When discussing transitioning to a Paleo lifestyle, one of the very first questions I hear are often about shopping and budgeting. These are some concerns that are usually pretty quickly squelched, but at first, may seem tough to tackle. We feed a family of five and although my kids are young, they can (and do) eat like adults. In addition, with less of the things we are used to eating to “fill us up” it’s common to eat more by way of whole foods than processed foods. Well, at least, it seems so at first glance.Paleo Shopping Tips for Saving Time and Money
When discussing transitioning to a Paleo lifestyle, one of the very first questions I hear are often about shopping and budgeting. These are some concerns that are usually pretty quickly squelched, but at first, may seem tough to tackle. We feed a family of five and although my kids are young, they can (and do) eat like adults. In addition, with less of the things we are used to eating to “fill us up” it’s common to eat more by way of whole foods than processed foods. Well, at least, it seems so at first glance.
I developed a system for myself and my family that I hope you can adapt to your personal situation. Your geographical location, the access to fresh local produce and locally raised livestock, as well as your budget are unique and therefore you may have to pick and choose what best suits you and your family. First, these are some Paleo shopping tips I employ to save time.
Categorize your shopping: Divide and Conquer
You don’t need to go everywhere all the time, I break my shopping trips up into things I need weekly, bi weekly, monthly and quarterly, and perhaps even annually. Prioritize items and group them by how frequently you need them and where you get them.
• Annually/Biannually If you are lucky enough to do a whole animal or livestock share, these are annual or biannual purchases that can be stored in a freezer chest. When I was a kid, my parents would freeze half a cow, a whole hog, and a whole deer. Similarly, we do a cow-share twice a year.
• Quarterly Certain staple items I don’t need to buy frequently but they last me a significant time. This includes alternative flours, spices, and other things that don’t get used daily. I also include places that are inconvenient to shop at to this list. Where I live, stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Fresh Market are far away, so I drive anywhere from 45 min to 2 hours each way to go to these places for a few very specific items. I have a running list of things that can only be purchased there or whose brand I favor for one reason or another (usually price). I stock up on these things when I get around to making that trip. Another tip is that if there are items you buy online, often your shipping is cheaper when you buy more, so stock up for 3-4 months at a time. I might stock up on my kids’ favorite beef sticks once or twice a year.
• Monthly Bulk purchases like Costco items (24 cans of Wild Planet Tuna and a case of sardines, paper goods, etc) can be categorized here. Also, a monthly visit to my local health food store for specialty items that aren’t carried elsewhere; my probiotics, bentonite clay and natural calm type items. The other place I go monthly is my local ethnic market (asian, indian, etc.), I get a lot of items (tapioca starch, sweet potato starch, korean glass noodles, nori, spices/herbs and more) from these lesser known places at a much better price. I used to visit the butcher and fish monger weekly, but now I’m down to monthly or less because the selection of wild caught fish has improved in other places and by stockpiling meats in my freezer, I’m shopping much less frequently than I used to.
• Weekly/Biweekly This is the stuff you fly through. I am a huge proponent of avoiding the grocery store at ALL costs. If you do have to go to the grocery store—stick to the perimeter, have a list, and get out fast. My weekly routine is precise, based on my local availability and price and I’m quick. Sunday morning I go to my local farmer’s market (we have 3 excellent ones within 5 miles of my house), I get all my eggs and produce for the week, I also pick up fresh uncured bacon, and grass fed butter. I have that process down to 15-20 minutes, tops. I get what’s in season and fresh. Next I go to our regular grocery store for just a few things: Applegate lunch meats for the kids, plain greek yogurt, and some quick convenience type items that are portable snacks for the car and practices. I know that more grocers are starting to carry some of those items I used to need to drive far for, and that’s helpful. My local Aldi has started carrying more organic produce, Kerrygold cheeses and butter, kefir, and raw nuts. Costco has improved their selection of organics, including grass-fed meats and more wild caught seafood. Even WalMart, as much as I don’t support them, carries grass fed, organic ghee for a fraction of the cost of Whole Foods, same exact brand. My advice is: read, read read. Because as we all know, labels are misleading so don’t get caught with your guard down.
Paleo Shopping Tips to save Money
In our house, the bulk of our budget goes to food, because I find other things to be far less important than quality food. However, watching prices and comparing quality has helped me to develop these Paleo shopping tips and Paleo shopping system. It may seem confusing at first glance, but it saves me both time and money by knowing where to go and not trying to do too much at once.
• Buy Bulk. Check out bulk food stores like Bulk Nation, etc. which carry organic alternative flours and raw nuts/seeds as well as sulfur-free dried fruits.
• Find a Local Farm. Get familiar with local farms, even if they are a few hours away, many offer weekly or monthly drop points throughout their state.
• Meet Your Food Suppliers. Meet your farmers, farmers markets, fish mongers, butchers and store managers… getting to know people helps. The manager at my local Super Target tells me when grass fed beef and Applegate meats will be on sale so I can stock up. Introduce yourself to everyone, friends on the inside do matter!
• Share. It can be cost effective to share—a produce share, split a co-op membership, do a cowshare. If you can’t eat it all, split it up with others and reap the savings together. Even share with your neighbors; you grow the tomatoes, they grow the cucumbers!
• Grow it. Garden, grow your own, organize a community garden.
• Do it yourself. Make ahead snacks like kale chips, beef jerky, pemmican, dried fruits, fermented foods, nut butters are extremely easy to do and cost effective. Don’t be put off, it is much more simple than you think.
• Make Leftovers. When preparing food use simple methods for cooking, make a lot and use your leftovers. This saves time and effort.
• Quick and Easy. For convenience, look at quick and easy meal options that take little prep or thought. I always keep frozen wild caught mussels and shrimp on hand for days I forget to defrost or prep dinner so that I’m never without an easy, healthy, nutrient dense meal. Seafood defrosts quickly under cold water and cooks thoroughly in just minutes. Stir fry is another great option for quick, easy, low prep, very little cooking time.
• Plan. I am terrible at planning because my plan gets thrown out the window a lot. So when I say plan, I do mean that loosely. Don’t be afraid to adapt on the fly if the plan doesn’t work out, but having a rough idea of what meals you can create based on what’s in the house gives you the power to change directions in mid-stride.
• Back-Up Plan. One thing I recommend to all my clients is that you have 3 or 4 “go-to” meals— things you have on hand all of the time— so if you are in a bind, you have a fallback plan for dinner. These “go-t0″ meals can be anything you want, but it’s best that they are dishes that everyone loves. I don’t need to plan to make them, they are always in the house and can go from frozen to finished in a pinch. This helps because I am never afraid that we won’t have anything to eat. If you’re looking excellent for ideas for “go-to” meals, many of these recipes can be found on my blog and Facebook page.
• Find Your Go-to Restaurant. Along those same lines, have a back up restaurant as well. That means familiarize yourself with at least one local restaurant that will prepare food to your specifications without fear of cross contamination. We are lucky enough to have one restaurant with an entirely gluten free menu that subs out spaghetti squash for rice and cooks with coconut oil. They open a location in my community tomorrow [insert happy dance!]. There are lots of great options though, even among some of the chain restaurants these days.
or have a trusted meal delivery service that you can fall back on like this Paleo Certified meal delivery service (Paleo On The Go) that also offers frozen AIP meals. These are great to have in your freezer to fall back on when you are in a pinch.
What are some of your Paleo shopping tips for avoiding panic when it comes to shopping, meal prep, snacking, and dining out?