Paleo Plan

10 Tips for Eating Paleo on the Cheap

moneyWe just received our 1,459th question about how to eat Paleo inexpensively. Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but there are a lot of people who ask for help with budgeting their Paleo groceries.

Luckily, my husband and I just decided to try to cut our food budget in half because it was getting a little out of control over here, so I have a lot of suggestions. Here goes.

Meat

First of all, go to eatwild.com and find a local rancher to sell you pasture-raised/grass-fed meat for cheaper. I have half a cow and half a pig in my extra freezer right now that I bought for about $4/lb and $3/lb respectively. Both are pasture raised. My freezer cost me $140 on Craigslist. Here’s a tutorial on the process of buying local meat (summary: it’s not hard at all).

Then when you have that meat in your freezer, EAT IT! Get in the habit of taking meat out a day or two in advance to prepare for when you’ll actually need it. It’ll save you emergency trips to the store, where you’ll be forced to buy good ground beef for $8/lb.

If you can’t find a source of meat locally that’s cheap (I don’t think you looked hard enough), here’s what you do at your health food store. Buy whole chickens, or just the cheap parts of chickens, and make soups and stews. Buy cheap cuts of all kinds of meat and slow cook them. Or cut them up into really small pieces and make goulash-type dishes. When tough cuts of meat are cut up into small bits, they’re way less tough. Or buy ground meat and organs and mix them together for a really cheap, nutritious blend of animal protein and fat. You can really make any cut of meat taste delicious.

Veggies

Buy cheap veggies. Stay away from the peppers and other really expensive ones and stick with carrots, onions, celery, cabbage, and the other cheap varieties. We now have a limit in our house of $2/lb for veggies, and most of them are under $2/lb – all are organic. Get involved in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) co-op, where you receive produce and other goodies weekly for relatively cheap from local producers. LocalHarvest.org is a good place to find one.

No More Luxury Items

Don’t buy unnecessarily expensive foods like bacon, olives from the beloved olive counter, really expensive chocolate bars, dried fruit, etc. Buy cocoa powder and make chocolate bars yourself (heat up cocoa powder, honey, coconut flakes, and coconut oil and then freeze it on parchment paper in the shape of a large thin “bar” – it’s amazing). And make sausage or bacon from the pig you buy from a local rancher (the meat processor you use will actually do this for you).

Make your own coconut milk ice cream instead of buying it for $7 a tub. Our ice cream maker was $70 and one of the best investments we’ve ever made.

Dry your own fruit in the oven or dehydrator.

Oils

Get a Costco or Sam’s Club membership. We went the other day and found a 4-lb tub of organic coconut oil for $20. Yes, $20. Also, if you buy a local pig or cow, you can ask for the fat and then render your own tallow or lard. It’s really easy – it just takes a little time. You could do it while you watch a football game on a Sunday…

Flours

Get coconut and almond flours in bulk instead of in expensive, small bags. Then make large batches of baked goods if you’re into that. Then freeze them and take them out as needed. There are cheap sources of the flours online, too. Always look into buying stuff online! If you have the premium membership to Amazon, you get free shipping, so things like coconut milk and flours can end up being cheaper there than grocery stores.

Eggs

I just found an organic, pastured egg source at Vitamin Cottage for $3.50 a dozen, as opposed to the $8 ones at Whole Foods – see if you can do the same. We also used to get our eggs from a local egg producer for about $2/dozen. She was just too far away for it to be sustainable, but you might have better luck with that. Again, look on eatwild.com. Or buy yourself some chickens :)

Make Broth

Broth really does go a long way. We just bought two organic turkey wings this week for $2.30/lb, stuck them in a large pot of water with some chopped up wilting carrots and celery and let it simmer overnight. Now we have this delicious huge pot of broth that is the base for all kinds of foods. For instance, our breakfast consists of soup made from broth, a little bit of pork sausage from our pig, eggs, and whatever veggies we feel like eating that morning. We also use it in stews, dinner soups, chili, and other large dishes we make in bulk for use during the whole week.

