Paleo Plan

Eating Paleo On A Budget

I just had a conversation with a good friend of mine, Alex (pictured here), who said she eats Paleo for $6 to $7 a day. That’s only $180 to $210 a month! She’s basically made a science out of buying enough food and spending the least amount of money as possible – she’s a whiz at saving money.

Anyway, I thought a lot of people could benefit from her expertise, as I seem to have none in this area; I sometimes spend $600 a month on food for myself alone. I like expensive items like smoked wild salmon, pre-marinated pastured pork chops, and organic dates that are like $12 a pound. But it’s possible to eat well and cheaply like Alex. The thing is that you may have to skimp on quality, which sucks. For instance, the meats you buy may not be pastured or even organic, and your fruits and veggies might not be organic either. It’s debatable at that point whether you’re even eating Paleo, but in my opinion non-organic meats and produce are better than non-organic grains and pasteurized dairy any day.

Plus,there are certain fruits and veggies that are not necessarily much better when they’re organic due to their low or nonexistent pesticide residues. This list of the “Dirty Dozen and Clean 15″ tells you which items are best bought organic and which are unnecessary to buy.

Here’s Alex’s grocery list. Some items come from Whole Foods and some come from King Soopers (a conventional grocery store in Colorado), where you can find some organic foods and things are often cheaper.

Alex’s Budget Grocery List

Non-organic prepared rotisserie chicken – $7/chicken
Non-organic avocados – $1 each (she doesn’t buy them if they’re more than that)
Organic sweet potatoes – $2/lb
Organic bananas – $.79/lb
Non-organic bulk pork chorizo – $5/lb
Non-organic omega 3 eggs – $3/dozen
Kale – $2.50/bunch
Lemons and limes – cheap
Olive oil

That’s it. She’s getting tons of protein, decent fats, enough carbs (she’s very active), and tons of nutrients in her produce choices. Kale, as we all know, is chock full of vitamins and minerals, and so are sweet potatoes. Now, a disclaimer here is that Alex is my size, meaning she’s basically a midget, so she doesn’t eat much. She probably gets about 1,400 or 1,500 calories a day, so you may be spending more than she does if you’re larger.

Here’s her daily menu.

Breakfast
2 eggs
1/5 pound chorizo
baked sweet potatoes

Lunch
1/4 of a rotisserie chicken
avocado (if she has it)
sweet potatoes

Snack
banana

Dinner
More rotisserie chicken
kale salad with olive oil and lemon juice
avocado

To add calories you could just add more olive oil, more avocado, more meat, more fruit, and/or more eggs. Yes, she’s eating the same things all the time, but those foods are pretty delicious. You could mix things up by getting different meats on sale, different veggies, and other fruits on sale. You can also buy meat in bulk like I do and get a quarter of a cow for $4/lb. Alex supplements her diet with elk meat that her dad gives her, too.

This is just one person’s way of eating Paleo on a budget. Any of you have any tips for doing Paleo on the cheap?

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24 Comments

  1. Brian

    I’ve joined both a meat and veggie CSA. it’s helped me to keep a high quality of food, and still pay less. I end up getting a variety of pasture raised meat for around $7 a pound, and the veggies cost $30 per week for a bushel bin. Plus it gives me a bit more variety. I also buy coconut oil in extreme bulk from sources like Tropical Traditions. and finally, by intermittent fasting one or two times a week, my food consumption goes down.

  2. I’m at a place in my life where (thankfully) I can afford to purchase high quality, organic food and I usually don’t even know what things cost that I buy…which can be quite embarrassing when you are recommending a product and are asked how much it costs????

    This is an awesome example of how someone can eat a grain-free, paleo style diet on a budget…I think that the trade off of quality of ingredients is still hand over fist better than thinking you can’t afford “paleo” and buying a whole mess of processed crap food.

    Kudos to Alex!

  3. Laine

    I would be careful with Rotisserie Chickens. They have all kinds of hidden ingredients..including gluten sometimes and other grains, sugar, Modified food starch, MSG..etc. The list is long on most of the RC’s. I was sad when I read that because they are cheap and juicy and generally very tasty. We don’t eat them anymore, so just thought I would give you an FYI.

  4. Although I could never survive on what Alex eats, it is possible to eat Paleo on a budget. I’m writing an e-book on this right now so stay tuned! A few things to keep in mind are that different cuts of meat cost less. Ground meat is often cheaper and can easily make a meal for a whole family. We only buy the dirty dozen organic but we do buy high quality meat simply because it defeats the purpose for my body to not eat it. A few meals that will be in my cookbook for under $10 (for a whole family) include squash spaghetti with ragu sauce, pork lettuce wraps, and zucchini boats. I always have enough left over in my recipes for lunch the next day. If you make a meal plan each week, you will save money. It’s when you buy off your list that the cost goes up. I also try to stay away from baked Paleo goods as they tend to cost a lot to prepare.

