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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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July 10 2019

8 Tips For Keto on a Budget

By Lindsay Taylor, PhD
46 Comments

A criticism often leveled against the keto diet is that it’s more expensive than a “regular” (read: SAD) diet. There’s some truth to that. It does cost more to buy meat than ramen and beans. I personally spend more on groceries now than I did before finding Primal. Not only did I shift to buying different types of food, I also came to care more about food quality. I started choosing more pasture-raised meat and eggs, and more pesticide-free and organic produce and dairy.

However, my grocery bills haven’t changed noticeably since going keto. If you’re already eating Primally, your daily foods don’t have to change that much if you decide to try keto. You’ll remove some (okay, most) of the fruits and root veggies, and sub in more above-ground veggies and probably some healthy fats. It’s not a substantial overhaul. However, if you’re coming from a standard high-carb, lots-of-cheap-packaged-foods diet straight into Primal+keto, it can be a shock to the wallet.

Sure, I can tell you that this is an investment in your long-term health and spending more on food now means spending less on medical care later. I believe that. I also know that doesn’t help you today if you’re looking at your food budget and your fridge, now mostly empty after purging it of non-Primal, higher-carb foods.

If you’re committed to making Primal+keto work on limited funds, it can be done. Here are some tips for making it happen.

1) Buy What You Can Afford

With Primal+keto, there are ideals when it comes to food quality, and then there’s what fits your budget. Now is the time to call on the saying, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Don’t stress about buying the best quality everything. Don’t forgo eating vegetables because you can’t always fit organic options into your budget. Non-pastured eggs still have more to offer nutrient-wise than a bagel for breakfast.

In terms of priorities, aim for better quality meat. (I’ll include tips for finding less expensive meat choices below.) Check the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch to see which types of seafood are worth your money and which should be avoided altogether; don’t spend money on the latter.

For produce, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen—the vegetables and fruits they recommend buying organic—and the Clean Fifteen that are safer to buy conventional. Of note to keto eaters, spinach and kale should be organic, but many of our keto-friendly faves make the clean list. Don’t stress if you need to choose conventional avocados, cauliflower, and broccoli.

Remember, too, that it’s not always necessary to look for the organic label even for the “dirty dozen.” If you’re buying from local farmers, ask about their practices. Many small farmers are pesticide-free or use organic practices but simply can’t afford the process of becoming organic certified (it’s quite expensive and arduous). The same goes for meat.

2) Don’t Menu Plan

I’m going against the grain here. Most articles on budgeting tell you to make and stick to a strict plan. I find, however, that it’s more cost-effective to let sales be my guide. I’d rather check out my local grocery stores and farmer’s markets, buy what’s cheapest, and make it work. Use apps that tell you where the sales are and buy accordingly. Sign up for the customer loyalty cards at the stores you frequent so they can send you deals and coupons.

I realize that this might sound stressful if you don’t feel confident in the kitchen. If you’re beholden to recipes, this doesn’t always work. (Of course, you can always look up recipes on your phone in the grocery store—I’ve done it a million times.) Remember that you can always default to making a Big-Ass Salad or an omelet or scramble.

3) Shop Around

Get to know the various supermarkets, specialty stores, and farmer’s markets in your area. Learn what’s the freshest, cheapest, and most likely to be available at each. While it’s convenient to do one-stop shopping, it might be worth the extra time it takes to make two or three different trips during the week to hit up different stores.

Think outside the traditional grocery store box. In many smaller communities, a “big box” store may have the largest selection of meat and veggies, including organic, and a wide variety of specialty products. In my town, Grocery Outlet is the best place to buy organic coconut oil and olive oil, and they carry lots of other keto-friendly staples like nut butters, grass-fed meat, and cheese at low prices.

If you have access to a farmer’s market, definitely make sure you check it out. Sometimes farmers will mark down their remaining items at the end of the day so they don’t have to pack it up. You won’t have the same selection, but you might score some deals.

Also look into local CSAs, farm stands, and meat purveyors who sell direct to customers. Again, you can often find ones that offer sustainable practices and high-quality products without the expensive organic label. Check out Eat Wild and Local Harvest to find farmers near you. I’m a fan of CSAs that sell “ugly produce”—the items that aren’t pretty enough for grocery stores but that are still tasty and nutritious—so it doesn’t go to waste.

