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Eating healthy costs too much!! Right?? That’s the most common excuse I hear about why people can’t stick to the nutrition plan. They just can’t afford to buy all that “healthy food.” After all, a bag of chips IS cheaper than a container of blueberries. There’s no denying that! And dollar menu at McDonald’s is cheaper than grilled chicken with steamed veggies from a restaurant.

However, I think there is a lot more to the story of healthy eating on a budget than just how much we spend on any one item. It’s a total picture. And I’ve found that the TRUE COST of healthy eating is actually less expensive …. MUCH LESS, than where we’ve found ourselves in our American fast-food culture.  But the question is, are you missing the forest for the trees?  Are you looking at the big picture or only at a price tag at your next meal?

My Food Budget Before P90X

Assorted Junk Food
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Before I started eating right (before the X!), I ate fast food for lunch 4-5 times per week. Taco Bueno, Q Doba, Mazzios, Arby’s, Wendy’s — those were my regular spots.  My fast food lunch usually cost me $6-$8.  I also had the oh-so healthy habit of stopping at the Quick Trip at least once (if not twice) per day for a snack and pop, at about $3-4 a stop.  Add to that the late night ice cream, lots of chips and dip, the cookies for munching between meals, and of course our big family nights out at the restaurant, with meal and tip always racking up $50 or more.  I was blowing a TON of money each month on my typical American diet.

Making the change to eat healthy and really be smart about my nutrition wasn’t always easy. I resisted it in the beginning. The easiest thing to do would have been to make excuses for why I couldn’t do it (whether it be money, time, family, etc.), but I wasn’t going to go down the “excuse” road — I’d done that before and it never led to my goals. I was going to commit to clean eating and buying foods that I know my body really needs — not junk food to fill me up with empty calories.

My Food Budget Now

How does my budget look now that I’ve been eating healthy for over 7 years?? I take my lunch to work with me every day. I make NO stops at the Quick Trip. We eat dinner at home, with healthy cooking. I don’t munch on cookies and candy between meals, and there’s no more late night ice cream. So yes, blueberries cost more. Shakeology costs more. Lean meat costs more per pound than ground beef. But overall, I am saving a lot of money if I look at the big picture. And the healthy foods I put in my body satisfy it, keep it feeling full and well-fueled, and stop the impulse eating and boredom eating that used to plague me (and my pocketbook).

And then, of course, there is a much bigger cost that I haven’t even touched on yet — the cost of being overweight and in bad health! Americans spend billions and billions per year on preventable diseases because we, as a culture, have let ourselves go. This is the real tragedy in all of this.

Even if I spent more on healthy food (which I don’t believe is the case), isn’t my health worth it? How much work do overweight, sick people miss? How much productivity is lost from preventable sicknesses? How much productivity is lost by simply being too overweight, out-of-shape, and tired to give a full day’s work? And how much do we spend on diabetes meds, high blood pressure meds, etc. etc.? The list goes on.

And that’s just touching on productivity (which translates into dollars). What about our ability to enjoy life? Obesity and it’s effect on our energy and health can completely devastate our ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of life — going on a bike ride, hiking, fitting in a roller-coaster seat, etc., etc.

There is a HUGE cost to obesity — more than we realize when we pick McDonald’s over a homemade sack lunch.

Think about the big picture the next time you hear the excuse, “I can’t afford to eat healthy.” Then respond, “How can you afford not to!?!?

Healthy Eating on a Budget – Proteins

One thing that may be a concern to some is the increase of protein costs, especially in the Fat Shredder phase. Simple carbs are cheap (think of potato chips, white bread, etc).  The cost of protein can surprise you initially.  First off, you won’t be in it forever, so if it takes 3 month of a little extra cash for larger amounts of chicken, deli meat, jerky, whey, etc. so be it. Realize it is temporary. But if your budget is really tight, here are some great options for high protein that is budget friendly.

1.) Tuna – canned tuna in water is probably close to the cheapest and purest protein. No carbs, no fat, just protein. Throw a little mustard in it and you won’t have to add any fats like mayo. Get it in water!

2.) Eggs – use only the whites and you eliminate all the fat and cholesterol! Super cheap and easy to use in the morning. You can also look for the egg whites in cartons. That makes it really easy.

3.) Bulk Chicken Breasts – look to the freezer section (especially if you have a club/bulk store). You can find great deal on frozen boneless, skinless chicken. Almost entirely protein and you can do so much with it. You can also find family/bulk packs of fresh chicken too. Just remember you want breast meat and skinless.

4.) Ham – ham can be extremely low fat if you look for it. Even a plain ham roast (not glazed, honey, etc) can be very cost effective when you figure how many servings it will get you.

5.) White Fish – If you are fish person, check the freezer section for plain white fish. 0g fat again and no carbs. All protein. Can be very reasonable.

6.) Whey – yes it’s a supplement and not a whole food, but you can get a good deal on whey almost all the time. If you aren’t picky, and can stock up, you can really do well. This can work out to less than $1 for over 20g of protein. If it is whey isolate or hydro whey it can be very pure too without many carbs or fat.

7.) Some Dairy – now I say some because milk products often have a lot of sugar. Watch out for that. But a fat-free cottage cheese can be a great high protein snack that is very affordable. String cheese is also a good option. With all of these, just make sure to track them in your daily budgets.

**Use the carbs in your budget to your advantage, make them work for you! Pick carbs that also pack a good protein punch. 5g here and 7g there adds up. I wrote a whole article on this called Added Extra Protein. Check it out!

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