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So you are convinced to change your diet in an effort to achieve better health. But what if you can’t afford it? While I’ve written about this before, I decided to do another series on how to save on your food budget while embarking on an elimination diet such as the Autoimmune Protocol.
The quickest way to revolutionize your food budget is to prioritize—you want to be purchasing the most affordable foods that provide the maximum amount of nutrition. When I hear people complain about their food budget and then find out they are purchasing T-bone steaks from Whole Foods and baking AIP-compliant treats every few days, I wonder if they have really taken a good look at their priorities as far as their food budget is concerned. While you can certainly run out and buy everything you need from an organic grocer, you are likely to pay top dollar for everything and blow your budget!
Here are some tips in three important areas:
- Often the cuts of meat that are tougher and fattier are much more affordable at the butcher counter. Don’t worry, with the right recipe (like this one, or this one) you can transform that “cheap” pot roast into a mouth-watering, succulent treat for you and your family. Not surprisingly, these cuts contain more connective tissue, collagen, and gelatin, which are of a specific importance for those of us trying to heal our guts. If you can’t afford much grass-fed or organic meat, you may be able to incorporate some into your routine by purchasing these cheaper cuts and learning how to cook them!
- There is more than one reason to incorporate offal like liver, kidney, and bones into your cooking—these cuts are most often the most affordable meat products you can buy, even organic and grass-fed. Not to mention they are the most nutrient-dense, healing foods you can include in your diet.
- Red meat like beef and lamb has more nutrition per ounce and is much more affordable per pound to purchase organic and grass-fed.
- For efficient and economical meat sourcing, the online service, Butcher Box, will deliver your desired quantity of high-quality chicken, beef and/or pork each month for free.
- You want to make sure to invest in at least one high-quality fat for cooking as well as one for dressing salads, minimum. See this article for a discussion on fats, and this one for a guide on which to purchase.
- If you are going to use animal fats like lard or tallow, purchasing the raw fat and rendering at home can save you a ton of money over purchasing ready-made. You can (and should!) also save leftover saturated fat from cooking high-quality meats to use for cooking.
- If you can’t afford all organic produce, use the Environmental Working Group’s list of the Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen. This list will help you decide which fruits and vegetables you should always purchase organic, and which you can purchase conventional.
- Vegetables are likely to be the most affordable component of your meals, and they carry with them tons of great nutrition! Instead of overdoing it on expensive meats, eat them moderately and load your plate up with vegetables. While we don’t advise doing the Autoimmune Protocol without meat, we are huge advocates of eating lots of plant matter for optimal health!
Beyond food, a lot of us can stand to do some prioritizing in other areas of our budgets. Yes, this gets tricky, because everyone’s financial situation is unique, and our culture tells us we need to live in a certain size house, have multiple vehicles, and the like. While its really hard to get this point when you aren’t healthy and are spending lots of money on doctors and treatments, for a lot of us, eating better is one way we have to minimize medical expenses in the future.
Instead of giving you specific recommendations here, I’ll share a little bit about what I did when I realized I needed to eat differently and didn’t have room in my budget. I had just lost my job due to illness, was in the hospital three times in two months without health insurance, and was still undergoing the diagnosis and early treatment for my two autoimmune diseases. I definitely didn’t have extra money to blow on food; in fact, my husband and I were going more into debt every minute. We sold our second car, went without cable TV, movies, eating out, travel, or holiday gifts, and rented out a room in our house on Craigslist, in addition to implementing a lot of the food budgeting tips in this series through that situation. There was a point where our expenditures were higher than our income, due to me not working—but we took a leap of faith that it was the right move. In the end, it did work out; changing what was on my plate enabled me to heal enough to go back to work, which started to relieve the immense financial strain we were under. However, at this point, keeping the food budget in check was still a very important part of the process as we had to begin the long process of paying off all of the debt we incurred from medical expenses and those months where we couldn’t make ends meet.
#2 Get Nutrition From Food Over Supplements
It can be really tempting to want to add a bunch of supplements to enhance the effects of the Autoimmune Protocol. Most of the time, they aren’t necessary, and because of all of the filler and ingredient possibilities, they can actually be a problem for a lot of people (check out this article and this article for more information here).
Instead of spending a ton of money on supplements, it may be wiser to be very choosy about those that you decide to incorporate if you are on a tight budget. Some questions to ask to evaluate a supplement:
- Was this supplement recommended by your trusted doctor or practitioner? Some doctors, especially those in the natural field (like Naturopaths or Functional Medicine Practitioners) can be very heavy-handed in recommending supplements. Look for a doctor to work with who is open-minded in their approach and willing to give you explanations why they want you to try a certain supplement, or one who can help you prioritize according to how you are eating and your budget. Supplements can be very effective and a part of good complimentary care, but often times deciding what is truly necessary especially with budget concerns takes careful collaboration with your practitioner.
- Did you find out about this supplement online? It is very easy to get sent down the supplement marketing rabbit-hole learning about what has helped other people through forums and websites online. I like to consider these hyped-up, trendy supplements something that maybe those with extra money can spend on trying if they’d like to, but not at the expense of the regular food budget. It is unlikely that these expensive supplements will be the “missing link” and replace good nutrition.
