How to Save Money on a Real Food Diet

"Pile it High and Sell it Cheap!"

I recently read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and if you haven't read it yet--READ IT! Awesome book. One part that I feel resonated with me was when Pollan interviews a farmer about his local business: "When someone drives up to the farm in a BMW and asks me why our eggs cost more.. well, first I try not to get mad. Instead, I take him outside and point at his car. 'Sir, you clearly understand quality and are willing to pay for it. Well, food is no different: You get what you pay for.' Why is it that we exempt food, of all things, from that rule? 'We pile it high and sell it cheap!' What other business would ever sell its products that way?"

But we do that, don't we? If not, then places like Walmart or fast food chains wouldn't be billion dollar franchises.

But they are. In general, Americans have come to value cheap food over quality food. Why? I'm not quite sure. I think in large part it is because we have lost touch of many of the simple values of life itself--we work more, relax less, eat more fast food, and lead busier lives than nearly any other nation.  And with that kind of mentality, eating might very well be seen as either an emotional outlet or just a nuisance.

Supermarkets, convenience stores, and fast food chains are handy, but make it very easy to forget where food actually comes from (or where it SHOULD come from). The cheaper, the better--as long as it tastes good, right? And, honestly, that's not too hard for food "manufacturers" to do anymore. Add a whole of bunch of salt, sugar, flavor enhancers, and colors and you can turn the cheapest materials into something the body craves.

Food sustains life

What Americans need to realize is that quality food means quality of life. You are exactly what you eat. The fats, proteins, and carbohydrates you ingest are used to rebuild and reproduce every cell in your body. What many don't realize is that these substances are damaged by heating, bleaching, and processing. Not only do structures changes, but vitamins and minerals are lost, enzymes are deactivated, and the food becomes dead, damaged, and useless. What happens when the very materials that make up our body's cells are dead, damaged, and useless? Cells can't function, systems start to fail, and disease develops.

So what is quality food?

Quality of food is dependent on both the quality and quantity of the nutrients contained in it. For example, animals raised on range land or pastures have a tremendously different fatty acid profile than animals raised in feed lots (and thats a VERY bad thing when we then eat that poorly raised meat). Fresh produce grown in nutrient-dense soil contains hundreds upon hundreds of vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, and phytonutrients that commercially grown produce does NOT contain. Wild caught fish contains healthy fats and proteins, while farm-raised fish is almost completely devoid of the nutrients that makes eating fish so healthy in the first place.

Nourishing our bodies with quality food will most likely cost more than what your typical supermarket bills would run. It's not an easy adjustment, especially when you are on a tight budget. Take that from a girl who switched to a whole foods diet while still dirt poor and in college--believe me, I know it's tough!

But let's compare the cost of food with the cost of disease. National statistics show us that it costs the US nearly $176 billion dollars a year in direct medical costs related to treating diabetes alone. Let's add to that recent devastating statistic that on average, 1 in 3 children born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their life.

Quality food is an investment in you. And when food is medicine, there's no need for a lifetime of prescription medications or surgeries. Choosing quality food is ultimately choosing health.

But how do I buy real, nutrient-dense food without breaking the bank?

Quality food is grown and raised with care and oftentimes with great effort in using safe and effective practices. A dinner of sustainable, wild-caught fish and locally grown greens will cost more than a dollar menu burger from McDonalds. But, if you do it right, it will probably cost less than a protein shake and a Clif bar. There are LOTS AND LOTS of ways to save money and afford life-sustaining, nutrient-dense food.

It goes a long way to say that nourishing food is, first of all, much more satiating than "low fat" or imitation foods. Less really is more when you buy quality food. Good food naturally comes with good fat that triggers the brain to recognize a full and satisfied sensation after eating. Feeling satisfied keeps you from overeating and eliminates the need for snacking all day--both of which can easily ruin a budget.

