CrossFit Discussion Board  

Go Back   CrossFit Discussion Board > CrossFit Forum > Nutrition
CrossFit Home Forum Site Rules CrossFit FAQ Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read

Nutrition Diet, supplements, weightloss, health & longevity

Thread Tools
Old 09-22-2010, 07:38 PM   #1
Departed S.S. is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 3,800
How to eat clean without cleaning out your wallet

There are way too many threads asking how to eat healthy without spending a lot of money. I decided to write this article to give people a place to start. Please feel free to critique or add anything that you think is helpful. Sorry the formatting didn't come out correctly.


Let us start with the truism that eating a healthy diet will inevitably be more expensive than eating a diet of junk, empty calories, and monotony. In theory, it is possible to survive on cheap foods for a few dollars each week. In fact, that’s how millions of people live every day. Most grains, sweeteners, and mystery meats are available at dirt cheap prices, for various political and agricultural reasons that need not be explored here. If you’ve spent enough time on the CF nutrition forum, you will agree that the improvements in your performance and your appearance are worth the extra expense. You should also consider that a healthy diet might save lots of money in medical and dental expenses further down the road.

The point of this document is to show you how you can minimize the costs you spend on a quality diet with proper planning, research, and storage space. It is tailored toward people who follow a paleo or mostly-paleo diet, but the same principles apply to people who choose to eat modern agricultural foods too.

Before you start considering how to save money on a particular diet, you should figure out what sort of diet suits you best. The most important considerations will be your estimated caloric intake, your approximate macronutrient ratio, an idea of foods that you choose not to eat, and your available storage space.

For people who have caloric intakes that are high (I’m arbitrarily declaring this to be 3000 calories and more), your goal should be to maximize your calories per dollar ratio without resorting to processed foods or ruining your macronutrient ratios.

To this end, I find it helpful to divide my shopping into macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Of course, most foods contain a mix of macronutrients, but we can still place them into categories based on which nutrient they provide the quantity of. I’ve discovered two key generalizations that have helped me plan my shopping:

1. Calorie-for-calorie, proteins are the most expensive foods. Fats are second, and carbs are the least expensive.
2. Proteins are almost always perishable. Fats and carbs can come in perishable and non-perishable forms.

These two generalizations lend us some insights on where, what, when, and how much to buy.

Where To Buy

Most people have a single supermarket where they do their shopping. If you live in a town with one supermarket, you might not have much of a choice. However if you live in an urban or suburban area, you'll have a few choices. If so, don’t make the mistake of buying everything you eat at a single store.
Look to see if there is an ethnic supermarket in your area, especially one that caters towards Asian, African, or Latino populations. The best foods bought here are carbs in the form of fruits and vegetables. If you are lucky, you can get fresh produce for less than $1/lb. In addition, you may be able to get healthy foods in ethnic supermarkets that you’ve never had before, such as coconuts, yu choy, or duck eggs. What other savings you get here will depend on the specific market, so be sure to look in every aisle when you go here. Avoid buying brand names at an ethnic or low-income supermarket, as they will be likely more expensive than at mega supermarkets. Ethnic stores are hands-down the best places to buy spices and seasonings.
For bulk, non-perishable items, the best places to save are the large department stores like Wal-Mart and Target. This is where you can get most of your fats, and some of your carbs. Department stores will often sell bags of almonds and walnuts for prices that cannot be beaten by any other type of store. Strive to buy no less than 1 lb at a time. While not a paleo food, peanut butter has some of the highest calorie to dollar ratios of any food – often close to 1000 calories per dollar. If you choose to eat peanut butter, try to avoid the peanut butters that contain some of the “bad” oils. Instead try to get all-natural peanut butter or the ones that have flaxseed or palm oils added. Buying oils is an economic choice at department stores, as many will sell large containers of olive oil, canola oil, and coconut oil. In the canned and boxed goods aisle you can find deals on packaged fruits like raisins, cranberries, pineapples, peaches, and pears. Be aware that many of these products contain added sugar or corn syrup. You can drain and wash canned fruits to eliminate most of the sugar. Trail mixes can be very cheap, although they will mostly contain peanuts and raisins – foods that can be bought more cheaply separately.
Specialty health-conscious stores like Whole Foods are a mixed bag. In general, they are not places to shop for the person who is keen on saving money. However, there are some things worth buying here, such as bulk nuts and nut butters. The prices on seafood are often fairly reasonable, but also consider that many of the seafood products were frozen and then thawed. In other words, you might be better off buying frozen seafood if it’s cheaper.
Solid protein sources are going to be the hardest thing to find, because they are the most expensive and the quickest to perish. If there is a seafood market in your area, that may be the best place to save money on protein sources. Ethnic supermarkets may have seafood sections at excellent prices. In the absence of a dedicated seafood department, many places will sell bags of frozen seafood that will be cheaper than fresh seafood, yet similar in quality.
Meat is a tricky subject, because generally speaking, the cheaper the meat, the lower quality it is. A standalone butcher may sell meat at competitive prices, but they are not as popular as they once were. Mega-supermarkets will generally sell the same type of meat at prices that are cheaper than at smaller supermarkets, although some independent and ethnic supermarkets will sell prices that are even better. When comparing prices be sure to notice the fat content and the specific cut of each package. Generally speaking, ground pork or 73% lean ground beef will be the cheapest meat you can get, but it also contains a significant amount of fat.
If you’re interested in buying grass-fed beef, the most economical choice would be to buy in bulk (hundreds of pounds at a time) from a local farmer. Some organic supermarkets will sell it in small cuts, but it will be prohibitively expensive.
I’ve yet to find a consistent trend with purchasing gallons of milk. Believe it or not, some convenience stores sell milk cheaper than grocery stores. Your best bet is to check the prices on all the stores around you. If you’re like me and drink almost a gallon of milk a day, a 50 cent per gallon difference between two stores makes a difference. Eggs, too, vary in price depending on the location.
Whey protein doesn’t exactly count as quality food. However, it can actually be cheaper than most natural sources of protein. Department stores, pharmacies, and online retailers are the best places to buy plain whey powder.

