Eating Paleo on a Budget
If you read some of my preceding entries, you might be aware that one of my big goals for 2015 is to take control over my spending, particularly the money that I spend on groceries. I struggled with this even before embracing the primal lifestyle earlier this year, but I must say that eating paleo has definitely exacerbated the problem. Unfortunately, we live in a society where high quality food is a luxury, so trying to do right by my body has been costing me a pretty penny. While the quality and quantity of meats and produce that the paleo lifestyle calls for are a huge factor, I also have to take responsibility for my own high-brow preferences when in the grocery store. Buying certain cuts of meat over others that are just as nutritious, splurging for some different variation of a vegetable just because it’s a pretty color (though I know that there is no difference in taste), or “treating” myself to ridiculously expensive “paleo” treat because one of my favorite bloggers has posted about it. After having been happily paleo for over a year now (crazy!), I have come to see the error in my ways and I am ready for share all of my knowledge with you guys. Hopefully this will be helpful for some of you guys out there who might be looking to make some changes in your lifestyle without breaking the bank.
Create a Meal Plan. Make a List. Stick to it.
This budgeting tip is useful regardless of your dietary preferences. Taking the time to think about your meals for the week before going to the grocery makes a huge difference. For one thing, it keep you from buying too much food, which lessens the likelihood of it going to waste. This is especially true with produce. From a financial standpoint, having thought about what you need for the week and made a list of things that you need to buy keeps you from snatching up any random thing that you think you might want. While thinking ahead about what you need is one thing, it’s a whole other thing to actually stick to the list once you’re in the store. I’ll admit that I’m rarely ever successful at this. Whether I go in for one thing or fifteen things, I always come out with something extra. What I can say, however, is that when I at least make the effort to stick to my list, I come out with a lot less extra stuff than when I go in without a list or when I completely disregard it.
Ground Meat, Canned Fish, and Frozen Meats/Fish
Animal protein is a key component of the primal lifestyle. As we know, buying large quantities of meat and seafood can get pricey pretty quickly. While I enjoy treating myself to expensive cuts every now and then, it’s way more practical to stick to ground meats, cheaper cuts, and canned fish, such as salmon, tuna, or sardines, for the day to day. This is especially true if you’re trying to stick to grass-fed meats and wild caught seafood, which is already more expensive. Ground meats and canned fish are pretty versatile so as long as you’re creative you shouldn’t get too bored too fast. You should also explore frozen meats and fish, as it is general cheaper than fresh versions. Trader Joe’s sells reasonably-priced grass-fed steak in their freezer section as well as wild caught salmon, cod, tilapia, and other fish. When buying frozen meat or fish, just go for the plain, unseasoned varieties as opposed to the pre-seasoned/flavored ones as some of the ingredients can get a bit funky. Obviously, you can (and should!) jazz them up with quality spices and homemade sauces on your own.
Buy Local and Seasonal
This one might not seem like an issue for your budget but it can be. Buying food that in season is often cheaper than buying things that aren’t. Aside from just budgeting, this is also just a good general produce-purchasing practice (yes for alteration!). This post (http://www.insonnetskitchen.com/a-guide-to-eating-locally-and-seasonally/) from Sonnet at At Sonnet’s Kitchen does a good job at explaining why buying local seasonal produce of beneficial for both your health and your wallet.
I always forget about on the frozen vegetables when I’m in the grocery store. Because I generally associate “frozen food” with crappy microwavable dinners and other nutrient-poor, chemically produced food-like options, strolling through the freezer section often never occurs to me. Depending on what your plans are for your veggies, buying them frozen may or may not make sense. Obviously, if you’re planning to eat them raw, go fresh. If you’re planning to steam them or add them to stir-frys or soups, however, frozen could be a good look. When buying frozen, just make sure to check the label for any added ingredients. Trader Joe’s offers a number of frozen veggies that are just the vegetables with no additives and they can cost far less than their fresh counterparts. If there are no added ingredients, you shouldn’t be concerned about the nutritional content of frozen vegetables as they are often as nutritious, if not more, than fresh vegetables since they are frozen at the point where they are most ripe. Frozen veggies are also a great way to go if you haven’t perfected your meal planning skills and are prone to having veggies go bad before you use them.
Knowing When to Buy Organic V. Non-Organic
For those of us who are ballin’ and trying to live healthily, buying organic is an easy choice. If you have the money, why not? If you’re trying to watch your spending, however, it’s beneficial to know what produce is more likely to contain pesticide residue and thus, might make more sense to buy organic. To help with this, it’s worth taking a look at the “Clean Thirteen” and the “Dirty Dozen” to familiarize yourself with which produce is generally safe to buy non-organic and which may not be. You should also check out this list (http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list.php) that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes every year detailing which produce contains the highest levels of pesticide residue. A more general rule that I use when I’m unable to consult these lists is to buy organic for things that don’t have a hard shell or thick skin protecting the part that you eat (i.e. apples, spinach, tomatoes, etc.) and buy non-organic for things with protective coverings (i.e. bananas, avocados, etc.).
Don’t Feast on Nuts and Seeds
Of all the things on this list, this is probably the one that will be the biggest struggle for me. I absolutely love nuts. Almonds, pistachios, pecans, walnuts – you name it. I also really enjoy the various butters that are created from these nuts, which are now widely available in grocery stores all over. While nuts, seeds, and their butters make great primal snacks, they should by no means be a large part of your diet. A handful of nuts to curb your appetite between meals is okay but they shouldn’t be eaten in place of meals or in quantities that are comparable to a meal in calories. I know all of this and still, I indulge. I over-indulge. After realizing that I lack self-control when it comes to nuts, I have had bouts over the past 9 months where I stopped buying them all together. This was helpful in that it made me realize that I often eat nuts simply because I love them and not because I’m hungry. It also brought it to my attention how much money I spend on them. If you’re occasionally snacking on almonds they last a while and so it’s not a a big deal that they’re a bit expensive. If you’re going through two 1-pound bags of almond a week, at 7 bucks a pop, it starts of add up. If you have self-control, I suggest keeping a bag of your favorite nuts around for a quick snack or to pack when traveling, but don’t rely on them as a major source of calories.
Don’t Get Caught Up in the Hype // Keep It Simple
One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about “going paleo” is experimenting with ingredients to which I hadn’t previously given much thought. With all the paleo food blogs and cookbooks out there, it’s easy to get wrapped up in trying a bunch of new recipes, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The tricky part, however, is to realize when those recipes are A) moving you away from the principles of the primal lifestyle and B) costing you way too much money. Because the paleo lifestyle has a reputation for being super restrictive, many food bloggers spend time creating recipes that mimic non-paleo dishes while using ingredients that are “technically paleo.” Some of the common ingredients used are nut flours such as those made from almonds and hazelnuts, fancy starches and powder such as arrowroot and tapioca, and unrefined sugars such as pure maple syrup and raw local honey. This scenario is especially common when it comes to making “paleo” breads and desserts. These things are fun to play around with but ultimately, they get you way from the “real food” mentality upon which the primal lifestyle based and result in you over-buying obscure overpriced ingredients. Having learned this lesson the hard way, I would say that you should resist the urge to dive into the world of complicated “paleo” recipes and keep it simple most of the time. Invest in your spice cabinet and use it to create amazing tasting meats and veggies rather than putting in extra time and extra money into trying to create “paleo” versions of unhealthy foods.
That’s all I have folks! Hope this is helpful. I will be informally chronicaling my grocery budgeting throughout the year. Hopefully I will be able to heed my own advice. *fingers crossed