There have been times over the last few years that I've realized I was spending a LOT more money on food than I usually do.  Going back, I was able to pinpoint some of those habits that were draining my bank account. Here are a few

  • buying lots of specialty, one-off ingredients for complicated recipes
  • buying solely at health food stores, herbal stores, specialty stores
  • frequently eating out at restaurants (even if they are supporting local and sustainable producers)
  • skipping meal prep day, which forced me to take expensive measures to get food when I didn't have anything cooked but was hungry
  • purchasing lots of pre-made snack foods like coconut chips, Lara Bars, beef jerky, other paleo snacks

Healthy, money-saving habits

Times when I've been able to keep my budget WAY good and thrive on quality, nutrient-dense food I noticed I was following many of these habits

  • buy herbs and spices in bulk either online or at a local herb shop
  • buy in bulk organic nuts, nut flours, baking supplies
  • join a CSA for good quality, local produce (and even have fresh produce delivered to your doorstep weekly!)
  • buy produce that is in season (it's cheaper when it is in season)
  • shop at farmer's markets
  • find ranches that will let you split shares of whole animals
  • find local small farms selling their pastured eggs and honey
  • keep specialty ingredients and complicated recipes to a minimum
  • avoid splurging on treats like Lara Bars, Halo Top, gluten-free breads, etc and instead opt for a little honey with homemade yogurt or a spoonful of nut butter as a treat
  • stock up when you find a good deal (it might be a good idea to invest in a freezer chest!)
  • make your own bone broth, nut butters, nut milks, yogurt, sour cream, fermented products yourself

Money Saving Meals

One of the biggest money-suckers are recipes for dishes with lots of ingredients. It follows the same logic that no one in their right mind could sit down and eat 2 bananas, 2 oranges, 3 cups of spinach, and a whole bunch of yogurt and ice.. but all of a sudden when you blend it in a blender, it doesn't seem like enough to fill you up!

Plan simple meals with a protein and vegetables, or a starch and vegetables and you'll find yourself saving lots of money.

Here are a few examples of high nutrient, low cost meals!

Grilled chicken with sauteed garlic and spinach

Broiled salmon with oven-roasted vegetables

Ground beef and liver patties with lettuce, tomato, and avocado

Baked sweet potato with sauteed greens

Baked squash with eggs

While I try and stick to simple meals to save time and money, there are days I still find myself just wanting, say... three stacks of quesadillas made with Coconut Wrapand really good cheese. And on those days I let myself splurge and remember the best thing for me is to try and stay consistent with meal planning and make sure I have meals planned out so that I'm not just feeding odd cravings with expensive food.

Overall, remember that your health and quality of life are worth it. Cheaply grown and manufactured commercial foods lead to all kinds of disease and YOU ARE NOT WORTH THAT! You deserve health and longevity. So get that salmon. Buy that cheese. Less becomes more when you eat quality food.

Have ideas or questions about how to save money on a real food diet?? Leave a comment below:)

3 Responses to “How to Save Money on a Real Food Diet

  • What kitchen appliances do you recommend? I’m thinking a food processor would be very helpful, but what about a dehydrator? Necessary? Do you have to spend a lot for a good one?

    • amoffat
      1 year ago

      Hi Leslie! Great question–I went through a lot of different questions and research on good quality appliances that weren’t gonna break the bank. A food processor was almost ESSENTIAL to me on GAPS. It made it so you can have a lot of variety with the same veggies:) I like my Cuisinart. I’ve had this one for a while and it works great. Cuisinart FP-8SV Elemental 8-Cup Food Processor, Silver I tried a different brand.. I cant remember which one now.. and it just did NOT slice things. Just turned food to mush.

      A dehydrator is soooo helpful for making things like yogurt. I use it ALL the time for anything that needs to be cultured at a specific temperature. They are a little pricey and I got a big one, but I think you can get smaller ones of the Excalibur. This is the one I have. Excalibur 3900B 9 Tray Deluxe Dehydrator, Black

      I hope that helps!

      Oh and a good blender too. I couldn’t afford a vitamix but my KitchenAid is working great for what I need.. KitchenAid KSB1570SL 5-Speed Blender with 56-Ounce BPA-Free Pitcher – Silversomeday I will get a Vitamix tho;)

  • I’d love to share this article as a guest post on my blog. Excellent pointers, direct information, grounded science. Let me know if you’re willing to be featured there.

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