When people start transitioning into a ketogenic diet, they’re hit with the reality that keto grocery shopping can be expensive: there’s so much meat and cheese and tasty snack options, and getting everything you need can come at a hefty price.
The truth is, keto grocery shopping on a budget doesn’t have to get that expensive–even if you want to eat cleaner ingredients and make flavorful recipes. You just need to reconcile that your way of eating is going to change on keto, and therefore the way you shop for groceries will change as well.
Secrets for Budget Keto Shopping
I’ve found that we pay the most for groceries when we try to mimic a conventional diet that includes snacks, specialty foods, and copycat versions of our favorite carb-filled recipes. Eating this way forces us to ultimately buy more food, plus a bunch of special ingredients to recreate the foods we sacrificed by following a ketogenic diet. If you want to master keto grocery shopping on a budget, you need to let go of your old eating habits and understand these simple truths:
1. You don’t need that much protein
You’ll be tempted to buy a lot of pricey meat at the grocery store–don’t! Here’s the very short reason why: too much protein causes your body to create more glucose and will kick you out of ketosis. And on that note…
2. You don’t need meat with every meal
For some reason, as a child I always got the impression that you needed meat with lunch and dinner–that it was required to satisfy your nutritional requirements. Absolutely not true. 🙂 And you can always swap in cheaper proteins like eggs to save more dollars.
3. Veggies are VERY important
Please don’t neglect veggies on keto: the right ones (with low carb counts) will give you more fiber, nutrients, and satisfaction from your meals, and they’re priced very reasonably. At least half of your plate when you do eat should be plants (ideally green ones). It’s the main reason why we use our Nutribullet for green smoothies–it’s just too much work to chew all those plants 🙂
4. Planning is everything
Meal prep and/or decide what meals you’ll make ahead of time, all the way down to your snakes. You’ll know exactly how much food you need for the week, and it will save you so much time at the store (which means less time looking at impulse buys and junk food).
5. Invest in good cooking tools
It’s a higher price to front in the short term, but if they help you stay on keto it’s worth it.
6. Become BFFs with your freezer
Use it for frozen produce, to partition and freeze meat, or to freeze leftovers to reheat later (great for when you buy in bulk). Seriously, you can freeze just about anything! It’s basically a time machine just sitting in your kitchen, and will keep you from throwing tons of food (aka money) away.
7. Make room to treat yo-self
Make keto ice cream, stock up on chocolate, and get other simple treats that will help you keep keto. Cheating is going to cost you more (both physically and financially) in the long run, because you’ll feel hungry so much sooner. Saving money doesn’t have to mean self-denial!
8. Intermittent fasting = buying less food
Anecdotally, people who intermittent fast tend to eat less overall, which means they spend less on meals and snacks. (Although snacks do have a useful time and place).
Keto grocery shopping on a budget: Where to skimp and where to splurge
We’re trying to eat as clean as we can afford, while also keeping keto. If you’re in the same boat, here are the best places where you can cut costs:
Where to skimp
Ethically you might want nicer eggs, but if you’re saving money go for the cheapo ones. They’re still super nutrient dense and the taste difference isn’t too extreme.
If you’re concerned about pesticides in your produce, you don’t have to buy only organic to keep things clean–check out the Clean 15 for the Environmental Working Group’s list of produce with the least amount of pesticide residues. Most conventional produce with inedible skin is acceptable to eat–so yay, you can save money on avocados!
If it doesn’t irritate you, go ahead and get the cheap stuff. Just don’t overdo it, or you may have some GI issues.
Spices and seasonings
I know there’s a difference when it comes to where spices are sourced, but I can’t taste the difference–if you’re trying to save money, get the cheap ones (but avoid weird fillers!)
Where to splurge
Grass-fed and pastured meats
The grass-fed vs. grain-fed topic gets a lot of heated debate. In our researched opinion, grass-fed and pastured meats are superior enough to warrant the higher price when we can find them in stores. The reason why could get a whole separate post, but the short story is that “you are what your food ate”–and you can choose between animals that ate genetically modified grains (or worse, Skittles), or you could choose those that grazed on omega-3 rich grasses and clover. Quite literally food for thought. (Side note: get cheaper cuts of these meats or whole/less-butchered portions to cut costs.)
We try to get organic produce if it’s classified under the Dirty Dozen (related to the Clean Fifteen). In some cases, you really can taste the difference, and you just have a better idea of what’s going in your body.
No exceptions here, in our opinion. Grass-fed butter is significantly higher in omega-3s, essential vitamins like K2, A, E, and D, and antioxidants. Perhaps most importantly, it’s higher in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that has been linked to weight loss outcomes. Plus, it just tastes better!
While coconut oil should also go on your shopping list, MCT oil is going to deliver much more energy and hunger suppression. We recommend Brain Octane oil because it’s one of the most refined MCT oils on the market (and it suppresses hunger even longer when we intermittent fast), but you can go with a generic version if you’re trying to economize your oil intake.
A Real Good Foods Pizza or Fat Snax Cookie might feed you quickly (and are great for the keto diet as a whole), they just aren’t that budget friendly. Make your own versions of convenience foods, or just do without them. (This is another reason why the freezer can be your friend: it turns leftovers into super easy microwave meals!)
