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Build Muscle On A $50 Weekly Budget

Build Muscle On A Budget: Example $50, $75 & $100 Grocery Lists With Meal Plans

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Learn how to maximize your bulking budget using as little as $50 per week. This feature includes grocery lists and specific meal plans that will help you save and grow.

How many times have you heard the following phrases? - “I want to eat healthy but it’s too expensive” and “I want to bulk up but I don’t want to eat ‘un-clean’ food” The purpose of this article is to show that it’s possible to both eat healthy foods and eat in a caloric surplus without breaking the bank.

Strategies for Stretching Your Dollar at the Grocery Store

  • Buy in bulk – Although the upfront cost of membership may seem daunting, club stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s are excellent places to stock up on grocery and non-grocery goods. These stores are built around the concept of bulk quantities to minimize packaging and shipping cost. I typically buy my cooking oils, spices, and sauces from these locations are shelf stable for a long period of time. These stores are also excellent places to buy meat and vegetables in bulk if you don’t mind eating the same meat and vegetables for an entire week (such as myself). For non-traditional bulk-buying locations, consider local ethnic markets for grains, fruits, vegetables and local farms for meats. These two locations are typically willing to cut deals with you if you’re willing to purchase large enough quantities.
  • Avoid name brands – Purchase generic/store brand products instead of their name brand counterparts. For a fraction of the cost, you can purchase a nearly identical product. Furthermore, I’ve found generic brands from places like Trader Joe’s and Aldi that are both cheaper and offer a larger quantity - a double savings!
  • Stock up during sales – The prices discussed in this article will be U.S. national averages, but those prices don’t reflect sales. If you see a sale for staple products in your diet, consider the desired quantity, savings, and expiration date of these goods – if sale offers all three then stock up! For example, the chicken breast prices used in this article are $3.43 per pound, but even in big cities you can find it on sale for as low as $1.99 per pound.
  • Freeze for later – An ample supply of fresh vegetables can be expensive. With the advances in food preservation technology, companies now offer vegetables that are flash-frozen at their peak freshness, which helps to retain the vitamin, mineral, and anti-oxidant content. These frozen vegetables are nearly identical to their fresh counterpart but offered at a fraction of the cost -  $1 to $2 per bag, with each bag offering up to six servings of vegetables.
  • Spice it up – In my opinion, spices are worth their weight in gold, especially for the cost-conscious fitness enthusiast. Having a variety of spices on hand such as cayenne, salt, black pepper, garlic, and oregano can add variety to the meats and vegetables you buy in bulk.

Key Assumptions

The key assumption we are going to make in this article is that you already have spices, vitamins, and mineral supplements. These items typically are not purchased on a weekly basis so they will be excluded from the weekly cost calculation.

Furthermore, the supplement recommendations are based on the assumption that you’re an active individual who is not experiencing the common deficiencies found from eating the typical American diet – iron, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, and magnesium.

For food prices, I took an average of the past three months of data (March, April, and May 2014) provided by the United States Department of Labor  – Bureau of Labor Statistics, which I found here.

Budgets and Meal Plans

This section provides a grocery list and a 3000 calorie sample meal plan for three different weekly grocery budgets - $50, $75, and $100 per week. The 3000 calorie meal plans below are designed around a 180lb male aiming to eat at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, 0.5 grams of fat per pound of bodyweight, and roughly 2 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight.

$50 budget

Goal – less than $50 per week

Grocery List for 7 days of meals:

  • 2lbs of uncooked long grain white rice - $1.46
  • 2.2lbs of 100% ground beef (80% lean/20% fat) - $7.32
  • 3.5lbs raw chicken breast – $12.01
  • 3 dozen large grade A eggs - $5.99
  • 0.5 gallon whole milk - $1.81
  • 3lbs fresh bananas - $1.80
  • 4lbs uncooked white potatoes - $2.65
  • 2lbs romaine lettuce - $3.08
  • 1.5lbs uncooked black beans - $2.16
  • 0.5lb peanut butter - $1.30
  • 7 bags of frozen vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, carrots, mixture) - $7.00
  • 1.5lbs uncooked oatmeal - $2.25

