Like the Kraken before it, the Budget Keto Meal Plan has been released!
And there was much rejoicing.
Because I'm never going to ask you to do something I wouldn't do, for the next several weeks my family and I are eating off this meal plan, too. And in that same spirit of leading by example, I will be documenting my grocery hauls for each week I follow this plan.
Now that you have your shiny and beautimous copy downloaded and you've read through the first few pages to get an idea of what the heck is going on, it's shopping time. Let me show you how I do it.
- Budget Tip #1: Buy meat in bulk and on sale, and don't be afraid of cheaper cuts!
You will notice I never call for expensive cuts like lean ground beef, fancy steaks, or boneless and skinless chicken breasts in this meal plan. That's because they're expensive as heck. The more a food is processed before it gets to you, the more it's going to cost. After all, the butcher chopping and trimming takes time and effort, for all of which he or she is going to be paid. That extra money to compensate for the extra effort is going to come out of your wallet if you choose those fancy cuts.
To keep your meat costs down, do not be afraid to buy fattier meats. This week I picked up over 5 lb of 73/27 ground beef for $2.29 per lb. I will separate it myself and freeze what I don't need this week for later in the month. You can get bacon on the cheap by grabbing bags of "ends and pieces" instead of slices. Fry it up in a pot on the stove, drain on paper towels, and store it in the fridge. And don't throw out the grease! Save that stuff in a glass jar and cook with it (thus saving $$$ on cooking oil). Trust me, it's liquid gold.
When it comes to chicken, buy leg quarters (I get them at Aldi for 89 cents per lb), chicken drumsticks (same store, 99 cents per lb), or bone-in and skin-on chicken thighs. You can easily boil or roast them whole, shred the meat and store it in the fridge or freezer for whenever you need it, and hang onto the bones! Those bones will make a delicious and nutritious bone broth with very little effort on your part. I store all of our chicken bones, skin, and any ligaments or gristle in a freezer bag, add to it all month, and once I have enough to fill up my crockpot I make bone broth.
- Budget Tip #2: Buy cheese in bricks and shred it yourself.
The same principle about food prep applies to every other item in your cart: The more it's prepped for you, generally the more it will cost. The vast majority of the time, buying your cheese in bricks and shredding it at home is going to be a lot less expensive. It will also taste a lot better, and melt more evenly without all the anti-clumping agents they throw onto bagged cheese shreds.
If you happen to catch it on BOGO or another sale, even better! Hard cheeses freeze pretty well, so don't be afraid to stock up when you see a good deal.
If you have a food processor, check your attachments. Most of them come with a shredding attachment or plate and will very quickly shred up a lot of cheese with a few button presses.
- Budget Tip #3: Buy what you can afford.
I'm going to contradict a lot of "experts" here and tell you that it is not necessary to buy organic, free-range, pastured, or grass-fed anything on a Ketogenic protocol.
Is it ideal? Certainly!
But the bottom line for a lot of us (me, included, y'all) is that what is ideal and what is realistic or attainable don't always coincide.
You can absolutely eat keto- and reap all the amazing health benefits- by eating regular meat, dairy, and veg. I'm living proof! Does Kerrygold taste better? Yes, it does. Do I buy it? Rarely. Most of the time, I buy regular old boxes of store-brand stick butter, because if I bought enough Kerrygold to keep up with my family's butter habit, we would be eating Kerrygold on the street.
There is absolutely no shame in keto-ing where you are and within what you can financially manage. None at all. If you can afford to eat premium quality, that's awesome! If you choose to prioritize those premium items and make up the difference elsewhere, good job! If you can't do those things for whatever reason, that is 100% OK. Just keto on, and it's all good.
- Budget Tip #4: Waste not, want not!
Check your pantry, fridge, and freezer BEFORE you leave the house to go shopping. There is no sense in buying doubles of something you already have at home. This week, I managed to cut the grocery list in half just by making sure I had all the spices required. I also had several of the canned goods, a decent number of eggs, and enough in heavy cream and various cheeses to cover most of what I needed for those items. If you already have some of the meats in the freezer- or something similar enough to stand-in- don't buy more if you don't need it. You will buy less and waste less.
Also, eat your leftovers. Seriously, why on earth should you go to the trouble of making food if you're not going to eat it? While it's certainly alright to have variety (and mixing up your plate is a big part of my meal plan), you will save money by either eating your leftovers before making something else, or by portioning it and freezing for use later. Freezing leftovers can also be super useful in a pinch. Instead of hitting the drive-through on a busy day, pull out a meal portion from the freezer and you've got delicious and compliant food quickly and with minimal effort.
