Good Calories on a Budget

Tricks for stocking up with (good) food without breaking the bank.

Look, it’s a no-brainer that getting a #7 from Taco Bell will be much easier on my wallet than a burrito bowl from Chipotle or going through the salad bar at Whole Foods, but … is it really worth it? My answer will always be no. As an athlete who considers food as fuel (DELICIOUS fuel, but fuel) for my physical activities, and as a foodie who likes a high-protein, veggie-packed, low-inflammatory diet, I will not go the super cheap route and buy the #7 from Taco Bell all the time. It just isn’t worth it.

However, it is possible to eat to perform without breaking the bank. I’m a student, after all, and have to live on a budget. If I can make it work, so can you.

First, let’s talk about protein powder.

According to Dom Mazzetti, you buy this first and budget around it. I enjoy my protein powder, and my vitamins and fish oil and all the luxuries supplements provide — but first and foremost you should try and get all your nutrients and daily macros from your food alone. That means…

PROTEIN

chicken legs nom
1. Wholesale club membership.
If you don’t have a membership for a bulk store (such as Sam’s Club or CostCo), I highly suggest you get one. You can get a LOT of meat at a good price, and it’s good quality meat, too. You can also buy cottage cheese by the 5lb tub. 18-packs of brown eggs from cage-free chickens, giant hunks of cheese, and more. In fact, you can get a lot of things in bulk for a better wholesale price than at your local grocery store.

Kroger (and other big name grocery stores) also sells “family packs” of meat, which are typically cheaper per pound. If you want to cook a lot of meat at a single time, this is something to do.
*Pro-tip: Buy a lot of ground meat and dump it in a crockpot with some seasoning and tomato sauce. 6 hours later you have yourself some bolognese (or chili if you made it spicy) to serve up either alone or on top of some spaghetti (squash). Share it or refrigerate the leftovers for yourself.

2. Fish is not cheap.
I won’t lie. If you want fish that isn’t canned tuna (which you get for less than a dollar for every 5oz can at most stores!), then you will have to splurge a little. You can, however, often buy pre-packed frozen filets of your choice for a reasonable price. It just depends on the fish, really. Ahi tuna will be much more expensive than mahi-mahi or salmon. Tilapia will be one of the cheapest. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether you have a preference for farm-raised or wild caught.

3. Cow share from your local farmer.
In Virginia we’re very lucky to live near a lot of great farms that offer wholesale prices on animals. If you can go in on an entire cow with a few friends, you end up getting your meat for about $5 or $6 a pound — total. Get a big freezer and go for it (or just get 1/8 of a cow, because that amount fits in a regular size freezer and is still a LOT of meat). You will get high quality delicious meat, and a lot of it. Plus you’re supporting your local farmers! Wins all around.

4. Keep an eye out…
Often local grocery stores will have amazing deals on all sorts of meat cuts from various animals, grass-fed, too. Meanwhile, you can always get chicken breasts from Trader Joe’s for $2.99/lb. That price is hard to beat!

PRODUCE

601316_10151494692999710_1507067435_n*Pro-tip: buying loose, whole vegetables rather than pre-packaged will cost you less. Whole heads of cabbage are SUPER cheap. If you must buy packaged greens, know that kale and collard greens are much cheaper than spinach (and no less healthy).
*Pro-tip: when buying root vegetables, such as carrots or beets, try to find bunches that include the greens. That way you get two for the price of one!

1. CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)
If you want to support your local farms and eat what is fresh and in season, one of the best things you can do is sign up for a local CSA package. You pay the same price each time, and you save time on grocery shopping. Plus, you’re supporting local growers and might just discover new veggies and fruits!

2. C’ville Market
More picky about what produce you buy, but still want a great price and to shop locally? C’ville Market has a large selection of locally-grown vegetables and fruit (they label which ones), as well as exotic and “perennial” produce (I put that in quotes, because most produce should not be freshly available year round). Plus, if you are a student, teacher, or senior citizen you get a 10% discount. I have bought my week’s worth of produce for all of $8, no lie.
*Pro-tip: instead of buying pre-packaged frozen fruit for your smoothies, look through the discount bin at C’ville Market for those browned bananas that you can just stick in your freezer.

3. Keep an eye out…
Kroger, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s all often have some super deals on produce, especially when certain things are in season (for example, sweet potatoes and avocados fluctuate dramatically in price). You get to be the judge on the quality.

NUTS/DRIED FRUIT/SNACKS
1. Buy in bulk.
I can’t stress this enough. If you want trail mix, make it yourself. If you want nuts, buy them in bulk. If you want nut butter… well, get peanut butter, because it’s by far the cheapest. If you’re really against peanuts because you’re either allergic or avoiding legumes, then either make the nut butter yourself in a food processor, or buy it in bulk (many stores let you grind your own). Whole Foods, Integral Yoga and Rebecca’s all sell nuts and dried fruit and pre-made snacks and trail mixes in bulk. You get to pay by the pound (I’ll tell you now that Whole Foods has the best deal on almond butter). However, Trader Joe’s still has the best deal on almonds: $4.99 for a 1-lb bag.

2. Make your own snacks.
This is a bit redundant given #1, but if you want some type of snacking material a la trail mix, buy what you want and then mix it up yourself. Buying pre-made “Paleo” snacks is an absolute waste of your hard-earned money. Making them yourself will cost you less per ounce and allow you to really personalize what you want. Same goes for Lara Bars and that type of thing — you can make these yourself! (see #1). You can even make your own jerky!

salmon jerky made in an oven

salmon jerky made in an oven

COUPONS!
I know you don’t want to be “that person” who goes to the check-out line with a bunch of coupon clippings, but hey, if it will save you some bucks, then you might as well. Kroger even lets you download coupons right onto your card!

MAKE LISTS
Before you shop, have a plan — and don’t shop on an empty stomach! Make a list of what you need to buy (not want, but need, you don’t NEED those Oreos, but you do need that meat), and stick to it. Know that alcohol is a luxurious expense that will quickly add $10 to any grocery bill.

FAST FOOD
No. You cannot have ‘healthy’ fast food on a budget. It’s a splurge, and you need to know that. But if you MUST, top picks for more bang for your buck go to: Chipotle, Chinese take-out, all-you-can-eat buffets, BBQ. Forget Whole Foods, because as delicious as it is, at $8.99/lb for the food bar you might be a little surprised at the cash register.

Any other tips on how to eat (well) on a budget? Feel free to post in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Good Calories on a Budget

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