Total Cost - $49.56

$50 Budget

3000 Calorie Sample Meal Plan

  • 07:00 – Wake Up
  • 07:30 – 1 serving multivitamin, 5g creatine monohydrate, 2-3g EPA/DHA from fish oil
  • 08:00 – Meal #1 – 5 whole large eggs and 3.5 ounces of dry-measured oatmeal. Nutrition – 720 calories, 44g protein, 70g carbs, 31g fat, 10g fiber, 210mg calcium
  • 12:00 – Meal #2 – 9.25 ounces raw measure potato, 4.75 ounces of romaine lettuce, 5 ounces of ground beef, 1.75 ounces dry measure black beans. Nutrition – 730 calories, 41g protein, 75g carbs, 29g fat, 17g fiber, 170mg calcium
  • 16:00 – Meal #3 –9 ounces of whole milk, 32 grams of peanut butter (~2 tablespoons), 7 ounces of banana (about 2 small bananas, 6 to 7 inches long). Nutrition – 535 calories, 18g protein, 66g carbs, 26g fat, 7g fiber, 390mg calcium
  • 18:00-19:30 – Workout of Choice
  • 20:00 – Meal #4 – 4.5 ounces dry-measured long grain white rice, 1.75 ounces dry measure black beans, 1 bag of frozen vegetables, 8 ounces raw-measure boneless chicken breast. Nutrition – 1,030 calories, 79g protein, 150g carbs, 8g fat, 18g fiber, 230mg calcium
  • 23:00 – Bed – 1 serving of ZMA
  • Nutrition for the Day – 3,015 calories, 182g Protein, 360g Carbs, 94g Fats, 50g Fiber, 1000mg calcium, 160% daily value of iron

$75 budget

Goal – less than $75 per week

Grocery List for 7 days of meals:

  • 3lbs uncooked spaghetti - $3.91
  • 3lbs whole wheat bread - $6.18
  • 3lbs USDA Choice steak round - $15.96
  • 2lbs raw chicken breast - $6.86
  • 2.25 dozen large Grade A eggs - $4.49
  • 0.5 gallon whole milk - $1.81
  • 3lbs red delicious apples - $4.16
  • 3lbs navel oranges - $3.65
  • 2lbs seedless grapes - $6.15
  • 3lbs romaine lettuce - $4.63
  • 2lbs field grown tomatoes - $3.14
  • 3lbs uncooked broccoli - $5.17
  • 7 bags of frozen vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, carrots, mixture) - $7.00
  • 0.5lb butter - $1.06
  • 0.33lb peanut butter - $0.85

Total Cost – $75.00

$75 Budget

3000 Calorie Sample Meal Plan

  • 07:00 – Wake Up
  • 07:30 – 1 serving multivitamin, 5g creatine monohydrate, 2-3g EPA/DHA from fish oil
  • 08:00 – Meal #1 – 4 whole large eggs, 4 ounces of bread (~4 slices), 32g butter (~2 tablespoons), 1 bag of frozen vegetables. Nutrition – 908 calories, 46g protein, 66g carbs, 49g fat, 20g fiber, 295mg calcium
  • 12:00 – Meal #2 – 5 ounces raw chicken breast, 7 ounces of romaine lettuce, 4.5 ounces of tomato, 3 ounces of whole wheat bread (~3 slices), 4.5oz of seedless grapes, 7 ounces of navel orange. Nutrition – 606 calories, 46g protein, 96g carbs, 8g fat, 16g fiber, 237mg calcium
  • 16:00 – Meal #3 – 9 ounces of whole milk, 7 ounces of red delicious apples, 1.5 tablespoons of peanut butter. Nutrition – 411 calories, 14g protein, 46g carbs, 20g fat, 5g fiber, 338mg calcium
  • 18:00-19:30 – Workout of Choice
  • 20:00 – Meal #4 – 7 ounces uncooked measure of USDA Choice steak round, 7 ounces dry measure of spaghetti, 7 ounces raw broccoli. Nutrition – 1,079 calories, 75g protein, 158g carbs, 16g fat, 142mg calcium
  • 23:00 – Bed – 1 serving of ZMA
  • Nutrition for the Day – 3,004 calories, 181g protein, 365g carbs, 93g fat, 42 fiber, 1012mg calcium, 140% daily value of iron