What To Buy

These are calorie-for-calorie, the cheapest foods to buy for someone who is looking for quality foods.

Proteins: whole squid, whole octopus, canned tuna, canned mackerel, ground turkey, ground beef, milk, whey protein, anything that’s on sale
Fats: almonds, walnuts, olive oil, coconut oil, canola oil, coconuts, avocados, cheese
Carbohydrates: bananas, raisins, apples, grapes, spinach, canned fruits, sweet potatoes, and any fruit or vegetable on sale

Buying animal products not butchered and not cleaned will always be cheaper. Get whole chickens, whole turkeys, whole squids, whole octopi, and whole fish whenever possible. The preparation and cooking time will increase, but it will be worth the savings. Organ meats are generally cheaper than muscle meats.

Frozen vegetables may or may not be cheaper than their fresh counterparts. Whole vegetables will be cheaper than chopped vegetables or vegetable pieces (e.g. broccoli florets). Specialty packages of mixed items like fruit salads put together by the grocer are likely to be more far expensive than buying the fruits individually.

As a general rule, if it looks convenient to prepare, store, or cook, then you can probably get it cheaper in a more inconvenient form.

When and How Much To Buy

Generally speaking, most foods that come in a package will be cheaper when bought in bulk. This includes meats, nuts, oils, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, spices, and condiments.
It is always to your advantage to buy non-perishable foods in the largest possible packages.

Most fresh produce is charged by the pound, so there is usually no advantage in buying 1 oz of spinach versus 2 lbs. Some fruits, like blueberries and strawberries, will be cheaper and more readily available when they are in season.

One way to shop is to buy your non-perishable goods once per month, and buy your perishable goods at the beginning of each week.

If there is a sale at your local market, take advantage of it by stocking up on the good. If it’s a perishable item, you can freeze it for up to 6 months. Some supermarkets will lower their prices on a shipment if it fails to sell in time for its expiration date, so be on the lookout for things that have been sitting on the shelf for awhile.