Finally, check Facebook marketplace, Craigslist, and so on for people looking to sell backyard eggs for cheaper than the store. If you live in an area where people hunt, you might be able to score some meat this way during hunting season, too.

4) Skip the MCT Oil and Exogenous Ketone Products

Unless you have a medical reason to have very elevated ketones, these expensive products aren’t a priority. You don’t need them to do keto “right.”

5) Reconsider the Keto-fied Baking

Almond flour, coconut flour, arrowroot powder, erythritol, and so on can also be pricey. From a nutrient perspective, there are better ways to invest your grocery dollars. You don’t have to give it up entirely, but consider how big a chunk it’s taking out of your budget and whether it’s worth it.

6) Eat the Stuff that Other People Don’t Want

I’m talking organ meat, bone-in chicken thighs and drumsticks, sardines, and the like. The great irony is that these are some of the most nutrient-packed foods in the store, and you can often get them for cheap because the average consumer is looking for boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Good news for you!

Ask the butcher at your grocery store if they have organ meats or cuts that they aren’t going to put in the case because they aren’t popular enough. You might be able to snag cheap (or even free) bones for bone broth that way too—although probably less so now that bone broth has become such a trendy item.

If you’re squeamish about organ meat, remember that almost anything can be ground up in a food processor and mixed with ground beef for burgers or meatballs, or to be hidden in chili or meat sauce. Heart is an excellent place to start. It doesn’t have the distinctive strong flavor of liver or kidney, and it’s very affordable.

7) Your Freezer is Your Friend

Many items are less expensive if you buy them frozen—vegetables (especially off-season), berries, seafood—and they’re just as nutritious. Freezing also allows you to buy in bulk and freeze the extras, or prepare big batches of food and freeze smaller portions for later. If you have a chest freezer, look into splitting a cow or a pig with friends. This can sometimes land you a great deal on a pasture-raised animal.

Throwing away food is throwing away money. There’s no reason to waste food if you have a freezer. Most leftovers can be frozen if you’re not going to consume them immediately (though some things, like mashed cauliflower, don’t reheat well). If your avocados are on the verge of going bad, slice and freeze them. Blend fresh herbs with your oil of choice and freeze them in ice cube trays to add to soups and sauces later. Strain leftover bacon grease into a jar and freeze that, too.

My favorite freezer trick is to keep a large zip-top bag to which I add vegetable trimmings like the ends of carrots, celery, onions, and beets, and broccoli stems. I also keep the bones from all the delicious bone-in meat I’m cooking. (I always buy bone-in when I can—it’s one of Dr. Cate Shanahan’s Four Pillars of health.) This allows me to…

8) Make Your Own Bone Broth (and Nut Milk)

Bone broth is a hot commodity nowadays—no pun intended—and you can spend a pretty penny on it at the store… or you can just make it yourself out of stuff that other people are throwing away.

Whenever I cook a whole chicken (which is usually more cost-effective than buying just breasts or thighs), or when my aforementioned freezer bags fill up, I make a batch of bone broth in my slow cooker or Instant Pot. To store it, I freeze it in mason jars or silicone muffin cups. The latter makes broth “pucks” that are uber convenient for adding to dishes later.

Nut milk isn’t necessary for keto obviously. However, if you’re dairy-free and buying nut milk, you really have to try making your own. It couldn’t be easier, and I strongly prefer my homemade nut milk (a blend of almond, hazelnut, and Brazil nut) to anything I can find in the store. As a bonus, I use the leftover nut pulp to make pancakes, bread, and rolls. (See the recipe in The Keto Reset Diet.)  It’s a double bang for my buck, and no waste.

The Good News…

Despite the naysaying, it’s not only possible to do keto on a budget, but sometimes going keto actually saves you money. First, many people are able to reduce or eliminate certain medications—insulin, blood pressure meds—which can be a significant monthly savings. Second, once you’ve become keto-adapted, you might find that you’re eating fewer calories overall for the same amount of energy. Mark touts this benefit all the time.

