By Shari Wright
| West Virginia National Guard Dietitian | May 31, 2019
The impetus for this article came from a recent nutrition lecture from a group of impassioned people arguing, seemingly to the death, that eating healthy is less possible than the contrary. Frankly, I call nonsense. The idea that you can’t afford to eat healthy is, I feel, a little misguided.
If it seems like I don’t know what I’m talking about, hear me out. It’s possible your idea of healthy entails organic chicken, organic spinach, spirulina powder for your smoothies made with goji berries sprinkles, a seven dollar four ounce bag of granola, eating something called unicorn toast and chasing your seven dollar cappuccino with an eight dollar cappuccino. If that’s your idea of healthy then yes, that is expensive. To eat well does not mean it has to be expensive. It’s possible we just need to shift the idea of healthy and how to accomplish eating well on a budget. It’s like everything else in life, it requires some planning and a little knowledge, so no complaining about it being expensive and using that as an excuse to eat trash.
Let’s say you feel you must have organic produce, responsibly raised meat, and sprouted grains, then think of that as an investment in your health. Sprouted whole grain bread is significantly cheaper than open heart surgery, a stroke, or diabetes, all of which happen to be in the top ten causes of death in the US, most of which can be prevented or at least made better with a healthy diet. Oh and by the way, if you smoke or buy alcohol you can afford to eat healthy.
All jokes aside, if you’re thinking, “what the heck is she talking about, I’m worried I won’t have food for my next meal.” If that’s the case, there are programs that can assist you. You can apply for SNAP benefits, WIC assistance if you have children under the age of five, and if all else fails, you can utilize your local food bank, it’s there for a reason.
How do I eat healthy on a budget?
The menu I put together is for one person eating approximately 2000 calories daily. It is possible to eat budget friendly food with a family, but what I hear is I, emphasis on the I, “can’t afford to eat healthy so I stop at X, Y, Z fast food place for myself during lunch” but I digress. The menu, it’s easy, requires minimal cooking, the hardest thing to make is dried beans (the instructions are on the package) and cornbread, I felt people would give me a little flack for having beans with no cornbread (which requires mixing 3 ingredients in a bowl or get fancy and increase the quality and make it from scratch). Beans are very easy to prepare, soak overnight and throw in the crockpot the next day. Because beans are a starchy food they don’t require a lot of flavoring, I’ve made them with just salt and pepper and they still taste great. No you don’t have to have ham, we’re making some budget cuts here. Minimal kitchen utensils are needed as well and I built in a snack on some days to add in whatever time you deem fit. What am I drinking you may ask. We are drinking water here people, and leftover milk. I also put together a McDonald’s menu with three meals a day (I’ve met people that do this so it’s not a terrible stretch to imagine).
I did get some grief from friends when discussing this article because there is a lack of meat. If you must have meat, here are a few budget tips- chicken thighs go well in soups, or in the crockpot and are cheaper than chicken breasts, tougher cuts of beef that need more care are generally cheaper and can also be used in the crockpot. Speaking of crockpots there are some that are as low as $10. You can utilize apps that offer weekly deals, I used Kroger’s. Kroger’s app lets you shop the ad, use coupons, and even order your groceries online, or price foods for a nutrition article.
The shocking thing I found about writing out my menu vs. the McDonalds menu was that it really takes a good bit of food at McDonalds to get to about 2000 calories, of course this is eating the cheaper meals from the dollar menu. I only used foods that were under two dollars. About 60% of the McDonalds foods I used were at the one dollar mark.
I’m not advocating eating at McDonalds three times a day (or saying you can never eat there) however, if anyone’s ever watched Morgan Spurlock’s Super-Size Me you know it looks pretty painful to eat there three times a day. I am told on a very regular basis that people are too busy, and too broke to afford healthy food so this is a breakdown of just how much money it costs to eat at McDonalds three times a day and meet a calorie “goal” of about 2000 calories per day. The other thing that shocked me is how low some of the day’s total of protein is despite having “meat” (I put it in quotes because I’m not sure what grade meat it really is) in every single meal. The meal plan I put together was higher in protein despite only having one meat source. Per Kroger’s app the avocados were on sale, which is exactly how I buy them, I purchased Kroger and generic brand milk, eggs, and tuna. I did stick with name brand peanut butter and I fit in room for organic bread.
