Is Paleo Expensive? How to Eat Real Food on the Cheap

It seems one of the biggest barriers to eating more real, whole foods is the misconception that your grocery bill will skyrocket straight into outer space. I get it. It can be really difficult to let go of the notion that healthy eating has to be expensive. The truth is, for me, it was crazy-expensive…at first. I had no idea what I was doing when I started out on my Paleo journey, so each week I went to the grocery store, without a plan, and proceeded to buy all the vegetables, fruit, meat, and nuts (and almond butter!) I could get my hands on.

The grocery bills started climbing up…fast. It wasn’t long before I realized something had to change, and I certainly wasn’t going to give up my new healthy habits. I felt better than ever, but my budget was taking a major hit.

Here are a few of my strategies for eating real food on a budget:

Purchase Cheaper Cuts of Meat

It’s no secret that meat tends to be expensive. Certain cuts, however, such as stew meat or ground meat, are a little more budget friendly. Sure, they’re not prime rib, but if you get creative, you can use these cuts in a ton of delicious ways! You can make any number of burger, meatloaf or hash recipes with ground beef; it’s super-versatile. Stew meat, on the other hand, can be tough if not cooked properly. I recommend cooking stew meat in the slow cooker so it can soak up all those good juices, making it tender and delicious. If you’re dying for steak, shop cheaper cuts like flap meat and top sirloin. When prepared properly, they’re just as tasty as any other cut!

Celebrate Meatless Monday

Yes, this one is controversial in the Paleo scene, but hear me out: it doesn’t necessarily have to be Monday, but having one or two meatless meals per week can really cut down your grocery bill.  Produce is typically less expensive than meat, and a vegetarian meal can be quite filling if you serve it up with healthy fats such as avocado or olives. You can also include starchy vegetables like plantains or sweet potatoes to give your meals staying power. And, if you want a little extra protein, you can always #putaneggonit.

Still skeptical? Remember that occasional protein fasting has been shown to be pretty darn good for you.

Shop the Sale Ads

Before I make my weekly meal plan (we’ll get to that next) I peruse the sale ads to see if there are any great deals on foods I can incorporate into that week’s meals. If bell peppers are on sale, I’ll find a way to use them all week long. If chicken is $1 off per pound, then you KNOW it’s gonna show up on my table a lot that week. A little planning goes a long way…it’s a great way to save money!

Make a Meal Plan (and stick to it)

I have my weekly meal planning system down to an art:

  1. I take a lap around the kitchen to see what I already have on hand that needs to be used up
  2. I check those sale ads
  3. Then I reference any recipes I’ve saved (I used Pinterest) and my many Paleo cookbooks for meal inspiration.
  4. Once I’ve chosen my meals for the week, I write them down on my meal planning calendar (these are easy to find online for free) and make my grocery list based on the meal plan.

It’s that simple. Note that this will ONLY save you money if you stick to your list when you head to the grocery store. Those impulse cold brew and coconut yogurt purchases add up fast. Protip: don’t go to the grocery store when you’re hungry!

Visit the “Almost Too Late” Shelf

Most grocery stores have a shelf of produce that has one toe over the line toward becoming compost. These items are deeply discounted, so don’t skip those section! These fruits and veggies are far from bad; they just need a little love and a dash of imagination. Bruised bananas can be frozen for smoothies or Paleo baked goods, and most veggies just need to be used up within a few days of purchasing. The veggies you’ll find are good for juicing and quick roasting (as in, tonight).

Purchase Frozen Fruits and Vegetables

The frozen section is awesome. Frozen produce can be just as nutritious as its fresh counterpart, because they are preserved at peak ripeness. When I see frozen peppers on sale, I hoard them for stir frys and breakfast casseroles. I also keep a stock of frozen greens and broccoli on hand, just in case I run out and need a quick fix.

Even canned produce can be good in a pinch. Just be sure to read the ingredient labels carefully to look for hidden sugar, salt, or other additives. No, canned peaches loaded with HFCS are not a healthy choice! Try to look for cans that say they are “BPA Free”.

See, healthy eating on a budget can be done! It may take a little time to get the hang of it, but pretty soon you’ll feel like a grocery shopping expert. When you fill your cart up with healthy foods each week, you (and your wallet) will be feeling better than ever.

How do you do Paleo on a budget? Let us know in the comments!

Grocery Store Produce image licensed under the Creative Commons.

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Tarah Chieffi

Tarah Chieffi

Tarah is a real food nutritionist, health and fitness fanatic, blogger, and freelance writer in New Albany, IN. She holds a Master of Science in Health and Nutrition Education from Hawthorn University. On her blog, What I Gather, she shares real food recipes, healthy living tips, and a glimpse into the life of her growing […]

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