  5. AudreyV

    I always say, you can pay now, with a little more expensive paleo food, or you can pay ALOT later, with thousands of dollars of medical co-pays from eating the standard american diet ;)

  6. I guess it depends on how “strict” we are going to be about paleo. I think we all make deals with ourselves when it comes to cost. For example, I get non-grass fed beef often. The studies haven’t shown huge benefits to grass fed beef over standard beef yet. The main thing is that it has a slightly higher content of omega-3′s. Typically, I will look for minimally processed meats instead. Trader Joe’s has some fantastic options for paleo on a budget!

  7. Ragu sauce has A LOT of sugar in it, but I, too, pick my battles, and can’t always buy the ideal.

    I buy grass-fed/drug-free meats when i can, but sometimes I don’t, and my results have still been very good.

    Same for veggies. Organic is nice, but sometimes I don’t care/want to spend the (significant)extra $.

    I still think that to be Paleo-ish is WAY better than to eat the diet I used to (and that much of America does).

    Like Kevin mentions above, I would like to see more studies of how grain-fed meat varies vs grass/pasture -only. I am not convinced there is a significant difference that is worth the large difference in priced. Hormones & drugs I am with you that they are to be avoided, corn-fed… not so much… I prefer science vs hunches.

  8. I have no problem eating the same foods often. I typically eat organic chicken, organic broccoli, organic lettuce, and organic apples. Chicken thighs seem to be the best taste and meat for your money! Now that the farmers markets are back there is a little more choice but not always cheaper. It’s hard to stay on a budget but not hard to stay close to tgat budget… Either way we are all doing ourselves and the world a great thing by eating healthy foods!!

  9. Scott McCoy

    Terrific article.

    Adapt and overcome.

    Do the best you can with what you got.

    I always felt once I can shop at Wholefoods and not worry about prices, I’ve made it.

    Not true.

    Eating right on every budget takes a little planning and discipline.

    Your bodies performance with be noticeable.

  10. Scott McCoy

    Forgive me fellow Marines,

    Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.

  11. As someone else said, be careful buying the rotisserie chicken. If it’s from Whole Foods or somewhere similar it’s probably okay regarding a lot of additives, but it may still contain gluten.

    I think a better (and cheaper) solution would be to buy a whole raw chicken. They’re usually around $5 each, and Costco sells two-packs for $10. They aren’t all that difficult to roast yourself and you know exactly what you’re getting on them.

    Personally, I don’t think I could eat such a limited diet.. typically if my budget is tight, I’ll give up something else in order to have a wider variety of food.

  12. Peg Bayless

    @Peter Banta: I think when Stacey said “ragu” she didn’t mean the name brand Ragu stuff made by Unilever. Here is an example of a great ragu recipe: http://www.grouprecipes.com/526/rich-beef-ragu.html

    I hear what Peter and Kevin are saying about grain fed versus pasture fed beef. And believe me, the prices make me cringe, too, and I often compromise to stay in budget. However, when I ask myself why am I eating Peleo, I logically follow this question to the idea of the animals that I eat need to be eating what THEY were designed to eat also in order for me to be optimally healthy eating food that is optimally grown. That is where my thoughts go anyway. FWIW>

  13. NiftyDeb

    I am on a VERY tight budget and have made the leap to go Paleo. I’ve shopped Trader Joe’s for decades, good times and lean times, and can easily find organic and non-organic products. I have a Fresh & Easy very nearby, so I pick up my normal grocery list from there AFTER I’ve hit the “99 Cent Only Store” first. Name brand bananas (7) and a name brand spinach salad, dried blueberries and almonds artichokes, raspberries, blueberries, bok choy and celery. Very fresh THAT day so I bought them to incorporate into my meal plan. And Trader Joe’s ground beef is very good. Now to stock up on coconut oil. Sorry, this is getting long but here’s my simple recipe for moist and flavorful homemade rotisserie chicken: Combine 1 Tbl salt, 1 tsp pepper and 1-2 tsp of a product from Penzeys called Trinidad Lemon Garlic Marinade. Rinse the chicken and dry inside and out with paper towels. Sprinkle seasonings inside the cavity, cover the outside with a bit of olive oil and rub seasonings on the outside. Allow chicken to sit 10-15 then set rotisserie for 45-60 minutes. Net cost under $5, under $3 when chicken is on sale. Delicious. Oh, and my local grocery store, Stater Bros store brand of pork sausage, next to $$$ Jimmy Dean and $$ Farmer John’s, has no nitrates and less -$

