20 Ways to Eat Paleo for Super Cheap

By Max Wong on 19 August 2015 0 comments

For many people, a high protein, low carbohydrate (AKA paleo) diet results in better nutrition and weight loss. However, since paleo diets are more reliant on meat and exclude inexpensive staple foods such as grains, beans, and root vegetables, they can be costly. Luckily, there are a number of ways to cut the grocery bill and eat paleo at the same time.

1. Eat Adventurously

Honestly, if you are going to be preachy about paleo, then you better be eating bugs. That's really how our Paleolithic ancestors got much of their protein. They weren't eating bacon. In fact, 80% of the world's population still eats insects as a regular part of their diet because they are, in a word, delicious. Seriously, tarantula tastes like crab. Personally, I crave cricket tacos, but bug purists Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek forgo the tortilla and eat them straight like potato chips.

Bugs are also an excellent source of cheap protein. For example, crickets are a complete protein, have twice the amount of B12, and 60% less saturated fat than ground beef.

And, unlike beef, pork, or poultry, bugs have a much lower risk of transferring disease to humans. They epitomize clean eating. (The only caveat to eating bugs: Because they are close cousins to shellfish, people with shellfish allergies should not eat insects, even in larval form.)

If you are too squeamish to try one of the 1700 different edible bugs, then try finding exotic recipes for unloved animal parts such as liver, tripe, or feet. Although I hate liver and onions, I love liver pâté. Liver is rich in iron, copper, and vitamin A. If you have ever eaten a McRib sandwich you've already eaten tripe, so you might as well enjoy the far superior Florentine recipe. Since I am one of those people who believe the skin is the best part of roasted poultry, I am a crazy fan of duck and chicken feet as they are 100% chewy yumminess.

2. Buy the Unfashionable Cuts of Meat

One of the reasons to make friends with your butcher is preparation advice. Cheap cuts of meat like neck bones or chicken feet are cheap for a reason — the average American doesn't know how to cook them. Good butchers can tell you how to cook everything from pigs' knuckles to oxtail for optimal flavor and texture.

3. Don't Waste Food

This seems like a no-brainer, but Americans throw away 30% of their food each year. Use your bones for stock. Leftover bacon grease makes anything fried in it taste that much better. Use wilted vegetables and leftovers to make Thursday Night Soup.

4. Grow Your Own

Did you know that you can buy seeds and food plants with SNAP EBT benefits (food stamps)? So, even if you are on the barest of food budgets, you can supplement your diet with your own organic produce.

5. Create a Food Cooperative With Your Neighbors

It's very hard to grow all your own food. However, if you grow food communally, it is very easy to produce a huge amount of food that can be shared between neighbors. Your block only needs one zucchini plant. Trust me on this.

Even if your entire neighborhood has black thumbs, consider joining forces to buy staple goods like nuts or olive oil in bulk to save money. You could even buy an entire cow to split with your friends.

6. Join a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) Program

A CSA is a subscription service for locally produced food. Some CSAs even offer meat, dairy, and other specialty items like honey.

7. Barter for Food

Since I am a beekeeper and an experienced food preserver, I use food in jars as currency. I have been working for the last few years to build a barter economy in my neighborhood. My goal is to procure 50% of my food through barter. While I love to get cold, hard cash for my products, I trade honey and jam for free-range chickens, ducks, and eggs with a local poultry farmer. (Both of us think we are getting the better deal.)

But don't think you have to be a gardener to barter for food. Babysitting, home repair, and car trips to the airport are all excellent barter currencies. Recently I crocheted legwarmers for a friend in return for five pounds of hand-shelled pecans and five pounds of soap nuts for laundry.

8. Make Friends With Your Local Food Producers

I never ever have to pay for fertilizer for my garden. My friend the poultry farmer drops off bags of chemical-free chicken manure for me whenever I want. While having your own personal poop fairy isn't thrilling to anyone who doesn't garden, I also get a ton of food that is perfect for eating but won't sell at the farmer's market from farmer friends. Bruised fruit can be pureed into juice, frozen for sorbet or cooking, or turned into preserves.

9. Go Late to the Farmers Market

If you aren't pining for that one special thing that always sells out early, then go to the farmers market at the end of the day. Even Los Angeles-based farmers who go to a different neighborhood market every day still end up throwing away a lot of food that won't last another day, is bruised, or is otherwise not worth the gas money to transport it to the next location. Usually, they are happy to give you a good deal on produce that won't last another day.

10. Shop More Often

Americans tend to bulk buy more than Europeans. As a result, our refrigerators are much larger and we tend to waste more food. Unless you have a huge family, you will not be able to eat through 22 cubic feet of food before it goes bad. Also, if you shop several times a week, you will have a better chance of getting produce that hasn't been sitting around for six days in the store, and getting deals in the meat and deli departments on food that is just hitting it's expiry date. It doesn't matter if the sell by date on the bacon is tomorrow if you are cooking it tonight.

