I’m going to share a few tips on clean eating on a budget, although I’m not an expert, I know some budgets cannot support it, and I’ve written about this before.
Because I have written about it before, long time readers know how I feel about the obnoxiousness of telling people it’s really not more expensive to eat this way, you just have to buy fewer five dollar lattes and leave all those expensive convenience foods out of your cart. If you are not a long time reader, I guess we could sum it up by saying that advice like this makes me want to spit.
Real people on truly serious budgets have already been doing that, usually for years.
My ‘favorite’ bit of ‘clean eating isn’t expensive’ advice is the one where some chirpy soul tells you that you can take a 20 dollar pasture reared, grassfed chicken and make four or five meals out of it, ending with wonderful bone broth. It’s ridiculous because, of course, real people on truly serious budgets can do the exact same thing with a conventional whole chicken that cost them three dollars- and they have been, again, often for years.
So, I’m not going to berate you or try shaming you into preferring ‘clean,’ organic foods over your store-bought cereals and Starbucks coffee, because I assume you already eliminated the latter two, if you ever even bought them on a regular basis. For instance, I am 52 and can probably count the number of Starbucks coffees I have had on my two hands with fingers leftover, and several of those were when I was treated by somebody else. I don’t think I am all that unusual in this respect.
I’m not going to try to convince you that in America at least, Clean Eating isn’t really isn’t more expensive any more than I am going to try to tell you the grass is purple or water isn’t wet. It’s more expensive. It’s not more expensive than buying all convenience foods, eating out a couple times a week and having high end steaks for dinner every other night. But you and I both know you are not in that demographic, or you wouldn’t be crying over your grocery budget when you try to help your family eat what you believe to be more nutritious food.
I’m not going to tell you it’s cheaper than developing heart disease or diabetes twenty years from now because I assume if you’re reading this, you’re probably looking at your food budget like an evil Sophie’s Choice- you can choose to starve to death now, or you can buy the more inexpensive foods such as beans and rice now and possibly get diabetes 20 years from now. I say go for the possibility of diabetes in the future rather than certain starvation now.
I’m just going to share some ways to help ameliorate those expenses for those who really want to make some changes and can afford to do so. I encourage you simply to make the best of what you can do and just make yourself stop worrying about the rest. You may well have already tried all of these ideas. If that’s the case, then just make the best of what you can and don’t worry about the future. Let God take care of that. You can’t change what you can’t change. You are not a bad person if split pea soup and ramen noodle fritters are the foods you can afford to fix right now. You are not a bad person if .50 a person is all you can afford for groceries and you can’t spend five dollars per meal. Do what you can with what you have, nobody can ask more of you than that. You are probably your own worst critic here. Give yourself a break.
There are some helpful ideas here for prioritizing your food budget when shopping for ‘clean’ eating. But I have to laugh at anything calling itself ‘paleo poor’ when it has advice like this:
Some “best choices” are expensive (like wild-caught Pacific halibut, which usually runs upwards of $20 a pound). Skip it and find a less expensive but similar substitute, like cod or scallops. Fish won’t keep for more than a day at home, so don’t over-buy here, unless you plan to freeze it for later. And speaking of, frozen is often a good (and less expensive) option for fish and seafood. We buy flash-frozen sea scallops for $16 a pound, compared to $20 a pound fresh.
Or you could buy Aldi’s canned salmon for 2-4 dollars a pound, or skip the fish altogether unless it’s on sale. The above advice is particularly ironic when the article begins by telling people that they just have to give up their ‘selfish food desires.’ Just… wow.
Okay- so you want to stop buying conventionally farmed meats (because I am starting from the foundation that a meat based diet is the healthiest option for human beings):
Looking for good meats: IF, and I say IF, you can save up and buy from a local farmer (or grow it yourself), that is usually your cheapest source. It still won’t be cheaper than conventionally farmed meats at the grocery store, with some occasional exceptions.
Here’s one way to find local farmers. Here’s another (I just used it and found a source for pork just ten miles from me that I didn’t know about).
If there is a university extension office, a 4-H program, a college with an agriculture department near you, try calling them and asking of any sources for pastured meats, dairy products (I know that’s not true-blue paleo, I don’t care). One of the best deals on a freezer full of beef we found was buying an ag student’s project at the end of the year- his project was on grassfed beef.
If you have a local health food store, ask them if they know.
Try googling stuff like pastured pork, grassfed beef, free range chickens and your state, county, or town and see if anything turns up.
Get the word out- sometimes, that is how the exceptions turn up. Several years ago because we’d mentioned our interest in eating grassfed meats several times, a friend whose parents raised bison let us know when her parents had to butcher some of their bison early due to a drought in their state, so we were able to buy the grassfed, organic bison meat at a much lower price than is normally available.
Consider growing and butchering your own rabbits, or buying the meat from somebody else who does.
If you cannot do grassfed, keep in mind that in this country beef animals are brought up part of the time on pasture, but chickens and pigs are not.
