The Paleo Diet is sometimes dismissed as elitist and only for those who can afford daily prime mignon. This criticism stems from a wider misconception that Paleo is “meat-only” or “meat heavy.” Indeed, the Paleo diet does include appreciable amounts of animal foods, but eating Paleo doesn’t require eating the most expensive varieties of animal foods. Our ancestors were extremely efficient, eating animals and fish from nose to tail, leaving nothing wasted. We can and should emulate this approach, not only because it ensures balanced nutrition, but also because it’s more economical.
So, if you are trying to make Paleo work within the confines of a limited budget or you have several hungry children to feed and wonder whether you can afford a Paleo lifestyle, here are five key tips for minimizing food expenses while maximizing nutrition and deliciousness.
1. GET A SLOW COOKER
You might have one in your garage or closet. Market research firm NPD Group estimates that 83% of Americans own slow cookers (also known as crock pots), but only half use them regularly.1 In the UK, slow cooker sales rose 55% between 2012 –2014.2
Not only is slow cooking extremely delicious and convenient, it’s also very economical. A slow cooked stew might require six to eight hours, but its electricity costs are comparable to those of a light bulb. Electric ovens, on the other hand, are more energy intensive, averaging between 2 and 2.2 kWh. Slow cookers average around 0.09 kWh, according to the Centre for Sustainable Energy.3 What does this mean? In the US, the national average electricity cost is approximately $0.12 cents per kWh. Operating the oven for one hour, therefore, costs around $0.25, whereas operating a slow cooker for eight hours costs only $0.09.
2. SAVE WITH LESS EXPENSIVE CUTS OF MEAT
Another advantage of slow cooking is that tougher cuts of meat become naturally tenderized. You wouldn’t want to cook oxtail, skirt, flank, shin, or chuck steaks on the grill, but slow cooked for hours, these cuts are outstanding. They typically have more fat and more cartilage. Bone-in cuts also have marrow. All these elements add flavor and depth to your stews. Many cuts of lamb and pork are also incredible slow cooked, and aren’t marked up nearly as much as other cuts of meat. You can easily cut your meat costs by 50%+ compared to the more expensive, quick-cooking cuts.
3. EAT THE ORGANS
The irony of organ meat is that despite being the most nutrient dense foods by far, they are typically also the most inexpensive. Liver, for example, might cost you around $5 or $6 per pound. By including organ meats in your diet, you’ll save money while greatly boosting your nutrient intake.
4. ORGANIC VS. CONVENTIONAL
Some often balk at paying $3 for that organic avocado when the conventional one costs only $1.50. While we strongly recommend buying organic produce, if you have a limited budget, the Environmental Working Group offers their excellent Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, showing which fruits and vegetables to always buy organic and for which conventional is probably adequate.
5. SMALL, OILY FISH
Sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and other small, oily fish are relatively inexpensive, delicious, and easy to prepare. Fish is a vital component of the Paleo diet, and you can still meet nutritional requirements and enjoy fish without buying expensive wild salmon or wild sea bass. These fish are rich in omega-3 and won’t break your bank. But, buy them fresh, not preserved in cans.
Christopher James Clark, B.B.A.
Christopher James Clark, B.B.A. is an award-winning writer, consultant, and chef with specialized knowledge in nutritional science and healing cuisine. He has a Business Administration degree from the University of Michigan and formerly worked as a revenue management analyst for a Fortune 100 company. For the past decade-plus, he has been designing menus, recipes, and food concepts for restaurants and spas, coaching private clients, teaching cooking workshops worldwide, and managing the kitchen for a renowned Greek yoga resort. Clark is the author of the critically acclaimed, award-winning book, Nutritional Grail.