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How to Eat Healthy on $10 a Day

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This is a guest post from Vic Magary of GymJunkies.com. Vic helps everyday people like you to build muscle and lose fat with short, but intense circuit training and strength training workouts

Eating on a budget is no easy task. You could eat at Mcdonald’s 3 times a day and probably stay under $10 but is that really want you want to do? You’d feel awful, your productivity would go way down and chances are you medical bills would go up.

The best way to eat on a budget, at $10 or so per day per person, is to employ a few of the “sneaky” strategies I use when picking up my own groceries. Here’s a few of my favorite ways to eat healthy on a budget.

Shop The Perimeter of The Grocery Store

The perimeter is where you’re going to find the healthiest foods. The interior part of the store is dedicated to most of the junk and condiments that are going to make you bloated, tired and fat. Stay away from them at all costs.

Your best bets will be ground beef, eggs, bananas, tuna, apples, a whole chicken, spinach, broccoli, green pepper, celery and potatoes. Pricey things you should stay away from are fish, steak, red peppers, pre-cut fruit and avocados. By sticking with those raw ingredients, you’re already halfway there to staying on budget.

Don’t Waste Money On Sugary, Fattening Drinks

A lot of people waste money on drinks when they go grocery shopping. If you’re buying soda, orange juice, vitamin water and some wine for the whole family, you’re going to add at least $30 – $60 onto your bill.

My personal favorite drinks for health reasons and cost reasons are iced tea, coffee and water with some lemon. All three of these have no calories at all and aren’t loaded with sugar or any other ingredients that will make you fatter. I especially like tea. Tea packets cost next to nothing and will last you 2-3 months.

Condiments Add Up Quickly

When I put a client on a fat loss plan, I recommend they stay away from most condiments. Things like creamy salad dressings are costly and they pack on a bunch of unwanted calories. If you want to slash your grocery bill stay away from salad dressings, teryaki sauce, mayo/ketchup, barbecue sauce, etc. They have a lot more sugar and sodium than you can taste.

When it comes to eating a salad, I recommend only one type of dressing – a mix of olive oil and balsalmic vinegar. It’s the healthiest dressing available but it is a bit pricey. Consider buying the ingredients spearaately and making it yourself. Above all, stay away from the sugary, creamy dressings!

Stop Eating Out So Much!

If you work in a 9-5 job, you’re probably eating out 3-4 times per week. If you have a spouse doing the same thing, then it’s costing you even more. I’m not saying never eat out but if you’re trying to stick to a budget, eating out is very costly.

On top of that, when you eat out you’re usually getting double the calories without even knowing it. Restaurant food usually isn’t prepared with nutrition in mind. They just want the food to taste good (can you blame them?). So that plate of food that looks “normal” to you actually probably has enough calories for two days!

After you factor in the price of the meal, tip, gas to get you there, and parking or valet fees, that’s an expensive bill for a family of four. Rack up two of these per week for an entire month and you’ll start to see where all your money has gone.

Some Final Tips

You don’t have to eat all organic foods to eat healthy. Yes, organic and free range foods are better for you but if it’s not in your budget don’t beat yourself up over it. If you stick to lean meats, veggies, fruits, nuts and a lot of greens you’ll be eating healthier than 99% of Americans.

If you want more tips on eating healthy and quick, but intense workouts, come read my blog, or sign up for my free email newsletter

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53 Responses to “How to Eat Healthy on $10 a Day”

  1. Diane says:

    If you cook all from scratch with whole fresh foods, $10 a day is wildly generous. My monthly grocery budget – for one , excluding wine – is $175, and I usually come in less. To date I am averaging $155/month. I buy real Italian parmigiano, lots of fresh vegetables, some meats/fish, and even treats like olives, good olive oil, pine nuts, etc.

    To do this, one really only needs to know how to cook and shop sensibly. And one has to commit to never buying a) single-serving anything b) soda c) prepared food.

    • Bombolino says:

      Right on, Diane. That’s the way I roll, too. I figure 50% of the average food expenditure in this country is paid in premiums for convenience (like processed, prepared and individually packaged foods!).

    • Joyful Abode says:

      This! I shop the perimeter and “stick to lean meats, veggies, fruits, nuts and a lot of greens” (though the meat isn’t always lean) and my husband and I spend $400 per month for both of us, including household items like paper towels, toilet paper, shampoo, etc.

