The ProblemProcessed foods high in starch and sugar are cheap, and have become staples of budget-conscious consumers. As a consequence, many of us have gotten used to eating a lot of low-cost starchy foods. But note that anyone seeking to improve their diet, whether low-carb or not, would want to decrease the amount of products made with a lot of sugar and white flour anyway -- it's just a healthier way to eat.
Some PerspectiveBefore I give you tips for decreasing the cost of fresh foods, let's pull back and consider a couple of things:
1. Consider your health a long-term investment. If we neglect to maintain our cars, we will end up spending more on them in the long run when the parts wear out. At the extreme, not maintaining our cars could result in collisions which total the car and potentially ourselves.
So often, we don't give our bodies the same consideration we give our cars, with similar long-term results. Putting healthy, nutritious food into our bodies is an investment in our long-term health. It can even pay off in the relatively short term if, for example, you are taking medications to control blood pressure or blood glucose. (In fact, if you are taking these medications, it's important to loop in your doctor when eating low carb, as there is a good chance he will need to lower your dose or discontinue the medication altogether. More about medications and low-carb diets)
2. Low-carb eating is a cost-effective way to get nutrition . When you consider food expense on the basis of how much it costs to get all the nutrients you need (rather than the calories you need), vegetables, fruits, eggs, meats, and dairy products actually come out on top. A study by the American Dietetics Association showed this to be the case. The reason is that those starchy and sugar foods, while cheap, do not deliver much in the way of the essential nutrients (vitamins, minerals, proteins, and fats, as well as antioxidants).
3. Be clear on what you are comparing. Compared to eating out or most take-out food, low-carb groceries are probably not more expensive. That said, let's move along to...
How to Cut Costs on a Low-Carb DietFirst, think about the low-carb foods you use most. Undoubtedly, sources of protein and vegetables are the main items on your grocery list, but check your low-carb pantry, refrigerator, and freezer and think about your most-used staples. How do we go about finding low-cost sources of these foods? Most of the tips known to any smart shopper will help, including:
1. Know your suppliers. Which stores near you have sales on the food you use most? Sales tend to go in cycles, so stock up on nonperishables when you can. Studying the sales for a few weeks will give you a good idea. Also, stock up on seasonal goods. I always throw a few bags of low-carb, superstar cranberries in the freezer each December.
2. Get to know new suppliers. Perhaps there are stores which are too far for you to go to often, but they have good deals on some foods you use. Keep a list so you can visit them when you have other errands in the neighborhood. An Asian market is 45 minutes away from me. I don't go often, but when I am in the area, I hit that market to stock up on certain items. There isn't a Trader Joe's in my neighborhood, but one is close enough if I plan the trip there. See if you can find stores which sell overstocked and off-label brands. There used to be a "Grocery Outlet" near me where I could buy some food this way.
3. Get to know local farmers. More and more, farms are offering weekly boxes of whatever is being harvested that week for a reasonable subscription fee (this is called a CSA which stands for "Community Supported Agriculture"). I subscribe to these boxes from two different local farms, which include fresh eggs. Anything I don't like or is too carby, I put into the "exchange" box and switch for something I can use.
Farmer's markets aren't always less expensive than the grocery store, but they often are. I know someone who makes deals with the farmers to take their "less than lovely" vegetables for a fraction of the cost.
To find CSAs and farmer's markets near you, go to the LocalHarvest Web site. Investing in your local farm economy will help it grow.
4. Plan menus around what's on sale. Then make extra and freeze. Zippered freezer bags take up less room in the freezer than other types of containers.
5. Use non-meat protein. Eggs, tofu, and other vegetarian protein sources tend to be less expensive.
6. Buy spices, nuts, and beans in bulk. Find them at health food stores or other stores. If you're lucky you'll be able to find dry black soy beans, which are much less expensive than canned.
7. Start a small garden. Think you don't have room for a garden, or that it would be too much work? You would be surprised what will grow in containers, or what you can grow in a small space with almost no work. I have a dozen perennial herb plants which cost me anywhere from 0 (cuttings from neighbors' plants) to $2 each, and they keep producing, year after year. I recommend the book Square Foot Gardening for tips on gardening in small spaces.