Don’t Waste Food

Don’t throw food away. I mean, you’re literally throwing money away when you do that. That’s a really good thing about Paleo Plan’s meal plan is that we tell you how to use all the food you buy on the list we provide. But on or off the meal plan, you have to be really diligent about knowing what’s in your fridge at all times. If you make a lot of meat at one time, with the plan of eating it later in the week, make sure you eat it later in the week. And don’t wait three days to eat it or you’ll start to wonder if it’s gone bad, turn your nose up at it and start pretending it’s not there.

Don’t buy more food until you really need to. Take stock of what you have in your cabinets, freezer, and fridge, and don’t buy more food until you’re actually out of things. That way you’ll actually end up using the stuff you have, even if it’s getting a little wilted. Wilted veggies really are usually just as delicious in cooked dishes as fresh ones. They may not have quite the nutritional value they once did, but oh well.

Cheap Carbs

Eat potatoes, especially if you’re active and not diabetic (please no comments from the die-hard low-carbers: some of us really can tolerate carbs). Potatoes are really cheap. And yes, they’re Paleo :)

On the carb note, make stuff out of tapioca flour. It’s cheaper than coconut and almond flours, and it mixes really well with both of those to give baked goods a sort of glutinous texture.

In Conclusion…

Overall, just try to buy things on the cheap in smart and healthy ways, don’t waste food, and plan out your meals for the week so you don’t end up going out all the time for lack of preparation. In other words, channel your great grandmother :)

I’m sure I missed a bunch of things – anyone else have tips?

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31 Comments

  1. Where do you buy your grass-fed beef in Boulder? Can you name names? Thanks!

    • Neely Quinn

      Dave – Sorry about that! Yes, Brad Olson is his name – he’s amazing :) You’ll find him at http://www.carnivorelife.com. We get our dog’s meat from him, too, for about $2.30 a pound.

  2. @Dave I get my beef from http://www.bbarsranch.com/ in of Nederland. My suggestion for Almond flour is to make your own. 3 pound bags are around $11 and grind it up in a food processor.

  3. Thanks, Neely

  4. Great ideas! Will definitely have to try some of these things… since my Wholefoods receipts have gotten higher and higher…

  5. Does it matter that neither of the grass-fed beef suppliers mention “organic”? Should I worry that the grass is treated with something bad? Thanks

  6. So, in an article about how to eat paleo on the cheap, you include buying a $140 freezer and a $70 ice cream machine…

    I saw this post pinned on Pinterest and am always interested in how this paleo thing is even financially possible for people who make an average salary. Would you mind sharing your monthly food budget?

    For the record, I don’t eat paleo, but have tried it, and one of the big reasons I found it ridiculous was due to cost. Clearly, for someone living in an apartment, a deep freezer isn’t going to be an option. A single parent on a limited budget isn’t going to be able to shell out money for food in large quantities. For these reasons, among others, I’m still trying to understand how paleo is such a great diet if it seems to exclude a large portion of the population.

    • Neely Quinn

      Hi Gretchen – I was actually just looking at and enjoying your website yesterday – I’m disappointed now that I disappointed you with this article :/

      So to answer your questions, I live in an apartment and my deep freezer is located in my dining room. No, it’s not pretty, but it’s a choice I made so that we could have $3/lb grass-fed, pastured meats always at our disposal. When you think about it that way, the $140 you’d spend on the freezer will return to you in a matter of months due to the amount you’ll save on meat from the grocery store. We were paying $4-$9/lb from health food stores for crappy cuts of organic meat. Know what I mean?

      Our monthly food budget is now $80/week for both my husband and me, plus about $200 on meat every 2 months. So about $105/wk total (for both of us). Almost everything we eat is organic, so I think that budget is quite honestly outstanding. If you want to eat well, you have to pay for it as you know, but our budget is similar to a lot of people on Standard American diets eating lots of processed, packaged foods.

      All of the suggestions I made have brought my own food budget down by more than 50% this last month. We were spending an enormous amount of money on food every month because we were getting all kinds of expensive items and not following my own advice.

      I think a lot of people are daunted by the price of Paleo when they first start out because they’re buying a whole bunch of spices, oils they don’t usually use, flours they don’t have in their house, raw honey, and other things that can be expensive. But you don’t buy those things all the time, and once you’ve been on the diet for a week or so, your food expenditures go down because you already have those things in your kitchen and pantry.