      So less than $200 per person per month on food.

      When I lived alone I spent about $150/month on groceries for myself.

    • steve says:

      150 dollars, how? Please teach me, i’m willing to learn.

  2. Jessica says:

    I actually love goddess dressing. You can buy expensive versions, but it’s pretty cheap, healthy and easy to make. I take some tahini, which is about $4 for a container but lasts forever (you could probably sub a little organic peanut butter and make peanut dressing, or whatever you like), a squirt of lemon and some olive oil. Add a few herbs and seasoning to taste, and whisk it. The dressing has a little extra protein, and is seriously tasty. Actually, vinaigrette with lemon or lime juice instead of balsamic is probably pretty awesome too!

  3. Wizard Prang says:

    I prefer my salads “naked”. But then I’m strange that way…

  4. Diane says:

    I haven’t bought salad dressing in 15 years. I make various vinaigrettes. Shallots make them extra yummy. Salad dressing is one of those things that doesn’t make sense to buy.

  5. These are definitely good tips. Last year I used to spend a lot of money on individual frozen meals to eat at work, which are expensive and have a ridiculous amount of sodium. Now I bring in boxes of cereal or yogurt and fresh fruit. It requires a little extra effort, but it is much healthier and cheaper.

  6. Neil says:

    That’s a huge grocery budget – $600/month for a couple. That’s my entire grocery and restaurant budget combined (grocery includes cleaning supplies, cat food, and everything else that gets picked up at the grocery store). And that’s in Canada, where food prices are higher than most parts of the states.

    And I don’t even have to say not to the steaks.

    5 years ago when I was a student, the target was $5/person-day. That was a challenge. $10 is easy.

    • Vic Magary says:

      Hey Neil, actually most of the time its cheaper to eat as a couple/family. So two people would prolly be $150 or so, instead of $100 for one person.

      And Im with you, I know what its like to eat on $5 a day. Ive done it before, not easy :)

      • Joyful Abode says:

        Ehh… depends on the person.

        When I lived alone I spent about $150/month on groceries for myself. Now that I live with my husband we spend $400/month. I actually cook a lot more now that we eat dinners together every night (before, if I wasn’t hungry I’d skip it, or just make something small, and leftovers lasted longer). Also, I obviously eat less than my husband does.

  7. Neil says:

    Also – “organic and free range foods are better for you…”

    There is no scientific evidence to support this claim. Free range does taste better, but buying organic is a statement about sustainable farming, not a health choice.

    • Sarah in Alaska says:

      I thought free range eggs contained higher levels of Omega-3, which would be a health benefit.

      • Joyful Abode says:

        This is true.

        And grass-fed meats have much higher levels of Omega-3, while grain-fed (conventional) meat has really high levels of Omega-6 which is bad news.

    • Justin Goff says:

      Im not a nutritionist, so I cant really delve into this, but its pretty common sense that organic & free range foods would be better for you.

      Pesticides & preservatives are sprayed on fruits & veggies. Meats are shot up with hormones, steroids & antibiotics. Cows & chickens are also force fed the shittiest corn available (instead of grass)

      Not to mention most of the meat you would buy from walmart is force fed in a pen, and not allowed to exercise. Most of these cows are sick & would die in 6 months but they’re slaughtered early for food.

      There’s tons of benefits to both organic & free range if you can afford it.

    • Lori says:

      Actually, organic and free range have been proven to be healthier, if for no other reason than the lack of chemicals and pesticides, and unnecessary antibiotics. It IS a statement about sustainability, AND a health choice :-)

  8. Royal Chocolate says:

    Don’t forget coupons and in-store specials when shopping. I also collect cookbooks so eating at home is never boring…most of the recipes are lean meats with fresh vegetables and a variety of spices that not only taste good but have medical benefits.

    One of my cookbooks is a “make a mix” cookbook; it’s been years since I’ve purchased salad dressing, pancake mix, taco seasoning, etc.

  9. Sarah in Alaska says:

    Yeah, these are good tips, but I’m with the other commentors – huge budget! We spend roughly 1/3 of that ($200 for Two) and yes like Neil that includes the occasional steak as well as household items.

  10. Carla says:

    For my salads I prefer olive, hemp seed oil and balsamic vinegar. On my “plain” days, I use fresh lemon or lime juice. I never liked most salad dressings.

