Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cutting Food Costs on a Grain-Free Diet (such as GAPS, Primal, or Paleo)

Grains are relatively cheap, and removing them from your diet can really hurt your wallet. When my family started the GAPS Diet nearly a year ago, our grocery costs skyrocketed! Over time, I've learned some ways to save money while still following a grain-free diet, and now our grocery bill is back to where it was pre-GAPS.
Buy meat in bulk
Buying meat in bulk can help enormously in reducing food costs.  Last winter, we bought 40% of a grassfed steer and the price per pound (across all cuts) was less than $2.50! This price is absolutely amazing considering that ground beef from grassfed cows will run $8/pound at our natural foods co-op, and steak prices are downright exorbitant.

If you do purchase meat in bulk, make sure to ask for more than just the typical cuts. We requested  bones, fat, cheek meat, tongue, and all of the organs (including the typical liver and the not so typical kidneys, oxtail, and sweetbreads).  We got large bags of bones for making broth and large bags of fat for making tallow, all for free!
Shop less frequently
One of the most effective ways to save money on groceries is to shop less frequently.  I'm not sure why it works so well, but by shopping once every two weeks instead of once every week, you can really cut your grocery bill.  Shopping this way does take plenty of advance planning to make sure you buy enough and don't forget anything (I use a spreadsheet to keep track of the items I buy most frequently so I won't forget any of the essentials).

If you do try shopping less frequently, make sure you buy plenty of produce that keeps well for use during the second week.  Lettuce, cucumbers, mushrooms,  zucchini, and tomatoes will only stay fresh for about a week; root vegetables will easily keep for several weeks.  In our house, we eat lots of green salads the first week, and then rely more on avocados, onions, carrots, and beets the following week.

Shop at the farmer's market
Consumption of fruits and especially vegetables increased dramatically in our household once we stopped eating grains. Buying directly from farmers really makes a difference in price. We can buy produce at our local farmers' market for considerably less than at the grocery store.  An added bonus is that the produce is wonderfully fresh and locally produced.
Buy produce in season 
Even if you skip the farmers' market, you can save money on produce by preferentially buying what is in season throughout the year.  For instance, when organic lemons are in season they cost less than $1/pound at our natural foods co-op.  When out of season, they can easily run over $3/pound.  Check produce prices carefully each time you shop to see which items are the best deal.  My general rule of thumb is to only buy produce that costs under $2/pound.

Don't eat many nuts
Because they are great for snacking and as a base for grain-free baked goods, it is easy to rely very heavily on nuts while eating a grain-free diet.  However, nuts are quite expensive and can also be a stumbling block to healing when they are consumed in excess.  It may seem overwhelming, but keeping nut consumption to a minimum can really save you money in the long run.  During our time on the GAPS Diet, my family has slowly reduced our nut consumption and it has made a big difference on our grocery costs. 

Take advantage of the cheap foods allowed on your diet
Depending on which grain-free diet you are following, there are some inexpensive foods that can help reduce your food costs.  Lentils and white navy beans are allowed on the GAPS Diet; potatoes and sweet potatoes are allowed in moderation on the Primal Blueprint Diet.  Using these foods as the base for one meal each week can save you money, and they can also help add variety to your diet.

Make your own drinks
Taking the time to make your own drinks at home can also help your grocery spending.  Water kefir soda, kombucha, and milk kefir are probiotic-filled drinks that can be made at home for a fraction of their storebought cost. If you know anyone who is making these drinks at home, check to see if they have any extra kefir grains or kombucha SCOBYs before buying your own.  The Healthy Home Economist has great tutorials for making all of these drinks.     

Do you have any tips for saving money on groceries?

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade, Pennywise Platter at The Nourishing Gourmet, Real Food Wednesday with Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist!


Anonymous said...

These are all great suggestions- thank you for sharing! The only one I can think to add is to see if there's a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) near you. My husband and I buy half a share each year and get fresh produce of all kinds every week from June through October at a fraction of what it would cost us to buy to any other way. Such a blessing!

Jen said...

You forgot the other biggie - eat lots of fat! Fat costs a lot less when you compare it to other calorie sources, though it may take some time to learn how to use it in copious amounts. You may have to up the amount gradually if your fat digestion is poor - but working your way into fat-heavy meals is certainly not a penance!

Great post! I'm going to re-post on my blog because I get asked this question a lot and I haven't put together these notes yet.

Lindsay said...

Ah, for the love of spreadsheets! You are a girl after my own heart. I would love to see your lists! I eat primally and find that staying organized is the key to both cutting cost and staying sane. Without a plan I could find myself spending all my time in the kitchen or at the store. Love your blog!

Sarah Smith said...

Thanks Lindsay.I'll be posting about the grocery list soon. If you want a copy now, though, send me an e-mail at nourishedandnurtured[at]gmail[dot]com

Brenna said...

Sounds like you got an amazing much total weight was approximately 40% of a grassfed steer? what was the age of the steer when butchered? was is the fat content in the burger? what percentage of your 40% was received as bones/organs/non-meat? As a grassfed producer, I'm having a difficult time getting my pencil to do anything near "less than $2.50/lb", much less "fat...bones...all for free." Thanks so much for all the great suggestions, great advice to our paleo family.

