Confession: I’ve long been turned off by diets – and in my humble opinion, rightly so. Most of the popular diets seemed extreme, depriving and costly. What’s worse, rather than being focused on health and wellness, they seemed obsessed with weight loss.
But when a fellow volunteer at the botanical garden told me about the GAPS Introduction Diet, I was intrigued. The six-phase diet consisted of organic bone broths, free-range hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and eggs, raw cheese and organic greens. The end goal? To improve one’s gut health. As a self-admitted “carbivore” who has long struggled with digestion and gut-related issues, I figured I would give it a go.
Initially, I thought I would be spending more each month on higher-quality, “bougie” food. After reviewing my expenses, it turned out I ended up saving more each month on groceries. I went from spending an average of $600 a month on food to about $450.
Here’s how buying pricier groceries actually helped me save on my monthly expenses:
I’ve long had issues with carb-loading and eating too much fast food and junk. The GAPS diet forced me to sit down and plan my meals and snacks for the week ahead of time. This was far from the way I normally ate: late-night runs to drive-throughs, stuffing my face with carbs amid writing deadlines and nuking many a meal in the microwave – not exactly the balanced, grownup diet that a woman in her 30s should be adhering to.
Using guidelines and recipes found in cookbooks, I jotted down exactly what I needed to buy for this particular diet. If I were to truly commit to it, I had no choice but to stick to the list. I didn’t cave in to the usual impulse buys in the snack section and end caps of the grocery store.
It wasn’t until I had the discipline to stick to a grocery shopping list that I realized how much I spent on impulse buys. While I exercised self-restraint with my spending in other areas of my life, food shopping was my weak point. Before I embarked on this diet, I was easily spending about $30 a week on pure junk.
Bought Fewer Ingredients
The diet forces you to be a food snob of sorts. You have to carefully study not only what you eat, but where your food is coming from. While the ingredients themselves were more expensive, I bought fewer items. My shopping cart consisted of the following: cheese, kefir, leafy greens, avocados, eggs, ground beef or lamb, and bones.
For instance, a pound of cheddar cheese made with organic, raw milk was $12. A 4-pound bag of beef bones was about $20. Again, not cheap. But the block of cheese lasted a few weeks, and that bag of grass-fed beef bones, coupled with some knuckle soup bones, made enough broth for the entire month.
Wasted Less Food
Because I was better at planning my food and bought less food at the grocery store overall, I ended up using most of the food I bought. A simple trick is to check your fridge and pantry before heading to the market. My good friend Sarah Li Cain also does a fun “no grocery” challenge, where one week out of each month, her family tasks themselves with using up all the food they have before buying more food.
I made it a habit to do a quick scan and inventory of my current food stash. That, coupled with the “no grocery” challenge, where I made it a point to get creative and concoct a soup with unused veggies from the week prior, helped me not only save money but also avoid tossing out perfectly decent food.
Rarely Ate Out
Because I was on a specific diet, I rarely dined out. Before the diet, I normally ate out anywhere from two to four times a week. But because I reduced my eating out habits significantly, I saved quite a chunk of change. At the beginning of the diet, I did miss eating at restaurants. But after a few weeks of the diet, I got into the hang of cooking at home and trying out different dishes. And I didn’t have to worry about spending more on groceries each week, because I knew it would balance out moneywise.
Cooked in Batches
During the intro portion of the diet, the slow cooker was my best friend. Every Sunday night, I would pour a gallon of water, then toss a bunch of beef bones or an entire organic chicken into the slow cooker. Cooking in batches also helped me divvy up portions for the following week.
Not only did it save me money in groceries, it saved me time, too. And instead of driving to eat out, and cooking all the time, I only cooked several times a week at most. When I cooked, it was typically enough for three or four meals.
A Few Takeaways
If you’re thinking of shifting your diet in a drastic way, here’s what I recommend to save you money and time:
Do your research. Do your homework to make sure you know what the diet entails. What will the transition be like? What shifts and trade-offs do you anticipate making?
Stock up ahead of time. Making major changes to your diet requires not only an adjustment period but also equipment and supplies. When I started the GAPS diet, I purchased large mason jars to store the bone broth and cheesecloth to make homemade cheese and kefir. I also bought a small food processor. Having everything you need will make things more efficient.
It turned out that saving on groceries wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought.
While I purchased costlier groceries, by making trade-offs in other ways, I ended up saving on food each month. By being better at keeping an eye on what I bought and doing a bit of planning, I became more resourceful in both time and money.
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