Shoestring Meals - Eating healthy is so expensive.....

Beach Patrol
02-10-2011, 10:24 AM
(from an article I read)
Eating well has never been so expensive. In fact, when researchers estimated the cost of a diet based on high-calorie foods compared to one based on healthy, low-calorie foods, the difference was shocking. The high-calorie diet cost $3.52 a day. And the low-cal diet? A whopping $36.32.

OhDearGod! - No wonder I'm "grocery-store broke"!

Does anyone have any tips/ideas for eating healthy with a little less out-of-pocket expense? ~THANKS!!!

02-10-2011, 10:26 AM
I shave down the grocery bill by going to the Farmer's Market and buying meat in bulk.

02-10-2011, 10:29 AM
$36.32?!? What the heck food are they looking at? No way. That does not seem accurate. I can get a bag of frozen veggies on sale for $1... but a bag of chips is $4. I can drink water for free... or get a bottle of soda on sale for $1. I don't eat much ice cream, so the last time I looked and saw reg. prices of like $7 for a "half gallon" I was SHOCKED.

I signed up for a CSA. Starting in May, I will be getting a box of veggies a week. (it works out to about $10 - $15 a week, I think)

I can get chicken for $2/lb or so at the butcher.

I mean... unless you are going all organic, free range, grass fed... but even then. $36 a day. no way.

02-10-2011, 10:32 AM
You might want to check out our "Shoestring Meals" forum:

02-10-2011, 10:32 AM
Cook for yourself. Cook lower on the food chain.

Consider losing milk -- it's not needed, no matter what they say. All animals wean from their mothers after babyhood. We're the only ones who wean from Mom and then go on to some other animal for breastmilk. Weird when you really think about it. Usually after meats, the dairy is the next most expensive for what you get.

Perimeter shop the store -- ingredients are cheaper than premade.

Shop other places -- produce stand for instance.

Think about a freezer if you have the space. Then you can also shop bulk.

Consider switching cleaners to open up money for food. Green cleaning is cheap -- baking soda, bon ami for scrubbies. Citra-solve or Dr bronner's diluted in spray bottles for spray. That's all you need, really. The rest can come out of the fridge. Check out Annie Berthold Bond's Clean & Green.

Here's the USDA cost of food break outs at 4 levels.

I'm not so sure about that article for $36 per day. I hunted that phrase and it appeared in several places but here is seems the most complete.

And guess what? It is selling a book. "Eat this, not that" so I am skeptical about the things they pick to compare. I don't pay 4.50 for cereal!

Even so it doesn't hurt to try to save money. Just make sure it's making sense for YOUR needs. I'm not saving buying things I wouldn't even use anyway -- who cares if it is at the sale price?


Beach Patrol
02-10-2011, 10:52 AM
It's just hubby & me to buy food for - we usually spend $80-$100/week for food. We try to eat as "fresh" as possible - meat of course, is the most expensive, followed by fruit - I usually do get frozen veggies. Chicken, even legs, are $4.00+ (breasts usually run $8.00 for 4!!!...but that does feed us lunch & dinner two days. I like to have red grapes for my after-lunch treat/snack, & lately it's been $1.97/pound so that's better/cheaper than usual ($2.47/pound) -

and thanks, Heather, for that link! - I'll go run check it out. :D

Larry H
02-10-2011, 10:55 AM
I do all of the cooking and shopping for food in our house. I find that my grocery bill has gone down since I am eating healthy. Why? :?:

It is simple I am buying a lot less food than I was when I was constantly over eating. It was amazing how much food we (I) were (was) consuming every week.:dizzy:

The cost savings from our food quantity reduction more than makes up for the small increase in cost for reduced Sugar, Sodium and Fat food items.

You can say that we have replaced quantity with quality in our home. :D

As a child my family's menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it. ~Buddy Hackett

02-10-2011, 11:03 AM
Eating healthy does not have to be expensive. Look in the paper for the weekly ads and take advantage of the items on sale that week. I notice you live at the beach, is that a California beach ? If so you have Safeway stores they frequently have sales where you buy one and get one free. Shop for fruits and vegetables in season, they will be much cheaper. Don't buy prepared foods such as frozen dinners , you can make them yourself for much less.

02-10-2011, 11:06 AM
Compare the massive subsidies for corn growers (and in-kind subsidies for beef growers, in the form of grazing "rights" on public land) to the virtually nonexistent subsidies for broccoli growers.

