Thinking of trying the Paleo way of eating? It can be expensive with grass fed this and pastured that but it doesn’t have to be. Learn to Paleo on a budget.
One of our forum members is doing a weight loss challenge at work and I threw in my two cents about Paleo. I’ve been doing it for seven years and love it. It sparked some conversation and we’re doing a “Paleo boot camp.” Paleo can get expensive but because we’re LMM, we can do anything on a budget – especially Paleo on a budget.
The basic principle of Paleo is that our genes are essentially the same as our Paleolithic ancestors. Those people were hunter gathers, they ate what they could hunt, fish or forage. Because we are the same, our bodies have not adapted to eating foods that only became available once human society transitioned from hunter gatherer to agrarian.
What You Don’t Eat
There are several versions of Paleo; Primal, Whole Thirty, Perfect Health Diet. Each is a little different but at its core, Paleo forbids grains (pasta, rice, bread), dairy (milk, butter, cheese), and legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas).
What You Can Eat
If you’re considering switching to Paleo, focus on this section. What you can eat, not what you can’t eat. And this is the best time of year to do it because all of the most delicious produce is available now.
You can eat meat, seafood, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. If this sounds restrictive, lets compare two typical days of eating. An average person who eats a standard American diet and what I ate yesterday:
Breakfast: A bowl of cereal with milk, a glass of orange juice.
Lunch: A turkey sandwich, bag of chips, and a banana.
Dinner: A bowl of pasta with Bolagnese.
Breakfast: Spinach and blueberry smoothie with egg white protein powder.
Lunch: Three scrambled eggs and a salad with spring mix, raspberries, and home made salad dressing.
Dinner: Barbecued chicken, steamed asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, half a baked sweet potato with butter and cinnamon.
Which day looks better to you? Average basically ate the same meal three times, beige bread. My meals were colorful, full of produce, vitamins and minerals.
Ease Into Paleo
Over in Boot camp we are starting with one Paleo meal a day, breakfast. Breakfast is generally the easiest meal to cook and if you eat a Paleo breakfast as opposed to something like a bagel or cereal, you’ll be full longer so it’s a good place to start.
Don’t Say Anything!
Perhaps the only thing Vegans and Paleos have in common is hearing comments on our dietary choices. If you decide to go Paleo, just do it, don’t mention it. This will cut down on the comments and if you are trying to get a family on board, it will be easier.
Chances are, if you just start serving Paleo meals, a lot of people won’t even notice. A salad, some meat, and two veg is a normal dinner. It’s not like you suddenly sat a plate of squirming meal worms on the table in front of your family. But if you announce, “No more pasta!” you will have a revolt on your hands. Just do it and see how long it takes anyone to notice.
Put some water, a few cups of spinach, a handful of berries and a teaspoon on cinnamon into a blender and drink it down. It really doesn’t taste much like spinach. Especially good if you can’t face solid food first thing in the morning or are in a rush, breakfast on the go. If that’s all you’re going to have it helps to add some egg white powder, a Paleo protein source.
If you have some more time fry a few eggs and veggies for an omelet with a side of bacon. Eat an avocado with some smoked salmon. Make these little tuna cakes the night before and heat them up in the morning.
Don’t Buy Any Fancy Equipment
You can go nuts buying fancy blenders and sous vide machines but you don’t need any of that to get started. A regular old blender or immersion blender will blend up produce for a smoothie. It won’t completely liquefy it like a Vitamix but if you add enough water you can drink it. If you get really into cooking you can invest in some of these things later but don’t buy them when you’re just getting started.
There are dozens of books on the merits of Paleo and hundreds of Paleo cookbooks. You don’t have to buy any of them, all the information you need is on-line.
Because I wanted this article to focus on doing Paleo cheap I haven’t included a lot of information on the science behind it and the many benefits of it. If you are interested you can check out these sites that will give you call the information you need.
Mark’s Daily Apple: Mark Sisson advocates “Primal Paleo.” There is a ton of good info here.
Nom Nom Paleo: Nom Nom is really famous in Paleo circles. She is a more advanced cook than I am but I’ve made some of her recipes with great success.
Stalkerville: This site grabs Paleo recipes from all over the net. No matter what your skill level or particular brand of Paleo, you will find hundreds of recipes here.
The Paleo Solution: This is Robb Wolf’s podcast, he’s the heir apparent to Cordain.
