Written by Jackie Stevenson, DTR
Simply, yes. I do it consistently.
First off, everyone’s idea of a small food budget is different. According to the USDAs March 2015 report, the average female my age (29) spends about $43 a week on their ‘thrifty’ plan. The table also shows budgets all the way up to a ‘liberal plan’, a whopping $59.70 per week. For the sake of this experiment, we will use $43 per day. I’m out to prove that you can certainly eat Paleo on even the smallest budget. “Eating healthy is too expensive” is no longer an excuse. Below you will find some general cost-saving tips I use regularly, and a real meal plan I have implemented in my household.
Rule #1: Plan your meals. I guarantee you will not be able to stay within budget if you do not plan ahead. If you are new to Paleo, use resources like PaleoLeap.com to find recipes that are actually Paleo. Several websites pretend to know what they are talking about, then use ingredients that aren’t Paleo friendly. Also, read our Paleo 101 article to learn the basics. If you are familiar with what is and isn’t allowed in a Paleo diet, Pinterest is a wealth of knowledge for new recipes and ideas. You just need to weed out the ones that have non-Paleo ingredients included. Don’t go crazy finding perfect ones, remember the 85/15 rule.
Rule #2: Once you’ve accepted that you need to plan, hit your local store’s circular to find out what’s on sale. Spoiler alert, 90% of sale items probably aren’t Paleo. Focus on meat and produce specials and plan your meals around select items on sale. If you have the funds, buy sale items in bulk and freeze when the going is good. I personally love Big Y’s Buy 1 Get 2 Free sales, but they are few and far between on things I actually buy. Aldi is another favorite store of ours for budget friendly buys. All Natural Savings made this handy list of Paleo-approved foods at Aldi. No matter where you shop, try not to overbuy perishable items as you will likely waste the savings by throwing out expired foods.
Rule #3: Buy organic when you can, but know where to cheap out. Of course everyone would love to buy free-range, grass-fed, grass-finished meats and organic, non-GMO fruits and veggies. But this is real life, and sometimes the budget takes precedent. Take note of EWG’s dirty dozen and clean fifteen lists to buy organic where absolutely necessary, and buy regular where pesticide contamination isn’t as prevalent. Again, pick high quality items up when they’re on sale.
Rule #4: Utilize your leftovers. I know, taking last night’s dinner for lunch isn’t all that exciting, but it’s so important! You can get creative with leftovers and re-purpose them. For example, the meal plan shows me eating chicken tenders Wednesday night. I made a big batch and saved the rest to make a quick chicken parm on Wednesday. Also a good timesaver!! One of the best budget savers is buying a whole chicken, roasting it one night, then making a killer crock pot chicken soup the next day (see Sunday and Monday dinners).
Cost calculating notes (boring, but necessary):
Prices will likely vary a little depending on location, sales schedule, etc. Also note that some items included in recipes are staples I have already invested in. For example, I add about ¼ cup of ketchup on my meatloaf, but you will have to buy a whole bottle right off the bat, so your initial investment may be a little larger, but will even out as you continue to cook with your new staples.
It should also be said that I cook for my husband as well. In general, he likes my cooking, but some Paleo ingredients are a little out of his comfort zone. For the sake of this experiment, I am only including what I spent on my portions, since he often fends for himself, buying lunch at work, etc. Most likely, you will be cooking in bulk for several people as well. The other variable is your preferred portion sizes. I used standard food portions based on product nutrition facts for the sake of calculation, but if you eat more or less of something, your numbers will change a little.
Ok, now that the basic rules I follow are over, here’s this week’s meal plan.
Things to notice: If you are overwhelmed by the amount of calculations here, take a step back and take in the basics.
1. Dinners are the most costly meal of the day, an average $3 per person. Try out your meal planning skills here first. Once you’re comfortable, budget breakfast and lunch.
2. Snacks are often repeated, decide on a few snack items, buy in bulk and eat them all week.
3. Leftovers are heavily utilized. Pick recipes that will hold over well to eat the next day.
4. Not everything is organic-as mentioned before, go organic when you can, but if you are on a strict budget this isn’t always possible. My meat this week was not organic.
If you aren’t a fan of my personal meal preferences, that’s fine. Stick to the rules and be creative with your own taste preferences. Keep an eye on the blog, new Paleo recipes are usually posted weekly.