$100 budget

Goal – less than $100 per week

Grocery List for 7 days of meals:

  • 3.5lbs uncooked spaghetti - $4.57
  • 1.75lbs whole wheat bread - $3.60
  • 1.75lbs raw sirloin steak - $10.52
  • 1.75lbs uncooked, sliced bacon - $7.46
  • 3.5lbs raw chicken breast - $12.01
  • 3 dozen large Grade A eggs - $5.99
  • 0.5 gallon whole milk - $1.81
  • 5lbs red delicious apples - $6.93
  • 3.5lbs fresh strawberries - $8.17
  • 3.5lbs romaine lettuce - $5.40
  • 3.5lbs field grown tomatoes - $5.49
  • 3.5lbs uncooked broccoli - $6.04
  • 3.5lbs uncooked sweet peppers (e.g. red, green, yellow) - $8.64
  • 1lb ground coffee - $5.35
  • 3.5lbs tomato sauce - $7.00

Total Cost – $98.96

$100 Budget

3000 Calorie Sample Meal Plan

  • 07:00 – Wake Up
  • 07:30 – 1 to 2 cups of coffee (~2.5 ounces of coffee grounds), 1 serving multivitamin, 5g creatine monohydrate, 2-3g EPA/DHA from fish oil.
  • 08:00 – Meal #1 – 5 whole large eggs, 3 ounces of uncooked, sliced bacon, 8 ounces of uncooked sweet peppers, 8 ounces of fresh strawberries. Nutrition – 836 calories, 47g protein, 30g carbs, 59g fat, 8g fiber, 206mg calcium
  • 12:00 – Meal #2 – 9 ounces of whole milk, 4 ounces raw chicken breast, 4 ounces uncooked spaghetti, 4 ounces of tomato sauce. Nutrition – 754 calories, 51g protein, 104g carbs, 14g fat, 5g fiber, 359mg calcium
  • 16:00 – Meal #3 – 4 ounces of whole wheat bread (~4 slices), 4 ounces of raw sirloin steak, 8 ounces of romaine lettuce, 8 ounces of field grown tomatoes. Nutrition – 580 calories, 42g protein, 66g carbs, 18g fat, 14g fiber, 307mg calcium
  • 18:00-19:30 – Workout of Choice
  • 20:00 – Meal #4 – 4 ounces of uncooked spaghetti, 4 ounces of raw chicken breast, 4 ounces of tomato sauce, 8 ounces of broccoli, 3 cups sliced red delicious apples. Nutrition – 852 calories, 49g protein, 151g carbs, 6g fat, 19g fiber, 170mg calcium
  • 23:00 – Bed – 1 serving of ZMA
  • Nutrition for the Day – 3,022 calories, 189g Protein, 352g Carbs, 97g Fats, 47g Fiber, 1043mg calcium, 150% daily value of iron

Author’s Notes

The timings, food pairings, and supplementation schedules are not set in stone. I encourage you to adjust meal frequency and macronutrient composition based on your lifestyle, goals, and activity. This is merely a framework to save you time and increase your chances of success.

The information above is not meant to replace the information provided by your general practitioner or specialist. Before self-diagnosing food allergies and intolerances, I highly encourage you to consult with your health care provider.

I high encourage resistance training as a way to both improve your general health and physique. Muscle and Strength offers an expansive workout and exercise database here.

Food nutrition information obtained from the USDA Nutrient Database.

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  • About The Author
    Nick is a full-time road warrior and part-time fitness buff who enjoys powerlifting, bodybuilding, and boxing. He hit a 509 lb deadlift in the 165 class at the age of 20.
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Comments (46)

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Oliver
Posted Tue, 07/08/2014 - 17:10

Fair enough. But what about the price of the supplements?

