Grain-Free, real food diets aren’t cheap. In fact, we’ve tripled our food budget over the past 3 years.
Some of that is due to the fact that our picky eater started eating, and both the kids are teens now. Some of that is we have less time to shop and plan, so we’re not getting some of the deals we used to get. But a big part of it is that grains and starches are cheap, while high quality, organic meats, fruits, and vegetables are not.
I’ve compiled our best tips for saving money on the food you’ve prioritized. The more of them you try, the more money you will save!
Plan Your Meals & ShoppingMeal planning saves money. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. When TinyHands was doing all the cooking and shopping, she was great at planning down to the detail.
But that’s not my style and I do most of the cooking. Now we have a system where she decided what meat to pull out of the freezer for the week, and I figure out what to do with it, using what we have. Part of the reason this works is that we have gotten into a routine of buying our pantry items and meat in bulk. The grocery shopping doesn’t consist of much more than fruits and veggies when we are stocked up.
If you need more structure or are new to this kind of cooking, a good way to get started is to buy meal plans or subscribe to a service. Cara at Health Home & Happiness offers Grain Free Meal Plans with Shopping Guides for the entire year! She did GAPS with her family for 2 years and is all about real food, so she really knows her stuff. You can buy the whole package, or just get a month at a time.
Don’t forget to plan and track your spending while you are at it! YNAB (You Need A Budget) has revolutionized the way we spend!!! If you click through to the YNAB store you can get a free trial!
Find Cheap Staples
Meat stock and bone broth are GAPS diet staples that are popular with the Primal and Paleo set, too. These are highly nourishing and very low cost! They also add flavor to almost any dish. If you buy meat in bulk, make sure you ask the butcher for the bones. If you roast a chicken, use the carcass. When you eat a bone in steak, freeze the bone until you have enough of them for a batch. Most meat counters will have “soup bones” available. Make sure they are cut up small enough to fit into your pot! They’ll be very cheap, and most have some meat on them, too.
Find a few veggies and fruits that you tolerate well, can easily find in your area, and that are cheap. Carrots, cauliflower, squash, and cabbage are good ones for us. It helps that they keep well, too. If we’re in a pinch, we usually have at least one of these on hand. We also have big bags of frozen peas and green beans in the freezer.
Learn a variety of ways to season and prepare your regulars so you don’t get too sick of them. Ferment, stew, make soup, try casserole, stir-fry, juice, hide them in smoothies and baked goods, and eat them raw if you can!
For fruits, eating in season really helps. With this style of eating, fruit is more a treat than a staple, which will save you money!
If you tolerate them, find a good source of pastured eggs and raw milk. You’ll be using a lot of them, so finding a low price and steady supply of those items will add up to a lot of savings.
Make Your Own
You can save a ton of money and have a better product if you make your own “value added” products. Some of them take a surprisingly small amount of time.Kefir, yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, pickles, relishes, and other condiments are all ferments that are easily made at home for pennies on the dollar compared to what you’d pay in the store. You can buy starter cultures at Cultures For Health or get them from someone in your area. Once you’ve got them started, you don’t have to buy the starter again! Getting your probiotics from homemade ferments is the best way to get them, according to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, who wrote the GAPS book. So you can save on supplements this way, too!
Ghee is quite expensive and hard to find in stores. But it, too, is easy to make at home.
The food dehydrator is also your friend, when it comes to making healthier, more delicious convenience foods for less. Beef jerky and dried fruit are our biggest money savers! Our dehydrator paid for itself the first day we had it.
Cut Out the Middle Man
Find farmers on Craig’s List. Go to farm stands. Shop the farmer’s market. Many farmer’s markets even take SNAP, now. The prices are far lower than in stores like Whole Foods, and you will not be tempted by all the packaged stuff! Sometimes farm direct organic prices are even better than the pesticide laden foods you’ll find in regular grocery stores!
Join Local Buying Clubs
This one takes some effort. Find or create a buying club in your area. Here is a list of buying clubs around the Portland Metro Area in Oregon and Washington. They can be as simple as a group of people who go in on occasional farm direct order and distribute it from their front porch. Other groups combine orders to Azure Standard (call to find a drop near you!) and Hummingbird Wholesale, or have subscriptions for eggs and meat from local farmers. Others are well-organized affairs with warehouses and scheduled pickups. Ordering systems can range from shared spreadsheets to facebook threads to websites with on-line stores.
Depending on who is running the club, the prices will be marked up a bit to cover the hassle of coordination. That’s only fair, and you’ll still beat store prices!
Get Amazon Prime
If products you use a lot of are available on Amazon, it might make sense to get Amazon Prime. The free shipping is awesome! We get things like cases of Natural Value Coconut Milk and cat food from Amazon Prime. We also get many of our household goods through Amazon. As a bonus, we get to watch all the movies that are available. Since we don’t have TV service, that’s really nice. Amazon Prime has paid for itself over and over again in the free 2 day shipping on heavy items!
ps – Whenever you click on a link to Amazon from my site and then order something in that session, I get a small cut! Your purchases support this blog!!! Thank you!
