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

Nick Ludlow
Written By: Nick Ludlow
July 8th, 2014
Updated: March 18th, 2021
1M Reads
Muscle & Strength athlete in grey M&S t-shit cooking chicken and peppers on the stove.
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.

5 Strategies for Stretching Your Dollar at the Grocery Store

1. 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.

2. 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!

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

Grocery store produce.

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 Per Week Meal Plan

Grocery List:

  • 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

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

Sliced steak on wood cutting board.

$75 Per Week Meal Plan

Grocery List:

  • 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

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

Close up shot of spaghetti on fork with pan of spaghetti and meatballs in the background.

$100 Per Week Meal Plan

Grocery List:

  • 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

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 highly 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.

Posted on: Thu, 05/11/2023 - 13:04

What planet are these prices from? 2lbs of ground beef for $7+. Are you stealing it and leaving some money because you feel bad? Is this post is suppose to be for this planet? Seriously! What are you talking about?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Sun, 05/14/2023 - 19:58

I'm not sure what stores these prices came from when this was originally published in 2021. Those prices are very likely different now two years later.

Posted on: Mon, 07/25/2022 - 08:20

08:00am day one.. death by oatmeal

Posted on: Tue, 07/12/2022 - 23:24

In the hyper-inflation of July 2022, all money figures would be 300% more, at the very least. Obviously, this makes the suggested plan difficult for many readers.

Posted on: Sun, 07/10/2022 - 12:59

So I weight around 290 and would like to lean out but stay with muscle so it’s clear 3000 calories won’t work for me cause I think roughly around that to 3500 is maintenance calories for me so where do I need to be at and what does that look like on a meal plan for me can anyone help ?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 07/20/2022 - 09:01

Enrique, you would be best served by talking to a local nutritionist or trainer that can help you out. If your protein is high enough, you can maintain a lot of your muscle at 3,000 calories, but without knowing your activity level, health factors, and experience in dieting, there is no way we can provide all that info for you. You need someone that can help you come up with an individual meal plan that you can stay in touch with.

Posted on: Sat, 07/17/2021 - 07:44

50$ is my MONTHLY food allowance...
Ain't they cheaper meal plans?

Frank Olivas
Posted on: Tue, 10/06/2020 - 17:02

Can i eat -just corn for veggies? or maybe mix it as a drink?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Wed, 10/07/2020 - 08:57

Hey Frank - I wouldn't recommend eating only corn as your vegetables. Your veggie choices should be varied to give you an assortment of different vitamins and minerals.

Posted on: Wed, 01/29/2020 - 04:45

Can you tell me one bag of vegetables means how many grams?

Alex G
Posted on: Fri, 01/24/2020 - 13:19

ideas of how to cook or recipes for these items on the lists??

Posted on: Sun, 12/22/2019 - 08:29

for the less than $50 per week
I am working out in the morning so shall I eat in the morning the meal shown here after the workout or it is ok to keep the same order of meals? plz advice

Posted on: Mon, 12/02/2019 - 16:26

Damn with $100 in NYC I can't even get half of what you have in here.

Posted on: Sat, 11/16/2019 - 10:59

This list includes Red Delicious apples, therefore you probably don't have taste buds

Posted on: Tue, 08/07/2018 - 23:29

Satan serves plain pasta in hell.

Posted on: Wed, 09/20/2017 - 11:27

WHEREEEEE DO YOU SHOP?!!!! Please let me know, because where I'm from, these prices are unimaginably low!

Posted on: Tue, 10/08/2019 - 14:58

Probably from the Midwest or some conservative city/state. You can disagree, but I am telling you, anything you find at a Walmart in Las Angeles, California, like chicken breast, is going to be more expensive than Council Bluffs, Iowa. Conservative states also have fewer taxes and regulations, allowing businesses to pass on savings.

The average gas price in California is around $4. In Texas, it's about $2.50. Cheaper gas is not only a prime example, but that also means that the logistics of stocking stores is cheaper.

Posted on: Fri, 09/08/2017 - 19:07

How do you cook the potatoes for lunch that are on the $50 meal plan? Any advice will be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

The guy
Posted on: Tue, 09/22/2020 - 04:17

I know this comment is years old but I wanna but a response so ppl can see it. The best way is to boil potatoes in bulk (3 days worth) and then put them in the fridge. You can look this up, cooling potatoes changes the way the starch reacts with you

Posted on: Fri, 01/20/2017 - 02:42

I understand the portions but am I supposed to measure everything raw and cook it separately, or is there a way I could get all my cooking done in 1 day

Posted on: Thu, 08/31/2017 - 00:20

Yrd you can. See me and my wife meal prep ebery week. Whether bulking or toning. See ee work 10-12 hours nights. 4 days on 3 days off. Do one of our off days is 2-3 hours of nothing but cooking and preparing. It saves time. More for workouts, time together or whatever.