Also, your “non-essentials” budget usually goes down. I’m talking things like frappuccinos, restaurant desserts, and alcohol. The cost of a night on the town decreases significantly when you’re fully buzzed off a glass and a half of wine once you go keto! (And when you’re not ordering 2 a.m. pizza.)   

So, let me turn it over to you: Do you have other tips for making Primal+keto easier on the wallet? Share them below, and have a great week, everybody.

TAGS:  Keto

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46 thoughts on “8 Tips For Keto on a Budget”

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  1. I would add (and playing off #5) to keep it simple. Meat, veggies and fat. Keto doesn’t have to be expensive. I have also started to relax on making sure every meat is grass-fed or pastured, etc. Really lean cuts of beef I don’t sweat buying GF now, and it saves A LOT of money. I save my meat dollars for really good cuts of GF from my local farmer or GF bison.

  2. “Remember that you can always default to making a Big-Ass Salad or an omelet or scramble.”

    Heat fat in pan. Put meat in pan. Stir a bit. Put veggies in pan. Stir a bit. Add herbs/spices. Stir a bit. Add any other fats to requirement.

    Large variation of meals right there, and can be mixed up further by things like cooking the meat but not the veg, or cooking the veg in broth and meat separately in spices and fat. As long as you’re careful with your timings you can even cook fish and liver this way (though I’d say start cooking the veg before putting the fish on, unless it’s a more delicate leaf).

  3. Eat less meat. 4 – 6 oz. per meal, with most of the food volume coming from veggies. Most Americans eat way too much meat, and the best quality meat is significantly more expensive than veggies.

    1. Not only it’s not substantiated (if anything they are eating less protein) you will be better off replacing your “glorious” vegetables with animal fats. Their is a notion, in keto groups, that if one exceeds 0.5 or 0.8 grams of meat per kg, he will be kicked out of ketosis. Off course it’s your decision to make. Unless you are eating the amount you mentioned 3 times a day. Personally, I eat between 1-2 once a day and at 62, never felt better. And before someone points it out, mTor is irrelevant when eating this way; just get enough glycine and proline

      1. I left out the word pounds. That makes it one to two pounds of meat @ one meal a day. At times and especially after a large meal, two days may pass before I’ll eat again; plenty of time for autophagy to take place

    2. Yet there are some people who only truly thrive once they go carnivore. Generalisations of “eat more X eat, less Y” aren’t necessarily helpful, which is why n=1 experimentation is often recommended.

      Just eat *better*, then work out your own ratios from there.

  4. I would be careful about freezing broth, or anything in mason jars. I did that with some broth and a curry simmering sauce, and several of the glass jars broke in the freezer. Perhaps the cold makes it more brittle? So now, my frozen liquids go in plastic containers. They are pretty cheap, and if you keep the ones you buy uniform, you can eyeball their measurements for recipes.

    1. Glass jars filled with liquid-ish content put in freezer shatters because when the liquid changes it’s state to solid it tends to expand. Which some of the glasses can’t stand and brake

    2. Keith, they make freezer jars. They don’t break and they have an easy fill line to not go past.

    3. Keith, have you tried your hand at canning? My mother always canned liquids and veggies/fruits from our enormous garden growing up. It is really easy, saves freezer space, and (generally) won’t shatter on you. 🙂

      1. Canning is the best way to save and a great form of portion control. You can even do casserole dishes and the like in the oven. Mason jar meatloaf is one of my favorites. Mark’s recent ratatouille recipe would be great in Mason jars in the oven.

    4. I buy unsweetened whole Stonyfield yogurt, and re-use the plastic quart containers to freeze bone broth. I cook the broth to concentrate it, to take less freezer room. Once in a while, I cook a batch to demi-glace, and freeze it in ice cube trays, saving more room.

    5. Make sure you use wide mouth mason jars, which will be labeled as freezer safe. I freeze tons of pesto in 4 oz Mason jars and have never had one break. These days I cook my stock way down to a concentrate, and then freeze it in 4 or 8 oz portions to save space in the freezer.