  11. liz says:

    Wow, $10 a day IS wildly generous. My partner and I get by on about $250 a month, which averages to about $8.33 a day – for two people! We eat plenty of cheap food like grains and beans, and a decent amount of cheap fruits and vegetables (like bananas and carrots) too. And that’s WITH buying drinks- just cheap ones, like juice from concentrate. Now, it might end up being harder if you insist on eating meat.

    I think one of the main reasons is that we never waste food- bread goes right into the freezer for toasting later (just as good, and never goes moldy), and leftovers and fresh foods always get eaten before canned.

    • Joyful Abode says:

      My husband and I “insist on eating meat” but we don’t eat grains… interestingly enough, when we made the switch to grains-and-little-meat to no-grains-and-lots-of-meat, our grocery budget didn’t need to change at all.

      Since we’re not buying bread/flour/pasta/rice/corn/oats/grits/cornmeal/etc… we have more money to play with for meats. It was really an even switch even though that’s not an intuitive conclusion to make.

      • Steven says:

        No carbs? At all? And how much meat are we talking about?

        A pound of pasta/rice will feed me days while a pound of meat will last a couple because I extend it with the carbs.

        • Carla says:

          I don’t/cant eat grains and legumes either and what would normally be grains on my plate would just be more veggies, sea veggies, nuts, etc. I don’t eat more meat to cover not eating grains, I just eat more veggies.

  12. Jack says:

    Eating out is definitly one of the most expensive items. The other day my wife and I have a dinner at Olive Garden costing us $38 including tips and taxes. If you multiply this amount by 30, you can even hire one person cooking dinner for you and you can bring the leftover for lunch the next day (extra savings).

  13. zapeta says:

    I could easily cut my grocery budget if I just eliminated soda…but I haven’t convinced myself to do it yet. Other than that, we shop the edge of the store and spend way less than $10 a day to feed two of us.

  14. Good tips, everyone. Regarding condiments and soda, if you coupon shop you can often get these things free. It’s funny how coupons can make the most overpriced items pennies or free!

    Also, another way to eat healthy on a small budget is to meal plan. By plotting out your week’s meals ahead of time, you can include things you already have in the pantry, things that need to be used up (waste not, want not!), and aim for meals that include inexpensive staples (pasta, potatoes, beans, etc.) or items that are on sale or you have a coupon for. Having a plan and making sure I have simple meals on hand to prepare also is a huge help in avoiding the fast food trap.

  15. Patrick says:

    One way you can save is to shop at your local farmer’s market. They have fresh produce that is usually far cheaper than at grocery stores. Not only are you eating healthy, locally produced food, but getting a pretty good price too.

    • peggy says:

      That really depends on where you live, IME.

      I’m in Las Vegas, and while we do have farmers’ markets around here, the selection pretty much stinks, and the prices are significantly higher even than for equivalent organic produce elsewhere.

      I suspect places that actually have rainfall are different. grin

      • Sarah in Alaska says:

        Actually…too much rain is a problem too, lol. I live in a rain forest. Our annual “farmer’s market” consists of seafood and blueberry, fireweed & pinetip jams/jelly.
        Our CSA is out of Washington state flown up special on Wednesay mornings…not exactly locally grown.

  16. Vic, you recommend olive oil and balsamic vinegarette on salads; what are the health benefits of olive oil vs. vegetable oils?

    I eat a lot of salads, mostly with olive oil and vinegar, but olive oil is more expensive than vegetable oil. Given that you’re also looking at the budget side of nutrition, is olive oil worth the premium price?

    The $ difference is quite substantial. Thanks!

    • Summer says:

      Olive Oil has many more health benefits than veggie oil, although veggie oil is an inexpensive alternative and is the least threatening oil next to OO. Olive oil has more Omega 3, it’s the only “veggie oil” that can be consumed in it’s raw state, it has antioxodents, raises HDL, lowers LDL and the stomach processes it easily. I think the benefits outweigh the costs tremendously.

  17. Julie in Florida says:

    I eat healthy, on $3.00 a day, I think it is laughable, when people act like they know how to be frugal, and spend $300.00-$400.00 a month on food. I don’t know what you are buying, that you feel you need to spend at least $10.00 a day, but you are spending way too much

  18. Nice pst! The pics made me hungry! It is surprising how well you can eat on the cheap . . .

    The other thing about making your own– you know exactly what you are eating!

