I like to eat, workout, and take naps.

Dieting On A Budget (How To Spend $10 A Day On Food)

Eating out can be convenient, but it comes with a few drawbacks:

Expensive: A typical meal costs anywhere from $10 to $30. If you plan on having 3 meals a day, that’s $30 to $90 per day spent on food, and $3,650 to $10,950 annually.

Poor macros: Most meals comprise mostly of carbs and not enough protein. This is the restaurant’s way of saving money; carbs are cheaper than protein, so they’d rather be stingy on the protein and fill you up on cheap carbs instead. Even when ordering a steak, the portion size is small for the price you’re paying, and the steak is usually accompanied with and excessive side of carbs.

Heavy sauces: Restaurants drench their meals in sauces and oils to make their food taste better. The calories from the sauces/oils add up significantly, which can cause excessive weight gain.

Hard to track: If you’re counting your calories and macros, it can be very hard to estimate how much you’re eating. Due to unknown quantities of sauces/oils/dressings/etc used in restaurant foods, one can never know for sure how many grams of protein, carbs, and fat is contained in a meal.

There are two main reasons why you should cook your own food:

Cost-effective: By optimizing your shopping list, the amount of food you spend per meal eating out can be spent on an entire day’s worth of groceries.

Easier to track: Cooking your own food gives you greater control over the macronutrient composition of your meals. With a food scale, you can determine exactly how many calories and grams of protein, carbs, and fat you are getting in a meal. Calorie/macro-tracking apps like MyFitnessPal makes things even easier.

Determining How Much Food You Need

There are a few steps you must follow when budgeting your diet:

1. Determine your caloric needs: There are many different formulas out there to help calculate how many calories you need per day. For simplicity’s sake, to get a rough estimate of your caloric needs, simply do the following:

    To gain weight, multiply your bodyweight by 16 to 20. If you haven’t gained weight after a week, increase calories by 250 to 500. If you’re gaining weight too quickly, decrease calories otherwise you risk accumulating too much bodyfat. Continue adjusting your calories weekly until you’re gaining weight at the desired rate (about a pound per week max).

    To lose weight, multiply your bodyweight by 10 to 12. If you haven’t lost weight after a week or if you are gaining weight, adjust calories by subtracting 250 to 500. Continue adjusting your calories weekly until you’re losing weight at the desired rate (about a pound per week max).

2. Determine your macronutrient requirements: Now that you’ve calculated your caloric needs, it’s time to calculate how many grams of carbs, protein and fat will comprise of those calories. First, we’ll determine your protein and fat requirements, and then we’ll fill in the rest of your calories with carbs.

    Protein: Protein is essential for building/maintaining muscle mass during a weight gain/loss diet. A safe estimate is to consume 1 to 1.25 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.

    Fat: Fat is essential for regular hormonal function. The recommended fat intake is 0.3 to 0.6 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight.

    Carbs: Like fats, carbs are important for hormonal function. They’re also the main source of fuel for the central nervous system as well as high intensity activities like lifting weights. The recommended carb intake for athletes is 1.5-2.5 grams per pound of bodyweight.

3. Once you’ve figured out your daily required calories and macros, you can now choose the cheapest food items that will allow you to reach your caloric/macro goals.

Budget For Bulking Up

Let’s take the typical 170 lbs male who wants to gain muscle. To gain weight, he would multiply his bodyweight by 16 to 20, which = 2720 to 3400.

For this example, we’ll go somewhere in the middle and multiply his bodyweight by 18.

170 × 18 = 3060 calories

To make things simple, we’ll round that down to 3000 calories.

So, with 3000 calories as his established daily requirement, we can now calculate his macros:

Protein: 1 to 1.25 grams of protein per bodyweight = 170 to 212.5 grams of protein per day.

Fat: 0.3 to 0.6 grams per pound of bodyweight = 51 to 102 grams of fat per day.

Carbs: 1.5 to 2.5 grams per pound of bodyweight = 255 to 425 grams of carbs per day.

Now that we’ve determined an estimated range of what the daily macros should be, we can how begin selecting what foods to include in the diet that will allow us to stay within these ranges while staying around 3000 calories. Staying within a range rather than hitting an exact number allows for some flexibility in food choices.