- Budget Tip #5: When it makes sense, make your own condiments.
This is going to be a judgment issue, but let's be real here: most of the time buying boxed broth or specialty brand mayonnaise (among other things) is pricy. On keto, you can't grab just anything. You have to be choosy, picking only brands and products that exclude non-compliant ingredients. That's extra important if you're doing keto for any health reason.
The solution to this is to be realistic about how much of any particular product you're using, and purchase pre-made stuff only if it makes sense. For example, as I mentioned above, I tend to make my own bone broth. Most of the time, I've already got bones on hand because I didn't throw them away when I cooked my meats. Water from the tap doesn't cost me a thing, so I bust out the slow cooker and go to town. But if I've gone through my stock and need some quickly, it's less expensive to buy a box than it is to buy enough new bones to make a pot.
The same goes for mayonnaise. If I know I'm going to be using quite a bit within a week or two, I make my own. The ingredients needed to make a few batches at home are cheaper than the 12-oz jars of avocado oil mayo, which run about $8 or more here. But if I don't need much at all, and I don't plan on using the rest of a home made batch before it's likely to go bad, I will grab a jar of the shelf-stable stuff instead.
Like I said, this is judgement. Most of the time, making your own stuff is cheaper, but that depends on how you use it. Examine and evaluate your own usage of these items and then go from there.
- Budget Tip #6: It's OK to buy canned and frozen whole foods.
Take a close look at that grocery haul picture at the top of this post. In it you will find canned tomato sauce, canned tomato paste, canned chicken breast, canned salmon, frozen broccoli, and frozen cauliflower. In my grocery cart, you can regularly find these things as well as frozen or canned green beans, frozen spinach, canned chilies, canned tomatoes, canned artichoke hearts, etc. and so on.
Many times, canned and frozen goods, vegetables especially, are a LOT cheaper than buying fresh produce. The trick is in knowing what is still decent when frozen or canned, and which ones really should be bought fresh for taste and texture. Vegetables and other items that hold up well under freezing or canning are usually inexpensive and last a lot longer than fresh ones, and there is nothing un-keto about utilizing them.
- Budget Tip #7: It's OK to shop at discount or warehouse stores.
Along with the impression that you absolutely must eat premium goods, many people new to keto seem to think they have to shop only at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, The Fresh Market, or any of the other premium grocery chains. This simply isn't true.
While these stores do tend to offer a lot of really friendly items, and there's nothing at all wrong with shopping there, they don't carry nicknames like "Whole Paycheck" for nothing. Premium stores carry premium goods and a premium price tag. That's just how it is.
So, if you are on a budget and can't or don't want to shop at these places for whatever reason, there is no shame in going to a discount chain instead. I personally shopped exclusively at Aldi, WalMart, and the Dollar General when I was designing this meal plan. If you have one of these stores, or any other discount chain in your area (HEB, Save-A-Lot, Sam's Club, etc.), by all means, shop there! If you don't have a discount chain near you, you can still keep our budget down by following all the other principles I've laid out above. Watch the circulars at your local store to see what kind of deals and coupons you can score each week (and many of them are available online now, so it's easy peasy to stay abreast of the sale situation).
- Budget Tip #8: Store or "Off" brand goods are just fine.
You'll notice in my grocery haul pic, I don't have even one popular brand name. Unless there is a serious quality or ingredient issue, I buy store brand pretty exclusively. The very few exceptions I make are for stuff like Rao's marinara sauce. They just have the lowest carb sauce available in my area, and I am willing to pay the premium for it. Regular old tomato sauce, though? Aldi brand it is! Same goes for cheeses and dairy. I will choose the store brand almost every, single time.
Using all the principles above, I grabbed everything I needed to complete the shopping/pantry list for week one. How did I do? You be the judge:
That's right. I'm going to feed myself breakfast and lunch and my whole family dinner for an entire week, and I only spent $67.10 at Aldi. Your bill may be more or less depending on where you shop and how many things you already have on hand (again, check your pantry!). Hopefully this demonstrates that eating keto, eating really well, and even eating a variety doesn't have to be expensive.
I'll be checking back in next week with week two's grocery haul. In the meantime, be sure to grab your copy of the Budget Keto Meal Plan, and keto on, y'all.