Unless you’re living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard of the Paleo Diet. A high-protein, low-carb diet that advocates a return to caveman-style eating, the Paleo Diet has made the Stone Age lifestyle suddenly—inexplicably—fashionable again.
Although Paleo devotees are quick to herald the praises of this protein-packed diet, non-believers denounce the Paleo Diet as elitist and exclusionary. To be fair, the critics have a point: After all, the very foods that the Paleo Diet endorses—things like fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, grass-fed meats, seafood—also tend to come with a fairly hefty price tag. So if you have a shoestring budget, how can you shop for Paleo-friendly foods without burning a hole in your wallet?
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To cull some cost-saving tips for Paleo folks, we picked the brain of Jessica Cox, R.D., dietician and founder of the program eMeals, an online meal planning service that provides simple and affordable recipe solutions to families. Below are Jessica’s top tips for eating Paleo on the cheap:
1. Map out a game plan. “Creating a day-by-day meal plan is the best way to cut down on your food costs,” Jessica notes. “It ensures that you buy what you need, it reduces waste and it also prevents impulse spending, which can really add up on your food costs.”
2. Go meatless. “Even on the Paleo Diet, you can go meatless. My favorite tip is to plan one night a week where you make an egg-based dish. In my opinion, the frittata is the ultimate money-saving meal because it’s a good way to use up all of the leftover vegetables in your fridge that won’t last any longer.”
3. Make friends with the freezer. Jessica recommends using frozen vegetables when you’re not buying in-season. “Frozen veggies are comparable in nutritional quality to fresh vegetables, but they’re more cost-effective. I would just be sure to avoid varieties that have added sauces and seasonings and just buy the plain frozen veggies.”
4. Be sale savvy. “The most expensive aspect of your menu on the Paleo Diet is going to be the meats, so we recommend checking the sales at your local grocery store each week. Plan around meats that will be on sale that week. You can buy chicken breast and ground meat when it’s on sale and freeze it for later.”
5. Shop local. “You’ll save a lot of money by buying local, in-season fruits and vegetables. Visiting a farmers’ market or joining a CSA can help you save money, as long as you’re able to plan your meals around those specific things that are in season at the time.”
6. Preparation is key. “When you get home from the grocery store, prep ahead your meals and snacks…chop vegetables and fruits and bake chicken breasts for on-the-go snacks and packed lunches. This can save you a lot of money on packaged snacks or going out for lunch at work.”
At the end of the day, Jessica says that Paleo-curious individuals shouldn’t be deterred by the seemingly high costs of the Paleo Diet. Yes, Paleo-friendly foods may be more marginally more expensive, but nutritionally, you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck. “From a dietitian’s perspective, the best thing about the Paleo Diet is that it encourages people to spend their money on nutrient-rich foods,” Jessica says. “You’re getting a lot of nutrition for each dollar you spend because you’re not spending your money on refined grains and processed snack foods.”