The only foods we will be shopping for are carbs and protein. The fat will take care of itself due to the naturally-occurring fats contained in protein sources.

Tip: Use a spreadsheet to help calculate the accumulated cost and macros/calories from all your food choices. This will allow you to easily adjust the food portions to stay within your ranges and budget.

Carb Sources

Oats and rice are the cheapest forms of carbs. At Walmart, you can get a 4.35 kg/10 lbs bag of basmati rice for $13.97 and a 1kg bag of oats for $3.37

A serving of rice is 45 grams (1/4 cup raw), which contains 35 grams of carbs, 3 grams of protein and 150 calories, which = $0.14 per serving.

A serving of oats is 30 grams raw, which contains 20 grams of carbs, 4 grams of protein, 12 grams of fat and 120 calories, which = $0.10 per serving.

To reach my carb goal of 255 to 425 grams, I decided to include 6 servings of rice, and 6 servings of oats, which totals to 330 grams of carbs–well-within my range of 255 to 425 grams.

Carbs Calories
(kcal)
Carbs
(g)
Fat
(g)
Protein
(g)
Price
($)
  Basmati Rice, 1.25 cups (225 g) 900 210 0 18  $ 0.84
  Oats, 180 g 720 120 12 24  $ 0.60
TOTALS: 1620 330 12 42 $1.44

The next thing was to add some vegetables. At Walmart, you can get a 500 gram bag of broccoli florets for $1.94

An entire bag contains 29.4 grams of carbs, 17.64 grams of protein and 147 calories.

After adding the broccoli to the carb list, you end up with:

Carbs, Veggies Calories
(kcal)
Carbs
(g)
Fat
(g)
Protein
(g)
Price
($)
  Basmati Rice, 1.25 cups (225 g) 900 210 0 18  $ 0.84
  Oats, 180 g 720 120 12 24  $ 0.60
  Brocolli Florets, 500 g 147 29.4 0 17.64  $ 1.94
TOTALS: 1767 359.4 12 59.64 $3.38

Protein Sources

Ground beef and egg whites are the cheapest and most convenient sources of protein. At Walmart, you can get a pound of lean ground beef for $4.50 and a 1000 gram carton of liquid egg whites for $4.97

To hit our goal of 170 to 212.5 grams of protein, I decided on a pound of lean ground beef and half a carton (500g) of liquid egg whites:

Protein Calories
(kcal)
Carbs
(g)
Fat
(g)
Protein
(g)
Price
($)
  Lean Ground Beef, 1 lbs 981 3.6 72.6 76.3  $ 4.50
  Liquid Egg Whites, 500 g 238 0 0 56  $ 2.48
TOTALS: 1219 3.6 72.6 132.3 $ 6.98

You’ll notice that the protein sources add up to only 132.3 grams of protein, which isn’t enough to reach our goal of 170 to 212.5 grams. However, once we add in the protein content from the carb sources, we end up with 191.94 total grams of protein, which falls within our range.

Putting It All Together

All of the food adds up to a total of $10.36 for the entire day, costing you only $72.52 for the entire week.

All of the macros fit within our ranges at just below our goal of 3000 calories.

Calories
(kcal)
Carbs
(g)
Fat
(g)
Protein
(g)
Price
($)
  Basmati Rice, 1.25 cups (225 g) 900 210 0 18  $ 0.84
  Oats, 180 g 720 120 12 24  $ 0.60
  Brocolli Florets, 500 g 147 29.4 0 17.64  $ 1.94
  Lean Ground Beef, 1 lbs 981 3.6 72.6 76.3  $ 4.50
  Liquid Egg Whites, 500 g 238 0 0 56  $ 2.48
TOTALS: 2986 363 84.6 191.94 $ 10.36

Now that you have your food items and quantities chosen, you can now split them up into meals. The meal configuration is up to you; this will depend on your schedule and whether you prefer several smaller meals throughout the day, or larger and less frequent meals.