Brenda said...

Great post! My whole family is on GAPS (with 7 kids!), so we're facing the same food bill issue. :) I say, grow your own! :) We have a big garden plus we raise our own pastured chicken, eggs and pork--that helps a lot. And also, make a lot of soups--those are cheap. And see if you can join a buying club. Here, we use Azure Standard, and I also found a group of ladies who went together to get Bob's Red Mill stuff at wholesale prices (Coconut Flour!). Make lots of salads with tons of veggies plus meat and an olive oil dressing. Make spaghetti squash spaghetti, or green bean spaghetti. Save your bacon grease and use it to grease your pans, saute your veggies, cook your eggs, etc.
Thank you for all of your tips!!

Sarah Smith said...

Brenna - I'm not sure how old the animals were. We split 2 cows between 5 families; the hanging weights were around 950-1000 pounds. Each family got an equal portion of the organs, bones, fat, and meat. The rancher we use only harvests his animals once/year, in the early winter when they have fattened up throughout the Fall (he has tons of land for them to graze on), that way he doesn't have to do any finishing whatsoever to get their weight up. The burger was 80/20. We've used this rancher the past two years and been very satisfied with the meat (and the price is outstanding, as you mentioned). Previously, we bought from other suppliers. They ran from $3.50/pound (for meat that we really didn't like much) up to $6.50/pound (for meat that was really good, but the price was really way too much for us). I hope this helps.

Sarah Smith said...

Thanks, everyone, for sharing more tips! They are all great.

Melissa Naasko said...

We aren't on GAPS but I find the best way to save money on food is extensive price lists. I keep track of three months worth of prices on my phone and I notice how it flucuates. I try to stock up when I notice that the price has gone down and I wait for another shift when I see prices go up. Grain based foods are crazy cheap and I am trying to really cut back and it is very, very difficult to do. Meat is so expensive per pound compared to rice, pasta, wheat grain.

Laura said...

I am so jealous you get your meat for $2.50/lb!! After processing and deliver, ours comes to about $4.00 and that is the cheapest I can find locally. It's soooooo good though, so atleast I have that going for me ;) lol

Natalia said...

For me geeting pastured meat is a great problem. I live in an NYC appartment, don't have a big freezer to stock up, can't grow anything and just can't afford to buy organic meat in retail.
Any tips? Is there any type of conventional meat that is Ok to use? I can only buy organic chiken at Trader Joes sometimes.

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Natalia,
I consulted my copy of the 2011 Shopping Guide from the Weston Price Foundation and found the following for you:
-Of course the "BEST" list for meats includes pastured meats.
-BUT, the list of "GOOD" meats includes beef, lamb, and goose that are NOT organic, because these animals are at least allowed access to sunshine and the outdoors.
-Chicken, turkey, and pork are recommended to be organic if you can't get pastured products.

So it sounds like, if you can't get organic or pastured, just stick to beef, lamb, and goose.

I hope this helps!

Natalia said...

Thank you so much! I am a bit confused though. Doesn't organic means pastured? I thought pastured could not be organic, but organic has to be pastured.
Could you share the link for the shopping guide?

Sarah Smith said...

Hi Natalia,
Organic doesn't necessarily mean pastured. I think the standards vary depending on the organization that is certifying a product as "organic". My understanding is that some of the organic standards say there has to be "access to open air" or some such, which could really just be a door the animals can go out if they choose to. So pastured may be preferred, so long as the animals are still not given antibiotics, etc.

Sarah Smith said...

Oh, and the shopping guide isn't a link. It is a little booklet I get each year as part of my membership to WAPF. It looks like you can order a copy for $1 on the WAP site. Go here:
Click on "Order Materials" on the right side column.

Natalia said...

Thank you so much for the explanation. So, do you think it is better to get organic not pastured or pastured not organic?
As far as I know the use of hormones and antibiotic is prohibited in poultry. So is it worth spending money on organic chicken if it is not pastured?

Sarah Smith said...

My personal preference is pastured rather than organic, as I think the animals are healthier so the meat is better for you. I would absolutely buy organic chickens if I could not get pastured. I noticed early on that when I made broth from conventional chickens, the whole house stinks. Organic chickens do not stink the same way, and pastured chickens smell absolutely wonderful. Also, conventional chickens are raised in absolutely horrid conditions, packed in as tightly as possible with no access to fresh air or sunshine.

Natalia said...

What about eggs and cheese?
Just cage-free eggs would do or cage-free and organic?
Does raw cheese have to be organic? I buy cheddar from Trader Joe's that is raw and without use of antibiotics. It tastes great and the price is great!
Sorry for so many trivial questions. I'm just getting into this new organic/pastured food and is overwhelmed with information.

Sarah Smith said...

When I can't get eggs from local sources, I usually buy organic (although they are pretty expensive).

For dairy products, it's a good idea to try to avoid any from cows that are treated with antibiotics or growth hormones.