When you remove all the filler foods from your diet (grains, legumes and nearly everything processed), real food can get expensive.
Some of the following are common sense tips, but others harken back to a simpler time, when processed food wasn't an option. I buy into that school of thought; stick to whole foods including meat and low-carb veggies, along with small quantities of nuts and whole fat dairy.
For our purpose of eating low-carb with no fillers/additives, the majority of processed/packaged foods aren't an option.
There are a few tips to make the most of your food budget:
- Track Your Current Spending & Set a Goal: With any budgetary item, if you don't know what you are spending and where, it's difficult to make changes. Track a few weeks, or a couple months of spending. How much do you spend on your groceries? On eating out? On non-essential items? Where can you cut or reallocate funds, and what are your goal numbers for those categories?
- Create a Weekly Meal Plan & Stick To It: You can find a million low-carb and ketogenic meal plans online, but better yet, create your own with your favorite foods. A good meal plan will cook in bulk, then re-use components in different ways for future meals. This makes sure leftovers are used (nothing goes to waste) and you don't become bored with chicken breast for three meals in a row.
- Watch Your Portion Sizes: Buy a digital food scale and make sure you are measuring and watching the quantities you eat. If you need to lose weight, cut back on the protein a bit. If you need to gain weight, add more protein. Make sure your vegetable quantities are among Dr. B's guidelines for serving size/carb count and track your food using an online tracking program such as www.myfitnesspal.com or www.mynetdiary.com (what I use).
- Plant Your Own Kitchen Garden: Leafy greens, radishes, string beans, cucumber and zucchini are all easy to grow plants for beginner gardeners. Plus, many of these grow well from seeds, and you have the satisfaction of knowing that your dinner table is filled with food you grew at home. There's nothing better.
- Eat Seasonally: Local farmers markets, CSA's and community gardens can be a great chance to get local, fresh food. Costs vary wildly though, so shop around for the best deal.
- Farmers markets near closing time/CSA drop off locations: Farmers markets often have discounts to clear produce before closing time (so they don't have to pack it up and transport it again) and CSA drop off locations often have extra boxes that you can purchase at your convenience, rather than a pre-paid pick-up every week or every other week. Check for local farmer's markets and CSA's in your area (USA only).
- Buy in Bulk (for produce and meats): Shop Costco, Sam's Club, your local big-box stores and farmer's markets to buy in bulk. Check with local farms and/or butcher shops to buy 1/4 or 1/2 cow (a large chest freezer is essential for this) and/or split large meat orders with family or friends. Often the price can be substantially less per pound/kilo of meat than purchasing it separately.
- Consider Freezing and/or Canning: I am so happy to hear that people are starting to re-learn how to process their own produce and meats. It's not incredibly hard, you just need a small set of jars to get started (often canning sets are available on craigslist or found in thrift shops) and it's a great way to preserve vegetables and meats. One huge bonus to canning is you don't have to worry about freezer burn affecting the taste of your food 6 months from now or an electrical outage leading to mass food spoilage.
- Cook at Home: Cooking at home will always be less expensive than eating at restaurants, plus you have leftovers to use in other recipes, for easy lunches and to freeze.
- Buy Only The Basics: Instead of buying pre-seasoned, pre-prepped foods, pre-packaged foods, go for the whole food and prep at home. Chances are that the whole food is cheaper, and you'll likely avoid nasty additives. This applies for riced vegetables, pre-shredded cheeses that can have additives to prevent sticking and other "convenience"foods . The pre-prepped will cost more and can often contain sneaky ingredients.
- Watch For Sales: Cut coupons and watch the Sunday newspaper for low-carb and protein options. Sign up for online promotions from Thrive Market, Zaycon Fresh and other online retailers. When you find a great deal, buy in bulk.
- Buy Less Expensive Cuts of Meat: The slow cooker, pressure cooker and/or Sous-Vide should be your best friend. I've been buying Beef Shanks, which are heavy leg muscle with a ton of connective tissue. Shanks make amazing bone broth with lots of nutritious gelatin, have plenty of meat for a meal or two, plus the bonus of great cross-cut leg bones for marrow.
- Buy Alternative Protein Sources: Organ meats/offal (liver being the most accepted of these), beef shank (I really like these!), whole chicken, sardines, pickled herring and tuna may be less expensive than your standard cuts. I have to reiterate the bonus for beef shanks and whole chickens in particular, is that you have meat AND bones to make bone broth. Use EVERY part!
- Save Scraps: Ends of celery, carrots and onions, as well as chicken carcasses and beef bones can be saved in the freezer. All of these can be used to make bone broth/soup in the stovetop or slow-cooker.
- Look For Less Expensive Seeds & Nuts: In my market, raw sunflower seed kernels are 1/5 the price of walnuts for the same quantity. I roast 500 grams of sunflower seed kernels in a large pan with a tablespoon of coconut oil and 1 tsp of sea salt until golden, stirring frequently. It's a delicious and cheap alternative to other nuts/seeds. (30 grams of sunflower seeds = 5 grams of carbohydrates, so 500 grams = 16.6 servings.) For more info, see our post about recommended quantities of nuts.
And one more bonus tip for the very committed among us:
- Consider Raising Chickens for Meat/Eggs, Or Find Someone Who Does: It's a commitment, but there are options to buy/build inexpensive coops/chicken runs. Research the best chicken varieties for your area/use. Depending on where you live, you might just be able to get by without warmers and winterizing your flock. If you're not up for your own hobby farm, how about finding someone who raises chickens naturally and buying eggs from them? It seems like everyone knows someone, so ask around. You might be surprised what you find.
Okay, you have to be pretty dedicated to raise chickens, but how many of you dream of having beautiful, fresh, cage free eggs for breakfast every morning? One can dream!!
Do you have any additions to our "Low Carb On A Budget" list that we haven't covered? Please leave a comment with your tips! We'd love to hear from you!