  19. robert says:

    i need to change my eating habits and cut my food costs . I need to learn to cook can someone suggest a simple cookbook for daily meals

    • Nancy says:

      Before buying, check your local library. My faves are:
      Cheap Fast Good by Mills & Ross;
      Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook
      and the Betty Crocker Cookbook (w/red & white chekcered cover).

  20. Great advice. I love eating healthy and saving money.

    I keep tea,raisins and nuts in my office as healthy and pretty cheap snacks.

    Unfortunately I like my very creamy salad dressing and I have a hard time with anything less!

    catastrophecathy.blogspot.com

  21. MacGizmoGuy says:

    $1 a pound or less is one of my sensible-shopping motto’s especially for fresh fruit and vegetables – as well as pasta rice and beans. Timing is everything: “In-Season or On-Sale” drives smart buying decisions.

    Stock up when you do go for groceries, avoid little trips for little things, be conciously aware of grabbing _unintended_ items if you can. These all go a long way to getting 30% or more of out of your food budget.

  22. Eating healthy is sometimes not cheap but I’m willing to pay more and scrimp elsewhere since eating well and feeling healthy is important.

    One good, cheap and easy breakfast is equal parts oats and water and a scoop of peanut butter in the microwave for 90 seconds. Yummy! And you can add nuts or fruit on top too!

    catastrophecathy.blogspot.com

  23. daemondust says:

    When I first started at my current job many of my coworkers laughed at me being vegetarian…. until they realized that often I can eat lunch out for cheaper than they can brown bag it.

  24. Danny says:

    I am by myself and have a Hard time Surviving on $10 a day or $300 per month..and usually wind up spending $450-500 per month..I eat at the Fast Food places like McDonald’s and Whatabuger 2x per day to try and stay under $10 with No Luck..I am not a Cook and can only scramble a Few Eggs and do Burgers on the George Foreman..Can someone please provide me with a Menu for Breakfast..Lunch and Dinner..that is less than $10 a day?..I really need to Cut back and I do not know where to Start..I live close to Austin,Texas..Thank YOU.

    • J.B. says:

      Here are some eat-at-home ideas for you Danny:
      Breakfast:
      whole-grain cereal with milk and fruit
      oatmeal with nuts, raisins and milk
      peanut butter on whole-wheat toast, fruit
      eggs any style with toast and juice
      Lunch:
      Sandwich with a couple slices meat and cheese, lettuce and tomato or cucumbers or peppers; it’s more filling if you use whole-grain or multi-grain bread.
      Salad with hard-boiled egg, canned beans, lettuce, in-season veggies (lower-cost), nuts, cheese.
      Add some canned or homemade soup if you like it, low-fat sugar-free yogurt or more fruit. Chips or pretzels are OK, but not very nutritious. Only add if absolutely necessary.
      Dinner:
      Hamburger steaks are a good start. You could buy a good-size bag of all-purpose potatoes and use them for baked potatoes (350 degree oven for 1 hour), mashed potatoes (wash, peel, and cut in halves or thirds, place in pot with water, bring to boil, turn down to simmer for 20-25 minutes or until fork-tender, drain water and mash with butter and milk), or boiled or roasted potatoes. Lots of recipes online.
      Baked chicken is easy and you can cook enough for 2-3 meals at one time. (wash, dry, season with salt, pepper and paprika and cook at 350 degrees for an hour. Throw in a potato and some cut up carrots and you have all the meal elements ready at the same time.)
      Look for specials in the meat department: pork chops, ham steaks, sausage and even steak goes on sale regularly.
      Rice is a cheap starch alternative to potatoes, and I’m also a big fan of corn and legumes like lima beans, that I buy frozen and keep on hand.
      Add fresh vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and spinach to round out your plate of meat and starch. Eat fruit for dessert or skip dessert.
      Get a good basic beginner’s cookbook — they even have ones aimed at guys — and you will be able to break the fast-food habit and learn some useful kitchen skills. I guarantee you will feel better and fuller than eating out as much.

  25. Emily C says:

    Really? $10/day?

    I spend $7/day to feed two adults (one of whom has a much higher need for protein than your average male) and two toddlers.


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