How to Eat Cheap And Healthy for $7.50 Per Day

Could you eat at least 3200 quality calories and 160g of protein every day for under $7.50? That is the question that I have set out to answer. To put this inquiry into perspective, I am trying to eat and entire day’s worth of food for the cost of a Chipotle Burrito, no guac.

I will lay out the rules I have set for this experiment later in this post, but first I want to create some context for why this will be such a big achievement.

I was completely unconscious about what the cost of my food was this year until I did an audit of my spending using Mint.com yesterday.

Why was I unconscious about what I was spending?

First, I was training for the 2016 CrossFit California Regional while also focusing on growing my business. I didn’t have the energy to think about how to minimize my food & dining bill so I used (and loved) the meal delivery service Power Supply and a few other convenient and prepared foods as crutches. I was eating 4000+ calories per day. Some days over 5000.

Second, part of growing my nutrition coaching business included what I consider “market research”- finding high quality foods, frozen meals, food delivery services and restaurants that even my busiest clients can use to stay compliant with their nutrition plans.

I was a king of convenience, and this convenience cam with a major price!

How Much I Spent On Food Each Month

According to Mint.com here is what my food bill looked like in April, the month leading up to Regionals, and accordingly the period time in which I was eating the most food.

  • $951.24 on Groceries*
  • $586.19 on Restaurants
  • 398.42 on misc food & dining (I looked- it was coffee shops and Chipotle)
  • $1935.85 total Food & Dining costs (Ouch)**

My training volume, and therefore my caloric intake, was drastically reduced last month (July) vs. April. Here is what I still managed to spent on food-

  • $1147 on groceries*
  • $371.44 on restaurants
  • $43.10 on misc food & dining costs (probably coffee)
  • $1552.54 total Food & Dining costs (again, ouch)**
    • *about $250-300 per month is probably attributable to meat my girlfriend and I purchase together on my credit card. She pays me back for her share.
    • **total food & dining costs include some supplements- like the ones I buy at grocery stores, and not the ones I buy online.

Ideally, I would like my food & dining expenses each month to look a little bit more like this:

  • $225 Groceries ($7.50 per day, 30 days per month)
  • $225 Restaurants (gotta’ take my girlfriend out on a few nice dates!)
  • $20 Misc food & dining costs (I like working at coffee shops, but I don’t need to spend a few hundred per month to do it!)
  • $470 total Food & Dining cost***
    • ***I will include caloric supplements like carbohydrate and protein powders in the food & dining total. These were not included in the above totals.

In April I was spending over $60 per day on average in food & coffee. In July I cut that number almost in half to about $52 per day. Now, I will cut my grocery bill to less than 20% of its usual level with very little sacrifice.

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What Will I Gain? What Am I Sacrificing?

If I can pull this off (and I will pull this off), it amounts to about $1000 in food & dining savings per month. I am excited to invest these savings instead of flush them down the toilet (literally).

There is no area in my life where I could pull off this level of savings rate with so little sacrifice. In planning for this experiment, I actually realized I am sacrificing very little.

  • I will not sacrifice my food quality standards.
  • I will not make sacrifices on food quantity to fuel my training.
  • I will not sacrifice my taste preferences.
  • I will spend less time grocery shopping because I will do it in bulk less frequently.
  • I will sacrifice food variety because of bulk shopping and there are staples like white rice and lentils that I’d be crazy not to include. Date nights will add variety!
  • I will sacrifice some time on food preparation, but this will be minimized with proper planning and bulk actions.
  • I will sacrifice the convenience of picking up a meal I didn’t have to cook from Power Supply.

I will also lower my environmental impact because I will reduce the amount of package waste I generate by buying in bulk. This is something I have become passionate about pursuing as well.

Rules of the Experiment

I have set a few rules for the experiment:

  1. I will eat at least 3200 calories per day which is the exact amount I need to maintain my current bodyweight at my current activity level.
  2. I will eat at least 160 grams of protein which is the point at which additional protein will not have additional benefit to muscle protein synthesis.
  3. I will eat the remainder of my energy from a mix of carbohydrate and fat, with no less than 40% of my energy, or 320 grams coming from carbohydrate on training days.
  4. I will not eat any foods that my food sensitivity test has determined are “reactive” or “moderately reactive” (want to run a food sensitivity test? Contact me)
    • Reactive foods: wheat
    • Moderately reactive foods: corn, soy, whey, cow’s milk, cane sugar, cod (fish), broccoli (seriosuly), lettuce (I know right?), watermelon (could have been a game changer since its $5/8lbs), baker’s yeast, MSG, pork and mango 🙁
  5. If a food is on the dirty dozen list, I will buy it organic. Here are some tips for buying organic on a budget.
  6. If a food is on the clean 15 list, I do not have to buy organic.
  7. Seafood has to be wild caught, except shellfish. Meat and eggs has to be organic/free range at a minimum.

Now that the ground rules for how I will eat have been laid out, I also have a few other accounting considerations that need to be explained:

  • I have about 15-20lbs of rice left, half a jar of peanut butter, 1.5lbs of chia seeds and 10lbs of protein powder from my last bulk food purchase. I will account for the cost of these items using their replacement costs not their original purchase price.
  • Buying in bulk means big up front costs. I spent about $300 this week on close to 100lbs of food. I will account for the food as it is eaten. Otherwise my average food cost for this week is $42.85 per day (crazy that this is less than I was spending on average per day in April).
  • I have a bunch of spices that I use infrequently because I was consistently eating Power Supply, at restaurants, etc. Spices have an expiration date so I will treat them as a sunk cost and they will not be accounted for in my daily totals.
  • The sauces, salsa, etc. that I buy for flavoring is difficult to account for per-meal, so I will add a daily $.06 flavor charge each day.
    • Here is the logic: if I use the salsa (most expensive flavoring) I bought from Costco every day (which I won’t) it will cost $.08 per day. A month’s supply of a hot sauce like Tapatio (cheapest flavoring I have) can be purchased for $1 and would cost me about $.04 per day so I will add $.06 for flavoring enhancing food each day.

How to Follow The Eating Cheap and Healthy Experiment

Now that the ground rules and accounting rules have been laid out, its time to get cracking! I went over budget on day 1 by one kiwi fruit (oops) but day 2 is looking like I will come in under budget on my current trajectory!

I will post weekly updates about my progress, and will also write posts on topics such as where to buy quality food cheap, what foods provide the most bang-for-your buck, kitchen and meal prep hacks, and more!

*Update: You can check out my meals, lessons and results from Week 1Week 2, and Week 3 and my experiment wrap-up post here*

Please, actively participate in this process. If any of my assumptions seem off, leave a comment. If you have any recipes you think fit this structure, let me know! Try the experiment for yourself, see if it works for you, and let me know how you’re doing!

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