10 Tips for Doing Whole30 on a Budget

With proper planning, you can try the Whole30 diet and stick to your grocery budget.

If you’re just now starting on your New Year’s resolution to get healthy, you might find yourself considering the Whole30 program. The latest diet craze, which is meant to be a sort of physical reset button, requires you to cut out grains, sugars, alcohol, processed foods, legumes and dairy for a full 30 days. So basically you feast on meats, veggies, fruits, nuts and eggs.

Lots of people are jumping on the bandwagon, and not without reason. Changing your eating habits in this way can help you find trigger foods that cause you problems. And this kind of structured diet can set you on your way to a true long-term lifestyle change. (Of course, every person’s different and, if you have concerns about changing your diet, you might want to consult a professional before getting started.)

But there’s a big financial catch: The Whole30 diet can be expensive!

My husband and I have been doing a Whole30, and it’s definitely increased our grocery budget. On the one hand, this is fine. I’m OK with paying a little more for food that I know is better for my body. But I don’t want to pay a lot more, especially since we plan to stick with this style of eating for much longer than 30 days.

Doing a Whole30 may increase your grocery budget, but it doesn’t have to blow it out of the water. (That would seriously damage your wallet  —and your credit. You can keep an eye on how your scores are doing for free on Credit.com.) If you decide to try this way of eating, use these tips to keep from spending way too much.

1. Don’t Worry About Going Organic

The Whole30 guide suggests going organic. After all, you want to cut out all the nastiness from the food you put into your body. But if you can’t afford organic meat, fruits and veggies, don’t sweat it. Consider just purchasing organic if your produce is on the “dirty dozen” list of foods most impacted by pesticides. The bottom line: Even conventional fruits and veggies are much better than processed foods. So go with what you can afford.

2. Get Familiar With the Best Prices

Now is a great time to get familiar with different grocery stores in your area. We personally try not to make more than two stops on our Saturday morning shopping trips. You may find it’s worth your while to make three or more stops. Consider shopping outside of the big box stores. Try your local Trader Joe’s for Whole30-approved snacks like plantain chips. We love Aldi for scoring most of our meat and produce at great prices, and local farmer’s markets may have in-season produce for a steal.

3. Keep Emergency Snacks on Hand

The first couple of weeks of Whole30 can be rough, I won’t lie. I was hungry basically all the time and really craved carbs. This is totally normal, but you can push through it. It’s a good idea to keep emergency snacks on hand so you can stick to your eating plan. Some options include nuts (buy in bulk and portion them into small packages), fruit (apples and bananas keep well in the car or a purse), and, in a pinch, certain Larabars (when on sale!). Emergency food can also keep you from dining out, which is confusing, frustrating and even more expensive when you’re on a Whole30.

4. Plan Your Meals

I’ve always been a meal planner, but I’ve gotten even more serious about it since starting the Whole30. Now I know each day what we’ll have for dinner. I plan everything on Saturday before we grocery shop. When you plan your meals, you don’t buy extra food that ends up spoiling. And if you really want to be cheap, you can make just enough extra food to have leftovers for lunch the next day.

5. Don’t Be Afraid of the Freezer Aisle

You might think eating Whole30 would mean all-raw fruits and veggies. But that’s not the case. In fact, oven-roasted veggies drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar are our favorites right now. And those can be made with frozen veggies as easily as fresh ones. You can also save on meats, fish and berries when you buy frozen rather than fresh.

6. Try Some Canned Items

Cheap canned goods aren’t off limits. You’ll want to read labels to make sure nothing weird has been added to your canned veggies or tuna. (Some canned tuna has added sugar.) Once you find brands and types you know are compliant, you can work them into loads of different meals to stretch those savings.

7. Choose Conventional Lean Meats

Organic grass-fed meats are the best option, but they’re also super-expensive. If you can’t afford this type of meat, don’t sweat it. However, you’ll probably want to steer clear of fattier cuts of conventional meats. The worst of the toxins stored in a cut of meat will be in the fat. So just go with leaner cuts while you’re doing your detox.

8. Get Used to Making Eggs

The Whole30 relies heavily on protein and fat to keep you feeling full and satiated without a constant intake of carbohydrates. One way to get both of these macronutrients without spending a load of money is with eggs. Keep hardboiled eggs on hand for an easy snack. Make a sweet potato hash with eggs for breakfast. Serve a frittata for dinner. Just generally get comfortable with making eggs every which way, and they’ll save you money while keeping you on track.

9. Skip Expensive Whole30-fied Products

Yes, you can buy Whole30-fied beef jerky, mayonnaise and salad dressing. But these products can be hard to find and very pricey. If you need to stick to a budget, make them yourself or cut them out of your diet altogether. I discovered in this journey that making mayo is incredibly simple and cost-effective. And homemade mayo makes a delicious chicken salad!

10. Keep it Simple

There are loads of great Whole30 recipes online. Pinterest is chock full of them. Many include a variety of delicious spices, veggies you’ve never heard of and interesting cooking techniques. And this is definitely a good time to expand your palate with some new tastes. However, don’t go crazy with the brand-new recipes, especially those that will require you to buy a bunch of new spices or cooking equipment. Instead, keep things simple. A piece of grilled meat and some roasted veggies will do.

Following this popular eating plan can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be too hard on your wallet. With the proper planning, you can succeed at the Whole30 and stick to your grocery budget, too.

