One of the upsides of switching to a ketogenic lifestyle is that we focus on eating real food, so processed junk is cut out. Much healthier, right? The flip side to that is that pre-keto, we tended to rely on those box mixes and packaged goods to make a lot of food and stretch our meals for pennies on the dollar. After that, switching to fresh everything can give us a big dose of sticker shock.
It doesn't have to.
Whether you're cooking for one or feeding a large family, there are some tips that will help you keep the grocery budget under control. With some thought and planning, you may even be able to get your bill lower than what you were paying before.
Keep It Simple
This is the most important tip. Constantly making dishes that need almond or coconut flour, powdered erythritol, or other expensive and/or hard-to-source items is going to hit your wallet. Hard. Fancy casseroles, recipe re-creations, and desserts may taste great upon occasion, but if you're relying on them on a daily basis not only is your success going to be slower, your grocery budget can quickly get out of control.
To keep it under wraps, avoid regularly making dishes that require pricy specialty ingredients. The majority of what you eat should be meat, vegetables, and a fat like butter or olive oil, and if you can stick to that the majority of the time you can keep the budget manageable.
Buy in Bulk
Warehouse stores are your friends. Yes, it may be a $40 a year investment to be a member of the nearest warehouse retailer, but the money you will save buying larger quantities of meats, cheeses, butter, eggs, and some dry goods once every month or so in one of these places tips the scales in your favor. Invest in decent reusable freezer containers (or if you're lazy like me, ziploc bags), or clean out some empty glass jars for storage, and you can get meat for a month or more, portion it out, and freeze it for a lot less than what it goes for at the regular grocery store.
I've seen meats that sell for $8-9 a pound at the store down the street go for $16 per five pounds at my local warehouse store. That's a heck of a bargain! The good quality coconut oil at my local grocer runs $15 for a small jar, whereas at the warehouse store it's $15 for a half-gallon container. Guess which one I buy?
The extra bonus is that many of these stores have now started regularly carrying organic and grass-fed products, as well as offering other low-carb friendly ingredients in bulk.
Fatty Cuts Are Cheaper
When it comes to meat, the fattier it is, the cheaper the price. This works to your advantage on keto, as you can easily keep your fat up while keeping your protein managed by ditching the low-fat (lean), white meats and going for darker, fattier offerings, all while keeping the budget under wraps.
This means you're going to be buying chicken legs or thighs (on the bone with the skin!) instead of boneless breast. You want 75/25 (or 73/27, if you can find it!) ground beef. Choose a fatty looking Boston Butt or even pork belly instead of a lean pork loin. Buy the streakiest bacon on the market, or a discount box of bacon ends-and-pieces instead of strips.
To be even more economical, save any bones for making bone broth, and if you really, really hate a lot of fat on your meat you can trim it a little and use what you've trimmed off to render animal fat for cooking. And don't forget to save your bacon drippings! Your tastebuds will thank you.
Shop Sales (and Discount Stores!)
Just about every supermarket has a sales circular now, and many are not only offering access to it online, but for some stores you can even plug in your phone number and "clip" coupons and check out the week's BOGO's on the internet. When you get to the store, all you have to do is re-enter your number, or scan your loyalty card, etc., and you get the advertised savings without having to lug around a huge binder full of paper. If you plan your meals for the week around the sales, you can cut quite a bit from the budget.
Another thing to remember: There is no shame in shopping discount stores. You may need to be a little more choosy in what you buy, but a low-carb family can eat incredibly well on the meats, cheeses, and fats found in many discount grocers.
Buy in Season
Any produce you get that's out of season is going to be more expensive. Instead of trying to make a side of asparagus in the dead of winter, try substituting out a vegetable that's in season instead. It will save you money and your ingredients are likely to be very fresh.
Frozen Is Fine
Look, we all know that "fresh is best" but if fresh produce is breaking the bank, there is nothing wrong with using frozen. In fact, most frozen goods are flash frozen right after being picked and cleaned, and so while they've been in the freezer, their quality is very often more "fresh" than the stuff in the produce aisle (that had to be trucked in and may have been sitting around a while before it ever gets to your table).
This is a tip that can and should extend to all the foods we buy.
Ideally, we would all buy everything completely organic, grass fed, and pastured. In reality, that stuff ain't cheap! The key is to identify the foods wherein that kind of quality is most important to you and splurge on that, if you can. Otherwise, don't make the perfect an enemy of the good. If all you can afford is store brand, regular stuff, then get it! As long as you've checked the ingredients and there aren't a bunch of fillers or added sugar, you can absolutely do keto and do it well without buying a whole pile of expensive ingredients.
A cooking tip: I personally use frozen vegetables, and on a very regular basis when it comes to cauliflower. It's a vegetable that is much less expensive per ounce (in my area) when it's frozen and for reasons unknown, the fresh stuff always looks half rotten here, whereas frozen cauliflower usually tastes better, is cut more uniformly (in the case of frozen caulirice), and has less of a smell. So I get frozen and don't feel the slightest bit guilty over it.
What About Specialty Ingredients?
OK, so I said earlier to stay out of them. Realistically most are going to want a little bit of almond flour or xanthan gum from time to time for some special dish. What to do?
In the regular grocery store these things tend to be pricier than other places. For example, at my local grocer almond flour runs $13 a pound. YIKES!
Sometimes you can score a good deal at a warehouse, but that depends on whether or not it's carried in the first place. My recommendation is that for items like these you go to the internet and buy in bulk. There are several low-carb retailers online that carry these items at decent prices, and if all else fails, there is always Amazon.
With these tips, you should be able to make your keto budget a bit more manageable. The longer you stick to it, the easier it gets. Be awesome, and keto on!
Many recipes at our sister site, My Ketogenic Kitchen, are incredibly budget-friendly. In fact, I specialize in cooking family-approved meals that won't break the budget. I'm feeding my own family, and know how important it is to stick to a reasonable grocery budget.
For more assistance, consider investing in the Budget Keto Meal Plan. This 82-page ebook guides you through 30 days of 3 daily meals, weekly shopping lists, time saving prep tips, budget shopping tips, and contains 37 individual recipes. No special ingredients needed!