Latest in Paleo: I think this was my first Paleo podcast. Angelo Coppola has a great voice and gives the latest Paleo news each week.
Now, onto the good part. Where and how you can buy Paleo foods cheaply.
You’re Gonna Have To Cook
I know some of you don’t but it’s part of being an adult. You probably don’t like doing laundry or cleaning the house either but those are things adults have to do. If you want to do Paleo without spending a fortune, there is no way around it.
You don’t have to be a particularly good or imaginative cook though. Getting a slow cooker will go a long way. You can throw a cheap cut of meat in there with some vegetables and it will turn out pretty good because a slow cooker makes tough meat really tender.
If you don’t have a slow cooker you can make what I call “Paleo chow” on the stove. You throw some ground beef, a chopped onion, chopped garlic, a bag of coleslaw mix and a can of tomato sauce into a pan and cook until the meat is done. Low carb, high protein, lots of veg and done in about 20 minutes.
The Perfect Is Not The Enemy Of The Good
Paleo does emphasize the quality of ingredients. And sometimes it does make a big difference whether from a health perspective or a taste one. Grass fed beef has more Omega 3’s than CAFO beef. I don’t notice a huge taste difference to be honest but there is no question that grass fed is better for you.
Some types of produce, tomatoes, stone fruits, berries, taste better from a local source. It’s because they are bred for taste, not to travel well or have a long shelf life like the stuff in your local grocery.
But if we’re doing Paleo on a budget, we can’t afford all of that. If you are eating Paleo, even if everything is from your local Walmart, you are still doing better than the vast majority of Americans.
It Matters Where You Shop
Everyone touts farmer’s markets and that’s what I have near me in a city but they are not cheap. And not just on the coasts. I was at a market recently in the Midwest and stuff wasn’t too cheap there either.
What you should look for is a farm stand. That’s just a farmer who sets up a few tables next to his mail box and sells what he grows or produces from there. No such thing in the city but if you live in the country or have a car in the suburbs, try to find one. The food will be local, fresh, delicious and cheap!
If you aren’t lucky enough to have farm stands near you, find ethnic shops. They have less overhead than big super markets so the food is cheaper and you might find some unfamiliar stuff that would be fun to try out.
Find A Friend
If you are cooking for one it’s hard to buy in bulk which is cheaper, because you can’t use the food up before it goes off. If you can find a Paleo friend, you can buy bigger portions and split them. This may be a way to afford grass fed meat too. You can buy a quarter of a grass fed steer and it will be cheaper than buying a few pounds at a time in Whole Foods.
You can split a CSA this way too if there isn’t a produce box small enough just for one. I’ve written in the past about ways to make your produce last longer which will help reduce wasted food and money.
Get Used To Leftovers
Some things, like soups and stews, taste better as leftovers! Eating leftovers saves money and saves time. It doesn’t really take more time to make a double batch of stew than it does to make a single and there is zero additional clean up time to doubling a recipe.
But if you really don’t like it, do this: make a regular recipe amount and freeze half. Do this each time you cook and in a few weeks you will have a variety of things to choose from so you won’t have to eat the same thing twice in a row.
Leftovers are good for breakfast too. Eating beef stew for breakfast might seem weird but it doesn’t taste any different than it does at night.
Some Paleos practice IF. I do it once a week. It’s not just for weight loss, I’m not trying to lose any but there are various health reasons I do it. I can’t go a whole day without eating, get too grumpy. So I skip dinner, breakfast, lunch and then eat dinner. So for a big portion of my IF day, I’m asleep!
This is not for everyone but there is no better way to save money on food than by sometimes eating less, un-American, I know.
As a last word on Paleo, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I eat this way 90% of the time. I do eat grass fed butter and sometimes some cheese. I have zero problems eating Paleo at any restaurant. Even rice heavy cuisines like Chinese or Indian will have something a Paleo can eat.
I also don’t do it when I am a guest in someone’s home and you shouldn’t either. An offer to feed you is an act of love and acting snobby about your diet is rude and a good way not to be asked back.
Paleo is not as cheap as the good old austerity diet of rice, beans and lentils but it’s healthier and tastes better and is not as expensive as you might think. Give it a try and see if you don’t feel better. Good luck!
Have you had any experience with being Paleo on a budget? If so, share your stories with us in the comments!
Featured Image Photo Credit: “Banksy’s caveman” by Lord Jim on Flickr for Paleo on a Budget