Easy ~2000kcal Menu
One Week’s Grocery List
Peanut Butter – Jif 16 oz.
Bananas – 5
Dave’s Killer Bread – one loaf
Canned Tuna in Water – four cans
Whole Grain Rice – one bag
Spinach – one bag
Dozen Eggs – white
Avocado – 3 medium
Tomatoes – 4 small
Navy Beans – one 16 oz. bag
Sweet Potatoes – 3 medium
Cucumber – one
Whole Milk – one gallon
Jiffy Cornbread Mix – one box
Black Beans – one can
Gala Apples – four medium
Menu vs McDonalds
4 Eggs, 2 slices of bread, 1 apple
Tuna (in water), 2 slices of bread, cucumber, tomato, spinach, ½ avocado
Sweet potato, black beans, ½ avocado
2 TBS Peanut butter, banana, whole milk smoothie
Calories 1948kcal - 222g Carbs – 77g Fat – 107g Protein – 2223mg Sodium – 73g Sugar
Cheeseburger, Small Fry
McChicken, Apple Slices
Calories 1815kcal – 180 Carbs – 97g Fat – 55g Protein – 3444mg Sodium – 32g Sugar
Navy Beans, Jiffy Corn Bread
Tuna Salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, balsamic
Banana, 1 slice bread, peanut butter
Calories 1942kcal – 243g Carbs – 63g Fat – 104g Protein – 2511 mg Sodium – 52g Sugar
Sausage McMuffin (2), Apple Slices
McChicken, Small Fry
Calories 1985kcal – 197g Carbs – 101g Fat – 77g protein – 3680mg Na – 26g Sugar
3 Boiled eggs, toast (1), apple
Tuna Salad with tomato, cucumber, spinach, balsamic, ½ avocado
Navy Beans, cornbread
Peanut butter and banana sandwich
Calories 2040kcal – 272g Carbs – 61g Fat – 106g Protein – 1430 mg Sodium – 44g Sugar
Sausage Burrito (2)
Hamburger (2), Small Fry
Calories 1960kcal – 208g Carbs – 92g Fat – 72g Protein – 2502 mg Sodium – 21 g Sugar
Banana and Peanut butter sandwich
Sweet Potato boat with black beans and ½ avocado
Navy Beans and Cornbread
Apple and a glass of milk
Calories 2012kcal – 309g Carbs – 53g Fat – 79g Protein – 1575mg Sodium – 52g Sugar
McGriddle, Apples, Go-Gurt, Hash brown
Hamburgers (2), Small Fry
Calories 1895kcal – 223g Carbs – 82g Fat – 63g Protein – 2342mg Sodium – 43g Sugar
Banana, Peanut butter, smoothie with whole milk
Avocado Toast (2 slices, one avocado, cucumbers)
Rice bowl (sweet potato, black bean, tuna)
Calories 1966kcal – 242g Carbs – 78g Fat – 75g Protein – 1797mg Sodium – 64g Sugar
Sausage McMuffin, Go-Gurt (2), Apples
Cheeseburger (2), Small Fry
Calories 2095kcal – 230g Carbs – 99g Fat – 69g Protein – 3220mg Sodium – 36g Sugar
McDonalds grant total $38.81 which is $7.32 more expensive than my meal plan.
The breakdown: My menu’s sodium is lower, protein is higher, lower in bad fat, and the calories are pretty close to the same. The sugar content and the carbs are higher in my plan, but my meal plan has more fruit and whole grains (AKA the always beneficial fiber), sweetened peanut butter (if you want to splurge with your $7.32 left over you can get Natural Peanut butter with no added sugar for around 3 bucks). While we’re discussing carbs vegetables, fruits, and beans are not the same as a white bun from McDonalds so don’t say “it’s too high in carbs.” STOP IT! You need carbs, but that’s for a different lecture. There will also be some leftover rice that could be used for rice pudding, as there is also extra milk. There are healthy versions of rice pudding that have less, or no added sugar and more spices. If there is any leftover spinach it can be added to smoothies for increased nutrients, it doesn’t alter the flavor, only the color. Hope this sheds some light on the ole “it costs too much to eat healthy” subject and that it’s been informative. As always, feel free to contact me with any and all nutrition questions, especially if you’re wanting to learn more about your appropriate calorie goals and a sustainable healthy lifestyle that’s right for you!