It’s no secret that food is expensive. And getting moreso by the day. Eating organic, whole foods can be even more expensive, but it doesn’t have to break you. With January 1 being a popular day to kick off New Year’s resolutions for making diet, lifestyle, and financial changes, some tips on doing AIP on a budget is probably pretty timely.
When I started my AIP journey back in 2014, Scott had been unemployed for four months and still didn’t have any prospects. I really struggled with the proposed increase in our food spending when we were still dealing with a significant decrease in our income. I really, truly believed that going AIP would help me heal, but I just didn’t know how we were going to afford it.
We had the added complication of my not being able to eat beef and only limited amounts of pork, two of the most available and affordable meats. Since expense is a common concern I hear about starting AIP, I thought I’d share some tips on how we keep AIP on budget.
Buy in Bulk
If you have the cash on hand and the space to process/store bulk purchases, buy in bulk when you can. You can often find great deals on bulk meat and produce. When you buy a 1/4 of beef, bison or lamb, you can save on a per pound basis, plus you get a greater variety of cuts than you might not normally be able to afford. This allows for a more varied diet and more experimentation in the kitchen. Some places will even throw in the offal at no charge! Just make sure you have the freezer space for it all.
When it comes to produce, you can often get it for even cheaper if you buy in bulk and in season. Grocery stores frequently have an automatic discount (usually 10%) if you buy a whole case of something, you just have to ask. If the produce happens to be on sale when it’s in season, some places will still give you the bulk discount off the sale price. Again, this varies by store and sometimes by manager. Just make sure you have a plan to use it all before it goes bad. Canning, freezing, and dehydrating are all great ways to preserve bulk produce.
Many areas have group buys or buying clubs. Collective buying power can substantially reduce prices or give you access to wholesale pricing on products often only sold by big grocery stores. Connect with your local Weston A. Price Foundation chapter. Chapters frequently run bulk group buys on many AIP approved foods to help keep AIP on budget. Check social media or ask around for leads on local buying clubs. The best clubs can be hard to get into, but they often have wait lists for interested individuals. Starting your own could also be an option.
Canadians pay more for groceries than our American counterparts, but online shopping can help with your AIP budget. Even if you are American, shopping online can provide a savings. It can also give you access to products that may not be available locally. Online retailers carry a great selection of good quality products at competitive prices. Even with exchange factored in, there are still savings to be had. Often if you sign up for their email or rewards program, you can get coupons and sales notifications to take even more off your order. Some sites, like Amazon, offer discounts when you sign up for recurring orders.
There are a variety of online retailers out there, but some of my favourites are Well.ca, iHerb, Avril, and Amazon. I’ve personally ordered from each of these and have had nothing but fantastic experiences. Another I’ve heard good things about for Canadians is Natura Market, but I have not personally ordered from them at this time. I especially like iHerb for their cash-back program. When you shop with them, you get a percentage of your order back as store credit towards future orders. Depending on how much and how frequently you order, this can really add up and help keep your AIP bill on budget.
I have shopped with Vitacost in the past, but after a heinous experience with them where they gave away a large order and refused to refund or compensate me in any way, even when I spoke to upper management, I refuse to do business with them. It took months to save up for that order. I understand mistakes happen, but when a company places their bottom line over taking responsibility for mistakes, that’s not a company I will support with my food dollars.
Shop Cheaper Selections
If you spend any time reading up on the autoimmune protocol, you should know how important offal is for you and your healing. If you don’t, you ought to check out this article by Dr. Sarah Ballentyne, which hightlights all the great benefits of adding these cuts into your diet, and in high quantities. As if all the great nutrients found in offal were not enough, they are often significantly cheaper than your standard cuts of meat. I can buy bison liver (grassfed, free range, etc.) for $5-$6 less per pound than ground muscle meat. Our supplier also offers a 60/40 combo of ground bison/ground organs for $3 per pound less than straight muscle meat. Still more expensive than the liver on its own, but significantly cheaper than the ground bison without the organ meat. Plus, this is pretty much the only way Scott will agree to eat organ meat…
Our yak supplier offers a wide selection of less common cuts to those who buy directly from him vs what he supplies to the grocery stores. Oxtail, tongue, and heart run in the $2-4 per pound range along with their significant nutritional benefits and general deliciousness. We often grind up the heart and mix it 50/50 with ground yak to make meatballs and meatloaf. With the various seasonings and sauces that we use with those dishes, you can hardly taste the difference but our cost per serving drops substantially.
Try New Things
Speaking of our yak supplier, don’t be afraid to try new things. When people think of meat, they often think of the standard beef, pork, lamb, chicken, seafood. But experimenting with other meats, like bison, yak, duck, or goat, can help reduce your grocery bill. Because they are less popular, they can often be found at better prices. We recently picked up pastured roasting ducks for $2 per pound where pastured chicken would have cost us $4+ per pound. Sometimes specialty meats are more expensive but not always, so don’t forget to keep an eye out for them to help out your AIP budget.
Shopping local producers who are raising fruits and vegetables that thrive in your local climate not only produce more nutritious produce, but it also means you might get to try something new. The first time I tried sunchokes was when a local market gardener grew them as a trial run.
