First thing's first:
Have a Plan.
- Just like most other aspects of life, the old "if you fail to plan, plan to fail," adage applies here.
- Set Aside a Day (or part of a day, rather) for Shopping: I like to pick one day a week to do all of my 'big' grocery shopping for the week. For me, that includes hitting up Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Market District Giant Eagle over in the East End. This weekly Sunday ritual is something I look forward to, rather than dread. Gathering most of what I need for the week in one trip means less stopping at the store throughout the week (which in turn means I spend less money, and helps keep my eating more on track).
- Write a List..and STICK to it!: Ah, this one is very important, especially for people just getting acclimated to Paleo living. It's generally a good idea to map out some sort of meal plan for the week--For me, that usually means planning one or two 'elaborate' meals (like the ones in this blog, which aren't really elaborate at all), and then grabbing enough basics (chicken, shrimp, vegetables) to put together a few different easy convenience meals throughout the week.
Look familiar? Yep, it's basically all the meal components from Paleo for Dummies I.
- Focus on high-quality proteins first, produce second. If you're working within a budget (who isn't?), it's much more important to seek out grassfed/free-range "clean", organic meats than it is to worry about buying all organic produce.
What if I can't afford grassfed beef all the time/It's not readily available in my area?
-With meat, it's best to to opt for organic to avoid all of the pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones conventionally-raised meat contains. Grass-fed beef is more nutritious and has more omega-3's and vitamins, but if your budget doesn't allow for it, don't stress. If grass-fed is out of the question and organic is still too expensive, at least opt for leaner cuts of meat since most of that chemical crap is stored in the animal's fat. Eating fatty cuts of grass-fed meat isn't a problem though.
-With chicken, free-range is best, but if it's unavailable, at least make sure you opt for organic, or the kind that doesn't have added antibiotics/hormones. If you can't buy free-range, stick with white meat and don't eat the skin.
Also, consider cutting your portion sizes down. The bulk of your meal should be comprised of vegetables--your meat shouldn't really take up half your plate (although I have been guilty of this before, myself). Everything in moderation. :)
As for seafood, opt for wild-caught for the most part (particularly with salmon). Fresh seafood is great..but is often expensive. Frozen seafood is typically cheaper, and you don't have to worry about it going bad.
Which Produce Should I Include?
-First off, be realistic. Don't buy vegetables/fruits you aren't crazy about just because they're healthy and you 'should' eat them. Odds are, they're just going to wind up rotting away in the fridge. Also, don't buy ingredients for recipes you aren't sure you're going to have time to make. Only buy what you KNOW you are going to eat in the next few days, otherwise you're just throwing money away.
-Second, buy in season. Right now, grocery stores are pretty much throwing berries and summer vegetables at you. Eat them now, while they're cheap, because in a few months the prices will go up again. Not sure what's in season? Here is a decent list of when you'll find certain things in Pennsylvania (with links to other states as well).
-Third, opt for more nutrient-dense veggies over their less nutritious counterparts. This means more green leafies like spinach, kale, and chard, and less things like iceberg lettuce, green beans, celery, and cucumbers.
Local farmer's markets are all over the city right now, too, with many of them offering good produce for cheap. Shop around to find the best ones (if you're so inclined), and feel good about the fact that you're supporting your local farmers and your community, as well as getting the best of what's in season in your area. Clueless about how to find these? Here is a link to all of the farmer's markets in the Pittsburgh area, including an interactive map.
Does it matter if my produce is organic?
-In some ways, yes. Conventionally-grown produce isn't as nutritious as it was 30 years ago, thanks to synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and growth chemicals that hamper fruits and vegetable's ability to synthesize nutrients and makes it harder for them to absorb them from soil. Plus, all of those chemicals and pesticide residues stay on your produce, which you wind up ingesting--and washing them doesn't really help much.
Can't afford to go organic all the time? Here are 2010's top 12 foods with the highest concentration of pesticide residue (i.e., "The Dirty Dozen"), in addition to 15 foods you don't need to buy organic. Most of what you'll find on the Dirty Dozen list are fruits--which you should be trying to limit anyway. Consider this a good reason to cut back on your fruit intake (if you eat a lot, like I do. or. Did), while at the same time saving yourself some cash (i.e., instead of buying several bags of grapes throughout the week because they're cheap, buy one bag of quality organic grapes and make them last. Get the idea?)
Avoid the foods with the highest amounts of contamination, especially if you have children, as higher levels of pesticide exposure in kids has been linked to a dramatically increased occurance of ADHD. The good news is that it only takes 7 days to rid your body of the pesticide residue by switching to organic produce, which is good enough reason to start eating organic today.
What about frozen/canned vegetables and fruits?
-When not in season, this is one of the most budget-friendly ways to get many fruits and vegetables. Frozen veggies are usually cheaper, and many are bagged at the peak of ripeness, so they can actually be more nutritious than things you'll find in the produce section sometimes. Supermarkets usually offer good deals on these, so stock up when they're on sale. Frozen veggies are especially good for people who have the whole I-didn't-use-the-spinach-in-time rotting vegetable problem. Same with fruit.
Canned fruit can (literally) be a bit sticky, as most of it is stored in heavy syrup or some kind of sugary liquid--if you buy canned fruit, look for kinds that have been packed in their own juice. Canned vegetables can be decent picks, as long as they don't contain added salt (Paleo Rule of Thumb: If it has a label, READ IT!). A lot of nutrients are lost throughout the preservation process, however, so try not to rely on them solely for your vegetable needs. It's worth noting that there are some exceptions-tomatoes being one, with more lycopene found in canned tomatoes and sauces than in fresh ones. Carrots and pumpkin are other good picks.