I mentioned getting simple treats earlier, mostly because baked goods and other complicated keto recipes require expensive flours and gums that cost a lot upfront. But hey, if you have room in your budget, I ain’t stopping you.
Keto grocery shopping on a budget: Extra hacks that will help you cut costs
This is by far our all-time favorite hack for keto grocery shopping on a budget: with grocery pickup from a big box store like Walmart, we know exactly what we’re spending, eliminate the temptation of impulse buys, and we don’t spend forever looking for the items we need (which is a life saver with little kids).
How it works
You create a Walmart account online, and select the grocery pickup option under the homepage search bar. Select the store where you want to pick up, reserve a time to pick up (you can do this later), and start adding items to your cart.
When you’re ready to pay, you can pick the hour time window when you want to head to the store (if you haven’t already). Check in from the Walmart grocery app while you’re heading to the store, follow the signs to the pickup area, and someone will come strolling out with your food!
If the grocery shopper couldn’t find the exact item you needed, they’ll try to substitute with an equivalent item. When that happens, you can either accept the substitute (at the original price you paid, even if it’s more expensive) or reject the item and get the original price refunded to you.
The other awesome thing about Walmart grocery pickup is that it’s not just for food: I’ve been able to pick up diapers, personal hygiene and beauty products, toilet paper, and even small appliances with this method.
I’ve had nothing but fantastic experiences so far from Walmart’s grocery pickup feature, it saves me time unbuckling kids, lifting everyone into the cart, and just dealing with the busyness of Walmart in general. I use it every week, and it has objectively saved me hundreds of dollars since I started using it.
Money saving apps
There are tons of couponing and grocery deal apps out there, but I try not to overcomplicate things because sometimes the effort just isn’t worth it. That being said, there are two grocery apps that stand out for us:
The Flipp app is an amazing tool that will cut down your junk mail and do the math on the best deals in your area. This app shows you all the weekly ads from stores in your area and allows you to “clip” the best deals and add them to an in-app shopping list. You can also load digital coupons for grocery items onto loyalty cards you already carry for stores. There are a few different features that make Flipp cool, but I mainly use it to check out sales and try to plan my grocery list around what I can buy for a good deal.
We don’t use Ibotta as much these days because they don’t accept e-receipts at this time (which is what you’ll get if you use Walmart grocery pickup), but if you shop in-person it can be a fun way to get some extra cash back on items you’ll already buy. You take a look at Ibotta’s cash-back deals for different items in the store where you’re headed, pick those items up, and then snap a picture of your receipt to get the cash back. (To avoid impulse buys, I tend to look at Ibotta after I get home from shopping and see if anything I got has a cash back offer.) While it won’t save you tons of money, it only takes a few minutes to do and takes way less effort than clipping coupons.
Keto grocery shopping on a budget: Our process from start to finish
Okay, so we’ve spilled all our secrets. Now you can learn what we actually do every week to keep our grocery budget in check.
1. Look for the store sales
I just check Flipp and make a mental note of keto-friendly meat and produce that I wouldn’t have a problem getting through during the week–usually a day or two before I plan on shopping. Takes 5 minutes, if that. I only have two or three grocery stores I frequent, so those are the only ads I view.
2. When you’re ready, HIT ALDI FIRST!
Did you see that coming? 🙂 Walmart does save us a lot of money, but the day before our grocery pickup we stop at Aldi first. The Walmart grocery app saves your cart in progress, so we head to Aldi and cross check prices for what we need on my phone. If Aldi beats Walmart’s price for an item, I add it to my cart and delete it from the app. It takes a little longer, but depending on what we need it can save us an extra $5-$10. If you’re trying to save every penny, that’s huge!
If you’re not living in a location near an Aldi, find your nearest rock-bottom discount grocery store and cross-check anyway. Walmart claims to have the lowest prices, but it’s not always true (plus their price matching has so many rules these days that it’s just not worth it to us). The extra leg work is worth it for people on a budget.
3. Buy your groceries
After our Aldi trip, I finish my Walmart pickup purchase–every single time, the cart is a little smaller than when we left. Then we set our pickup time, grab the next batch of groceries (usually the next day), and we’re set for the week!
Keto grocery shopping on a budget: What we buy, and what we actually pay
Here’s a breakdown of some items on our grocery list last week (note that some items are organic, while others aren’t):
Meat and protein: Grass fed ground beef, antibiotic-free chicken breast, eggs, nitrate-free bacon, salami
Dairy: Pastured butter, cheddar cheese, string cheese, unsweetened coconut milk, unsweetened almond milk
Produce: Frozen cauliflower rice, broccoli slaw, frozen broccoli florets, frozen organic spinach, frozen organic kale, leeks, avocadoes, organic cucumbers, limes, frozen organic blueberries
Baking/Pantry: Coconut flour, coconut oil, baking soda, low carb tortillas, almond butter, canned coconut milk, unsweetened coconut flakes
Miscellaneous: Baby food, pull-ups
On average, we’re paying about $150 per week (a little higher this week because we had to pick up some staples that needed replenishing)… but we’re trying to shave it down more by tinkering with our intermittent fasting, upping our veggie intake, and cutting back a bit on meat. Knowing that we got the best food for the best prices is pretty incredible, and it didn’t take that much extra effort.
How do you grocery shop on a budget when you’re following a ketogenic diet? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments!