If I had a nickel for every time I heard a low-carb newcomer say, “I can’t do Atkins. It’s too expensive,”, I’d be a very rich woman. The fact remains though that most folks think low-carb diets have to be expensive. Part of it has to do with agriculture subsidy here in the US, but part of it has to do with the fact that folks get this idea that they’ll be eating nothing but prime rib and lobster.
Understanding the basics of a well-rounded low-carb eating plan and thinking outside the box a bit will make it easy for anyone to follow a low-carb eating plan on a shoestring budget. What’s more, when you stop eating the cheap carbs that really do nothing but make you hungry for more cheap carbs, you’ll start to see that you need less food. Then, you can use that extra money to buy higher-quality foods, or you could use the surplus to attack debt or build some cash savings.
Here are some strategies that I use to keep food costs low despite the fact that we’re eating mostly unprocessed foods for which there are NEVER coupons.
Eggs are for more than just breakfast!
While I eat eggs for breakfast almost every day, I haven’t forgotten their utility in other meals. They’re an extremely inexpensive source of protein and fat, but they’re so versatile! Crustless quiche for lunch or supper, egg salad spread stuffed into bell pepper halves, deviled eggs, hard-boiled eggs as snacks, and eggs as a protein addition for your lunch salad — these are all great ways to build on a protein source that usually costs about $1 for a dozen eggs.
Understand the gifts a whole chicken offers you and your family.
Whole chickens almost always cost much less money than even the cheapest chicken parts. Roasting whole chickens is easy, and it can provide great meat for casseroles and salads. Home-cooked chicken is much tastier than the canned stuff, and it’s much cheaper too.
Also, if you don’t know how to break down a whole chicken into its individual parts, learn! I love the YouTube video here that really makes it look easy! By learning this skill, you get even the most expensive parts of the chicken for next to nothing. And you get to keep the back and the wing tips for making homemade chicken stock.
Save on cheese and yogurt.
Most folks who follow a low-carb eating plan enjoy cheese. Even during the Atkins Induction Phase, 3 to 4 ounces of aged cheese are allowed per day. Buying cheese is bulk blocks is a much less expensive way to get your “fix”, and because cheese freezes well, you won’t have to worry about wasting it.
Shredded cheese is often treated with potato starch to keep it from sticking together. If you buy a 1-pound block of cheese and shred your own on an as-needed basis, not only does it taste much better but it’s much healthier for you too. Obviously, you can’t use this trick with every kind of cheese out there, but for the common types, it can make a big difference in the budget.
And for those of you who enjoy yogurt, learn how to make your own at home. I made my first batch this summer using my crockpot, and I made a half gallon of yogurt for about $1.50. By using organic, whole milk, you can save even more money, and I guarantee you that you won’t find anything in the store that comes even halfway close to tasting as good as the homemade stuff!
Don’t forget your vegetables!
Remember that a healthy variety of vegetables is crucial to any low-carb eating plan. Since the “healthy” vegetables aren’t subsidized though, it can be overwhelming to figure out how to get what you want and need each day.
For your greens, buy them in bulk and make your own salad mixes. Get whole heads of lettuce and buy spinach by the bag. By doing this, you avoid the preservatives that are used to treat pre-cut salad mixes, and you save a lot of money.
Don’t forget that frozen vegetables are often fresher and more flavorful than the fresh produce at your grocery store. Frozen veggies are picked at just the right time and they’re flash-frozen within hours of picking. This means that they don’t sit around in trucks, store rooms, and bins waiting to be purchased. Better yet, if you’re talking about your grocery store, frozen veggies are often cheaper than fresh, and they’re DEFINITELY a better option than canned veggies.
Don’t forget about farmer’s markets and CSAs. These can be great ways to get produce for less than you’d pay at the store, and it’s much fresher and locally-grown.
Some folks like to sprout seeds for salads and stir-fries. Sprouting can give you a big nutrition boost for very little money. You just have to watch the carbs if you choose to sprout grains and legumes.
And lastly, GROW YOUR OWN PRODUCE! Even if you live in a tiny apartment and you have nothing more than a pot of herbs in a sunny window, you’re doing something that saves money and tastes SO good. Jack Spirko from The Survival Podcast likes to say that gardening is a gateway drug to prepping. I absolutely think he’s right. But I like to say that growing herbs in your kitchen is a gateway drug to gardening. Fresh herbs are so good for us, and once you see how easy it can be to grow something as simple as a pot of parsley, you’ll be hooked!
Learn how to treat cheap cuts of meat to make tasty meals.
Cheaper cuts of meat can be delicious too, but you have to know what to do. When I catch pork shoulder on sale for $.98/lb, for instance, I’ll take it home and cook it in my crockpot. It actually makes really great-tasting pulled pork, and pulled pork can be used for everything from wraps to salads to egg dishes and everything in between.
Often times I’ll get beef stew meat on “manager’s special”, and I’ll cut it into smaller pieces for stir-fries. Sauteeing that meat in coconut oil with fresh veggies and herbs couldn’t make a better supper!
Cheap beef steaks are often tough, but I do like to eat beef, so I’ll buy them, bring them home and marinate them, and I’ll cook them at a lower temperature than I’d cook a higher-quality piece of meat. They come out nice and tender and I don’t have to shell out $7/lb for ribeye.
Whole pork loins often fall in the “cheap meat” category. If you buy one, you can slice it into fillets or you can roast it whole and then divide it into servings. No matter what you decide, it’s cheap and delicious!
Watch for sales on beef roasts. After learning about “pink slime”, I’m not inclined to get ground beef unless I know that it was ground in the store. By taking a cheap roast to the meat counter, I can get it ground in-store, and I know what I’m getting.
Learn to make jerky.
My husband and I like jerky, but it’s expensive and it’s often full of stuff that we don’t want to eat. We have a dehydrator and a “jerky gun” though, so I can make ground meat jerky at home that saves us a LOT of money. One pound of 90% lean ground beef usually runs about $3. By the time I’m finished, that one pound of meat yields about 3 oz of jerkey. Not bad at all, I’d say, especially when I get to choose what goes into my jerky.
Make a list and shop that list.
When money is tight, regardless of what eating plan you follow, a menu plan and a grocery list are your best defense against waste. I’ll use my family as an example. Now that the big kids are back at school, it’s actually really easy.
First, I account for the kids’ lunch money. Then I make sure that we have the items to cover breakfast for everyone (cereal, eggs, and flaxseed meal.) Then I cover lunches for my husband and me. We both eat the same thing for lunch during the week, so it’s easy. (He eats brats and cottage cheese; I eat chicken thighs. My preschooler also eats chicken or PB&J with applesauce.) Then I plan seven dinners, and I add fill-in items like nuts, coffee, condiments and the like to finish off the list.
This isn’t to say that I never get items that aren’t on my list, but by planning my list, I can get items for the cheapest prices and the need for a $3 gallon of milk doesn’t turn into a $50 shopping trip.
Following a low-carb eating plan doesn’t have to be pricey. Stick to unprocessed foods and don’t be afraid to think outside the box!