Don't go nuts with nuts. Yes, they are a decent fat source, and are loaded with vitamins and all that jazz, but nuts are expensive (compared to oils), can screw up your omega-3/omega-6 ratios, and are easy to over-snack on. I prefer to eat them as a finishing touch to a meal, or a small snack, not by the fistful all throughout the day. Instead, a good-sized portion should be a small handful. If you love nuts (ha ha), and know you have trouble with portion control, try rationing them out into small, single serving bags to keep you satiated without going overboard. I know there's a pun here somewhere about 'shelling out money,' but I'll spare the cheese and move on.
What about oils? Which ones are best for cooking/grilling/etc?
We touched on this a little in Paleo for Dummies I, but for a refresher, check out Mark Sisson's Definitive Guide to Oils. Top staple oils are olive oil and coconut oil, but feel free to add other oils for variety. You should always avoid vegetable, canola, any kind of hydrogenated oils, margarine, saturated fats from grain-fed animals,soybean oil, grapeseed oil, and trans fat. Everyone has their favorites, but it's best to stick with saturated fats (coconut oil, grassfed butter, ghee, lard, and tallow) for cooking at high temps, olive oil for cooking at medium temps, and extra virgin olive oil for drizzling and flavor after cooking. Other oils, like avocado oil or macadamia nut oil add great finishing touches to dishes as well (more information on this can be find in this great post by Balanced Bites.)
Knowing the smoke point of different oils is also key when it comes to retaining their flavor, and getting the best of what each has to offer. This is a nifty little guide that tells the different smoke points, and the types of dishes that each oil works best with.
Once every other week or so, I like to splurge on a new, different type of oil to expand my kitchen's flavor arsenal. This is the sort of thing that keeps things interesting for me, so I don't really get bored with the food I eat.
Not much new to say about spices/herbs, except that I will stress again to keep you vupboard stocked with a good variety and experiment with new things!
The "Misc" category is basically anything else you may need, foodwise--usually just stuff like unsweetened almond milk, eggs, vinegars, and whatever else that doesn't fit into any of the other categories. I always like to pick up a can or two of coconut milk to have on hand for a quick weeknight curry if I'm feeling saucy. It's all part of that who "well-stocked pantry/fridge" thing, which is sortof Paleo gospel.
Now that we're all clear on what to buy, here are some basic shopping tips:
- Shop around. I know that reading the weekly circulars sounds like something your grandma does, but this is the best way to grab the best deals on the stuff you need. Also, here in Pittsburgh, you aren't just limited to Whole Foods for your Paleo necessities. Trader Joe's is typically cheaper, and Right By Nature offers some competitive prices as well, and they also offer online shopping/home delivery. Additionally, although I've never been there, I also hear the East End Food Co-op is pretty rad, too. Oh, and Giant Eagle's Market District has been building quite an impressive selection of organic, all-natural foods recently, so if you aren't in the mood for extensive foraging, it's pretty much a one-stop shop.
- Buy some items in bulk. Bulk chains like Sam's Club and Costco offer great prices on bulk items, and have even started carrying some organic produce. Because yes, I REALLY do actually need a duffel bag of broccoli and a suitcase-sized container of spinach. Also, the rotisserie chickens at Sam's club are cheap (like $4.77), and, while they aren't free-range, they're now gluten-free and they don't contain added steroids, hormones, or antibiotics. I like to buy two, pull all the chicken off the bones, and Viola! Lunch for the whole week is served with hardly any extra effort on my part.
- You have your list, so try not to deviate.
- Shop the perimeter of the store. Don't go wandering down the Pringles aisle by mistake--you no longer have any business dealing with any of that, so steer clear, unless you just want to torture yourself.
- Odds are, if it comes in a box or a cellophane wrapper, you don't need it.
- If it contains ingredients you cannot pronounce, avoid it.
- Use coupons! Another trick from up grandma's sleeve, clipping coupons is a great way to save on household items like laundry detergent, body wash, zip-loc bags, etc. Mike laughs at me and my little coupon organizer, but it's definitely worth the extra time spent clipping. Many grocery stores double coupons, too, which adds up to even more savings.
- Avoid buying soda, juice, tea, etc, even if it is organic. Stick with good, old-fashioned water. It's cheaper (wayyyy cheaper), and just plain better for you.
- Ask yourself, "Do I really NEED this?" for renegade items not on the list that find their way into your shopping basket.
- On days throughout the week when you stop at the store to grab one or two things, don't get a shopping cart. Grab a basket or just carry items in your hands--that way, you get what you came for, and leave.
- To really save money on produce, consider joining a CSA. We missed out last year due to extremely limited funds, but it's definitely something we're going to do this year. Like shopping the local farmer's markets, this is a great way to support community agriculture (ah, so that's what "CSA" stands for), and you get a good variety of local, seasonal items.
- Mark's Daily Apple - 99 Ways to Save $ on Food
- Mark's Daily Apple - How to Eat Healthy AND Save Money
- Slow Food Pittsburgh
- What's on My Food? - Searchable database of pesticide content on different foods, in case you really want to freak yourself out.
- Whole9 - Paleo Poor: Your Guide to the Grocery Store