Welcome! I’m so glad you’ve found this blog. If you’re here because you love eating and cooking, you’re in the right place. If you’re also someone who doesn’t have a limitless budget to make healthy meals, you’re also in the right place. I started “What is that, Moni?!” as a space to share affordable (even cheap!) and delicious Whole30, paleo, and plant-based recipes that range from easy to fancy.
Since doing my first Whole30 in September of 2018, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot about cooking, about foods that give me problems, and about how expensive maintaining a healthy diet can be. So many recipes on the Whole30 just aren’t cheap! Things only get more complicated when you get really tired of the food you eat really fast – something I’m so guilty of it’s painful!
My scope of foods has widened from my first very eye-opening Whole30; I now eat a variety of paleo and vegan foods that help keep my gut healthy and happy. Most of these foods I make myself.
I’m a busy person, so cooking cannot take up most of my life. I’m a full time teacher that is often taking classes. I play in sports leagues and love to be outside. Eating healthy is a key component to me being able to do everything I want and more, but who has the money to buy quick and easy paleo and Whole30 foods? Or even plant-based meals? The absolute cheapest store-bought meal that I can find that I can eat costs $4, and I still have to make it myself. Most store-bought Whole30, paleo, and vegan pre-prepared meals typically cost upwards of $10, if you can find any at all!
And while there are plenty of recipes out there for paleo and Whole30, they mostly consist of meat. I’m so grateful that meat is one of the things I can eat without digestive issues, but as I mentioned before… I get pretty bored of foods pretty fast.
So, I get it.
You want to eat well. You want to eat things that make you feel good.
You don’t want to spend all your hard earned money on food, or spend your whole life cooking.
I started this blog to take some of the guesswork out of eating and cooking affordable paleo and Whole30 recipes, and to help give more plant-based options on these diets. Not only are plant-based options lower in calories (since paleo foods tend to be very calorie dense), but they help reduce your carbon footprint. And oh, yeah, um… more vegetables are good for you.
There are nine guidelines that I’ve developed over the years that guide both my eating and spending habits around food to keep things affordable and tasty.
1. Check your local grocery store for rewards programs, apps, and coupons.
I know, I know, but stop rolling your eyes for a second and just hear me out. Have you actually tried using a store’s loyalty program? Most major grocery stores have some sort of app that allows you to download coupons and digitally add them to your rewards card. They then automatically show up at checkout when you enter your loyalty program number. Could it get any easier?
When I was first introduced to the concept of grocery loyalty programs, I too did the heavy eye roll, but now I get personalized coupons sent to me on things I actually buy. Since I don’t typically buy pre-packaged meals or anything really from the middle aisles, I thought at first I wouldn’t get many coupons I could use. By using a loyalty program, the discounts I get are on things I buy all the time – fruits, veggies, nuts, dairy free milk, and more. It’s definitely worth taking the time to check out this free resource that will save you money any time you go to the grocery store, not just when you are eating foods on the Whole30, paleo, or plant-based diets.
Oh, and it’s an added bonus that these apps often have other promotions that you can take advantage of, including fuel perks and pharmacy discounts.
If you have a local grocery store that you frequent that is not a part of the supermarket giants, kudos to you and that is a wonderful way to support your local economy! Many local grocery stores have their own promotions that can help you save money on things you plan to buy. In this case, it might be best to stock up on things you know you’ll use eventually – whether that’s extra meat that is on sale or maybe a BOGO on a favorite ingredient. Be sure to reach out to your local grocery store for promotions and discounts so that you can plan ahead to save some money!
2. Buying in-season produce saves money and adds a lot of flavor.
The three main types of recipes I make – plant-based, Whole30, and paleo – all use a ton of fruits and veggies. I’m constantly shocked at how much produce costs, especially if it is out of season. How do you know something is in season? One simple way is by buying produce that is on sale. That’s classic business for you – more supply means less demand, therefore stores will lower their price.
Another major reason to shop in-season is for taste. Two great examples are strawberries and tomatoes. You KNOW what a delicious strawberry tastes like, or how juicy a tomato can be, but when you eat them out of season, they seem more… meh. By using more in-season vegetables and fruits, your paleo, Whole30 and vegan dishes will taste fuller and more flavorful. And they’ll cost less!
3. Cook your veggies ahead of time.
This isn’t just a time-saving hack: cooking your veggies means they won’t go bad as quickly. By roasting veggies ahead of time, you avoid them getting all droopy and weird. Just throw them in the oven, and then throw them in a container to store for later use. Whole30, paleo, and vegan diets are always using veggies, so why not have some at the ready to throw in as a side?
Some veggies that I find easy to cook ahead of time include eggplant, beets, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and other root veggies. If I also know that I’ll be using some leafy vegetables soon in a recipe, say, bok choy or spinach, I might sauté them beforehand knowing I’ll just throw them in with a recipe later.
4. Be a mindful shopper
The FDA estimated in 2020 that 30-40% of food in the US is wasted. Did your brain just explode? Because that’s not just food being wasted, but your money.
I know the drill: you do a huge grocery haul with good intentions, come home from work the next day and are too tired to cook. So, you order out or eat something that may or may not upset your stomach. What else can you do when you’re so tired?
Before I get into actual storage of food, there’s also the chance that maybe doing a once a week huge grocery haul is not a good idea. If you find yourself regularly throwing out fruits and veggies untouched, maybe you should limit your shopping list for only 2-3 days. With all the grocery deliveries and free pickups, why not just think a few days in advance? You can always swing by the store in a few days if you decide to make something new.