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Nicholas Ludlow
Posted Wed, 07/09/2014 - 10:52

Hi Oliver,

Excellent question! The purpose of this article is to provide costs and meal plans for foods found in the grocery store. When I first began the article I debated including the cost of supplements but quickly realized the factors of price, quantity, and personal preference are all so variable.

For example, there's no generally accepted resource providing the national "average" on prices of supplements such as whey protein, fish oil, creatine, etc...

However, this question has spurred an excellent idea for an article so thank you!

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Oliver
Posted Wed, 07/09/2014 - 15:58

Hi Nicholas,

Just wondering since they were included in the meal plans (fishoil, creatine...). Still, good article for people that can't seem to plan healthy meals on a budget.

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Nicholas Ludlow
Posted Thu, 07/10/2014 - 17:27

Absolutely Oliver. I've encountered far too many folks that claim eating cheap requires them to eat processed, nutrient-devoid foods and additionally I cannot even begin to count the number of times people tell me that eating in a caloric surplus requires the intake of processed foods.

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Oliver
Posted Sat, 07/12/2014 - 04:17

Hi Nicholas,

Had a question about "Vegetable bag". Which size are your veg bags? Can't really see myself ingesting 1kg of broccoli in one go.

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Nicholas Ludlow
Posted Mon, 07/14/2014 - 13:47

Hi Oliver,

I typically buy the store-brand steam-in-bag vegetables. They range in their weight depending on the vegetable. The 3lbs of uncooked broccoli is meant to be consumed throughout the week, not in one sitting.

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Oliver
Posted Tue, 07/15/2014 - 15:53

Ok thanks, I see. Since in the 50$ grocery list meal plan it was written in the last meal "Bag of frozen vegetables". It just got me wondering.

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Phil
Posted Wed, 07/09/2014 - 19:22

Hi Nick . Good article . Any advice for a good pre workout meal , i wake up at 3:30 am and workout around 4:15 am . Thanks

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Nicholas Ludlow
Posted Thu, 07/10/2014 - 17:29

Great question Phil and props for waking up early to make lifting fit your lifestyle.

I would personally recommend something light or nothing at all. Some folks perform just fine in a "fasted" state (i.e. no food between the time they go to bed and workout), but if you feel better with something on your stomach I would recommend a protein shake (1-2 scoops protein powder of your choice) with a serving of two of fruit such as a banana, apple, or strawberries.

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Charlie
Posted Fri, 07/11/2014 - 10:02

Pretty awesome! Thanks for the article!

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Nicholas Ludlow
Posted Sat, 07/12/2014 - 18:12

My pleasure Charlie! I'm glad you enjoyed reading it.

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Troy
Posted Fri, 07/11/2014 - 20:35

$50 a week is on budget? I'm a college student, I have like, $15 to spend each week, if that. That's with 2-3 jobs.

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Nicholas Ludlow
Posted Mon, 07/14/2014 - 13:46

Hi Troy,

Do you have access to an on-campus meal plan? With 2-3 jobs where is the majority of your money going?
If your finances are truly that tight it might be worth talking to the Office of Student Affairs to see if you get meals subsidized.

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ismael
Posted Fri, 07/11/2014 - 23:07

My workout is on 6:00 am whit chances need to do

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Nicholas Ludlow
Posted Mon, 07/14/2014 - 13:50

Hi Ismael,

If you workout at 6:00am you shouldn't need to change much, if anything. I typically work out at 5:30am and train on an empty stomach without issue - as do many other fitness enthusiasts. Some folks prefer taking BCAAs and/or caffeine before a fasted workout, but that is completely up to you. I would recommend having ample fluids pre-workout and then following the meal plan as it is laid out with your post-workout meal being breakfast.

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Deepak
Posted Sat, 07/12/2014 - 01:45

Hi nick,

I assume this meal plan is for a 160-180 lbs guy.. But don't you think 360 gm carbs is more than enough and would result in increase in body fat. Do you recommend cycling carbs?

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Nicholas Ludlow
Posted Mon, 07/14/2014 - 14:00

Hi Deepak,

These grocery lists and meal plans were designed for a 180lb male. When eating on a budget, carbohydrates are typically the least expensive source of calories, are protein sparing, and assist in recovery from moderate or intense weightlifting sessions.

