When I began my first Whole30, I had little interest in cooking. It wasn’t something I enjoyed, simply a necessary chore. Logistically speaking, I didn’t anticipate what a huge change the Whole30 would bring. (If I had, I may have been too intimidated to take it on!)
In my pre-Whole30 life I “cooked,” but that mostly meant making meals with store-bought packaged foods and healthy to-go options from the prepared foods case at the store. To say the Whole30 completely changed the way I grocery shop is an understatement.
The Whole30 helped me learn to love cooking real food. I’m not the most skilled chef, but I can honestly say I now enjoy it. Preparing a nutritious meal for my family can be a stress relieving experience and a ritual I look forward to on most days. It’s also become an activity my 13-year-old daughter and I do together, spending quality time. She loves to research and prepare new recipes!
But before you get to cooking, you have to grocery shop. Today I want to share six shop-smart strategies that have worked for our family. Yes, it can be expensive to eat real food, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right plan and selective with spending, you can make the Whole30 work for your needs and budget.
Plan Your Meals, Make a List
It takes some organization and getting used to, but developing a meal planning habit will save you time in the long run. How many times each week do you catch yourself thinking, “What am I going to make tonight?” How many times do you run to the store for missing ingredients because you’re cooking on the fly? If you plan your meals for the week ahead of time, you can choose things to cook that use similar ingredients and flavors, and maximize your grocery haul. You will also waste less by using all of your perishable ingredients for the week.
Bonus tip: We’ll get you started with our detailed 7-day meal plan in The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom.
You don’t need to shop at specialty food stores, and you don’t need to make more than one stop during your grocery runs (unless you want to). Many national chain grocery stores have some kind of natural, organic, and/or gluten-free foods sections that are well stocked, and most are willing to do special orders for customers.
Don’t count out discount retailers like Costco and Sam’s Club, both of which have a good amount of Whole30-compliant selections. (And a reader recently gave me a tip that some Wal-Mart locations carry organic eggs in the dairy section and wild-caught fish in the freezer section at great prices.) Remember, purchasing grass-fed and organic items aren’t part of the Whole30 rules, so just do the best you can within your resources.
Be willing to spend extra time initially at the store, scouting things out and reading labels. If you live in a small town, check to see if there’s a local natural foods store, farmer’s market, or co-op you may not have noticed before.
Bonus tips: Ordering certain items (like coconut aminos, ghee, or almond flour) on Amazon is a great strategy that can save time and money, especially if you have Amazon Prime. Barefoot Provisions is another online shop that carries a huge number of Whole30 Approved products. Finally, keep your eye on the Whole30 Approved Instagram feed or subscribe to Wholesome to hear about special offers and discount codes from Whole30 Approved partners, many of whom sell their products on Amazon.
Keep It Simple
Be realistic about the time you have to prep and cook, and plan your meal choices accordingly. For example, I only have time to cook two to three nights per week (Sunday, Tuesday, and sometimes Wednesday). What works for my family is to grocery shop on Sunday and do a big meal prep on Sunday night to start the week. We cook up most of our proteins, hard boil eggs, and chop veggies for the week. I usually make a batch of baked sweet potato wedges and maybe a breakfast frittata or casserole to have for breakfast throughout the week. I like to make at least one flavorful sauce or dressing to jazz up otherwise plain meals.
With all of these things prepped, its easy to throw together delicious meals at home or on the go, and I can be sure we’re using all of our fresh produce for the week with no waste.
Bonus Tip: We love Mel Joulwan’s “weekly cookup” in Well Fed. Start there if you need help batch-prep inspiration.
DIY: Make It At Home
Save money on dressings, sauces, and condiments by making them yourself. It’s not as difficult as you think, and it opens up a world of flavorful possibilities. It’s an easy way to get more bang for your grocery buck, and it’s a nice addition to your culinary toolbox.
Start by taking the basic recipe for mayo from The Whole30, then try one of the many variations to suit your taste. (If you don’t like mayo, don’t immediately count it out. I never liked mayo myself, but I love the Whole30 version.) You can add it to chicken, tuna, or egg salads, or to make flavored aiolis and sauces. Homemade ranch dressing has also become a favorite in our house, and it never lasts long because we use it for salads or as a dip for veggies or meat (or anything, really).
Bonus Tip: Whole30’s DIY time/cost analysis breakdown is great for those of you who love to crunch the numbers.
Build Your Pantry Slowly
One of the biggest mistakes I made during my first Whole30 was purchasing too many specialty spices, oils, and condiments before I knew if I had a use for them. Because of my enthusiasm and curiosity, I wanted to try all the “new to me” approved and compliant items. One time, I ended up going over our regular grocery budget for the week by $100. Not good!
These things can be expensive, so find a recipe first. Add new items in slowly and buy only what you need for your recipes for the week. Pre-Whole30, my spice rack was sparse and most were even expired when I checked because I rarely used them. Now, its brimming and I have to replace our spices all the time.
Bonus Tip: Buy spice blends for all-in-one easy seasoning. Try these Whole30 Approved organic spices from Primal Palate.
Recognize Your Spending Tradeoffs
Keep in mind that for 30 days, your food and grocery dollars will be spent differently. You’ll be focusing on purchasing the most nutrient-dense foods. You will be removing and/or not purchasing things that aren’t a value for your body, nutrition-wise. For example, you won’t be buying cereal or granola for breakfast, but you may decide to purchase a $6 carton of pastured, organic eggs instead. Nutrient-wise, the eggs are a much better bargain for your budget!
For most families, once you take the pre-packaged convenience foods, junk foods, carry-out, and alcohol, you will find money in your grocery budget that you didn’t know was there. (This was especially true in my case.) You may also find you’re no longer buying your sweetened coffee or tea drinks, smoothies or shakes, or juice beverages, saving money there, too.
Bonus tip: Take advantage of the great resources Whole30 has made available to you in this collection of FREE printable grocery guides and lists. They will help you navigate your first few grocery store runs.
Remember to keep it simple, and keep your focus on doing the most with the foods that you can afford. Happy grocery shopping!
Andrea is the creator of the fitness and style blog, Loubies and Lulu. A native of Taos, NM, she and her family currently reside in Dallas, TX. She stumbled upon the Whole30 in 2013 and she credits it with changing her relationship with food and helping her come to a place of true “food freedom” in her recovery from eating disorders. She’s passionate about helping newcomers discover the Whole30 and blogging about her experiences.