’t too heartbroken… but I was pretty thrilled to discover shirataki noodles, a plant-based pasta alternative with nearly zero carbs or calories.
I was not quite as stoked to discover that a single package of shirataki noodles sells for more than $3, however — because no matter what the label says, that 7-ounce package is only one serving.
Luckily, there’s a crazy-cheap, versatile and easy alternative.
Next time you’re craving noodles, just spiralize some zucchini — or another favorite vegetable or fruit. (You do have to go in for the one-time price of the spiralizer, but you can find them for $10 or less.)
Shirataki noodles have a totally neutral flavor, making them more or less an expensive vessel for your favorite sauce. But vegetable noodles are flavorful and nutritious, and you can come up with some really creative dishes.
They’re also super cheap.
I often find large zucchini on a 2-for-$1 sale at my local Publix, which is a relatively expensive grocery store. But even if you paid $1 for each vegetable you spiralized, you’d save at least $2 compared to shirataki noodles.
3. Low-Carb Sweets and Cookies: Save up to $1.20 per serving
I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to afford to eat sweets very often if I wanted to stick to my diet.
But if you have a raging sweet tooth, you can still get your fix while eating paleo — without paying a punitive amount for the privilege.
Allow me to introduce fat bombs. Don’t let the name fool you; you can actually lose weight while eating them.
Used by those on extremely low-carb, ketogenic diets to satisfy cravings, these sweet treats make up for their lack of sugar in richness. One of my favorite recipes is simply butter, coconut oil, cocoa powder and your favorite nut butter — a couple drops of stevia are optional.
Even if you use all the fanciest, most expensive ingredients, the math comes out to about $3 for a batch, or 12 cents per bomb.
4 tablespoons grass-fed butter (70 cents)
8 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil ($1.11)
4 tablespoons natural peanut butter (37 cents)
4 tablespoons dark cocoa powder (39 cents)
1 packet or a few drops stevia (45 cents)
Total: $3.02, or 12.6 cents each, if the recipe turns out 24 fat bombs
You can find all sorts of fat bomb recipes online, some of which will call for artificial sweeteners or even sugary additions like maple syrup, which people debate about including as a paleo-friendly food. You can adjust the ingredients to your specifications and comfort level — and your budget.
Perhaps the most basic and inexpensive “fat bomb” of sorts is simply eating your favorite nut butter with a spoon, which costs a fraction of a cent per serving and is totally paleo-friendly. (Just don’t overdo it!)
The Best Way to Save Money on Your Diet… is to Eat It
When following any specialized diet, you can go to all sorts of acrobatics trying to find ways to “replace” the foods you’ve given up. Think of vegetarian “meats,” dairy-free dairy products and the whole slew of gluten-free baked goods.
But these specialty items are almost always expensive, and usually not actually as healthy or beneficial as simply following the diet’s actual rules.
At the end of the day, I can afford to eat paleo simply because I usually just… eat paleo. I buy fresh produce, meat, eggs and nuts, and little else.
That means actually living without bread. Or rice. Or ice cream. But it also means not buying $7 gluten-free, nut-flour bread on the regular.
Don’t get me wrong: This diet (or any other) isn’t for everyone.
But the advice to stick to whole, fresh foods instead of trying to hack the system with fancy, overly-adjectival packaged goods will help keep your wallet healthy, no matter your dietary preferences.
Your Turn: What special dietary needs do you have, and how do you afford them?
Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a freelance writer whose work has been featured at Ms. Magazine, BUST, Roads & Kingdoms, The Write Life, Nashville Review, Word Riot and elsewhere.