Sometimes, you only have time to go to the store one day out of the week, and that’s okay, too. Make a shopping list and stick to it. Is almond flour on sale? Do you have a plan to use it or are you just grabbing them because they’re on sale and maybe you’ll like that one recipe you saw? Grocery stores (and well, all stores) are set up so that you make impulse buys. By making a list beforehand and sticking to it, you are avoiding last minute money drains.
5. Store your food (especially your fruits and veggies) properly.
Storage of fresh and cooked fruits and veggies is also a huge plus for your wallet. Did you know that if you store fresh herbs on your counter in a glass of water (like a vase of flowers), your herbs will last more than 23 minutes? True story. Did you also know that you can revive wilted celery by placing it in a container of water? Also true story. And lastly, did you know that the drawers in the bottom of your fridge have special settings for fruits and veggies, and are not just a “dump everything in here” drawer? Or that some fruits and veggies lose their flavor when stored in the fridge? Maybe I’ll do a follow up post about all these storage techniques for food, but you get my point. Proper storage not only eliminates waste but keeps you from wasting your money.
Also, don’t be afraid to put things in the freezer if you have space. NEVER underestimate the power of the freezer. Most fruits and veggies can still be used after being frozen, and it’s a great way to store meat if you don’t have time to cook it before it goes bad. If you have a dehydrator, that is also a great option. I will definitely be doing a blog post sometime about dehydrating foods you can use later on camping and backpacking trips – a simple solution to food waste that does not take up much room in your kitchen. It’s also a great way to make road trip snacks!
6. Skip the pre-prepared foods that are marked “Whole30,” “paleo,” or “vegan.”
For the most part, at least. I’ve definitely bought some of these for convenience, but honestly, you literally are PAYING for convenience, and often a lot of money. Whatever it is, you can make at home for a fraction of the cost, I promise. If you don’t believe me, just try. Google it. Someone has made it before and posted it on the internet. If you haven’t seen it made before, send me a message and I’ll try to make it for cheaper. If you’re looking to save money, this is an easy way to make paleo, Whole30 and plant-based meals affordable.
But honestly, if you’re looking for convenience and just sort of want it, treat yourself and then find ways to buy them cheaper. If you get really sick off from certain foods like I do, it’s so nice knowing that in a pinch I can purchase one or two things at a grocery store to eat. Whole30 is an incredible diet but it is hard to buy pre-prepared food that fit Whole30 rules, so if you’re feeling like testing out a few within your budget, go for it! Paleo diets and vegan diets seem to be much easier to shop for now and days, but again, unless it fits into a “treat” category or “testing it out,” skip it and you’ll definitely save a few bucks.
7. Buy in bulk.
I know that everyone says it, but buying in bulk is a great way to reduce the costs of your Whole30, paleo, and vegan food journey. There are obviously some things you should try first before you buy – don’t buy bulk almond butter if you think almonds are gross, don’t buy bulk almond flour if you only need two tablespoons for one recipe, don’t buy bulk coconut oil if you think coconuts taste like dirt… you get the picture.
It might take you a bit of time to figure out what you need to buy in bulk. For example, I went over an entire year eating either Whole30 or paleo before buying coconut aminos. I just didn’t know what they were and didn’t care enough to try it out, and my grocery bills were too high to consider adding yet another ingredient to my cupboards. So, I left it out. However, that first year I used a ridiculous amount of ghee butter, and could have saved lots of money buying it in bulk. Now, coconut aminos are a staple, and I hardly use ghee. The point is, I know what my eating habits are and buying in bulk helps me save money on ingredients that I use most frequently.
8. Ask yourself: what is affordable for you?
Did you know that studies have shown that eating a healthier diet costs more than an unhealthy diet? This study from 2013 stated it can cost up to $1.50 more per day – and that was almost a decade ago. I’m sure it’s more now.
Your health is important but there are times when money is tight. It’s easy to get caught up in diet culture and believing that you can’t have this or that because it’s not how the diet works, or you have to have this meal/protein powder/snack because that is what they say works best. For me, this isn’t a diet but a lifestyle, which means that it has to fit my budget for it to work for me. That means that sometimes my diet is not strictly Whole30, or paleo or vegan. Sometimes, meals just need to fit my budget this week, so I’m eating rice noodles and pasta sauce because that is something I know my body can handle and won’t break my budget. Or maybe I’m making tuna casserole because that’s what I have in my house and I can’t spend more on groceries this week.
You are the only person who can determine the right amount that you should spend on food, regardless of any advice I could possibly give you. You know your situation, and you call the shots.
9. Listen to your body
I have to keep coming back to this one, if I’m being honest. Why do I put myself through multiple Whole30 rounds? Why eat paleo most of the time? Why make it even harder by making my diet more plant-based?
The answer is that I want to feel good. I will maybe go into detail in some other posts, but my body tells me something isn’t right: I get joint pain and feel sluggish, I feel like I have no energy and want to just sleep, I get headaches, I feel anxious, etc. etc. etc. When I really listen to my body, my diet does not look like a Whole30 diet, or a paleo diet, or a vegan diet. It becomes a blend of all of them. You don’t have to eat strictly Whole30 (all the time at least– you should definitely do the program as it’s designed at least once), strictly paleo, or strictly vegan to get the benefits that your body needs to feel good. We’ve celebrated and respected human uniqueness for years- what about celebrating and respecting your body’s unique microbiome?
I hope you enjoy all the thoughts I’ve had across the years related to food, that it helps you save a buck, and eat something delicious that doesn’t break your wallet (or your gut). Now, go look at some delicious recipes and find something that speaks to you!
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