  5. I love these tips: I especially agree with the eschewing of almond flour/coconut flour and such. If you are trying to eat a healthy diet, I see no point in making “keto brownies” and such. If you are presented with a great brownie and want to eat it, fine–indulge. Just make it a rarity instead of a normality. I’m trying to keep my food as simple as possible, that way I enjoy the real food, not a simulation of the crappy food most people eat all the time. I haven’t tried making my own nut milk because honestly, nuts are expensive and almond milk isn’t (I just don’t go through very much of it at all). But I may try it one of these days just for giggles.

    1. Hunting, fishing and growing a garden only work if you live in a area that supports that. Living in the city not much hunting and fishing. As for a garden there isn’t enough sunlight and the soil at my condo complex is contaminated.

      So not a viable solution for many.

  6. I can’t thank you enough for this email… It means a lot! I’ve been been beating myself up about my Keytone levels and all the products I’ve been using in order to make them better. I told myself that this would be my last month of the extras… I’m going to start eliminating products and just keep eating properly. I believe in a previous email you stated that collagen and electrolytes were important… Thank you again!! I always look forward to your emails!!

  7. I eat SO much less now on even lazy Keto then I did when I was eating a high-protein (but also high sugar) diet and was hungry and snacking every 2 hours. It’s been a year and I still over-buy all the time because I cannot comprehend how little I need.
    Also the bone-in meats tip is good. We grill chicken drumsticks and wings all the time!

  8. I started (modified) Keto March first. Right now I’m stuck at a loss of 24-25 lbs, but I didn’t watch my calories over 4th of July weekend. I have a tendency to over-eat, especially due to mood swings (BiPolar).I still have high-carb products in my freezer and pantry, but they don’t even tempt me. Mainly, I cook from scratch, which is far less expensive than buying processed foods: and you’re right about frozen vegs. I always have my mainstay- riced cauliflower- on hand. I make chicken and beef stock from marrow bones- what you call bone broth- and keep quarts of it in the freezer. If needed urgently, the microwave thaws it fast enough. The only real shortcut is rotisserie chicken, which I can stretch three ways from Sunday! I make up recipes on the spot. 🙂

  9. I can’t say enough about ImperfectProduce.com. You can select which vegetables (and fruit if so inclined) you want from what is available each week (I get mine delivered every other week) and it ends up being cheaper than what I spend at the local grocery store, helps farmers out, and keeps food out of the landfills. I love it!

  10. For cheap high-quality protein, you can’t beat eggs! Omelets, frittatas, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, poached, fried – they are super flexible! And, for the best nutrient punch per buck, broccoli is my fave.

  11. A small herb garden with coriander (cilantro), rosemary, parsley, mint, chives, oregano is an awesome way to save money. Also, planting in some spinach, sorrel, Brussels sprouts, mixed lettuce etc can also save you a tonne of money. Most of these can be happily be planted in pots if you don’t have a garden.

    1. I also use this tip – buying herbs is expensive and often wasted, as you only need a spoonful at a time. I go out to my garden and pick basil, cilantro and rosemary as needed.
      Rosemary in Florida is an evergreen, and my rosemary bushes grow large and live for years.

  12. What saves me the most money is fasting two days a week. That makes 4-6 meals a week less and saves a boatload of money. So I spend what I want for high quality, nutrient dense food, and don’t worry about it.

  13. ALDI has become a really great low-cost way to buy keto AND organic on a budget. It’s a pity they’re not nationwide yet.

    1. Could not agree more, I ADORE ALDI – they have been a staple of my life for the last 25 years- great quality and low cost.

    2. I love Aldi, but Walmart is closer and my hubby doesn’t trust Aldi produce for whatever reason. You can find lots of Keto products now there, nuts, produce, meat, nut milk, dark chocolate, even Kerrygold butter and cream cheese! I go on my own when I want to stock up for cheap!
      PS: I’ve been following Mark Sisson since I went Paleo before I transitioned to Keto. He has such great newsletters and such!

  14. I freeze in wide mouth pints and never had them break. I think the taper of the jar is the secret. I’ve frozen fats, liquids, sausage, meat chunks etc. Always leave an inch for expansion.

  15. Nice post Lindsay. If I might just add a general recommendation. Leave all the commercialized keto Foods and drinks, potions, flours and a like where they belong- on stored shelves and invest your hard earned money (unless you won the lottery) in unadulterated and recognizable food, such as meat, butter, eggs and various and wild seafood and fish.

