There's a reason Whole Foods has earned the nickname Whole Paycheck: It can definitely get pricey (hello, $8 gelato pints). With a little strategic planning, however, it is possible to get seven days' worth of groceries on a $50 budget. Below you'll find my wallet-friendly shopping list, along with meal ideas to get you through the week feeling nourished and satisfied. (The list even includes several organic items and, yes, almond butter and avocados!) But first, here are a few general tips for saving at Whole Foods.
Stock up for vegetarian meals
One can of pulses (beans, chickpeas, or lentils) ranges from $0.79 to $1.49 per can, and provides at least two servings each. That’s as little as $0.40 per serving, and a huge savings from even non-organic ground beef (one of the lowest cost meats), which is $4.99 per pound on sale.
Compare animal proteins
You can buy organic animal proteins if you’re savvy about what you choose. For example, a 16-ounce container of organic cottage cheese costs $3.99 for four servings (or $1 per serving), compared to $1.59 per serving of Greek yogurt. Organic chicken thigh meat with the skin is $5.99 per pound, versus $9.99 per pound for skinless organic chicken breast. Canned tuna is $1.99 compared to $4.99 for canned salmon. And organic eggs are always a good bet at $3.99 per dozen, which you can stretch to six servings.
Buy store brand items
You’ll notice that several items on my grocery list below are 365, which is a Whole Foods brand. Sometimes referred to as private label, a store’s own brand costs less because the store doesn't have to spend money on marketing, advertising, and promotions. Those savings are passed onto the consumer, and they can really add up. For example, the 365 almond butter is $6.99 per jar, compared to up to $14.99 for the same size container of a major brand’s product.
Make multiple meals at the same time
Waste is a big no-no when trying to save on food cost. If you open a container of cottage cheese or a can of chickpeas and only use half, you’re essentially paying double per serving. That’s why items on the list are used twice or more. To save time, make two meals at once and bring the second to work the next day for lunch, or stash it in the fridge to reheat later. Whipping up dishes that provide multiple servings is also a smart strategy. Below I suggest a frittata, which makes four servings at a total cost of about $1.40 per meal.
Splurge on satisfying superfoods
The biggest chunk of my $50 budget goes toward almond butter and avocados. Together they cost over 20% of the weekly budget. But their nutritional value, health benefits, and satisfaction factor make them worth every penny. And you'll even have leftover servings of almond butter, which can eat as a snack straight off the spoon.
Without further ado, here's a list of items for the week ahead that cost just under $50.
Whole Foods Grocery List
3 bananas $0.49 (3 servings)
2 organic apples $1.69 (2 servings)
2 pears $1.69 (2 servings)
4 avocados $5.00 (8 servings)
1 organic sweet potato $0.99 (4 servings)
1 bag 365 Organic Baby Spinach $1.99 (4 servings)
1 pound of loose carrots $1.99 (2 servings)
1 pound of organic broccoli $3.49 (2 servings)
1 dozen 365 Organic Large Brown Eggs $3.99 (6 servings)
1 16-oz container 365 Organic Fat-Free Cottage Cheese $3.99 (4 servings)
1 can 365 Chunk Light Tuna in water $1.99 (2 servings)
1 can 365 Black Beans $0.99 (2 servings)
1 can 365 Garbanzo Beans $0.99 (2 servings)
1 can 365 Cannellini Beans $0.79 (2 servings)
1 can Westbrae Organic Lentils $1.49 (2 servings)
1 jar 365 Creamy Almond Butter $6.99 (14 servings)
½ pound bulk basmati brown rice $1.50 (3 servings)
½ pound bulk quinoa $3.00 (6 servings)
1 16-oz bag 365 Frozen Mediterranean Veggie Blend $2.69 (5 servings)
½ pound organic chicken thigh $3.00 (2 servings)
Now for how to turn your haul into tasty meals for the next seven days. (Note: the grocery list assumes you already have EVOO at home, as well as herbs and spices.)
Two days a week enjoy two eggs (any way you like) over a bed of fresh spinach and quinoa, with half of an avocado, and fruit on the side. One day make it a sliced apple; the other a pear.
Four different days days mix a quarter cup of cottage cheese with a few tablespoons of almond butter, a quarter teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and chopped fresh fruit—an apple one day, a pear another, and a banana on two days.
One day of the week make a bowl of ginger and cinnamon spiced quinoa, topped with sliced banana, and drizzled with two tablespoons of almond butter.
Lunches and Dinners
For four meals make a frittata, prepared with a layer of sliced sweet potato on the bottom, topped with eight whisked eggs, and EVOO and herb sautéed spinach and broccoli.
For two meals make black beans and brown rice, with EVOO and herb sautéed spinach, and half an avocado.
For two meals prepare broiled chicken, served with quinoa and EVOO and herb sautéed broccoli.
For two meals have lentils with EVOO oven-roasted carrots, and half an avocado.
For two meals sauté the frozen Mediterranean veggies with EVOO and herbs, add tuna, and cannellini beans.
For two meals serve chickpeas and quinoa with herb and EVOO sautéed Mediterranean veggies and half an avocado.
Give this plan a try! It proves eating healthfully on a budget is possible, even when Whole Foods is your go-to market.
Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.