One very common issue that people raise when discussing transitioning to a paleo or grain-free lifestyle is concern about the expense of eating that way. While it’s true that higher quality food costs more some of the time, there are several different ways to view this, most of which require a long-term, wide-angle lens. For instance, you’ll likely save money in medical costs down the road if you eat well now. You will likely have a higher quality of life because you feel better (and that is priceless). And it doesn’t always have to be more expensive. There are ways to live a grain-free lifestyle in a budget-conscious fashion. Here are some tips for doing so:
- Use whole foods rather than processed replacements. There are a number of “grain-free” and “paleo” products arriving on the market. And while they do tend to have fewer ingredients than their conventional counterparts, they are still processed. And often pricey. Rather than purchasing your favorite processed food analogs, try using whole foods in their place. Replace crackers with apple slices as a vehicle for nut butter. Use halved cucumbers to put sandwich fillings on. Use big green leaf lettuce leaves as a wrap. This will save money, and get even more vitamins and minerals packed into your daily diet.
- Purchase grocery items in bulk, online. There are many websites now offering a number of paleo-friendly ingredients in bulk purchased online. I have used Amazon and nuts.com, and been very happy with both. Coconut flours, nut flours, oils, and whole nuts, for instance, can all be easily found with a quick internet search. Many of these sites offer free shipping if you spend above a certain amount. Utilize unit pricing by figuring out what you are actually paying per pound/ounce, etc. and you will find, in general, that you are getting a much better deal than can be offered in most stores. It’s a larger up-front investment, but you are purchasing high quality ingredients that will last a long time, and spending less over the long term. Less packaging is an additional benefit.
- Join a local food coop or purchase from a local farmer. If you prefer to shop more locally, or you want to feel more connected when you purchase food, consider a food coop or purchase locally. For pantry items (flours, oils), you can often get bulk prices through a food coop. For meats, dairy, and eggs, prices are often comparable to or better than the prices for similar products labeled as “organic” or “cage-free” or “grass-fed” in the grocery store. And you know it’s not being shipped from Uruguay or Australia. To find a farmer near you, check out www.eatwild.com. To find a local food coop, start at www.coopdirectory.org.
- Shift your eating paradigm. Do you really need to have toast or waffles with breakfast? Does lunch have to involve a sandwich? You can still get all of the nutrients you need – and some – by sticking to foods that are grain-free and taste good to you. Use whole foods as a source of carbohydrates as needed – sweet potatoes, fruit, vegetables – can all stand in for the bread/pasta/cracker mentality that so many of us were raised with. This decreases your need to purchase processed foods, and also increases your nutrient intake, as you consume non-processed, whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
- Consider…unusual…cuts of meat. With the fat-phobia that was induced in the last two decades, many people learned to shy away from fattier cuts of meat. which means they are often less expensive. Learn how to cook and prepare cuts of meat that are less expensive. Or be adventurous and try organ meats or other parts of the animal that are typically not consumed in developed nations any longer. For instance, the average person will scoff at the idea of eating liver and onions, but liver is packed with nutrients. Unusual cuts of meat are often less expensive, offer a myriad of nutritional benefits, and when prepared well can be quite tasty.
- Learn to DIY your foods. There are a lot of stand-ins for grains that you can make on your own. Some of them sound daunting at first (Zucchini noodles? Cauliflower rice? Potato crust? Condiments?) but many of the recipes, in actuality, have only a few ingredients and are very simple to prepare at home. Some may require a few kitchen tools, such as a grater or a mandolin or a simple food processor, but with a small investment, you can have everything you need to make incredible substitutes for foods that you love, without worrying about weird ingredients or sacrificing taste.
Eating grain-free on a budget is not as expensive as you might think. It takes a little bit of planning and research, but once you’ve adapted to your new lifestyle, you’ll hardly notice the difference. And if you’re committed to some of the above steps, I bet that your budget won’t notice either.