Putting It All Together

Now that I’ve made suggestions on what, where, when, and how much to buy, I’ll show you how it will actually save you money on a daily basis.

part 2 below
  Reply With Quote
Old 09-22-2010, 07:39 PM   #2
Departed S.S. is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 3,800
Re: How to eat clean without cleaning out your wallet

Consider these ingredients for a regular meal, lunch or dinner:

Ingredient Energy Portion cost Assumed purchase price
Boiled squid, Ĺ lb. 239 kcal $1.50 $2.99/lb
Bok choy, 2 cups 18 kcal $0.20 $0.69/lb
Almonds, raw, 1 oz 162 kcal $0.38 $6.00/lb
Onion, Ĺ whole 32 kcal $0.50 $1.00 each
Tomato, whole medium 33 kcal $0.50 $0.50 each
Extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp 119 kcal $0.17 $5.99 for 17 oz
Avocado, whole medium 276 kcal $0.99 $0.99 each
Sweet potato, whole large 162 kcal $0.60 $1.50/lb
Spices and seasonings N/A N/A N/A

Total 1041 kcal $4.84

Cutting the squid might take awhile if you donít know how to do it, but this is a very quick meal to prepare and cook. Stir-frying the vegetables, spices, and oil in a pan takes 5-10 minutes. Boiling the squid and adding it to the stir-fry will take less than a minute. Slice the avocado in half, grab a handful of almonds, and serve on a plate.

For a few dollars and a few minutes of cooking you have a tasty, paleo-friendly meal that will probably provide about a third of your calories for the day. Also note that the meal contains adequate amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and the wide variety of colorful foods ensures that weíre getting a good amount of nutrients.

The cost of $4.72 sounds good for a meal, but even if we spent that much for three meals a day, it can be a pretty steep expense. Letís consider breakfast:

Ingredient Energy Portion cost Assumed purchase price
4 large eggs 360 kcal $0.36 $2.00 for 18
1 oz cheddar cheese 110 kcal $0.25 $1.99 for 8 oz block
2 bananas 142 kcal $0.41 $0.69/lb
1 oz walnuts 185 kcal $0.50 $8.00/lb
1 tbsp olive oil 119 kcal $0.17 $5.99 for 17 oz bottle
1 apple 100 kcal $0.37 $2.99 for bag of 8

Total 1016 kcal $2.06

Again, we have a good balance of carbs, fats, and proteins with lots of micronutrients, all for almost 500 calories per dollar. Note that if you want the benefits of free range organic eggs you will have to pay more.

Finally, letís consider pre or post-workout snack:

Ingredient Energy Portion cost Assumed purchase price

32 oz whole milk 600 kcal $0.80 $3.20 for 1 gallon
1 tbsp coconut oil 120 kcal $0.42 $5.99 for 14 oz jar
3.25 oz coconut milk 180 kcal $0.25 $0.99 for 13 oz can
1 oz whey protein 100 kcal $0.94 $14.99 for 1 lb bag
ľ cup raisins 84 kcal $0.18 $3.29 for 18 oz box

Total: 1084 kcal $2.59

For these three sets of ingredients, the total comes out to be 3141 calories at a price of $9.49. Thatís about 330 calories per dollar per day, and this figure includes an adequate ratio of carbs, fats, and proteins, and a decent supply of micronutrients and minerals. In my opinion, this figure is about as low as one can go in the current American economy without having to resort to non-paleo foods or severely skewing macronutrient ratios.

Hopefully this has given you some suggestions on how to save money on a quality diet, even with a large caloric intake.

More reading from the forums:
  Reply With Quote
Old 09-22-2010, 07:48 PM   #3
Brad Carney
Member Brad Carney is offline
Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: Fayetteville  NC
Posts: 39
Re: How to eat clean without cleaning out your wallet

Too bad there isn't a sticky feature on this forum...because this is top notch.

Awesome job.
  Reply With Quote
Old 09-22-2010, 09:50 PM   #4
Jared Ashley
Member Jared Ashley is offline
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: Tucson  AZ
Posts: 1,550
Re: How to eat clean without cleaning out your wallet

if you're hard-core on grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, ect go for the local farmer... if you're not, you should be able to find affordable meats on sale. Glance through those sale ads you get every week, there's some killer deals.

Around thanksgiving/christmas time I can often find whole turkeys for $0.60 a lb. Around easter you can find ham for $1.50/lb or less.

If you have the ambition to cook chicken leg quarters or drumsticks, they can often be found for $0.50/lb.

Pork is almost alwyas cheap. Boneless chops and roasts can often be had for $2/lb, and bone-in roasts like a "picnic" pork shoulder might be found for $1/lb.

Beef is harder to find on sale, but cuts like london broil and brisket can be had for $2/lb fairly regularly and are delicious.

