Is it Possible?
A common misconception about the keto diet is that it is expensive and cannot be done on a budget. At first glance, it can definitely appear this way. However, if the cost is broken down by calorie, keto foods are as budget-friendly as foods on the Standard American Diet.
For example, at my local Wal-Mart, an 8oz stick of Kerrygold butter is $2.88. That’s 1620 calories, which breaks down to about $0.018 per 100 calories. On the other hand, an 18oz Quaker Oats Old Fashioned Oats is $2.68. One serving is 150 calories, and there are 13 servings in the container. That’s a total of 1,950 calories, which is about $0.014 per 100 calories.
Although the butter is slightly pricier, I would argue that breakfast with one tablespoon of butter in your coffee is more satiating than 100 calories of oatmeal. The absence of carbohydrates in the butter will keep blood sugars balanced, and keep hunger at bay. On the other hand, oatmeal is going to raise blood sugar levels. The consequence is a crash soon after, which can cause hunger, cravings, and fatigue.
As with any style of eating, there are ways to spend extravagantly on a keto diet. Shopping only at high-end grocery stores, eating out regularly, or buying pre-packaged keto snacks are quick ways to bust a budget.
The best way to stick to your budget is to first, have a budget! Second, it’s important to shop with a plan. Luckily, many delicious keto meals are simple and require few ingredients. However, it’s helpful to make a list of meals before heading to the store. In this article, I show you how I plan meals that allow me to eat 2,000 calories of ketogenic foods for less than $5 a day.
What Not To Do
Buying Packaged Keto Foods
There are tons of keto-friendly products coming to market now that keto has become more mainstream. However, a lot of the pre-packaged bars, shakes, and meals are not ideal if you are on a strict budget.
Instead, stick to whole foods. If you are restricted on time and cannot regularly prepare meals, deli meat and cheese are quick and easy alternatives to packaged foods.
If you have room in your budget to splurge on a few keto snacks, check out my guide to purchasing low-carb snacks!
Although fast food is convenient, the cost of eating out regularly can quickly add up. Meal prep and have emergency snacks on hand to avoid going up to the drive-through on your way home from work.
If you’re in a pinch and have to eat out, use my low carb fast food guide for easy ways to order keto meals at restaurants.
What To Do
Buy in Bulk
The upfront cost will be more expensive, but it almost always works out to be cheaper to buy foods in bulk.
Costco and Sam’s Club have a great selection of keto foods. I recommend buying meat in bulk and freezing what you do not use immediately. It is much more affordable to buy several pounds of meat at once, rather than spending $5 or $6 a pound each time you take a trip to the grocery store.
Order Groceries Online
If you have trouble sticking to your grocery list, online grocery shopping is a life-saver. If you order online, there are fewer temptations and fewer opportunities for impulse purchases.
Several stores around our area offer free grocery pickup. This is also a great way to keep you from being tempted by non-keto foods when first starting out.
To see if your local grocery store has online-ordering, check out their website. Make sure there are no extra fees at checkout though!
Shop the Sales
When I plan my meals for the week, I first inventory what I have at home to see if I can prepare meals without making a trip to the store. Next, I check what the best deals are in the weekly ad from our grocery store. If, for example, chicken thighs are on sale, I will use that as my base protein and build my meals around that. This method allows me to save money, and switch up what I’m eating each week.
Every grocery store that I have been to has a discounted meat section. This meat has reached the sell-by date and will have to be thrown out if it is not sold. If you are on a budget, this is a very cost-effective way to shop for meat. Just be sure to cook or freeze the meat within a day or two of purchasing!
Quantity Over Quality
Don’t feel pressured to purchase the grass-fed, organic beef, or the pasture raised eggs. Increasing the quality of food is another optimization, but it is almost purely budget-dependent. Grain-fed meat is still miles better than a box of mac and cheese.
If the quality of food is a concern, purchase leaner cuts of meat and fatten them up with high-quality butter or oil. Most nutrients are stored in the fat of meat, and grain-fed animals will not be as nutrient dense. If you can afford to purchase grass-fed butter, avocado oil mayo or high-quality olive oil, use that to add fat to a lean cut of meat to add extra nutrients. Check out my guide to omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to know what fats to avoid.
Meal planning and making a grocery is the best way to stick to your budget at the store. As I mentioned above, I meal plan by first identifying what ingredients I have at home, then viewing the weekly ad online to see what meat is on sale.
Most often, I will keep my meals very simple. I will cook up ground beef, for example, and mix it with some mayo for extra fats, and top it with cheese, sour cream, salsa, and pork rinds. This is a filling and satisfying meal that is easily customizable and requires minimal prep.
Occasionally I want to try new dishes or cook with something I don’t use regularly. For that, I will use a keto recipe. I have several keto cookbooks, and I prefer this over finding recipes online. Either method works, but I trust the recipes in my cookbook to turn out every time, so I don’t risk wasting food. Keto Connect has great free recipes on their food blog and a great cookbook. Maria Emmerich is another of my favorite cookbook authors. I have her Keto Comfort Foods and Instant Pot cookbooks. They are both great!