  16. Grass fed meat is at least 2-3 x more expensive than non grass fed. It’s.more.expensive, WAY more expensive to eat this way. Same goes for most organic things. It makes.no sense. It is cheaper to not use grain for animals grow organic .woth no chemicals. For most people, especiallY with kids it’s just not possible. And don’t say it’s “priorities” because that insinuates that people who can’t afford this are irresponsible with their money. Until the organic farmers in the grass-fed ranchers drop their prices to where they’re actually reasonable in the average person can afford them it will never really go mainstream and people’s health will suffer. They’re taking advantage of a niche market the charging extremely high prices for their products. I’ve been trying to price buying a quarter or a half of a grass-fed beef in my area but they only sell it by the cuts because they can make more money that way it won’t even sell me a quarter or a half.

    1. I totally agree with you. My health is my biggest priority and i cannot afford anything organic. I buy the cheapest cuts and whatever is on sale. I know this isnt perfect but I am on disability and cannot stretch my food budget that much. I dont buy fancy stuff like almond flour or primal kitchen products because $10 for a bottle of dressing or mayo is insane. Until the producers can lower costs for the consumers, then I have to eat cheap.

    2. I live in a farming community. The organic farmers here are struggling to survive because their products are not shelf-stable as long as conventionally farmed products, and to certify as organic, the processes they must go through are long and expensive. To top it off, the less regulated the corn/wheat/soybean farmers get more dollars in government subsidies. IMO, this is why organic costs so much more than conventional.

      I think the use of priorities is fair here, but maybe not how you might think. I am for questions like “How do we get our organic farmers on a fair and level playing field with conventional farmers?” The current system penalizes the poorest among us- cash poor as well as education poor- which ends up costing everyone more in the end aka someone has to pay the healthcare bill for a sick population- who are sick through no real fault of their own.

      1. Agree. Organic is more expensive to produce, and that is reflected in the cost. The system is skewed, and while there are some out there trying to scam people, most are just trying to make ends meet themselves.

        Grass fed livestock tend to be out longer, incurring extra costs of raising them. It’s far cheaper to grain finish and get them to condition sooner. Extra care is required for organic veg, as it’s not being drowned in the pesticides, or being genetically modified (beyond time honoured husbandry practices) to attain greater yields/pest resistance/etc. If organic wasn’t more labour intensive/expensive to produce you wouldn’t have the short cuts that exist in the agriculture industry, and there wouldn’t be an issue with food quality for us to be discussing it in the first place.

        And ‘priorities’ is not the dirty word Michael suggests. He has other priorities, this is fine, especially if those priorities are directly related to base costs of living. Everything in life is decided on a priority hierarchy, and sometimes circumstances are such that you *can’t* prioritise healthier food.

        So to anyone who reads Michael D Walkow’s post and finds themselves agreeing, stop. For a start you are engaging in the unhealthy kind of stress. Second, realise that there is no admonishment here, no attempt to belittle you over your finances. If you cannot afford to prioritise better quality (because something else is higher up the priority scale—rent, medical bills, child’s education, etc) this is fine, do the best you can with what you can afford. Life is like that sometimes and no one is judging.

        1. This is a great conversation to have.

          I agree with Michael’s statement, “And don’t say it’s “priorities” because that insinuates that people who can’t afford this are irresponsible with their money.”

          I’ve been there in other situations. It’s a sensitive topic. Telling people that it’s a matter of priority sounds presumptuous, and that statement is often used as a high-pressure sales tactic. When the money isn’t there, it isn’t there. I get that, and I empathize.

          I disagree with the rest of his statements, though I appreciate the conversation that they generated. Mindy nails it when she mentions government subsidies, and I agree with AlexB.

          Here’s some of my direct experience with the issue:
          My partner owns a restaurant in Toronto (part of this context is a big city with a high cost of living). All of the meat he serves comes from local (Ontario) farms that raise grass-fed, pastured animals. One of those farms is so small that we’re one of two restaurants that they supply. When he needs to, my partner buys from Quebec and Alberta, but he’ll never buy factory-farmed meat.
          Another restaurant recently opened nearby, serving factory-farmed meat. The price they charge for a rack of ribs is lower than my partner buys them from his meat supplier.