The above prices are just at department stores (wal-mart, safeway, kroger, costco, ect) I don't have the time or ambition to scour ethnic stores or pluck my own turkey.

Costco generally doesn't have anything under $2/lb, but they've got consistent good deals on roasts, chops, ground meats and steaks. If you've got a large freezer they will sell you meats at a discount if you buy in bulk (dozens or hundreds of lbs).
  Reply With Quote
Old 09-22-2010, 10:47 PM   #5
Spencer James
Member Spencer James is offline
Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Seattle  WA
Posts: 276
Re: How to eat clean without cleaning out your wallet

Awesome thread, Shane. One thing that's helped me is that most big grocery stores (Safeway, QFC, etc) have a bin in the meat aisle with all of the stuff that is about to expire. Usually it's good for a few more days, and it can be 50-75% off the original price.
  Reply With Quote
Old 09-23-2010, 04:29 AM   #6
Tony Sutton
Member Tony Sutton is offline
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: mcminnville  or
Posts: 329
Re: How to eat clean without cleaning out your wallet

Hey Shane,

I am glad you provided such a great resource.

I enjoyed looking at it from a calorie perspective. In contrast to this, have you examined total protein per dollar? I imagine this varies depending on location. For example, to help meet my protein requirement, I might eat 7-8 chicken thighs a day, but the total protein would be comparable to two chicken breasts. Calorie wise, the thighs definately win, but in this case, does it really save money?

Next trip I make, I will do some math for my location. I just thought I would share a thought.
  Reply With Quote
Old 09-23-2010, 07:01 AM   #7
Shannon Mullens
Member Shannon Mullens is offline
Join Date: Jul 2010
Location: Deltona  FL
Posts: 604
Re: How to eat clean without cleaning out your wallet

What a fantastic read. Thank you!
My log "If no one ever quit when the going got tough, they wouldn't have anything to regret for the rest of their lives." - Lance Armstrong, Dodgeball
  Reply With Quote
Old 09-23-2010, 07:32 AM   #8
Michael Jarossy
Member Michael Jarossy is offline
Michael Jarossy's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: Sellersville  PA
Posts: 133
Re: How to eat clean without cleaning out your wallet

Wow, great read. Thanks for writing that all up!
  Reply With Quote
Old 09-23-2010, 07:46 AM   #9
Jacob Israel Briskin
Member Jacob Israel Briskin is offline
Jacob Israel Briskin's Avatar
Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Palo Alto  California
Posts: 1,153
Re: How to eat clean without cleaning out your wallet

11/10 post, Shane.

Originally Posted by Shane Skowron View Post

Get whole chickens, whole turkeys, whole squids, whole octopi, and whole fish whenever possible.
You may be interested to know that the anally correct plural of "octopus" is "octopodes". People see the "-us" ending and assume that it comes from Latin, like "syllabus" or "nucleus", and therefore pluralize it with "-i" but it's actually from Greek, so "pous" becomes "podes".

Or I guess you could just say "octopuses".
Citius. Altius. Fortius. Training log.
  Reply With Quote
Old 09-23-2010, 08:04 AM   #10
Departed S.S. is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 3,800
Re: How to eat clean without cleaning out your wallet

Originally Posted by Jacob Israel Briskin View Post
11/10 post, Shane.

You may be interested to know that the anally correct plural of "octopus" is "octopodes". People see the "-us" ending and assume that it comes from Latin, like "syllabus" or "nucleus", and therefore pluralize it with "-i" but it's actually from Greek, so "pous" becomes "podes".

Or I guess you could just say "octopuses".

I'm actually gonna go with the dictionary on this one: (wfs)

Looks like octopodes refers to the collection of species, whereas octopi refers to a bunch of the same type of animal.
  Reply With Quote

Thread Tools

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Paleo Diet...lean you, lean wallet? Erik von Hoch Nutrition 48 06-25-2010 05:30 AM
Cleaning up my Clean Santos El Halper Exercises 1 06-13-2010 08:24 PM
Cleaning up my diet Jeff Riegler Nutrition 8 09-10-2008 07:22 AM
Great wallet- for those who don't like wallets Travis Hall Equipment 20 03-25-2008 08:05 AM
Cleaning... Jan Bester Exercises 2 10-08-2007 10:04 AM

All times are GMT -7. The time now is 03:23 AM.

CrossFit is a registered trademark of CrossFit Inc.