Buy the Right Amount
Waste is so frustrating. Being aware of how long things keep and making sure you use what you have is essential to staying on budget. Some items will store much better at different times of year. Salad greens have been a problem for us recently. In the winter we’re just not as hungry for them so we don’t use as much. And since they’re not as in season, the salad we were buying had sat in the store longer, using up more of it’s shelf life. We had to switch to buying smaller quantities and tougher varieties of lettuce for a while.
If you are meal planning, that will help you buy just what you are going to eat. In addition, you should also go through the fridge at least once a week and round up all the odds and ends that are going to go to waste. It might make for an unusual meal from time to time, but you’ll save money!
Be Smart About Storage
The fridge is not the best place to put everything! Learn about the storage requirements of all different kinds of foods so that they don’t go to waste.
Get a Chest Freezer
The freezer is a huge money saver. TinyHands calculated how much ours cost and saved us, and wrote a buying guide for freezers, too. Freezing is a very easy way to preserve many fruits, vegetables, and meats, as well as pre-made dinners! You can make your life so much easier, cut down on shopping trips, and save money. If the power goes out, the food in the freezer will stay cold for quite a while so long as you keep it closed.
When the apocalypse comes and the power goes out, we’ll either have to run a generator or bust out a big fire in the yard and the pressure canner. Until then, we’re happy using the electricity to keep our food cold for months or even years at a time.
Learn to Can, Dehydrate, and Ferment
Water bath canning is OK for GAPS. Pressure canning is not officially GAPS legal (low acid foods MUST be pressure canned according to tested recipes). Personally, I think we need to have some food put up for emergencies. Having some ready made things that don’t require refrigeration means fewer cheats on store bought stuff when you’re in a time crunch. It also saves loads of money. If it’s between having homemade pressure canned food ready to go and impulse shopping, I’ll compromise and use what we canned up ourselves!
Fermented foods keep a lot longer than fresh! Sauerkraut and all kinds of pickles are easy to make and taste delicious.
Our food dehydrator paid for itself the first week we had it. Try making all kinds of jerky, dried fruits, herbs, seasonings, and more.
In addition to our fridge and freezer, we have an unheated attached garage that works very well for cold storage. We have a section of counter space and a cabinet for veggies and ferments that like it warmer. We got pretty creative at our old house.
Depending on the climate where you live, some vegetables can be left out in the garden in the winter for long periods, too! If you have a basement or root cellar, make the most of them!
Grow Your Own
If you’ve got the time and a bit of sunny space, you can grow your own! A bit more space, and you can raise animals for milk, meat, and eggs, too! Start with the products that will take the least time, save you the most money, and produce abundantly in your climate. Good money savers in our area include tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus (3 years to harvest), all kinds of greens, broccoli, green beans, and herbs. Many vegetables will even overwinter here.
Planting fruit is a longer term investment but it pays for itself amazingly. Apples, pears, peaches, and figs can all be espaliered and grown in small spaces. Grapes provide shade and loads of fruit. Blueberries and strawberries are easy producers and a delight to kids of all ages.
Be sure to factor in your time and the expenses involved with improving your soil and getting supplies. Don’t forget to take into account the value to your kids and community while you’re at it!
Buy in Bulk
We buy nuts, honey, butter, coconut oil, lentils, meat, fruit, and produce in bulk at different times of year. This requires budgeting for those future purchases, but we save up to 50% on foods we know we’ll eat! Check out my post, Bulk Buying without Breaking the Bank for tips on saving money with bulk buying. If you want an in depth look at our budget, I recently put that up, too!
You can also buy in bulk at Costco. At locations near us you can now get organic produce, organic (but usually not pastured) meats, organic frozen fruit and veggies, wild caught sea food, and more. The selection of things we can eat that Costco carries has continually expanded. If your local store doesn’t carry these items, let them know you want them! Go in with a list and your will power!
Many stores you wouldn’t expect get wild caught sea food. Every now and then we come across an amazing deal on wild caught salmon or tuna at the QFC. So watch the ads for deals like that! Fish freezes well and can be pressure canned, too. If you don’t have access to good sea food in your area, try ordering through Vital Choice.
Get a Good Water FilterBuying bottled water is no guarantee of purity, not to mention being a disaster for the environment. Buying reverse osmosis filtered water is a better way, but that adds up quickly and isn’t convenient. Many people use carbon filters, but they need to be replaced regularly and don’t filter out fluoride. Filtering it out is important for people with autoimmune issues. The benefits of fluoride for your teeth come from topical use. You really don’t need to be drinking it! For your ferments, you’ll also need fluoride-free, chlorine-free water.
At our old house the water wasn’t fluoridated and we called carbon filtration good enough. Now that we’ve moved, we have an under-the-sink reverse osmosis system with a pressure tank. Another great option for water filtration are the Berkey gravity-fed models. They don’t require electricity or running water! I would love to have one of these in case of emergency!
Share Your Tips
What else do you do to save money on real food? How has your budget changed since you went gluten-free or grain-free? How much time do you spend on the things that save you money? I’d love to hear your ideas!