11. Use Coupons

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to find coupons for meat and produce. Even if you live in an area where stores don't accept coupons, most stores have weekly sales. If something you can buy in bulk to use later is sold out, be sure and ask for a rain check. In exchange for letting Vons Grocery track my purchases, as a member of VonsClub I get discounts and personalized sales on produce year around. Just like shopping in season, I match my recipes to my purchases, rather than shopping for specific ingredients to match a recipe. I use the recipe calculator at Epicurious to match recipes to the ingredients I have on hand.

12. Hunt or Forage

Even if guns scare you and you can't see yourself ever becoming a proficient archer, you can still hunt and gather like your paleo ancestors.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and learned how to forage for chanterelle mushrooms as a kid. It was a super-fun kid activity because it is, after all, the foodie version of a treasure hunt. To prevent poisoning, I recommend going on a guided hunt with an experienced mushroom hunter first before setting out on your own.

Every March I enjoy weeding my garden because that is when I harvest all the lamb's quarters, nettles, cresses, and dandelions for salad greens. It is so satisfying to eat the enemy.

13. Glean

Every year I post a want ad on my local Freecycle group asking for surplus backyard produce. And every year I receive, at minimum, 2000 pounds of free, organic, fruit. It's human nature to hate food waste, so people are thrilled to have me take their fruit off their hands. Some communities, like Los Angeles, have food laws that make any fruit growing in parks or hanging over public land (like the sidewalk or the street) fair game for urban foragers.

Frankly, I always like to ask before I pick, because generally the owner of the tree will give me more from their "private" stock. I always hit up real estate agents for leads on free fruit. Fallen fruit attracts vermin, which is something that no potential home buyer wants to see while at an open house tour. Real estate agents will call me when they want a tree picked clean.

14. Eat Less, Drink More

Americans are so bad at staying hydrated, that often times we mistake thirst for hunger. Are you feeling hungry between meals? Try drinking a glass of water instead of eating a snack. If you still feel hungry ten minutes later, have that snack. I am surprised by how much less I eat, when I drink 10 glasses of water a day.

15. Buy In-Season Produce

Buying in-season produce not only saves money but also the environment. Out of season produce is often grown thousands of miles away and shipping adds a heavy carbon footprint to food that shouldn't be environmentally taxing. Also, the longer the interval between picking and eating, the more the produce degrades nutritionally.

16. Buy Canned or Frozen Produce

Studies show that canned and frozen fruits and vegetables have the same nutritional value as fresh produce (providing they are free of added salt and sugar). So if it is less expensive to purchase frozen or canned produce in your area, this is a good way to stretch your grocery budget.

17. Conventionally Grown Produce is Still Better Than None

If you live in an area where organic food is difficult to procure, or expensive, don't throw in the towel on eating healthy. Eating factory farm-to-table is still a healthier option than eating packaged food. Having an all-or-nothing attitude makes every new habit into an odious chore.

Also note that organic certification is incredibly expensive, so there are thousands of small-scale food producers across the nation growing chemical-free and non-GMO food who cannot afford the official stamp of approval. For example, I procure the majority of my organic produce that I turn into jam and pickles from backyard orchardists and gardeners who use no pesticides. Ironically, as a treatment-free, urban beekeeper, my bees are exposed to a lower pesticide load in the city than bees that pollinate commercial agriculture! However, none of my food product can be sold in the "organic" part of my local farmers market because I lack certification.

18. Eat More Eggs

One of my clients who I cook for has Ankylosing Spondylitis, an autoimmune disease that causes chronic pain and inflammation. He gets pain relief from an extreme starch-free diet. Although he eats more than two dozen eggs per week, his bad cholesterol levels have dropped since he went on a no-starch diet. He attributes this to the fact that he's eating more vegetables and lean meats than ever before. This is anecdotal, but it's worth testing for others who are looking for a less expensive protein source. Please note that organic eggs from free-range chickens have almost three times the amount of omega-3 and twice the amount of vitamin E as eggs from conventionally kept chickens.

19. Eat More Carbs

I know. I said the C-word. But any diet should focus on nutrition, and not make you pathological about food. There are many people who forgo grains but eat starchy root vegetables who still get the same positive effects on their health. Use common sense. Substituting bacon and steak for bananas and brown rice in your diet and thinking this is solid nutrition is crazy.

20. Be a Part-Time Paleo

I am a weekend carnivore. I eat vegetarian five days per week and reserve meat consumption for dinners out with friends or special occasions. This saves me a huge amount of money on groceries and is much better for the planet. Better eating once a week is better than never. It takes most people time to build up a pantry stocked with high quality food. It might take you a year of careful shopping to build up your budget and pantry, so if you can't go 100% paleo right now, cut yourself some slack.

Are you eating a paleo diet? What do you do to save on groceries? Please share with your fellow readers in the comments section.

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Guest's picture
gestured

Organic labeling can be deceptive. At an LA farmer's market, a vendor was caught buying produce at the 99 cent only store and selling it as organic. A family member who worked in the food industry was in the room when an egg producer paid for organic certification, no inspection or standards necessary. And rumor has it that the TPP treaty will allow China to ship things to the US labeled organic that have been grown in unsanitary, unsafe conditions. Do the best you can, but don't organic labels mean the same thing you mean when you say organic.