That being said, these figures sounded ridiculous. I did a little searching to find the original source, and found that there's been quite a bit of misreporting. (Surprise surprise.) The original source of the dollar figures seems to be a study by researchers at the UW who found that the cost per calorie of fruits and vegetables is much higher than the cost per calorie of chips and other junk food. This is no surprise: it would take, what, 15 heads of lettuce to get the same number of calories as in a 99 cent single-serving bag of chips? But that's because nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables tend not to be as calorically dense as junk food. In fact, that's partly what makes them "nutritious" in common parlance!

In a nation with an obesity epidemic, it makes no sense from a policy perspective to hold out cheap calories as the ideal. First, most people don't walk around the store saying, "how can I maximize the number of calories I purchase with this dollar." If anything, they look at maximizing meals per dollar, e.g., when they compare costs per pound of different cuts of meat.

Second, the fundamental problem behind our obesity epidemic is that too many people eat too many calories relative to their caloric needs. From a policy perspective, it would be helpful if veggies were cheaper and HFCS more expensive, because people might eat a smaller volume of the (now more expensive) energy dense food. But if every American substituted a veggie calorie for every HFCS calorie, we'd still have the same obesity problem.

02-10-2011, 11:08 AM
That article must be skewed. I recently went over our checkbook (we never use cash at the grocer so I know my figures are accurate.). Compared to the same 2 month period a year earlier, despite higher individual costs as time goes on, we are spending $100 - $122 a month less on food NOW. And that doesn't include the fact that this is for more meals as we are eating out 1/3 to 1/2 less. This, despite choosing a LOT of fresh fruit and veggies every week. I'm doing a lot more steamed veggies. I'm buying more little things like spices, capers, curry paste, etc. (not the cheap stuff), as a switch from relying so much on fats, to make our meals nicer. Yet the total cost is much lower.

Yield = Saving $100/month while dh & I have dropped a full 80 lbs. combined.

02-10-2011, 11:10 AM
I spend about 40-50 a week on groceries...seems like a pretty normal amount to me. I've tried buying unhealthy for a few days and it cost the same, but only for a few days instead of a week! Healthy staples like veggies, eggs, frozen bulk meat, seem to be much cheaper than chips, dougnuts, and tons of ice cream.

Ramen, on the other hand...

02-10-2011, 11:13 AM
Funny, because my 3x a day Wendys, cafeteria & restaurant dinners seemed more $ than my broccoli, potato, and lean protein. Ahh well!!! :D :p

Beach Patrol
02-10-2011, 11:21 AM
First, most people don't walk around the store saying, "how can I maximize the number of calories I purchase with this dollar."

Heh... the mental image of that made me giggle :D

I think a good deal of the money goes toward "non-grocery" items, such as clothes washing powder, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. I plan to scrutinize our receipt for the next 4 weeks to see exactly how much money is spent on non-grocery items & how much is spent on fresh items vs. frozen or canned items. That's really the only way to break it down, because different people buy different things, and there are different prices at different stores, and different stores in different parts of the country.... y'all know what I mean :)

02-10-2011, 11:28 AM
I know when i go shopping, I like to buy things that aren't name brand. Like wal-mart always has something in their Great Value which is always cheaper then Tyson or whatever else is name brand. That saves me some money.

02-10-2011, 11:39 AM
Couldnt agree more! i aways try to have fresh fruit and veg in but it always bumps up the shopping bill.

I try to make short cuts and get frozen veg and meats when i can they tend to be a little bit cheaper. I aways find fruit is always on the pricey side so i buy fresh and tinned , tinned is usually a fraction of the price

02-10-2011, 11:48 AM
Got that article by chance?

That's impossible. It does not cost $36 a day to eat healthy. Since I've been buying more produce and cooking from scratch rather than buying pre-packaged meals my food bills have gone down by at least a third. We usually to spent 150-200 a week on food now we spend around $90-$130 for groceries.

Of course it depends where you live but I guarantee if you shop around and stay away from huge chains you can find cheaper produce. At one store where I buy certain items the produce is insane- it's like $6 for strawberries- but when I go to the local market it's $1.50 for the same amount AND their produce is better than the $6 market's.

Henrys and other stores that buy local produce are definitely worth it!

Btw I also buy frozen veggies when they go on sale- lots of stores will lower their brand name veggies to $1 a bag now and then- that is when you stock up!