For this example, I’ve split the food into a 6-meal plan:

Meal 1 Calories
(kcal)
Carbs
(g)
Fat
(g)
Protein
(g)
Price
($)
  Liquid Egg Whites, 250 g 119 0 0 28  $ 1.24
  Oats, 90 g 360 60 6 12  $ 0.30
TOTALS: 479 60 6 40  $ 1.54

 

Meal 2 Calories
(kcal)
Carbs
(g)
Fat
(g)
Protein
(g)
Price
($)
  Liquid Egg Whites, 250 g 119 0 0 28  $ 1.24
  Oats, 90 g 360 60 6 12  $ 0.30
TOTALS: 479 60 6 40  $ 1.54

 

Meal 3 Calories
(kcal)
Carbs
(g)
Fat
(g)
Protein
(g)
Price
($)
  Lean Ground Beef, 1/4 lbs 245.25 0.9 18.15 19.075  $ 1.13
  Basmati Rice, 56.25 g 225 52.5 0 4.5  $ 0.21
  Brocolli Florets, 125 g 36.75 7.35 0 4.41  $ 0.49
TOTALS: 507 60.75 18.15 27.985  $ 1.82

 

Meal 4 Calories
(kcal)
Carbs
(g)
Fat
(g)
Protein
(g)
Price
($)
  Lean Ground Beef, 1/4 lbs 245.25 0.9 18.15 19.075  $ 1.13
  Basmati Rice, 56.25 g 225 52.5 0 4.5  $ 0.21
  Brocolli Florets, 125 g 36.75 7.35 0 4.41  $ 0.49
TOTALS: 507 60.75 18.15 27.985  $ 1.82

 

Meal 5 Calories
(kcal)
Carbs
(g)
Fat
(g)
Protein
(g)
Price
($)
  Lean Ground Beef, 1/4 lbs 245.25 0.9 18.15 19.075  $ 1.13
  Basmati Rice, 56.25 g 225 52.5 0 4.5  $ 0.21
  Brocolli Florets, 125 g 36.75 7.35 0 4.41  $ 0.49
TOTALS: 507 60.75 18.15 27.985  $ 1.82

 

Meal 6 Calories
(kcal)
Carbs
(g)
Fat
(g)
Protein
(g)
Price
($)
  Lean Ground Beef, 1/4 lbs 245.25 0.9 18.15 19.075  $ 1.13
  Basmati Rice, 56.25 g 225 52.5 0 4.5  $ 0.21
  Brocolli Florets, 125 g 36.75 7.35 0 4.41  $ 0.49
TOTALS: 507 60.75 18.15 27.985  $ 1.82

Shopping For The Week

When compiling your shopping list for the week (7 days), this is how you would figure out what what your list would look like:

A 1-pound tube of lean ground beef will last you one day, so you would need 7 tubes to last you through the week.

A 1000 gram carton of liquid egg whites will last you two days, so you would need 4 cartons to last you through the week.

For a 10 lbs bag of basmati rice, you will need to buy one bag, which will last you 17 days at 6 servings per day.

For a 1000 gram bag of oats, 6 servings per day will last you 5.5 days, so to last you through through the week, you’ll need to buy 2 bags.

A 500 gram bag of broccoli florets will last you one day, so you would need 7 bags to last you through the week.

Using the above calculations, this is what your shopping list would look like:

Shopping List Quantity Per Unit Subtotal
Lean Ground Beef, 1 lbs 7  $ 4.50  $ 31.50
Liquid Egg Whites, 1000 g 4  $ 4.97  $ 19.88
Basmati Rice, 10 lbs 1  $ 13.97  $ 13.97
Oats, 1000g 2  $ 3.37  $ 6.74
Broccoli Florets, 500 g 7  $ 1.94  $ 13.58
TOTAL:    $ 85.67

Adjusting For Weight Loss

For those who are aiming to lose weight, you can adjust your calories and budget simply by reducing your carb intake. Protein and fats will remain the same. Just adjust your carbs so that the resulting macros and calories fit within your daily requirements.


Disclaimer: Prices are based on listings displayed on Walmart.ca; your results may vary. This post is not sponsored by Walmart nor am I affiliated with Walmart.