Sheep raised in New Zealand are more likely to be grassfed as well, so New Zealand mutton is a better purchase, nutritionally speaking, shoudl you come across it.
If BPA in cans is a concern, read this list of companies/products that come in BPA-free cans (sometimes they are labeled, but not always).
I am really, really fond of my Thai Kitchen Organic coconut milk in a can which I buy in bulk from Amazon. But you can use coconut cream. It makes almost 200 cups of coconut milk (around 190, to be more precise). Just stir a teaspoon into a glass of water. It will be slightly grainy, so whether you like this or not will depend on how you feel about texture and the ways you plan to use it. If you put it through the blender with other ingredients, it may not matter to you at all. If you figure out the savings, you may not care if it’s as grainy as a bag of sand (which it is not at all). Because right now it’s just 13.99 for a 16 oz jar, or 21.99 for 32 ounces. That is a huge savings! Consider that the cheapest coconut milk I know if TJ’s lite brand, and it’s a dollar a can. This is much less than half that price.
coconut flour: I don’t buy it. I take unsweetened organic coconut and put it through my food processor or my spice mill. The latter does smaller amounts at at a time but grinds it down to a more flour like texture. The food processor leaves tiny nubbins, which is okay with me, I like the texture.But if you want flour, Tropical Traditions sells it in gallon pails for 17.50,
I bought Organic Shredded Coconut, Food Service Size, 22-Pound Bag last year and it lasted me almost an entire year- coconut is very light, so 22 lbs of coconut is a LOT of coconut.
Healthy weeds- it’s not the best time of year for most of us to do any wildcrafting of food, but when it warms up:
Eat your purslane. It’s a weed, and it’s incredibly high in omega 3s, higher than any of the vegetables, (not as high as grassfed animal products, of course). I think it’s delicious. It’s a weed, so it’s free.
Eat your lambsquarters, daylily buds, dandelion greens, rose petals, violet petals, and nasturtiums as well. I am not an adventurous eater of wild plants – I stick to the tried and true.
Dairy is not Whole30 approved at all, and in general it’s not paleo (there are exceptions). I don’t agree that dairy products are not nutritious nor do I believe they are bad for all humans. Some people have trouble with them- one of our grand-daughters, the Equuschick, and one of the Two Little Boys have trouble with milk, but the rest of us seem to handle dairy just fine. So we buy dairy products, although I prefer organic, raw, nonhomogenized when I can get it.
One reason I would prefer organic:
Now, a new study evaluating organic milk produced in the U.S. finds that organic milk has about 62 percent more omega-3s, compared to milk produced by cows on conventional dairy farms. Cows raised on conventional farms typically spend a lot more time in a barn or confined, and instead of grazing, they’re fed a diet of animal feed that contains a lot of corn.
“We were surprised by the magnitude of the differences,” lead authorCharles Benbrook of Washington State University tells The Salt.
In America, for milk to receive the organic labels the cows have to spend at least four months on pasture. Milk from animals that eat grass will be higher in Omega 3 than Omega 6 because Omega 3 is in grass and other greens, and corn is higher in Omega 6.
It’s not so much that omega 6 fats are downright bad for you, it’s that we need a better balance. The American diet, largely because of our cornfed farm animals and over-reliance on corn oil (and other seed oils) in foods, is heavily imbalanced with too many omega 6 fats and far too few omega 3 fats. So milk from grassfed animals will be higher in omega 3. But it has to be whole. Skimming off the fat reduces the omega3s.
Now, milk is still not your ideal source for good omega3 oils- that would be grassfed meat, eggs from pastured hens, and fish, especially wildcaught salmon.
My preference is raw milk- I cannot always get my preference. But sometimes I get raw for less than I can get organic. In order to do that, several local families go in together and buy milk from a farm almost 2 hours away, and we pay for gas, too, for the person who picks it up.
I get raw cheeses at an Amish market a few hours away- a couple times of year one of the girls goes line dancing not far from the Amish market and she buys up a lot of cheese on sale and we freeze it.
Sometimes I order from a food co-op. UNFI and Azure Standard are the two I am familiar with. They can tell you if there are any local food c0-ops with openings for new members in your area.
If I can’t have raw, I would rather have non-homenized in milk, and organic in milk and cheeses, and grassfed everything. I can’t find the first locally- or rather, I couldn’t until just this week. The HG informs me that the newest grocery store in town carries it.
I’ve heard that Costco and Trader Joe’s both carry Kerrygold butter, which is supposed to be grassfed. Neither of the ones my friends go to have Kerrygold. The TJ does sometimes have grassfed New Zealand cheese.
Switch up the foods you eat. Almost nobody I have ever met eats sardines or anchovies on purpose, unless their parents are recent immigrants from cultures where that is the norm, or unless they have been trying to eat whole, healthy foods. But they are healthy, nourishing, and cheaper than other sources. Sneak them into chowders by putting them through the blender with tomatoes or cooked carrots or cauliflower.
If you have more frugal ideas for eating clean foods on an omnivorous diet, please share.
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