      As for the ice cream maker, we really did put a lot of thought into whether it was financially worth it to buy one of those things. It was. That is, it’s worth it if you’re going to be buying ice cream if you don’t make it yourself. Each tub of coconut milk ice cream at the store costs about $5-$8. We can make about as much ice cream with one can of coconut milk and a little bit of honey (which adds up to about $2.50 to $3). For a while we were eating a lot of ice cream, and a batch of it is usually our contribution when we have parties or go to pot lucks now. So it has really outdone itself with its financial return :)

      I hope this helps explain things a little more, but please let me know if you have questions or other comments.

  7. I am new to your site and find it incredibly helpful. Just wanted to say thank you for all of the information you have provided here. :-)

  8. Thanks for your reply! Your explanation is really helpful. Does your budget allow for snacks & lunches, too? I still don’t think paleo is for me (I’m simply not interested in making broth, tallow, etc. The same way I’m not interested in growing all of my food.) I’m frustrated that we have to go to such extreme measures to eat well.

    I appreciate your feedback (and for checking out my site!). So many people go on the paleo defensive rather than explain how it can truly work. Cheers!

  9. bell6160

    I have been on the Paleo Plan for about 3 weeks now. We are a family of four – two kids under 5. Our budget has gone down considerably each week since we started and for that I am so thankful. I can attribute the change to the menu in general, (I’m not good at planning out meals ahead of time), and also the lack of allowable gluten/processed snacks. We aren’t buying granola bars for the kids, we are making them something similar. They also have quickly grown to like almonds as a snack or fruit with almond butter.

    I was worried about jumping into Paleo for the same reasons as Gretchen but have seen such a change in my own health that I saw any extra money spent as an investment in my family. Now our grocery budget has gone down! My husband and I have really enjoyed the meals on the Paleo Plan and are looking forward to many more!

    Also, we found our stand up freezer through a friend who was moving. She posted it on FB for $30 and I grabbed it up! My husband has found a few on Craigslist for around $50. We also have the ice cream maker from Cuisinart and really enjoy it. I see those pop up on CL sometimes, too. Bed, Bath, and Beyond has them on special in the summer. I’m excited to try some coconut milk ice cream.

    Gretchen, it took me months to decide to go Paleo. Our first steps were just to look for a friend to split a cow with then truly eat that meat instead of buying something else that sounded better and to try to eat more meals with just a veggie and meat – no rolls or bread. I truly feel so much better that it is worth it. The ten dollars I spend to use the Paleo Plan has already saved me at least ten dollars in my shopping and the time spent thinking about meals. Good luck to you!

    Neely, thanks so much for all your info. My husband thinks I’m a great cook now!

  10. Dorothy

    I started doing paleo early in January and I too was worried that it would be too expensive. The cost has gone way down after the initial shop and I have figured out a lot of variations. That takes a bit of thought as I can’t follow the weekly meal plans exactly by doing that. I have given up on sweet peppers and tomatoes for the winter, too expenive, but I am able to get all sorts of squash and other veg. from local growers fairly inexpensively.

    I often make soups from bones or carcasses and use vegetable from my freezer but I read on another website that the proportion of meat to veg. (carbs) should be 3 to 1, meat or protein being the 3. That is hard to do with soups. I don’t know if this might be the cause of my lack of success losing weight.

    That is my one disappointment. I have lost very little weight even though I feel I have tried to stay within the guidelines. I also have had a number of colds and continue to have clogged up sinuses. I had hoped some of these things would clear up without the grains and other nasties but not so.

    Can you make any suggestions?

  11. I’ve done a quick search on your site and it does not seem as if you cover the topic of foods that have goitrogens in them (which are hard on the thyroid gland, if a person is hypothyroid).

    Because you mentioned tapoica flour above (and I think you mentioned in another post that your TSH was quite high for a while last year), I was curious about your view of goitrogens in foods like tapioca, almonds, flax seeds, the brassica vegetables, etc.