02-10-2011, 11:54 AM
Oops I moved this to Shoestring meals before I saw Heather's post :)

I actually realized that more than 50% of my food is probably organic. We spend $200-$300/month on food for the 2 of us. I could cut it down more but I like some of the luxuries. That equates at the most, $5-$6/person/day.

We don't eat meat so that cuts down a large expense. We buy beans and grains in bulk. We buy veggies/fruits in season. One thing I recently found was a CSA like service that buys in season food in bulk from various farms, focusing on local farms during the warmer months and southern farms in the winter. I generally go to the grocery store with an idea of what I want to buy but I buy my produce by cost.

Also, I have a general idea of the prices of things I keep as my staples. I know Whole Foods has the cheapest price on sprouted grain bread and their produce sales are pretty decent. They are also the cheapest place to buy almond milk. Trader Joe's generally has a good price on organic frozen berries but if I see them on sale elsewhere, I stock up. I also know that most of the food sold in my local asian market doesn't seem to be grown with pesticides (I've seen evidence of that) so in a pinch, I can buy produce there without worrying too much about pesticides. I may have to wash the greens a bit more carefully and such though to avoid crunching a bug though.

02-10-2011, 12:16 PM
[QUOTE=Beach Patrol;3704702]It's just hubby & me to buy food for - we usually spend $80-$100/week for food./QUOTE]

Even at 100 dollars a week for two people, the cost is less than $2.50 per meal (three meals a day times seven days times two people).

I loathe, detest and despise that "eating healthy is so expensive" canard. Processed food is expensive, whether you buy it from a restaurant or a box marked "healthy! Low calorie! Low sodium! Full of chemicals!" at the grocery store.

It's down to just me and my husband now that our three kids were gone. We eat grrrrreat! and splurge on dried cherries and almonds and imported cheeses and still spend about $80.00 on food per week, about $2.00 per meal.

02-10-2011, 12:42 PM
Yep, the original study looked at the cost per calorie, resulting in a total for a 2000 calorie diet. That's where they got the 36 dollar was a 2000 calorie diet made up of entirely fruits and vegetables. And as they said in the study, "most people eat a mix of foods". And also, they must have been shopping at fairly pricey markets, because with a little savvy, you can buy 2000 calories of fruits and veggies, even, without spending that much (if you get in season/on sale instead of out of season/imported/expensive). They also only did fresh fruits/veggies, no frozen, and sometimes that results in a higher price as well.

I saw the article here:

I've always said that you have to make a tradeoff with can have two of these three at once: Healthy, Cheap, and Quick. So you can have healthy, cheap food, but it tends to take a long time to prepare, or you can have healthy, quick food, but it tends to be expensive. My grocery bill stays pretty low (100 a week for the two of us, which is $7 a day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks...and that's pretty much 100% organic on the produce and probably 75% free range/organic/grass fed on the meats, which we get from local farmers at our farmer's market), and could go lower, because I trade off that convenience for a low price. I cook from scratch, from dried beans, from brown rice that takes a longer time to cook vs. microwaveable varieties, etc.

I also work on eating seasonally, which saves me a TON of money (along with shopping at farmer's markets, which is a great savings here in CA, not necessarily in other places over the country). We get local foods that are in season. Those foods cost less because they don't have to travel miles by air to get to me and my grocery store. They taste better and are more nutritious, too.

So yes, you can get lots of calories cheaply if you buy disputing that (and there are a multitude of reasons why, including corn subsidies artificially deflating the price of junk that is mostly corn and soy-based). But since our goal at 3FC is rarely "get the most calories for our dollar", and we're rarely eating JUST fruits and vegetables, this is an inaccurate portrayal of actual costs.

02-10-2011, 06:58 PM
I find some of the fruit in the UK is so overpriced, gets on my nerves since I love snacking on it and making smoothies, but I hold back because I can't justify 3 for 150g of blueberries. Rant over! :)

02-10-2011, 07:20 PM
For me- I've been saving a lot of money by matching ads from other stores when I shop at Walmart- mostly for fresh produce and some meat. I actually go to 2-3 different grocery stores just so I can save as much as I can.

Example: this week's ad from Food City- 3 mangos for 99 cents, 8 cucumbers for 99 cents, 4lbs jalapeno peppers for 99 cents, 4 green bell peppers for 99 cents, 2lbs of white or red potatoes for 98 cents and 5 avocados for 1 dollar!

