Left vegetarian diet to try Whole30 - any way to make this work for our budget?


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(Not sure where the best place is for this, please let me know if there's a better category!)


I've read everything I can find about Whole30/paleo/clean eating/etc. "on a budget" but the suggestions just don't help me. I live in Washington, DC & have a grocery budget of $300 per month for myself, my husband, and our 1.5-year-old son. I can only imagine that our situation is unusual because most people with comparable budgets aren't usually thinking about how their food affects them and such... we're both Ivy League grads and live very intentionally, but have made the unconventional choice to start having children early on, and continue to live in a (very expensive!) city.


So, partly out of preference and partly to make the budget work, we've had a majority vegetarian diet in the past: all kinds of fruits & vegetables, beans, grains, pasta, eggs, fish or chicken up to once per week. I knew that trying Whole30 would significantly exceed our regular budget, but so far on day 8 it's shockingly expensive. For further background, I buy everything "conventional" and at the lowest possible prices (fish & chicken frozen or on a really good sale, in-season or frozen produce) Here are my 2 questions:


1. Given the issues with "conventional" meat production, is it still better to include these foods in an omnivorous diet?


2. Any tips for getting a good deal on meat, making good choices at the store (I've never shopped for meat until 10 days ago, after all), and optimizing use of it?

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My answers (may vary for others)

1) the fat of the meats is where the issues arise. Buying conventional is fine, but drain the fat (if eating beef) and avoid the skin (of poultry). You can also look for compliant canned fish/chicken too. Sometimes that makes life a little easier on the pocket book, but it will need more fat and flavor (except for maybe salmon....) while canned isn't the best choice, sometimes canned veggies/fruit help with budgets too. Just make sure all the ingredients are compliant.

2) I've found buying a whole chicken (although the last one had carrageenan in it... Why?! I wasn't on w30 so I brushed it off and learned for next time) and stew meat (cheap cuts of beef) help provide more bang for the buck. Stew meat does better with low and slow cooking. The whole chicken, I can often get 4-6 meals for my family of 3 for less than $10-15). My advice is if you do get any meats, make sure it's just the meat and no added stuff (like carrageenan... A saline solution is ok though).

Another thing i do is look at the grocery store flyers before shopping for the week, and buy what's on sale that week. Sometimes it means a different vegetable than we normally like but then I get creative with prepping it and it usually turns out a win.

If you like mayo, making it at home is a gazillion times cheaper than buying a compliant version at the store. Same with ghee. (I bought kerrygold butter at Costco and made my own for less than the cost of one jar and even got more out of it!)

I've also learned to buy a lot of my "staples" at Costco like cooking fats. I get more for my money on avocado oil than I do at the Kroger down the street.

Sometimes, not always, a farmers market will have good prices too, but I normally stick with the store down the road unless it's something super special.

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Oh yeah, I also sit down with my husband and we plan food for the week so when I go to the store (once a week) I know what I need to get and I'm not tempted by the Reese's eggs that are on sale for 70%off (ok fine, I bought some... For him. He isn't a w30 convert) or the cookie aisle or the sodas. It's a challenge some days, but having meals planned out helps us tremendously with our budget

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I think the key is using meat for more than one meal. A whole chicken can supply two batches of broth as a base for hearty soups. Meat in the soup for meal one, done. Use the rest of the meat for a chicken stirfry for meal two, done. Use the bones to make a second batch of stock, then throw in tons of veggies and some meatballs, like an Italian wedding soup, minus the pasta. (Make zucchini noodles for that if you like.)


Some thing with beef or pork: get a bone-in cut, braise it, eat the meat with lots of veggies, meal 1. Use the drippings and bones to make stock and have the leftover meat and veggies as a hearty soup, meal 2. Anything left, you can puree and you've got a meat-based sauce topping for zucchini or parsnip noodles, or baked potatoes, meal 3. 


Always more economical than buying cuts of anything. 


Good luck with your whole30! 



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Thanks for the meat preparation tips! I normally love to DIY (clarified butter, sunbutter, ketchup, mayo, many other things that I won't think about right now because they aren't allowed for whole30........) and experiment with things in the kitchen, but using meat is still way out of my comfort zone. Will have to look for a whole chicken and try making some broth  :)


I'm also a big fan of meal planning and using what's on sale. Tied with having an Aldi near us, that's a major factor in our ability to maintain our budget at all in DC. Our farmers markets are not affordable at all (marked up for trendiness I assume) but we did join a CSA for the summer that I am SO excited for. $30/week for a bushel of exciting organic fruits and veggies!

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