    …I expect that you wouldn’t do millet anyway on a paleo diet, but I thought I’d just explain to any readers who might see this that millet has a large amount of goitrogens (the bad thing about millet is that none of its goitrogens are destroyed by cooking, and its goitrogens are actually made more dangerous to the thyroid when millet is cooked, so eating it it is especially bad for low-thyroid people). Unfortunately, millet is in so many multi-grain breads, crackers, no-gluten stuff, etc.

    Recently, I have been looking into expanding my food choices – such as perhaps cutting way back on gluten, or at least trying to avoid the mainstream wheat/wheatflour-based items in favor of unusual and less-adulterated grains, or doing frequent veggie juicing, that sort of thing (…though nowhere near attempting a paleo diet — it would just be more meat than I can handle as a former vegetarian, or can afford, now, or could source, as I’m in a real ‘food-desert’ backwards area of the country and without a car),
    but I’ve been surprised to find that so many of the gluten-free recipes all across the internet and gluten-free products (at least what is on the store shelves, and I DO know that even though this food has its own little section, that stuff can’t be expected to be any healthier than the dismal “regular” food on the typical American supermarket’s shelves!) are absolutely bursting with goitrogenic ingredients (tapoica, millet, flax, etc.),

    plus other ‘diets’/eating plans (like the Ted-talk Iowa doctor’s mitochondrial-boosting multiple-sclerosis-fighting diet – I momentarily forget her name!) emphasize so many of the goitrogenic veggies.

    Goitrogens are in so many healthful ingredients, unfortunately, and the list gets longer every time you turn around.

    For years my TSH has been hovering a point or two above “normal” and I am not on medication for it, so I try in my diet and supplementation to support the thyroid and avoid stressing it with too many goitrogenic foods, maybe having 5 servings maximum in a week of goitrogenic nuts and veggies (broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, radishes, almonds, etc.), and cooking most of them longer than I would normally prefer to (so more of the goitrogens are destroyed in cooking). And no tapioca, millet, flax, or soy for me.


    I was glad to learn about your experience with the iodine/iodoral (of course I am not glad that you had the experience, but it was a very good warning to me!) I don’t have health insurance at the moment and can’t afford to get tested now, but this week I have stopped taking 1 kelp pill a day (containing 225 mcg of iodine, which I took just to get the minimum RDA, since I only use natural sea salt and not iodized salt, don’t eat in restaurants much, live in the “goiter belt” area of the country so there is no iodine in the soil or animals, and am allergic to seafood) because I read about how a lot of kelp tablets have been found to have arsenic and other heavy metals in them, and also that the amount of iodine can vary quite a bit from what is claimed on the label.

    So… I was about to try out some kind of other iodine, such as the iodoral pills or liquid. But your posts have taught me that dabbling in this can quickly become harmful to the thyroid when one isn’t being closely supervised by a medical professional. I’m glad your TSH level quickly reduced.

  12. By the way, would you mind sharing the recipe for the cocoa/coconut homemade chocolate bar you described above?

    • Neely Quinn

      Adonna – It’s a secret :) Actually, I really have no idea how I make it. I just throw stuff in a pan and wait for it to melt while I’m stirring it around. It involves coconut flakes, LOTS of coconut oil, carob powder (for me, but you could use cocoa powder), honey, and a bit of salt. Then I spread it all out on wax paper and put it in the freezer so it makes a bark-like texture. This was my rough estimation of those ingredients that I laid out for a friend the other day. 1 cup coconut oil, 3 cups coconut flakes, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/2 cup honey, 1/8 tsp salt. This is a sweet treat :)

  13. Paleo Jew

    @ Gretchen

    My family is on an average salary (gross about $48,000/year).

    If you can find a proper, old fashioned butcher shop in your area, such a shop is an invaluable resource. I’m (slightly) obsessive about organ meats and bone broth – at my butcher’s shop, I can get marrow bones, beef knuckles, and chicken backs/necks for under $2/lb. They make a rich broth perfect for drinking as is or using as a base for any type of soup, stew or meaty sauce. The same butcher carries a wide range of organ meats, also under $2/lb (and they are organic and/or grass fed :-D ), and less common red meats – bison, elk, venison, goat, and lamb. The prices for bison and lamb are comparable to Costco/Sam’s/BJ’s but are known to be organic, which the bulk price stores are not. As Neely said, buying in bulk, a quarter or half animal at a time, saves money. In my area, a half steer averages about $4/lb, easily half what the same quantity of meat would cost anywhere else, including my lovely butcher’s shop.