02-10-2011, 08:22 PM
I've eaten healthy on large and small budgets, and unhealthy on small and large bugets. On extremely low cash, it's very difficult to eat nutritiously (not impossible, but you have to be smart, creative, and flexible).

For about a year, my husband and I had a ridiculously low food budget. We didn't qualify for food stamp programs because our income was marginally above the cut-off point, and we were paying so much in medication costs that we had very little leftover for the food budget. We could have used the local food pantry, but food pantries are overloaded with junk foods. Wholesome food is in short supply. Free junk food didn't seem like a bargain, so we never went that route. We ate a lot of rice and beans. I grew a lot of sprouts (sprout seeds seem expensive until you compare the seed to sprout ration. An ounce of seed can produce at least a half pound of sprouts (I've gotten a full pound from some batches).

I learned a lot from a book called "The Complete Tightwad Gazette" I also used to find titles for similar books and then ordered those books from the library.

I bought The TVP Cookbook (out of print, but I bought for less than $4 including shipping on amazon), and also Good Cheap Food (not all the recipes are healthy, but many are or can be modified). I also bought cheap ground beef cookbooks through and thrift stores and garage sales.

I modified a recipe I found in The Tightwad Gazette to combine cheap ground beef and tvp (soy protein granules) to create a ground beef like mixture that was as lean as 90 - 85% ground beef/turkey/chicken at cost per serving less than the cheapest and fattiest ground beef. (More expensive than plain tvp, but also having a lot more flavor).

Plain tvp is almost flavorless, so to use it plain you have to season the heck out of it. I don't mind tvp in strongly flavored dishes like chili, taco filling, and spaghetti sauce, but hubby doesn't like the texture of plain tvp. Combining it with ground beef makes us both happy.

One of the problems with cheap, healthy food is that it tends to require more work and/or time. But you can save time and work by planning and time saving tricks. For example, I make a huge batch of ground beef/tvp "crumbles". It takes almost no more time to make a huge batch, than a small one. I brown ground beef (or other ground meat - chorizo or ground pork also work nicely), seasoning vegetables and spices with the dry tvp, and then add hot broth or water (tvp has to be reconstituted. By browning the tvp dry with the ground beef, it absorbs the beef fat and juices. Because tvp has virtually no fat, by using a higher tvp to beef ratio, you can reduce the overall fat. It's higher in fat than plain tvp, but lower in fat than ground beef). You can also reconstitute the tvp with broth or water and add it to ground beef (before or after draining the ground beef). If you do it this way, you will end up with a lower fat/calorie product, but it also has less beefy flavor.

I use more tvp than ground beef, so I'm not worried about the tvp absorbing the fat from the beef.

At any rate, when I'm done browning the tvp/beef mixture, I scoop it into ziploc bags and smoosh the bags around every 20 minutes or so until the mixture freezes into scoopable crumbles. For almost no extra work, I know have crumbles that can be used to make very quick dishes in the microwave (For example, I'll microwave some crumbles in a bowl with a sauce like spaghetti sauce, barbecue sauce, salsa, or a little oyster and hoisin or soy sauce... Also the ground beef cookbooks come in handy as the crumbles can be used in any recipe that calls for ground meat).

Ground pork or sausage often goes on sale for $1 per pound, and I can usually get tvp granules (the size that looks like grapenuts cereal) for under $3 per pound.

Plain dry tvp comes to about 25 cents per serving (for about 1/4 cup cooked).

Using 1 lb of ground pork, with 1 lb of tvp granules and 3 cups of liquid, that still comes to 25 cents per serving.

You can buy frozen soy crumbles (like Boca crumbles or Morningstar Farms), but per serving, it's at least as expensive as ground beef (60 cents or more per serving).

Using 1 lb of 80% ground beef instead of pork, the cost per serving is usually about 35 cents per serving (of beef alone, the cost per serving is at least .65 cents)

You can save a lot of money at discount stores such as Aldi, Walmart, Dollar stores and overstock stores (like Big Lots, T.J. Max, Tuesday Mornings...)

If you read labels and learn to compare cost per serving (I always take a calculator and a small notebook with me, when I go shopping).

At first, it seems like a lot of extra work, but it eventually becomes second nature, and you don't spend any more (or at least not much more) time in the grocery store, than before.