Posted on: Sat, 08/27/2016 - 10:45

I was also wondering about the measurements... Are they volumetric ounces or scale ounces.

Posted on: Sat, 08/20/2016 - 00:37

Hello Nick,
I have been using this meal plan for over a year now, I started with the 50... and alas am at a job where I can afford the 100. One thing though, I've never been able to finish the majority of the daily meals...because the amounts are so big, it makes me wonder if I am doing it right.

I have always used a scale to measure out these amounts, and it just dawned on me today.... maybe 8oz of broccoli is literally one cup (8oz) filled with broccoli and not by weight... and 8 oz of strawberries literally 1 cup in volume as well. Etc.

So my questions is, are these amounts based on Volumetric ounces or ounces by weight? I figured it might actually be a mixture of the two because some things make sense, like the meat portions and spaghetti noodles dried. I need some help with this in regards to the 100$ meal plan.


Posted on: Wed, 08/10/2016 - 11:09

Shit $50 here in Aus would barely get you half of this....

Posted on: Thu, 07/07/2016 - 12:17

Hello! Love this article, very helpful!

I am a very active 35yo, 200lb male with an athletic build. I have a couple questions:
1) Are these meal plans designed for the end of summer (end of beach season), or can they be used all year round? I ask because I read the "caloric surplus" information from the link at the top of this article hints towards end of summer.

2) I have a lean body, and also am interested in bulking up, but don't know how to eat properly to maintain lean muscle mass. I want to keep the fat off of course. I cycle about 1-2 hour a day, lift 3x a week, and yoga regularly. Should my body composition see an improvement, do you think?

Thank you for answering my questions!


Posted on: Mon, 05/16/2016 - 01:32

I work a night shift sun thru Thurs I work out on the morning and sleep an hour after I train. Went with the 50 week plan what would be the best way to modify this eating schedule any suggestions would be greatly appreciated thanks

Posted on: Wed, 11/11/2015 - 11:35

Am looking at getting back in the gym and I eat quite a lot any and am a very fussy eater as well, as I don't eat fruit or fish or much veg what could I use to replace all these with cause basically I eat junk, and I will be going the gym at 6 am rather then 6pm at night just some advice and eatting before would be hand cheers

Elliot Olson
Posted on: Mon, 10/12/2015 - 11:08

Great info! before I found muscle and strengths website, I was totally confused on the whole idea of eating "clean"...I thought it would be expensive and being a college student it wouldn't help if it was expensive! But I gladly found out I was wrong and this meal plan/page helped out in a huge way!!!! great article

Posted on: Mon, 07/20/2015 - 22:56

Works out at just under £30 here in the UK. Perfect for my measly student budget! Thanks Nick.

Dewayne Lewis
Posted on: Sat, 07/18/2015 - 03:01

Where do you do your shopping because my pricing was $144 over budget. So just wondering how do you get that price exactly like that or is it just an estimate?

M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Mon, 07/20/2015 - 10:47

Individual pricing will vary based upon geography and seasonal influences.

Posted on: Mon, 05/04/2015 - 20:22

First of all, great article! This is something I've been wanting to read about for a while. I'm a vegetarian training regularly and looking to gain around 5-10kg mass. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for hitting similar numbers for protein and calories etc?

Posted on: Fri, 04/03/2015 - 12:17

I wake up at 530 am my question is, I take a protien shake before workout and pre workout but the pre workout says to take on empty stomach how can I add in the protien shakes on this meal plan ?

Posted on: Sun, 01/25/2015 - 11:33

What if you have to pack a lunch for work?

Posted on: Sat, 01/24/2015 - 06:59

If only it was that cheap in Australia. Less than $50 is $100 where I live :(

Posted on: Tue, 01/13/2015 - 14:03

Hey nick so I am allergic to leafy green veggie, like tongue swells up throat closes allergic so what can I do to substitute for the nutrients lost from not being able to eat those?

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

Hi Nick,

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


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

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

Sarah Kesseli
Posted on: 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!

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

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

Posted on: 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!

Posted on: 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

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

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

Posted on: 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?