- Is this something you can get from food? Many nutrients can be better obtained by food. For instance, if you’ve got an issue with iron-deficiency anemia, you would be better off prioritizing high-quality red meats, especially organ meats (which you saw above, can be some of the most affordable foods on your plate!). Here are some common supplements those with chronic illness might take, and some alternative foods that can offer them:
- Gelatin: Broth made from bones (check out my recipe here), tough, slow-cooked meats and stews
- Probiotics: Fermented foods like sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, kombucha, kefir, kvass (If you’d like to save money, make them at home!)
- Fish Oil/Omega 3 Fats: Cold-water, fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring (BPA-free canned varieties can be very affordable!)
- Iron: Organ meats, red meat, and shellfish
- Calcium/Magnesium: Bone broth, green leafy vegetables
- Do you feel a measurable improvement when I take this supplement? Sometimes an expensive supplement is recommended by a healthcare practitioner, but you may not notice the effects. You might want to forgo those additions to your routine that don’t produce any desirable effects and use those dollars to buy food. Talk to your practitioner about the window of time to notice effects before deciding not to buy another bottle.
#3 Plan and Shop Smart!
Although the Autoimmune Protocol allowed foods are pretty specific, how you choose to interpret that based on the foods you have available to you and which specialty ingredients you’d like to purchase can make a food budget vary a lot.
- Avoid elaborate recipes and treats. The Autoimmune Protocol community is alive with incredible recipes for many recreations of what we ate in our former lives. To be honest, cooking from elaborate recipes and making treats often is a sure way to blow your grocery budget. Alternative baking ingredients like cassava flour, maple syrup, honey, dried fruit, and arrowroot are some of the most expensive on the market. Even if you aren’t making treats, specialty ingredients found in a lot of recipes can set you back a lot of money. The solution is simple—cook simple recipes using the highest quality ingredients that you can find for the best price in your area. This may mean that following recipes exactly as-written, or using a meal plan in a book isn’t right for you.
- Make as many “specialty foods” at home as you can. While yes, you can buy your lard pre-rendered or bone broth ready-made from an online vendor, this is not ideal for your wallet. Even staples like coconut milk can be made for pennies compared to purchasing at the store. Here are some ideas of foods that you can make at home:
- Kombucha (my recipe here)
- Water Kefir (recipe in The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook)
- Fermented vegetables (recipe in The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook)
- Coconut milk (my recipe here)
- Condiments (like my Garlic Mayo)
- Sauces (like Pesto, Green Curry, or Cranberry Relish)
- Rendering your own solid cooking fat
- Bone broth
- Snacks/chips (use a dehydrator)
- Waste nothing. As Dr. Terry Wahls described to us on our webinar, use all of the peels and scraps in your meals to maximize your food budget. In a country where 40% of our food goes to waste, we have no excuse for not ensuring that every bit of food we purchase ends up on our plates.
- Buy bone-in meats (which is usually cheaper by the pound) and then repurpose the bones to make bone broth
- Save any animal fat rendered during cooking for further use (like bacon grease or duck fat)
- Save “cooked” bones after making broth to add to subsequent broth batches (I keep a bag in my freezer!)
- Save vegetable tops for flavoring broth and to add to soups
- Don’t peel organic vegetables and use them in your cooking
- Find ways to use commonly thrown away things like carrot tops and beet greens
- Make “garbage soup” utilizing any leftover vegetables in your refrigerator that need cooking
- Shop with the seasons. Eating and shopping seasonally is more than a locavore, hippy dream—it can help you save a huge chunk off your food budget. While some meat and produce can be found for a high price at the markets (especially organic fruits in the bigger cities), if you keep your eyes out for a deal, you can do incredibly well. Often farmers will have a surplus when vegetables are in peak season, and you can take advantage by stocking up and making the most of that harvest. In addition, produce has its highest vitamin and mineral content in season, so this timing is ideal from a nutrient density perspective too!
- Pick your own. Check this listing for farms in your area that offer pick-your-own, where you travel to the farm and harvest yourself. This is especially popular with fruit, and you can save a bundle of money. In my area, organic raspberries cost upwards of $10 a pound even in high season. In July, my family goes to pick them ourselves and pay around $2 a pound. In the same vein, in November, my favorite fruit persimmons are $2 each at my local grocer while we can pick our own for $1.50 a pound. In the summer and fall, we try and go fruit picking every weekend and both enjoy while the fruit is fresh as well as save for later. Use Pick Your Own as a resource to find farms near you.
- Don’t shop at the same store for everything. Grocery stores will usually run good deals on certain foods but then offer others at a higher markup. A big misconception is that you can only find organic or specialty ingredients at natural grocery stores. In my town, the store with the highest quality and best price for organic produce is Fred Meyer (which is kind of like a Wal-Mart), not Whole Foods. In contrast, they do have some specialty ingredients, but they are very overpriced even compared to Whole Foods. Knowing what to purchase where can be revolutionary!
As if this wasn’t enough, I’ve got another equally advice-packed post for you as the next installment of this series. We’ll talk the advantages of investing up-front, joining a buying club, growing your own food, meal planning, flexibility, and other creative ways you can save money on food.
What are your favorite ways of sticking to your budget while embarking on a healing diet?