Once I’ve identified my main source of protein, I will look in the index of the cookbook to see all of the associated recipes. For example, if ground beef is on sale, I will look in the index for “beef” and see what recipes are associated. From there, I pick the one that looks the most appetizing but also calls for ingredients that I have. Sometimes I will omit or substitute ingredients if they are expensive and I don’t already have them in my pantry.
If you are cooking for only one or two people, meal prepping is essential to staying on budget. I meal prep every week and I usually make one or two large casseroles that I divide into portions to have throughout the week. This is much more time and cost-effective than cooking a new meal each night.
Typical meal prep for me consists of hard-boiled eggs, a chicken or beef dish and some easy desserts or fat bombs. I switch up my recipes every week to keep myself from getting bored, but I almost always use this template.
My best friend is on a very tight budget and she tells me that she cannot afford to eat healthy foods. However, eating a diet based on whole foods is not as expensive as it seems, especially with keto.
Below, I’ve compared the cost of eating based on a typical day of food for my friend with one of my typical 2,000 calorie ketogenic days of eating. Both are done under $5/day.
The macronutrient breakdown of the day is shown in the photos below. I made an online grocery order at my local Wal-Mart to get the prices for each food item. I then broke down the price of the item by serving. Some products are store brand, and some are name brand. These two examples accurately reflect what my friend and I purchase at the grocery store, respectively.
Standard American Diet
|Item||Serving||Total Cost||Cost per Serving|
|Instant oatmeal||2 packets||$1.72||$0.34|
|Greek yogurt||1 serving (2/3 cup)||$3.78||$0.76|
|Flavored creamer||2 tbsp||$3.18||$0.20|
|Luna granola bar||1 bar||$5.78||$0.96|
|Peanut butter||2 oz||$2.94||$0.39|
|Quaker Chewy Bar||1 bar||$2.98||$0.25|
|Single Serving Sun Chips||1 bag||$8.98||$0.28|
|Boxed Mac and Cheese||2 servings (2/3 box)||$3.98||$0.44|
|Item||Serving||Total Cost||Cost per Serving|
|Kerrygold Butter||1 tbsp||$2.88||$0.18|
|Heavy whipping cream||2 tbsp||$2.34||$0.15|
|80/20 Ground Beef||6 oz||$12.88||$0.97|
|Crushed tomatoes||1.8 oz||$0.74||$0.09|
|Chicken thigh||4 oz||$10.75||$0.54|
|Kerrygold Butter||1 oz||$2.88||$0.36|
|Baker's Chocolate||1 oz||$1.97||$0.49|
|Peanut butter||1 tbsp||$2.94||$0.09|
Finding the Cheapest Options
The example above is by no means the cheapest food at the grocery store. In the keto day of eating, I included several different types of foods to introduce variety. This is a true reflection of how I eat in a normal day, and there are definitely changes I could implement to make the day even more budget friendly. For example, I opted to purchase Kerrygold butter, which comes from grass-fed cows. There are more cost-effective options that are ideal for a stricter budget.
Some of the cheapest keto foods you will find at the store will be eggs, ground beef, butter, and frozen veggies. All of these foods are versatile and can be used with each other, or on their own.
Here is a list of 10 meals that can be made with the four foods. I’m using frozen broccoli in this example, but you could use any other frozen keto-friendly veggie instead.
Beef and Broccoli
Cook up the ground beef with butter and serve with a side of broccoli and extra butter.
Egg and Beef Scramble
Scramble two or three eggs in butter and mix in cooked ground beef. Add some salt and pepper or other spices to change the flavor profile.
Egg and Broccoli Scramble
Scramble two or three eggs in butter and mix in your broccoli.
Cook 1 pound of ground beef and mix with 8 eggs and 2 cups of broccoli. Optionally top with cheese if you have some on hand. Transfer to a baking dish and bake for 30 minutes at 350. This is a great meal prep option!
Hard Boiled Eggs
Hard boiled eggs can be a great meal, especially when you’re on the go. If you have mayo on hand, you can use that to make egg salad, which is also delicious!
You can’t go wrong with eggs fried in butter. You can cook them any way you want, I personally prefer mine over easy.
Don’t forget to top your broccoli with A LOT of butter.
You can fill your omelet with ground beef, broccoli, or both! Make sure to cook your beef before adding it to your omelet. Optionally top with cheese if you have any.
Meatloaf is another great meal prep option. Combine 2 pounds of ground beef with 2 eggs, and any seasonings you want to add. If you have almond flour, add half a cup to help the consistency. Transfer to a loaf pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350. Optionally, add reduced sugar ketchup to the top. Then, return the meatloaf to the oven for an additional 30 minutes.
So, is it possible?
Is it possible to eat keto on a budget? Yes! It can seem expensive at first, especially if you have a pantry full of non-keto foods. However, breaking down and comparing the cost of the Standard American Diet to the keto diet shows that there’s not a significant price different. Besides, investing in your nutrition and health is one of the best ways to improve your quality of life!
Bottom line: you can stick to your budget and your diet with a little preparation, planning, and smart shopping.