Still looking for ways to chop down your food costs? Check out these tips for how to eat for less than $6 a day

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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I Tried to Live on $3 of Food a Day — While Still Shopping at Whole Foods

saving-money-on-groceries

When I first decided to do this little experiment, I’d agreed to try to feed my family for $5 per person per day, so I sat down and took a look at my grocery spending over the last few months, crunched some numbers, and … uh-oh…

Was it really possible we were already eating on roughly $5 per day? Yep, we were. My average grocery spend per week runs $80. For the two of us, that’s $5.71 per day per person. I needed a bigger challenge, or so I thought. Could I feed us for just $3 each per day? Seemed reasonable.

What I didn’t take into account as I was working my figures was that we typically eat out once or twice a week, so that $5.71 actually looked a bit more like $8. Still not a lot, but significantly more than the $3 goal I’d rather arrogantly set for myself.

I decided I was going to try it anyway, and, unsurprisingly, I didn’t come as close to that goal as I’d wanted. I also wasn’t willing to give up some things or shop somewhere cheaper. That, after all, was the challenging aspect of this. I mean, sure I could feed us 99-cent ramen noodles all week, but I wanted to be realistic. And eat some vegetables.

I did manage to cut my already frugal grocery spending by about half, though: $4.14 each, or right at $58 for a week’s worth of groceries.

Full Disclosure

Now, for the sake of full disclosure, we are mostly vegan – no dairy, no meat, no animal products in general – but we do include the occasional seafood and eggs in our diet. That said, I shop almost exclusively at Whole Foods, which I’ve heard some of my friends say they simply can’t afford. I suppose if I, too, were trying to feed a growing, teenage bottomless pit, I’d probably say that as well. But for just the two of us, it’s perfectly affordable and we eat really well-balanced meals and snacks without feeling deprived in the least. However – here’s two more disclosures – I cook. Every day.

But back to feeding us both for $58 for a week … Here’s how I did it.

First, I looked at what we were currently eating and how I could pare that back. I also considered that I’d be adding two dinner meals since we wouldn’t be eating out. Did we need the chocolate chip vegan cookies in the afternoon as a snack? What about lunch? Did I really need that amazing wheat-based, fake bacon I love on sandwiches? Or the bread I ate it on? Nope. We’d definitely have to say so long to our seafood protein options during this experiment. Yes, there were definitely some things we could do without in the short term.

I worked up my menu plan for the first week, keeping it super simple and rotating just three dishes for breakfast, three for lunch and three for dinner through the week (which also ensured I wouldn’t have any food waste) estimated the costs of the necessary ingredients and headed to the grocery store (also, I didn’t include staple pantry items like salt, pepper, olive oil, etc., or herbs from my garden in my costs). Here’s my menu:

Breakfast

  1. Bircher muesli with apple, cinnamon and almonds
  2. Oatmeal with dried apricots
  3. Tofu scramble taco

I’ve written about oatmeal before and how incredibly inexpensive it can be. It’s a staple in our diet, especially in winter when it’s warm and comforting. It’s also delicious in summer as a cold Bircher muesli. Since it was the end of summer when I did this experiment, I made both.

Lunch

  1. Pasta with kale, mushrooms and cannellini beans
  2. Green salad with baked tofu and roasted broccoli
  3. Chilled broccoli and potato soup (this uses up the stems, which cost less and taste great)

Dinner

  1. Beans, greens and cornbread
  2. Spinach enchiladas with rice and beans
  3. Gazpacho soup

Here’s my shopping list:

1 lb. bulk oats — $2

1 apple — $0.40

20 bulk raw almonds — $0.87

10 dried bulk apricots — $0.57

1 package firm organic tofu — $2.45

6 whole wheat tortillas — $2.69

1 quart almond milk — $4.25

1 package farfalloni pasta — $3.27

2 lbs. kale — $6

1 lb. bulk mushrooms — $5

2 cans cannellini beans — $2

2 heads lettuce — $4

2 heads broccoli, with stems — $3.75

1 large potato — $0.90

1 lb. bulk pinto beans — $3.58

2 cups bulk corn meal — $3.22

2 heads spinach — $2.87

1 lb. bulk rice — $2.25

1 lb. tomatoes — $3.25

1 cucumber — $1.83

1 red onion — $0.87

1 bell pepper — $2

Total: $58.02

Feeding two people for what would amount to a little over $200 a month is an interesting idea to me, and definitely a quick way to pay off any major debts you want to get rid of. But if I had the chance to do it again I probably wouldn’t. It’s actually amazing the flexibility and flavor that just an additional $20 a week spent on groceries affords. Still, it was interesting to see what I could manage to do without drastically changing our diets or going hungry.

A few things to keep in mind if you want to see how little you can spend at the grocery store.

1. Fresh Vegetables Are Your Friends

Variety is the spice of life, and there’s no better way to add variety to your diet than to buy seasonal produce, which is typically cheaper than out-of-season items shipped in from other parts of the world. It’s also a great way to experiment with new recipes and ingredients. Plus, all that roughage can help fill you up, as can the big shot of nutrients fresh veggies provide.

2. Protein & The Basics

If you want to save a ton of money, you’re going to need to rely on basics like legumes and rice that will give you the most nutritional bang for your buck, especially when it comes to protein. Animal proteins are just significantly more expensive.

3. Take Advantage of Coupons & Discounts

I wasn’t able to use coupons for my experiment because they were all for prepared or packaged foods the week I did this. That said, some planning ahead and stocking up on staples with a good shelf life can save you a bundle.

4. Buy in Bulk

Not only are you able to get the exact amount you need, thus cutting down on possible waste, you’re also not paying for the packaging and marketing of that product, so the per unit cost is always less.

If you’re serious about saving money, having a good credit score can help immensely. Your credit can affect your ability to get the best terms and conditions on a mortgage, auto loan or even student loans and credit cards. You can see how your credit scores are faring by checking your free credit report summary, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.

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