    A CSA with weekly veg delivery is also invaluable. The CSA I was a part of for several years (it went bankrupt over winter [SOB] )ended up costing my $26/week for 52 weeks; that was for six months of veg deliveries (about 10 lbs a week), 4 months of fruit (about 5 lbs/wk), and 10 “preserve share” boxes of single items I selected for long term storage. Admittedly, the $900-ish price tag up front was a bit hard to swallow in late winter every year but it was SO worth while. For the years I was a member, the only fruit/veg I ever needed to buy were sweet and white potatoes, onions, and garlic. This year, I’m faced with finding another CSA (there are no others in the area that offer comparable value for similar price) or working deals with famers market vendors. At the moment, the later option looks the most price effective.

    Storage: I live in an 800 sq ft apartment with a husband, a cat, and three children. My deep freezer functions as the dividing “wall” between living room and dining room. The hall walk in closet has been converted to pantry. It’s where all my cans of fermenting, pickled, and preserved foods go, the cans of dehydrated stuff, and the roots and tubers get stored. I have plastic shelving on two walls, with a narrow walkway in between. (It’s also become the best place for various house hold cleaning items like vacuum, mop, etc and also for extra cooking gear I don’t use on a daily basis.

  14. Carole Cecchini

    NEW AT PALEO BUT GREAT INFO AND IDEA’S MAKE SENSE! CC

  15. Just awesome. Easy. Brilliant. Planning ahead is the key to any successful initiative. I’ve been full-on paleo for a month and other than a few poor work-outs while I figured out carbs, the gains far out-weigh the “inconvenience” of planning (no holier-than-thou attitude here, I’ve got a semi-supportive family and I’m cooking two meals sometimes, and it’s tough). Learning the basics (sorry to promote another site here) like reasearching and going to sites like blenditandmendit.com with easy advice on how to break open a coconut properly and how to prepare sugary date substitutes will save u time and money. I was very graciously given a gift of a vitamix, since then I’ve made my own coconut and almond, milk, flour and butter, let alone endless soups on the cheap with carrots, celery, cabbage (u put raw food in the blender and it heats it up via the rotating blades,” cooking” ur soup in 6 mins!)… I’ve spent a ton of time researching recipes and cheap eats. Frankly, learning how to be healthy and trying to “trick” my family on how to eat smart it a neat experience. Thanks so much for the awesome advice!

  16. These are really great ideas and include many suggestions that I haven’t found on other sites. I can’t wait to try making the chocolate bars. Thank you!

  17. Jenna

    Poatos aren’t paleo

  18. For meat $3 a pound is expensive. That doesn’t even matter because my local farms charge $7 a pound and up for ground beef. I just can’t afford that. $3 for eggs is ridiculous, but I can’t eat them anyway (intolerance).

    • Neely Quinn

      Ann – Clearly I’m way out of touch then. How much do you buy your meat for that makes $3 “expensive”?

  19. Great post. Here’s a great grandmother tip my wife taught me — it goes in the Don’t Waste Food/Make Broth categories. Every time you cut veggies and are about to discard the scraps, don’t! throw em in a ziplock bag in the freezer. You know, that little piece of garlic, or the middle of a pepper, seriously, everything. Then use that to make broth. I’ll even throw the chicken carcass in the freezer and put that in the mix. Add salt and pepper, of course, water, and you’ll have the most flavorful broth ever after you strain it. Then carefully pour the broth into smaller ziplocks (after it cools!) and put those in the freezer. Now you have a chunk of broth ice every time you want to slow cook a stew. Leave in on the counter for five minutes and it’ll come out of the bag no problem or run hot water on it. it’s not wasteful at all and tastes so darn good, always slightly different depending on the veggies and spices added. Thanks for the post.

  20. Christina

    A very well written article; thanks for sharing!