  14. Personally, I would ignore the arguments about spend more now, save on cancer later. The fact is, some people HAVE to cut corners, it’s not a matter of wanting too. When there is not enough money, there is not enough money. It is truly a terrible socioeconomic issue in the country. That being said, I would go by the clean 15/dirty dozen lists when picking and choosing organic items. The chickens at conventional stores in Boulder are full of salt and plumpers. The ones at Whole Foods are NOT and are only 1-2 dollars more (in fact they were only $6 a chicken yesterday). Organic sweet potatoes, avocados and bananas aren’t super important to eat organic if you had save money somewhere. I would honestly buy the organic chicken, organic eggs (again $3/dozen at Whole Foods), organic kale, and then get conventional of the other items. Just my two cents.

  15. Be careful when choosing olive oil. Many cheap olive oils aren’t pure olive oil; they’re diluted with other oils (usually soybean) and some may even be 100 percent soybean oil with coloring and flavoring to make it seem like olive oil. There’s no regulation whatsoever (in the U.S.) to ensure you’re getting what you’re paying for.

    Here’s a good resource for reputable olive oil: http://www.truthinoliveoil.com/great-oil/best-olive-oils

    I just switched to McEvoy, and I can already feel and taste the difference. I guess it could all be in my head, but, when I eat crap oil (soybean or canola) something feels off, as though I can sense the inflammation, but I don’t feel that way when I cook with McEvoy.

  16. I just started the paleo plan and I am not buying organic!

  17. Great post, and a great reminder that a huge budget isn’t required! I would agree with Kelly and others, though, on choosing when to splurge on organic. Alex could buy conventional sweet potatoes at a third of the cost of organic (they are on the clean 15 list for low pesticide residue), and use the money saved to buy more quality chicken, pork, or eggs.

  18. My family gets our veggies from Market on the Move. It’s about $6 a week for 30lbs of assorted veggies that didn’t make the cut (too close to being ripe, or not the right shape usually) for the buyers at the grocery stores. Mostly not organic, but if you’re on a tight budget…

  19. Great list of items, easy to mix and match items for new recipes. Like the chicken flavored ramen stir fry with non organic omega 3 eggs ;)

  20. If you buy whole chickens, they usually have the heart and giblets tucked away inside. I take those out and freeze them separately for another meal. And you can use the bones for stock. A whole six dollar chicken can go a long way.

  21. I mean it’s all dependent on what you prioritize. I ENJOY cooking more than anything. I’m single (and yeah a dude). I LOVE getting creative with my ‘paleo’ based meals. I waste NO food. For example, I buy a pastured chicken for around 13 bucks. I cut it up and make four meals out of it. I make chicken stew with all the leftover bones and such. Without wasting any food (no food goes rotten), I spend anywhere from 450-500 dollars. However, this is what I value. Food and cooking is therapeutic for me, AND if it means cutting my alcohol content or my cable bill THEN by all means. If cost-cutting is what Alex values and she still maintains a better diet than 90 percent of Americans, THEN more power to her!

  22. I always *love* (sarcasm) the “eat paleo now and SAVE SAVE SAVE ON HEALTH COSTS LATER” — well, I’m disabled and I have a food budget, if I’m very, very lucky, of about $200 a month.

    I finally moved out of a highly complicated (not relevant here…) living situation. Just when I thought “hey, maybe I might be able to afford quinoa, etc., and I will be able to cook in a sanitary, safe environment” my boyfriend (who makes $90k a year) decides Paleo is the way to go. I think that’s great, but he’s not the one that has to come up with the cash for me to eat on my own.

    I *get* Paleo is healthy, and I desperately want to be more healthy. However: I don’t _get_ to make the choice of “LATER” costs…I live month to month, on less than $19k a year with well more than 1/3 of my income spent on housing.

    So, yes: overall, Paleo ‘as prescribed,’ in the US, is a higher income lifestyle than mine.

  23. Thanks for all the great tips listed above. I am ambitiously seeking better health and I am gluten intolerant, and with so many reports of people regaining their health through paleo I am reading up on it. But the cost!!

    Again, many thanks!
    Mel

  24. Karim

    Very inspiring plan ;)
    But … She drinks tap water? No herbs or spices ?
    And … NO RED WINE!?
    I eat a Paleo Mediterranean Diet :)

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