During my annual purge of our filing cabinet, I was thrilled to find an envelope of receipts labeled "Whole30." Last January, I — along with five other Kitchn editors — gave this popular diet a try. At the time, the cost of buying "Whole30-compliant" food flabbergasted me and left me with lots of big feelings about my own grocery habits. A year later, and with a 2018 New Year's goal to master my grocery budget, looking through those year-old receipts taught me a lot about food spending, the cost of healthy-ish eating, and how I can improve my non-Whole30 budget moving forward.
First, What Is Whole30?
Whole30 is a 30-day elimination diet that focus on proteins and vegetables, while cutting out dairy, legumes, grains, and sweeteners. A Whole30 plan skips snacks and smoothies, encouraging three robust meals every day. Food isn't labeled as good or bad, but rather compliant or non-compliant.
I set out to try Whole30 (as an editor, hoping to find ways to help our readers who might be trying this diet out). The rest of my family did not. I'm a diligent meal planner, which helped cut down on the number of double dinners each week, but at times I was absolutely cooking two breakfasts, lunches, and dinners to feed myself Whole30 and my kids conventional meals.
What Whole30 Taught Me About My Grocery Budget
1. Whole foods aren't always more expensive.
I definitely spent more money while doing Whole30, but the budget busters weren't what you'd expect. In fact, it was pretty easy to use Costco to stock up on organic proteins (eggs, chicken, grass-fed ground beef) and my regular grocery store for produce. Dollar for dollar, I easily spent as much on whole foods for myself as I did on processed foods for the rest of my family.
Try this: Whether your goal is more grass-fed beef or just a lower meat budget, it definitely pays to buy meat in bulk. Costco is a great option, if you have one nearby. ButcherBox or a local meat share are both other affordable options.
2. Healthy fats are more expensive, though.
Avocado oil, coconut oil, and ghee are three of the compliant fats that nearly broke my budget in the beginning of the month. (That and the weekly avocados and compliant smoked salmon.) Whole30 encourages you to ditch conventional fats in favor of healthier ones, and these fats really do help you stay full during the program.
Try this: Luckily I've mastered making ghee at home and can easily cut that cost down, as I keep it a part of my daily diet now. As for the other oils, skip these at your smaller grocer chain and look for them at Costco or online at Thrive Market or Amazon for better cost savings.
3. Snacks are a budget killer.
This is probably the biggest, lasting takeaway from my Whole30 experience. While I was skipping snacks throughout the program, the rest of my family was happily munching on cheese crackers, potato chips, and fruit bars totaling more than $30 (!!!) each week.
Try this: Post-Whole30 I've limited everyday snacks to just pretzels, popcorn (whole kernels, not bags), and either graham or animal crackers, along with fresh fruit and vegetables that do double duty as snacks and meal ingredients. This cuts down our mindless snacking a ton! The occasional bag of potato chips or homemade cheese crackers feels like a treat that is relished. And the saved $20 to $30 goes into our dining-out budget instead.
4. Cooking two meals really does double your budget.
One of my personal parenting tenants is to cook one meal for everyone — I don't push cabbage stew on my kiddos, but I also expect them to try everything we serve. However, during the Whole30 I found myself cooking a main meal for everyone and either supplementing my own dinner with a salad or by cooking pasta (or rice, or biscuits) to fill out everyone else's plates. Not only did it give me cooking fatigue in the end, but that single act also really inflated our grocery budget.
Try this: Whole30 is really great time to experiment with new foods and encourage your kids to do the same. I thought my kids would only eat ghee-roasted sweet potatoes with pasta underneath, but that wasn't always the case. If you want to slim your grocery budget, make sure every diner is on the same page and eating similar dinners.
5. You can save money by switching up your shopping routine.
My love of Publix is no secret and, before Whole30, it was easy to sink into my regular Saturday shopping routine and buy all my groceries there at once. Having to shop for new items at other grocery stores and online opened my eyes to a total new shopping routine. Admittedly I haven't perfected this yet, but buying meat in bulk (we just bought our first local beef share!) and shopping at Costco for staples once a month has lowered my overall grocery budget each month.
Try this: If you can make a list of ingredients you buy two or more times a month, you can probably find a way to buy these in bulk and save. Ordering staples from companies like Thrive Market, Brandless, and Amazon isn't quite as weird as it sounds and adds significant savings.
Have you done Whole30? Did it teach you anything about your usual grocery spending?