Know a Hunter?
You cannot get much more natural, hormone/antibiotic free, and free range than wild game meat. While it is illegal to buy or sell, or even offer to buy or sell, hunted game meat in Alberta, it is perfectly legal for a hunter to give away meat hunted under a valid license. If you have a friend or family member who is an avid hunter, they may have excess meat taking up room in their freezers that they will need to dispose of before the next hunting season. If you talk to them before hunting season, they may be happy to save the organs or some nice soup bones just for you. I’m sure they would like to see it go to good use! Just be sure to check the laws in your jurisdiction when it comes to what’s legal and what’s not. Conversely, you may wish to take up hunting yourself if it’s something you think you might be interested in.
Shop the Flyers
Scott always jokes that he has never seen anyone read the grocery store flyers as diligently as I do. But it has saved us money when we can make a point of buying produce that is on sale. By checking the flyers before you go grocery shopping, you know what is on sale, and where, so you can make the best use of your time and money. I know I can always get good quality organic cauliflower at Superstore for around $4-5 per head, but when I see it on sale for $1.29 per pound at Community Natural Foods, I know it’s time to stock up. Calgary Co-op carries wonderful organic avocados that regularly run $2 each. For that price we will do without. When we see them advertised for $0.99 each, you bet we stock up! Last week we found bulk carrots on sale for $18/25lbs, as opposed to the regular $15/10lbs.
Familiarizing yourself with your local farmers’ market can help your bottom line. We often hit the farmers’ market on either Thursday (or whatever day the market happens to open) or Sunday afternoons. On Thursday afternoon, there is still great selection of sale items. On Sunday afternoon, producers are trying to get rid of the products they don’t want to take home with them that week, but the selection/quality may not be quite as good. I once received about 20 pounds of ripe bananas for free because they wouldn’t be any good by the time the market opened again the following week.
Knowing your local producers is another important option, not just for your bank account, but also for your local economy and the environment. I mentioned connecting with your local Weston A. Price Foundation chapter to get in on bulk buys earlier, but each chapter also keeps a list of local producers of meat, eggs, dairy, and produce that adhere to the practices supported by the Foundation. Many of these are small producers who may not have the resources to frequent farmers’ markets but provide amazing quality food at good prices. A greenhouse grower local to us has fantastic cucumbers. They aren’t certified organic due to the cost of certification, but they are spray-free and use biologic pest control. I can get a bag of six to ten cucumbers for $6 where two organic cucumbers at the store will cost me $5 or more. I buy unrendered lard from a local sustainable pork farm for $3 per pound. Even with rendering, it still works out to cheaper than the organic coconut oil from Costco.
Buying direct from animal farmers and ranchers can provide a savings, too. Some will only sell direct in bulk quantities, but not all of them. It never hurts to at least ask. We save 40% on our yak when we buy directly from the farm versus buying the exact same product from the grocery store.
CSAs & Volunteer Opportunities
Some local producers also have community-shared agriculture options (CSAs) or volunteer opportunities in exchange for product. CSAs can be a good option for sourcing local food at a good price with a broad assortment of products. Just make sure you select a CSA that allows you to select preferences, such as no nightshade veggies or green beans, otherwise it might not end up being such a savings after you eliminate the non-AIP vegetables from your box. Volunteer positions can be a good option if you have the time and ability to help out at your favourite farm. A local garlic producer that grows organically but isn’t certified has volunteers help with their harvest and cleaning every year. For every hour a volunteer works, they receive a pound of garlic.
Mr. Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax”. Saving money and sticking to a firm AIP budget takes planning and commitment. There’s no way around it. One of the most helpful planning measures we find is doing a weekly meal plan. It saves us not only money, but time as well. Every Sunday evening, we sit down after dinner and figure out what we’re going to have for breakfasts, lunches, and suppers for the coming week. In doing this, it cuts out the ever-annoying “What do you want for dinner?” conversation, plus it lets us know exactly how much we need of certain ingredients for that week. That way we don’t buy more of something than we need (unless it’s on sale and we’re stocking up), which reduces our total grocery bill and food spoilage.
This one is not much fun, but it does help us save. Every time I make a new dish, I sit down and calculate exactly how much the ingredients cost to make it. This will vary depending on if you happened to find ingredients on sale or a certain ingredient happens to cost more when out of season, but it gives me a baseline. I take the total amount and divide it by the number of servings I got out of the dish, which gives me the total cost per serving. This process is useful for us because then we can compare dishes that we like against the cost per serving to see which are the most economical to make on a regular basis. The lower we can keep the total cost per serving, the less we spend on groceries.
Keeping track of fluctuating food prices over the course of a year is longer-term strategy but is helpful if you stick with it. Once you have tracked prices for a while, you can start to recognize when certain things tend to go on sale or go up in price and can strategize your meal planning accordingly to take advantage of lower prices.
Following the AIP is certainly not the cheapest way to eat, but you and your body are worth the investment. One thing I like to keep in mind is this: the more nutrient-dense my food is, the less (volume) I will have to eat to get what I need. It is possible to provide your body the healing nourishment it needs without going bankrupt. It just takes some creative thinking, planning, and perseverance to do AIP on a budget.