One question I've been asked a lot recently is "Isn't eating all that meat & fresh vegetables expensive?" Well... honestly it depends. It can be expensive. It can also be relatively inexpensive depending on what you spend your money on. There are a few tricks I've learned that can make it easier.
First you have to decide what's most important to you.
If I had unlimited financial resources, I'd try to buy as organic, local, unprocessed, grass-fed as I could. But unfortunately that's not always realistic for us financially and due to where we live. The nearest Whole Foods, Earthfare, and/or Trader Joe's is a good 50-60 miles away in the direction opposite to where we live and work. Trying to make that a weekly shopping trip there would be way too time consuming and costly. This means, the majority of our fresh vegetables and protein sources are going to come from a regular 'ol chain grocery store in our area. It means the food probably isn't going to be organic, and the protein will not always be the extremely high quality that I would like... but I have to work within my budget and area limitations. I'm good with that. It all depends on what you feel works best for your budget and your family. For me, buying fresh, whole foods that fit within my budget, even if they aren't the highest quality available, is more important than trying to live above my means.
Work with the resources you have available.
While I don't have any super cool, high-end grocery stores nearby (which I probably couldn't afford to shop at on a regular basis anyway)... I have researched and found some incredible local resources that I can occasionally use. When the budget allows for it, I will stock up on grass-fed beef from a local farm. It's expensive and we cannot afford buying meat from the farm every month. But I try to stock up on different cuts of beef, ground beef & turkey, and whole chickens. I also researched some of the products in our local grocery store and found out which items were locally made (in Eastern NC: peanuts, fresh vegetables and starches such as sweet potatoes, milled corn products, honey, pork products) that I could eat.. such as a pork sausage that's made less than 30 miles away and is only sold in a few counties in Eastern NC. It's a little more expensive than major name brands, but I think it's worth the extra few dollars to buy a product at the grocery store that's made in North Carolina.
Plan your shopping list around what's on sale -- you're shopping seasonally that way!
For me, I basically shop at one store. With my hectic schedule that includes working full time and commuting I don't have time to shop at several different stores to try to get the absolute best prices. So every week I view the online sales flyer. My grocery store has a neat tool on the website which allows you to create a shopping list from the sales flyer. You can also manually add in any additional foods to your list, which can be printed out, emailed to you, or sent to your smart phone. I basically only shop the perimeter of my grocery store, so I simply look for the produce and proteins that are on sale for the week that can supplement what I have in the freezer from the beef farm. I generally budget $60-$80 per week for the two of us in our family. Another neat tool to use on the grocery store website is online coupons for toiletries, cleaners, dish soap, detergent, etc... I can see if there are any of those products on sale in the flyer & match that with coupons that I can add electronically to my frequent shopper discount card. I'm not a coupon clipper (I have no desire to carry around a notebook of coupons everywhere I go) and I don't use them often since I rarely see coupons for romaine lettuce, carrots, ground beef, or chicken! But it's a handy tool to use on the grocery store website to help me save a little bit of money on household products -- especially since the coupons are stored electronically on my shopper card. Use the tools that your grocery store provides to help you save as much money as possible. Often the vegetables that are on sale are seasonal vegetables in your area. If you have a deep freezer, stock on up meats & chicken when they go on sale!
Plan your menu around the store sales items.
Here's where you get to be creative. Often it means cooking without a recipe. Learn about different varieties of seasonings and find the ones you like. If chicken is on sale this week, we're definitely going to have chicken at least once with whatever vegetables were also on sale. Breakfast is usually eggs, sometimes sausage, turkey bacon, regular bacon, sometimes a hash with sauteed potatoes, spinach, peppers, and eggs, sometimes an omelet, sometimes a green smoothie if I'm not feeling up to par. Lunches are generally leftovers from dinner. Learn how to make & season about 15-20 meals that your family really likes. Learn how to adjust them according to your own unique tastes & preferences.
Nearly all of my weekly menus are based around store sales and what I have in my freezer, here is what we've eaten this week:
Breakfasts: eggs, seasoned ground beef gravy, thickened with a tiny bit of brown rice flour (not paleo), green smoothies with greens & fruit.
Desserts & Snacks: nuts/seeds, dried fruits, dark chocolate (no, it's not paleo!), fresh fruit (usually 1-2 servings a day, as dessert), almond flour muffins sweetened with honey (not every week), nut butters with apples, carrots, or celery, etc...
- Monday -- Cube Steak Stew (cube steak from beef farm with veggies from the previous week)
- Tuesday -- low carb pizza (made from a base of ground chicken which was on sale and pizza toppings we already had on hand) + salad -- pizza was a treat for me since we were celebrating my husband's birthday with his family -- they all had regular pizza.
- Wednesday -- chicken & broccoli served over creamed spinach (chicken & broccoli were on sale this week)
- Thursday-- meatloaf, mashed butternut squash, and Caesar salad (meatloaf made from beef in the freezer, butternut squash from sale last week, and salad from this week's produce)
- Friday-- breakfast for dinner -- scrambled eggs, turkey bacon, sauteed kale (perfect example of a grocery store "perimeter" meal -- also time to start planning for next week's menu)
- Saturday -- slow cooker chicken at our friend Betty's house (who was awesome enough to email me ahead of time to make sure I could eat everything!)
- Sunday -- roast beef or chicken with mashed sweet potatoes, green beans, and sauteed kale (chicken or beef from the farm with pantry green beans, and the last of the week's produce)
I hope this gives you a few ideas on how you can save money even when eating real, whole, naturally gluten free & paleo foods. What are your favorite tips? What grocery preferences do you have? Do you stick with organic, local foods? Do you plan your meals around grocery store sales? Do you use coupons? Please share your thoughts here on the blog!