          I’ll add that in Canada we don’t have the same kind of government subsidies, but that’s an economic-political difference. If I recall correctly (and I might be mistaken), Canadian farmers don’t have the corn subsidies that exist in the U.S.

  17. Whenever the next fad or trend comes along, the “usual suspects” do what they do to monetise it. This is what happened to Paleo, which went from basically eating whole clean and functional foods, to designer deserts. Same with Keto. There’s no money in fasting and eating once/twice a day, so they put all this other unnecessary crap out there to feed people’s spending addiction.

  18. Check out the “clean 15” list of veggies. Not all veggies need to be organic and it can save money if you know what to buy conventional and what to buy organic.

  19. Check out the “dirty 30” and “clean 15” list of veggies. Not all veggies need to be organic and it can save money if you know what to buy conventional and what you want to buy organic.

  20. Going IF at the same time you go Keto will actually lower your grocery bill, and make it easier to drop into ketosis.

  21. I find fasting is a great way to remain keto on a budget

  22. I 100% avoid keto desserts. Calorie dense junk is all they are. A desert for me are some berries and cream with monk fruit sweetener or I make my own sugar free chocolate pudding without all the cornstarch.

    Cheaper cuts of meats on sale are my friend as are eggs. Also meat loaf and keto lasagna using hearts of palm noodles are budget stretchers.

    I always cook 4-6 portions and rely on the leftovers for variable meals. I’m never bored or broke.

  23. Vegetables are very expensive relative to the energy they offer. They’re less nutrient dense than animal foods as well. Minimize. You can get the beneficial antioxidants, phytochemicals, flavonoids, etc. simply by drinking coffee and tea.

    Eliminate fruit and nuts completely unless you’re trying to gain weight.

    Ruminant meat and seafood maximize nutrient density, but are unfortunately expensive. Focus on sales, less desirable cuts (chuck, round, etc.), and of course offal. No need to worry about whether or not beef is grass fed.

    Poultry and pork aren’t as nutrient dense (though pork is a thiamine powerhouse) and have undesirable levels of ?-6 fatty acids, but they are cheap. Not a bad idea to incorporate them into your meals from time to time, especially if you supplement with high quality ?-3 fatty acids.

    Legumes are keto-compatible in moderation, nutrient dense for being plants, and dirt cheap.

    Last but not least, eggs are dirt cheap and incredibly nutritious. Anyone trying to do keto on a budget should consider making eggs the basis of his diet.

    1. Great overview!

      Green tea was a great add-on thru my day when I felt ‘snacky’

  24. Such fantastic guidance, Mark! Going keto (or primal) definitely doesn’t have to involve the latest packaged products or “super foods.” Real, unpackaged foods are pretty much all I buy – they taste fantastic, make for far less garbage waste, and don’t require a meal plan. I’ll for sure being sharing this post with my clients – thank you!

  25. these are such great tips thank you so much – the drinking /2a.m. junk food comment really is so true, resonated with me.
    For keto/general primal – eating a good, filling dinner at a reasonable time before bed will help prevent late night snackies and temptation to break keto or go over your macros and spend money on nonsense.

    I struggled with easy keto snacks which are often prepackaged but I found it was worth it for me to invest in macadamia and pili nuts for added fats, which I ordered in bulk online. I liked mixing the two for varied texture (crunch of dry roasted macs and softness of pili). Pili Hunters has a yummy spicy flavor.
    Meat, veg stir fry is the best cheapo meal. BAS for lunch /din and I invested in PK Caesar and ranch dressings to top them off. The bulk packs with a mix of types work well and last for a few months on the shelf, but I go thru them quickly.
    I also lived on bacon/egg cups (i.e. keto muffins) during the work week. This costs very little per serving.

  26. I love item 2, “Don’t Menu Plan. Even before I started eating Primal, I would do that just to get inspiration for creating a new recipe. One thing I would add, once you’ve stocked up on those sale meats and produce, THEN menu plan based on what you have on hand. At least for a couple of days. Works for me…