  21. Hi Neely,

    I live in So Cal, and I’m finding that the quarter cows/ whole cows are still more expensive than the supermarket!
    Like quarter cow = $900 for 100 lbs
    I’ve looked on a few websites through eatwild.com and that’s the cheapest I found.

    Any insight or ideas would be great! Thanks

    • Neely Quinn

      The SRU – Wow, that is REALLY expensive. Did you look on eatwild.com, localharvest.org, grassfedbeefdirectory.com, and onlygrassfed.com? Otherwise, you may have to buy your own cow. Jeez – that’s SO expensive…

  22. Dorothy – have you tried adding in hot peppers and other immunity boosters? Could also be your body detoxing. Hopefully now (7 mos later) you are feeling better.

  23. Jimmie Ann

    THANK YOU!
    I have just started Paleo and had my first shopping nightmare, I mean experience. It is really sad when you can walk out of the store carrying your bags after spending $105.00. At Walmart that would have been a buggy full. hehe.
    I found this page, and instantly used your link for local ranchers. And to my utter surprise, there is one with what sounds like great beef and prices about 10 miles from me. So again, Thank you for taking time out and creating this website. I have only visited this page but plan on spending some time on the rest of the site.

    Jimmie Ann

    p.s. I started Paleo on Tuesday of this week (today is Friday) and I already feel better. And as an added bonus, I have lost one inch in my waist (only place I measured) and I am down 4 pds. YAY!

  24. Jessica

    This is good information. I would really like to feed my family in this manner. However, I understand Gretchen@HealthfulMama’s point very well. The long term savings are obvious, the problem is having all of that money at one time. We are a 3 person family that makes $36,000/year (we were only making $20k/year until recently, so we feel very lucky). We also live in Chicago. Food is very expensive here and farms are very far away. None of the stores around me sell organic/free range/grass-fed anything. We don’t have a car. I have to haul our 3 year old and a crappy cart onto the bus/train and go to Whole Paycheck in order to get any of that stuff. Our weekly food budget of $100-$150 (with no luxury items) is tight. I usually have to skip a couple of meals when it comes close to pay day. I buy as well as my budget will allow, but I think this is a very difficult lifestyle for anyone under a certain tax bracket, especially in an urban setting. Also, apartments come in a variety of sizes. There are plenty of them that don’t have dining rooms. We only have an eat-in kitchen.

    None of that is your fault, of course. I don’t know your financial situation or your background. You seem very nice and helpful, so I’m not putting you down at all. Seriously. This IS good information. But, as the old saying goes, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. So while someone may be able to afford to purchase a high-priced item that, in the long run, will save them thousands of dollars… others are just stuck paying a higher price per ounce in order to be able to eat that week at all.

    Let me tell you, there is no experience more humbling than walking into the food pantry at the Baptist church on 35th and Cottage Grove and asking for help. I think the problem with the Paleo food movement in general is that it’s out of touch. A lot of people really can’t afford to eat this way.

  25. Charity

    Jessica – You’re right. A lot of people really can’t afford to eat Paleo, but who says you have to eat this way 100% of the time? Just do the best you can.

    The goal is to make healthier choices – whenever and however you can. Can’t afford organic? Then buy whatever is available. Need to stretch your money for week? Make soups and stews. Can’t afford meat at all? Then eat beans until you can afford the meat. Don’t have time to cook because you are working two jobs? Use a slow cooker.

    I also would like to argue that eating Paleo can actually be cheaper than the Standard American Diet. When I buy strictly meat, vegetables, fruits, and seeds, my grocery bill is always less than normal. Of course, I buy mostly what is on sale and hunt for cheaper prices on everything. It is only when I start adding in the extras like almond flour, vegetable chips, a special cut of meat, etc. that my grocery bill gets high. I also am not strictly Paleo. I will eat oatmeal for breakfast every now and then. It keeps me happy.

    If life has hit you hard and you are going to the food pantry, then make do until you get back on your feet. If they happen to give you the choice, try to lean towards canned vegetables, fruits, meats, and nut butters instead of pasta, bread, and cereal.

    So yeah, life is hard. Unfair even. Just do the best you can. :)
    .

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