Whole30 & Wholesome Eating on a Budget
I worry Whole30/whole-food eating gets a bad wrap as too expensive or only can be successful if you have access to specialty natural food stores or buy expensive convenience products. NO. You can eat clean on a budget without those! Most of those products are recent anyway, and many successfully ROCKED their first Whole30 or transition to whole-food eating without the conveniences that admittedly can cost more.
Why do I care about eating clean on a budget? My husband and I started our family during our college years #starvingstudents – we were grateful for programs like WIC and foodstamps to help get us through that. Once we got his first “real” job, moving cross country to FL devoured our savings and money did not stretch as far as we thought it would. We were BROKE. We made just enough to notqualify for food stamps, like we did in college, but not enough to feel comfortable. We were painfully tight – running our AC at like 82 degrees to save money, only had one car and walked most places to save on gas. I know that feeling when money is constantly a weight on your back of worries and you struggle to cover the needs, no less the wants.
That’s not our life now, but we have 5 boys to try to keep fed and whom we’d eventually like to send to college. We have always lived on a budget. Thus, I wanted to share with those who connect to the budget-living life, but want more for themselves and their families than inexpensive TV dinners and non-food food.
Tip #1 – Stick to Your List
My first tip is intuitive to some but worth mentioning – you can’t afford not to meal plan. Literally. Every time you walk into a store, you open up the potential to overspend. When you go to a store without a meal plan and specific list, you will pick up items you didn’t actually *need*. Also, without a specific meal plan and a list, there’s a strong chance that you won’t get all the things you actually did need this week. Which means you’ll spend more gas going back to the store, where you risk buying more things that you don’t need, or you’llspend more money on staples out of convenience. (Here’s looking at you, corner market). Straight from the expert of saving himself, Dave Ramsey: “A list can make or break a budget.” Meal plan, shop with a list, and stick to that list!
How do I meal plan? I picked a day of the week that works for my schedule to regularly attach the habit to, which for me is Saturday. I sit down with a piece of paper and fold it in half to divide it into two columns. On one side I list the meals we are going to be eating for the week, on the other side I list the ingredients needed for those meals, usually divided by the grocery store I know from experience will have the best price on each item. I also try to list the items on my shopping list by area of the store, so to make my grocery trips more efficient. I typically shop at 2 or 3 different stores each week to get the best deals.
I pick out about eight dinner recipes, plus a few breakfast and lunch items. This will be enough for two weeks of meals, as some nights are just leftovers or something on the fly. I don’t assign the meals to a specific day, as I prefer the flexibility to decide that throughout the week. I will normally snag one or two of the kids to help me pick recipes because they are more likely to eat the meals they picked. Kids are naturally drawn to photos, so they like to sit down and flip through cookbooks with me and point out the things that look good. Of course, sometimes when I ask them what I should make for the upcoming week, they just say, “hot dogs.” To try to build our family food vocabulary, at least one meal each meal planning session is a new recipe to try. Also, to keep up with the demands of a large family, most meals I make are doubled, freezing any extras or eating them for lunch leftovers.
Tip #2 – Waste not, Want not
Your food is basically edible cash. You spent hard-earned money on those groceries, don’t let it go to the trash can! The average American throws out $640 worth of food a year. That’s roughly $50 a month, tossed right in the trash. Having a meal plan, making a list, and sticking to it prevents that waste. On weekends, I use up all the leftovers or cook up about-to-spoil veggies. Not gonna eat something right away? Freeze it! Most cooked foods can last months in the freezer.
Shop your own pantry and refrigerator before you go to the store. After I pick my meals for the week and make my grocery list, I take the list to the pantry and fridge and cross off the items I already have. I once bought Dijon mustard every other week for 8 weeks because I kept forgetting whether I had any. Shopping my pantry would have prevented that!
Tip #3 – Make it Yourself!