As mentioned in the bottom of the article, this is merely a framework - if you're someone who responds better to lower carb and higher fat, by all means adjust the macronutrient intake to fit what works for you.

For a beginner or intermediate trainee I would not recommend cycling carbs. I would much rather see that trainee focus on proper lifting form, nutrition, and progressive overload. Cycling carbs tends to overcomplicate most peoples' lives.

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Phil
Posted Sat, 07/12/2014 - 10:31

Thanks a lot i never tryed to workout on a empty stomach ill be afraid to feel weak or dizzy specialy on leg day and i also forgot to tell you that im a non industrial protein user y only drink one shake per workout day as a post training meal wich is made of powder milk,cocoa,peanut butter,milk and banana but i will consider to use it as a pre

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Nicholas Ludlow
Posted Mon, 07/14/2014 - 14:02

Hi Phil,

As with most aspects of lifting, what works for me or the next guy may not work for you. I encourage you to determine what works best for you and try not to get too caught up in the minutiae. That shake sounds very tasty and let me know how adjusting the shake timing works out!

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howard
Posted Wed, 07/16/2014 - 12:50

Great frame work to follow. I am trying to gain 90lbs by next year this time. I'm currently at 205lbs. I will follow this plan and see if it brings results that I am looking for.

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Nicholas Ludlow
Posted Tue, 07/22/2014 - 19:33

Hi Howard,

Keep me updated!

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Phil
Posted Sat, 07/19/2014 - 07:49

Hi Nick ,
Tanks for taking time to anwser , It was great idea to use this timing , easier to eat and digest that my previous meal it was two sclice of whole bread and natural peanut butter , i feel it also deliver more energy trough my workout ,this shake is pretty good and realy nutritive ,here's the recipe if you or anyone like to try it , hope you enjoy

3/4 cup of skim milk powder
1 tbl spoon cocoa
1 tbl spoon natural peanut butter
2 tbl spoon vanilla yogourt
1 banana
11/2 cup of milk

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Nicholas Ludlow
Posted Tue, 07/22/2014 - 19:33

Thanks Phil!

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tony
Posted Sun, 07/27/2014 - 18:07

What about gluten free?any substitute for that?

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Nicholas Ludlow
Posted Fri, 08/08/2014 - 10:02

Hi Tony,

Great question! You can replace any gluten-based carbohydrates with gluten-free carbohydrates such as gluten free oats, white and sweet potatoes, and rice, just to name a few.

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Alejandro A. Aguilar
Posted Mon, 07/28/2014 - 09:35

Thanks a lot Nick for this excellent article. This really helps a lot and I plan on converting this over to meey my needs as well as my taste buds. I try to eat smaller meals and can't eat beef/pork/shrimp. But with the way you did this I can easily substitute ground turkey in and move right a long. I am like Oliver above where I wake up at 0300 and workout first thing in the morning with a fast other than pre-workout drink. I'm going to do the conversions for P/C/F as I think the 3000 calorie day is actually my cutting goal for my current weight and workout frequency/intensity.

Thanks again!!!

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Nicholas Ludlow
Posted Fri, 08/08/2014 - 10:02

Hi Alejandro,

I'm happy to hear article helped you!

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marc p
Posted Thu, 07/31/2014 - 15:37

Dude killer stuff I'm a college student looking at a $50-$60/week budget next semester this is perfect

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Nicholas Ludlow
Posted Fri, 08/08/2014 - 10:01

Hi Marc,

I'm happy to hear that the article fit in line with your fitness goals!

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Doc
Posted Fri, 08/15/2014 - 15:11

i dont know where you buy your food but here in vancouver canada the pricing is WAYYYYY off. even buying at chinese markets where they sell anything cheap it is still double what you say you can spend. Costco or Walmart buying bulk is still over 2.5X as pricey. this article is a little ridiculous if you think you can eat at those prices.

