On a Tight Grocery Budget? These Paleo Recipes Will Help You Keep it

Paleo breakfast cups with a side of berries
Paleo breakfast cups with a side of berries. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder
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By now, I’m sure you’ve heard of the paleo diet. Or maybe you know it by another name. The caveman diet? The Stone Age diet?

Whatever you call it, the idea is the same. Paleo dieters aim to eat the unprocessed, healthy foods our ancestors would have eaten, rather than the processed stuff loaded with ingredients we can barely pronounce.

You know what I’m talking about. All the stuff you’re used to seeing advertised on big, glowing sign as you commute home from work.

That not only means you should skip the McDonald’s drive-thru in the evening, but the whole milk with Frosted Flakes you had for breakfast is also a no-no.

This doesn’t mean food has to be boring.

You still get to eat your fill of meat, fish, fresh fruits, vegetables and other foods our Stone Age ancestors might have snacked on.

Paleo Recipes Can Get Pricy, but They Don’t Have to Be

Eating a paleo diet at a time when processed foods are getting the blame for everything from obesity to cancer might sound great. But when the conversation shifts to grass-fed, organic beef and wild-caught salmon, most of us probably stop hearing the benefits and start seeing dollar signs.

While paleo traditionalists do believe higher quality and more expensive meats are the best option, you shouldn’t let the price tag deter you from switching to a healthier diet.

Instead, follow the principle that unprocessed foods with limited ingredients are better than their processed and packaged counterparts — even when that mean choosing nonorganic options.

And while we’re on the subject of traditionalists versus average paleo eaters, we have to talk about salt. Loren Cordian, the researcher and author who popularized the diet, is against all forms of salt, even from kosher and sea salt.

However, those who eat paleo but don’t subscribe to the most stringent rules still eat sea salt. After all, it’s just evaporated ocean water.

Some of the recipes we include below call for salt. We’re trusting you to decide whether you want to include it when you cook.

Kick Your Day Off With a Paleo Breakfast

Ham and egg breakfast cups with a side of berries
Ham and egg breakfast cups with a side of berries. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

We got this recipe for ham and egg breakfast cups from Wellness Mama. It only takes a few minutes to prep and cook 12 of these, so making breakfast for the entire family in the morning (or yourself for a whole week) is a breeze.

Here’s What You’ll Need:

  • 12 to 24 slices of nitrate-free ham: $5.22-$10.44
  • 12 eggs: $1.19
  • 2 green onions: 17 cents

The original recipe includes cheese as an optional topping. But as you already know, dairy products are not paleo. If you try this recipe, skip the cheese.  

Remember, you’ve got some options for toppings, like salsa or parsley, if you want to add a little something extra.

For full preparation instructions, check out Wellness Mama.

We also want to remind you that although this paleo recipes calls for pricier nitrate-free ham, it’s fine to start out with conventional meat.

The total cost rings in at $6.58 to $11.80, which should make about 12 cups (55 cents to 98 cents per cup).

We’ve Got a Cheap Paleo Lunch Idea Too

We eased you into this whole paleo thing by mentioning you can’t have dairy. Unfortunately, I have more bad news: no pasta either.

I don’t make the rules, but I do have an alternative for you.

Zucchini noodles. Zoodles for the initiated.

If you ask Pinterest, it will say you need a fancy spiralizer to make zoodles at home, but there’s no need to buy yet another kitchen tool — even if you plan to eat zoodles every day. You can use a vegetable peeler to make these. Sure, you end up with wide ribbons instead of spaghetti-like noodles, but they are just as tasty.

Once you’ve got your zucchini cut, you’ll need to make a tomato sauce to go with it. Skinnytaste has an awesome meat-free zoodles recipe.

Here’s What You’ll Need:

  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil: 8 cents
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped: 18 cents
  • 3/4 pound grape tomatoes, cut in half: $4.71
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil: 23 cents
  • 1 large zucchini: 65 cents
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Skinnytaste recommends this as a side dish, but you could add meat or more veggies to make it a bit heartier.

The awesome thing about this is you probably have most of the ingredients in your kitchen already. And if any of the ingredients for the sauce are unavailable or too expensive, you can get by with canned tomatoes and dried basil or a paleo-compliant bottled sauce. Just remember to check the ingredient list.

The first time I made this, I was concerned the zoodles would get soggy if I cooked them the night before and reheated them at lunchtime. I’m happy to report that I’ve refrigerated them for up to two days and microwaved them with no problems.

This meal costs under $6 — about $5.85 before the salt and red pepper flakes. If you decide to enhance the recipe with some protein or additional veggies, the cost will rise.

Cap it All Off With a Paleo Dinner

Tomato basil chicken thighs being cooked in a pan
Tomato basil chicken thighs. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

After all getting your fill of delicious but cheap paleo meals for breakfast and lunch, you can go for the gold with dinner.

Ancestral Nutrition has a fantastic-sounding recipe for tomato basil chicken thighs.

Here’s What You’ll Need:

  • 4 thin chicken thighs: $3.19
  • 2 tablespoon ghee: 35 cents
  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half: $1.49
  • 4 large basil leaves, sliced: 46 cents
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced: 12 cents

Follow Ancestral Nutrition’s recipe to cook this $5.61 meal along with a few cups of roasted vegetables, and you’ve got dinner for several days.

You can switch the chicken thighs out for chicken breasts, but that changes the flavor — chicken thighs are juicier — and the more expensive chicken breasts up the price.

In case you’ve never heard of it, ghee is clarified butter with all the dairy removed. It can be a little tough to find. If you can’t find it, you can replace it with olive oil. Remember, altering recipes to fit your needs is the best part of cooking.

Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.