Pre-made products are convenient, but you pay for that convenience! If that’s not an option for you, then it’s time to learn how to make it yourself. This is also a necessity if you don’t have easy access to Whole30 compatible items like mayo, dressings, and seasonings.
Just like learning how to drive a car, cooking can take a lot of focus at first, but eventually that 20-minute mayo becomes 2-minute mayo that you can make while pulling together dinner and helping the 8-year-old with his math homework – trust me! I have lots of awesome staples on this website to help with that like:
- Whole30 Mayo
- Whole30 BBQ Sauce
- Whole30 Ranch and Cilantro Ranch
- Whole30 Date Mustard (my fave!)
- Whole30 Taco Seasoning
Tip #4 – Make Do, or Do Without
Growing up, my mom always loved the saying, “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without!” We already talked about “using up” your food by shopping with a list and sticking to a meal plan, then incorporating leftovers into your weekly meal plan to make sure you’re not wasting food. “Make do, or do without” means knowing what foods you can swap out and when you can leave something out altogether. For example, when making the homemade chicken apple sausage recipe, I sometimes buy ground turkey instead of ground chicken because it can be up to $1.50 per pound less. Ground chicken and turkey are very interchangeable – make do with whatever one is cheaper or on sale! Or in my homemade BBQ sauce recipe, coconut aminos can be expensive or hard to source, but that recipe also works without that ingredient, so you can “do without” without sacrificing on taste.
One of my favorite budget swaps is using dried herbs in place of fresh. Fresh herbs almost always tastes better…but they can get pricey. And they never last . Did you know you can usually swap dried herbs with fresh? Just use 1/3 the amount! If a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil, you can use 1 tablespoon of dried basil instead. Dried herbs last a lot longer than fresh too, so there’s less of a chance of them spoiling and ending up in the trash. I use a lot of dried spices in this book because they are more affordable and they have such a long shelf life.
Tip #5 – Let Good Enough Be Good Enough
This last tip is based on a common Whole30 catch phrase: “Let good enough be good enough.” Now, if you are on a Whole30, there are some pretty strict rules – no grains, dairy, legumes, sugar, alcohol, making compatible baked goods, or weighing yourself. Period. I’m not talking about being flexible on any of those. What I’m talking about is not feeling like you have to purchase organic or grass-fed everything to be successful at a Whole30 or healthy eating, because you don’t. Are organic veggies and responsibly raised meat sources ideal? Absolutely! But, if you are truly on a budget, you may barely (if at all) afford regular steak, no less grass-fed.
To be honest, my family of seven does not eat grass-fed meat or exclusively organic produce. **Gasp!** There, I said it. Our food budget is already stretched thin to make whole-food eating for seven work. I’d love to buy only organic and grass-fed, but it just isn’t happening. My family has still seen incredible benefits from whole-food and Whole30 eating without it.
In other words, don’t miss the forest for the trees; buy the best quality you can afford and let good enough be good enough! A home-cooked meal is still an awesome success, regardless of whether the meat is grass-fed or not.
Budget Whole30/Whole-food Eating Shopping List
Finally, I was thinking in the car today about resources I could provide you for a Budget Whole30. I thought how I could make a shopping list that wasn’t based on convenient products that are expensive, or inaccessible to those in remote areas or foreign countries.
Then it was like lightening hit my brain. That. Already. Exists.
Look at these shopping lists here, which have been the basis of Whole30 for YEARS. There are no bars, sticks, PRODUCTS on here. What’s on the list? Whole. Foods.
That’s what the Whole30 and my clean eating is based on. I know some of us have lost sight of that or feel like that focus is lost amidst the new exciting Whole30 products. But THIS. This should be the basis of your clean eating journey.
I once heard someone say your food should be based off things your great great great (great? Depending on how old you are…) grandma would recognize. Mission accomplished with this Whole30 shopping list from whole30.com.
I think sometimes we overcomplicate things team. Your whole-food eating program or goals can be based on REAL food every grocery store and country has that heals the body.