It also can become a bit of an addiction. I never thought I'd have so much fun grocery shopping. Bargain hunting becomes addictive. And the more money you save, the more you're able to take advantage of huge savings by stocking up on shelf-stable foods like canned goods and also frozen foods (a small chest freezer was a great purchase for us. We now almost never spend more than $1 per pound for bone-in meat or $2 per pound for boneless.

It's really a matter of every little bit adding up.

02-10-2011, 09:18 PM
I've been eating on a tight budget due to life stuff going on now... I've always used coupons, trying to stick to the healthy stuff that is on sale and going to supermarkets that fully double coupons. Unfortunately there are no farmers markets around or Whole Foods where I can buy bulk vegetables and beans in bulk.

I've been living off of turkey chili and homemade minestrone soup for lunch the last few months. This would probably be even cheaper if I used dried beans instead of canned. Oatmeal is cheap for breakfasts. I've been sticking to regular apples, bananas and oranges. So, I find it doable to eat fairly healthy on a budget, just not alot of variety. If anything, I'm eating healthier now because I can't afford the junk food :lol:

02-10-2011, 10:39 PM
i spend about $30-40/week on groceries (for me). i shop at safeway/trader joes, and i'll go down to the pike market sometimes, if its a nice day :)

since losing my job, i've had to learn to bargain hunt more. i compare prices, load coupons to my store card, and i match up stuff on sale that i have coupons for. i've bought $60 worth of groceries at safeway and paid only $36. like kaplods said, it becomes a little addiction, like i get this rush at the register- how much did i save???
the best part is, it takes me all of 30-40 minutes of prep before i hit the store to make a list and sort out my coupons.

i definitely think the article is 100% skewed, as others have mentioned. i buy meat, breads, dairy, snacks, etc...

02-11-2011, 01:23 AM
that is just nonsense!!!! and it makes me mad because it makes people feel like they can't afford to lose weight..grrrrr.....
why didn't they compare a bag of potatoes to a bag of potato chips?

our walmart recently had the big bag of clementines normal 4 bucks, for a dollar a bag, and a normal 5 dollar bag of grapefruit for 1.75
and you never know when aldis will have the produce on sale for super cheap, like less than a dollar for a 3 pound bag of onions, 2 dollars for a bag of potatoes..

02-11-2011, 02:37 AM
I can only shop at Walmart, Aldis, and Kroger. I carpool, and my driver won't go out of the town. It's just Hubby and me, and we have foodstamps, so we only get about 224 a month. We have to really streeeeeeeeeeeeetch it. Yes, unhealthy food lasts longer, and we usually just eat 1 or 2 meals a day to make it go. I'm trying to stick to healthy food, but organic is absolutely out of the question. We buy salmon, cod, and tilapia in bulk because it is cheap here, and get free venison and beef from my parents. We get salad mixes, clementines, berries, and such at Walmart, and frozen veggies, quinoa, greek yogurt, chicken drumsticks, spaghetti squash, and other stuff at Kroger.

Suzanne 3FC
02-11-2011, 03:07 AM
(from an article I read)
Eating well has never been so expensive. In fact, when researchers estimated the cost of a diet based on high-calorie foods compared to one based on healthy, low-calorie foods, the difference was shocking. The high-calorie diet cost $3.52 a day. And the low-cal diet? A whopping $36.32.

Do you mind sharing your source for that? I'd really like to take a look at their research.

The only healthy meals that cost that much include delivery :dizzy:

Unhealthy food is cheap, but I can easily eat a healthy diet of fruit, veggies, and whole grains for under $4 per day.

03-22-2012, 09:53 PM
Do you mind sharing your source for that? I'd really like to take a look at their research.

Suzanne, mandalinn82 found ( the original article here ( on the NY Times :)

I'm in the midst of switching over my diet to one based mostly on fruits & vegetables, with some eggs, yogurt, cheese, nuts and oils. I have to look into a small CSA box... That would be great if I could get one in western Massachusetts, but I don't need pounds and pounds of fruits & vegs since I'm single at the moment. But Farmer's Markets are about to start here too, April 1st with a few, then May and June will bring the rest.

Wish I lived somewhere like California where they operate year-round! :hungry:

03-22-2012, 10:03 PM
I'm on a meal plan at school so to save money I try to avoid buying food as much as possible but sometimes I NEED some variety in my life! I find it's easy to find some cheap options at any supermarket, especially soups, fruits, and veggies.