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NickLudlow's picture
NickLudlow
Posted Wed, 09/03/2014 - 14:02

Hi Doc,

For food prices, I took an average of the past three months of data (March, April, and May 2014) provided by the United States Department of Labor – Bureau of Labor Statistics.
http://www.bls.gov/ro3/apmw.htm

These are nationwide average of the United States, which is known for having relatively inexpensive meat and food prices. I cannot speak for the average Canadian prices. At the very least, I hope this article provides some possible low(er) cost food options if you're looking to decrease your overall grocery budget.

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Nicky
Posted Tue, 09/16/2014 - 16:54

Hi reading this was wondering about woman im not an 180 pound man I lost alot of weight am now 135 and lift alot and thats 4 to 5 times a week I get extra hungry but havent found a stable meal plan for me to build muscle and tone. Any ideas?

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NickLudlow
Posted Mon, 11/24/2014 - 09:46

Hi Nicky,

Congratulations on the weight loss! If you're looking to build muscle and you're hungry, you'll need to eat more!

Check out this M&S BMR calculator which should provide a suggested caloric intake based on your goal: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/tools/bmr-and-daily-calorie-calculator...

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daved
Posted Tue, 09/23/2014 - 11:20

That what exactly I am looking for, thanks alot put can you please make one for 2500 calories.

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NickLudlow
Posted Mon, 11/24/2014 - 09:48

Hi Daved,

Glad you enjoyed reading the article! To dial back intake to 2500 calories per day you can cut the carbohydrate portions, but I wouldn't recommend decreasing the fat and protein content.

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Nick
Posted Tue, 09/23/2014 - 23:44

Why is everyone down voting all the comments? I could be like, "I like chicken" and get 20 down votes and 2 up votes lol

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Mary
Posted Mon, 11/24/2014 - 10:09

I don't need as many calories a day (between 2200 and 2800), fair enough, but I'm pescetarian (no meat but fish) and fish and seafoods are SO expensive, especially when you also want to make sure they're dolphin-safe etc.! Plus I love fresh fruits and vegetables and even if I substituted them with those frozen bags (which is impossible considering I'm a uni student and have ONE tiny shelf in both fridge and freezer) I still wouldn't have enough for a week on the 50$ list above, even more because I need variety.
Also, most of these foods are much more expensive in the UK...
Obviously people need to make money and all of that but I think it's sad how good, healthy and balanced nutrition has become unaffordable for some people and I understand why many choose quantity over quality!

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NickLudlow
Posted Tue, 12/16/2014 - 08:54

Hi Mary,

It's definitely a balance but the purpose of this article shows that buying generic, in bulk, and non-processed items doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. Considering how Americans and many other countries are spending less on food than every before (http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/06/08/154568945/what-america-spends-...), I'm a firm believer that you cannot put a price on good health.

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Graham
Posted Mon, 11/24/2014 - 11:57

Great article, but I am from Scotland. Any chance of a British equivalent?

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NickLudlow
Posted Tue, 12/16/2014 - 08:52

Hi Graham,

There are no plans for a British equivalent in the near future but I would recommend choosing the same foods as they're typically cost-efficient and definitely nutrient-packed regardless of the country.

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Sarah Kesseli
Posted Mon, 11/24/2014 - 18:49

Great article Nick! I work with quite a few guys at my gym who do not believe me when I tell them they can take in the calories they need from healthy foods without breaking the bank! They always just look at me and respond with, "Well how would you know anyway? You don't eat that much!" I will be passing this along to ALL OF THEM! They may not believe me because I am a girl, but I bet they will believe you! Have a great night and thanks again!

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NickLudlow
Posted Tue, 12/16/2014 - 08:51

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for reading the article and hopefully sharing it will help to spread the knowledge!

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Dixit Sheta
Posted Wed, 11/26/2014 - 03:38

What If I am Vegetarian ? what can I replace all the meats with ??

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NickLudlow
Posted Tue, 12/16/2014 - 08:50

Hi Dixit,

Soy-based protein powder, tempeh, and tofu.

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Dixit Sheta
Posted Wed, 11/26/2014 - 04:41

Hi Nick,

Great Artical !!
I am a Vegetarian any meat replacements suggestion nick ?

Thanks..

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NickLudlow
Posted Tue, 12/16/2014 - 08:50

Please see your other comment Dixit

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