By Ciarra Hannah, author of The Frugal Paleo Cookbook: Affordable, Easy & Delicious Paleo Cooking and founder of the blog, Popular Paleo
When I made my commitment to Paleo a couple years ago it did not come without its share of hurdles. I was at home with my 2 year old son and homeschooling my 3rd grader. Being a military family on a single income, you could say that we didn’t exactly have excess resources to direct toward this crazy new diet mom wanted to try… If we were gonna make the leap, it was going to take some creativity and innovation on my part to make this feasible for the long haul.
Thankfully after a couple months of trial and error, we landed on some winning strategies for saving money, time, and effort. In fact, they were so effective that after sticking to the traditional core foods of the Paleo template for a month, we were able to remove about $1,000 from what we’d typically spend on food each month. That’s a huge boast for a diet that’s supposed to be too expensive and impractical, particularly for families.
Fast forward a few years later: The lessons that we learned for transitioning a typical family to a real-food, Paleo approach to meals and snacks can all be found in The Frugal Paleo Cookbook. In case you don’t have a copy yet, I’d love to highlight some of my favorite tips for living a practical and budget-friendly Paleo lifestyle, plus share a recipe from the book that is a huge hit with my family!
Here’s how we did it:
Don’t Pull Double-Diet Duty
The first is that we jumped all in to the traditional Paleo template. We didn’t have our feet on both sides of the proverbial fence. This inherently yielded savings by just removing the extra costs associated with processed convenience items and processed foods. There’s serious savings in what you’re not buying! We reduced how often we went to restaurants—it just became more work than it was worth to rework the menu into something we wanted to eat. We all but eliminated the coffee shop drive-thru stops—not a whole lot to enjoy when you’re avoiding dairy, gluten, and refined sugars. It was a whole-life adjustment, but wow did it work wonders on our food costs!
This Winning Strategy for Meal Planning
Instead of planning meals that jump from genre to genre in an effort to create variety on your plate, choose a flavor profile to center your meals around for a period of time, such as a standard work week. All of the recipes and ingredients get along with each other, making quick and easy meals super simple. The goal should be to have cleared out your fridge at the end of each week. So one week do Mexican/Latin themed foods; the next focus on Italian and Mediterranean recipes. You’ll avoid over-buying at the grocery store or farmer’s market and you’ll simplify meal planning.
Do the best you can with what you have…
If you’re not able to meet the gold-standard of Paleo foods 100% of the time—that’s OK! It’s a huge transition to retrain your shopping habits, go-to recipe ideas, and your taste buds all at the same time. So if all you have bandwidth for in your brain is to focus on shopping the perimeter of your neighborhood grocery store and doing all you can to skip the grains, dairy, and processed foods, then go for it! You won’t lose points, fall out of a zone, or be somehow disqualified from a Paleo approach to your meals. Eventually work your way up to local, organic produce or buying your meat in bulk from a local farm. You’re gonna be at this Paleo thing for a while, so be kind to yourself as you adjust to a very different way of sourcing food and prepping meals.
Avoid Trying to Paleo-fy All The Things!
As tempting as it may be, especially in the beginning, to spend time and energy recreating all of your non-Paleo favorites, I’d caution against it. Since Paleo inherently brings you back to the kitchen, you’ll likely spend comparatively more time prepping food than you did in pre-Paleo days. Trying to provide your family with muffins, breads, tortillas, waffles, and the like at every turn in addition to meat and veggie centerpieces, will cost you in time, money, and sanity. It’s not that you don’t ever do it, it’s that you’re selective about when to invest the additional resources and effort.
EASY THAI COCONUT CHICKEN (from the Frugal Paleo Cookbook)
This recipe transforms basic chicken and vegetables into something exotic and fantastic thanks to a couple dynamic, yet accessible, ingredients: coconut milk and green curry paste. These ingredients can be found in any normal grocery store; no additional stops at exclusive health stores required.
1 pound (454 g) chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup onion, diced
1/2 cup (40 g) sliced white mushrooms
1/2 cup (75 g) carrots, sliced into coins
1 cup (150 g) zucchini, sliced into half-moon shapes
1 (13.6oz/403 mL) can full fat organic coconut milk
3 tsp (45 mL) green curry paste
1/2 tsp, plus a pinch kosher salt
1 tbsp (45 g) red chile pepper slices
1 tbsp (45 g) coconut oil
Optional: Prawns can be substituted for chicken for a seafood option or double the recipe and use both chicken and prawns to feed a crowd!
In a small bowl combine the canned coconut milk with the green curry paste. Set aside.
Preheat a large, high-sided skillet with a lid, to medium-high and melt the coconut oil in the pan.
Meanwhile, cut the chicken breasts into 2-inch (5-cm) cubes and season one side with a sprinkling of kosher salt.
When the coconut oil is hot, drop the cubed chicken into the pan. This is one time when you don’t want to stir the meat while it cooks. Let the chicken sear, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes before flipping or turning the cubes to a second side to sear for about 3 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium, then add the carrots, onion and garlic to the chicken. Cook and stir for about 4 minutes. Add the zucchini, mushrooms, chile pepper slices and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt.
Continue to cook and stir for another 5 minutes. If at any point the pan is getting too dark with what looks like burnt bits on the bottom, use about a 1/4 cup (60 mL) of water to deglaze the pan. Deglazing means that liquid is used to loosen the browned bits stuck to the bottom of a hot pan during the cooking process. The liquid “lifts” them up and incorporates the browned bits as added flavor to the dish. If you need to do it while you prepare this portion of the recipe, do it. If the browned bits are not overwhelming the pan, don’t worry about it.
When the zucchini and mushrooms are golden brown, pour in the coconut milk mixture. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes at this temperature to reduce the coconut milk slightly and concentrate the flavors.
I recommend serving this dish over cauliflower rice (which can be found on page 169 of the book) or eating it as a chunky soup, garnished with fresh basil—regular, sweet or Thai basil is fine.
For a pescatarian variation, 1 pound of prawns (about 31 to 40 per pound [1 kg] size is ideal) can be substituted. Select wild prawns that have been shelled and deveined, for added convenience. Cook the vegetables as directed, then add the prawns to the pan at the same time as the coconut milk mixture. The prawns will cook as the coconut milk simmers and thickens.
Ciarra is the creator of the drool-worthy blog, Popular Paleo and the author of the best-selling Frugal Paleo Cookbook–teaching you how to maximize your time, money, and effort on the Paleo diet! You can connect with Ciarra on the blog, or via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram!
Brian S says
Paleo is definitely a great way to lead a healthy lifestyle. I like the point you made about trying to Paleo-fy everything. This is something I have experienced firsthand and I can tell you it can be annoying.
I think this approach can work for most people.
I can understand finding a cost savings if a family was eating the standard american way, including lots of eating out. However, considering for a family of 8 we spend under a $1000 a month to begin with, it would be hard to find savings. I have seen Paleo promoting articles saying local and/or organic foods cost only a little bit more. Maybe they have more local organic growers than we do, but my experience is that it is routinely 25-50% more for produce and 2-3 times more for ideal meats. We’ve eaten Paleo in the past and are making our way back to it, but I know the budget will force us make some choices.
All that said, love following Diana, Robb, and others that promote eating better, esp. the benefits of Paleo.