Eating Healthy On A Budget – How Eating Healthy Can Cost Less Than Fast Food

eating healthy on a budget

Eating Healthy On A Budget – How Eating Healthy Can Cost Less Than Fast Food

Do you think eating healthy on a budget is impossible?

Well, the students in my science of nutrition course did, so I accepted their challenge.

Here is how I proved that a family of four can eat healthy all day long for less money than it costs to eat at a fast-food restaurant.

(You can PRINT THE RECIPES AND MEAL PLAN at the bottom of this post!)

Eating Healthy On A Budget Is No Ordinary Challenge

Students lead very busy lives, with many of them juggling full-time work and family along with their college courses.

Fast food drive-thru windows and pre-packaged convenience meals are their cheap and easy solutions to getting food on the table.

Every time I taught this particular class I would hear the same thing:

“Eating healthy is not an option because it costs too much money.”


Being a college professor of a course on nutrition is not an easy task.

You can tell students till you are blue in the face that eating processed foods, refined carbohydrates and saturated fats are destroying their health, but this type of information goes in one ear and out the other.

Students, like anyone who leads a hectic life, are simply too busy and too strapped for cash to care about future health problems.

To make a difference I had to show them how feeding their families a healthy diet is not only doable with a busy schedule, it can cost less than eating at fast-food restaurants.

The Rules For Feeding A Family On A Budget

In order to be taken seriously, I knew I couldn’t come up with an unrealistic plan that asked students to feed their kids broccoli and salad all day long (although that would work).

So I got input from my students and asked what the plan needed to include in order to be realistic.

Here are the conditions we agreed to:


1. The meals had to be enjoyable to each family member: mom, dad, young kids, and teens. No trying to convince a 6-year-old that kale is yummy.

2. Meal prep and cooking time had to be as short as possible. Forget complicated recipes with crazy ingredients.

3. The foods had to be healthy, no slipping in junk foods. The food choices needed to be superfoods, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.

4. The total cost for healthy eating for the day needed to be less than $20. This was based on the fact that each family member could get 5 items from the dollar menu (1 item for breakfast; 2 items for lunch and dinner) for that much money. I was allowed to buy in bulk and use generic brands.

The results were impressive.

Let me cut to the chase and share the results. I was able to put together a diet plan for eating healthy on a budget of just $14.76. This plan beat the socks off of the fast-food budget and put $5.24 back in the pockets of my students.

-Total cost for each member of the family to eat healthy = $3.69

(Total cost for each family member to eat off the dollar menu for one day = $5.00)

-Total cost for a family of four to eat healthy for one day = $14.76

(Total cost for a family of four to eat off the dollar menu for one day = $20.00)

On top of that, the food actually fills you up!

Think about it, is eating five little dollar items in a 24-hour period really enough to fill your stomach?

While there is no getting around the fact that you do need to spend some time in the kitchen to feed your family healthy meals, the recipes in this healthy eating plan could all be made ahead of time so they were ready to eat and there would be plenty of leftovers for a quick lunch the next day.

Here’s An Overview Of The Healthy Eating Plan

(I share the recipes farther down)

  • BREAKFAST: Quick and Easy Oatmeal made in the microwave using quick oats.

Cost per person  = 79¢

Total cost for family of 4 = $3.16

  • LUNCH: Mexican Bean Enchiladas made with corn tortillas.

Cost per person = $1.41

Total cost for a family of 4 = $5.62

  • DINNER: Dad’s Easy Chili made with four kinds of beans.

 Cost per person = 75¢

Total cost for family of 4 = $3.00

  • DESSERT: Apple and Peach Delight prepared in 5 minutes.

 Cost per person = 74¢

Total cost for family of 4 = $2.97

So there you have it eating healthy on a budget for a family of four! It is not only possible to feed a family for less than it costs to go through the drive-thru window, you may even end up with a few extra bucks in your pocket!

Do you want to take me up on the challenge by following this eating healthy on a budget plan? I thought maybe you would so I made it easy for you. You can read them below or click here to PRINT ALL FOUR RECIPES.

If you do give it a shot let me know what you think by leaving a comment in the comment box below. Did your kids like the recipes? How about mom and dad? Then, share this post with a friend through social media.

Recipes for Eating Healthy On A Budget


Quick and Easy Oatmeal

Ingredients for one serving:

  • 1 cup Water
  • ½ cup Old-Fashion Rolled Oats (18¢)
  • ½ teaspoon Cinnamon  (11¢)
  • 2 tablespoon Raisins (15¢)
  • 1 Banana (35¢)


  1. Combine water, oats, cinnamon, and raisins in a 2-cup microwave-safe bowl
  2. Microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes
  3. Stir, then top with sliced bananas


Mexican Bean Enchiladas


  • ½ Green Bell Pepper, seeded and chopped (99¢)
  • ½ Onion, sliced (65¢)
  • 2 (15 oz.) cans Pinto Beans, drained and rinsed ($1.18)
  • 1 cup Frozen Corn (50¢)
  • ½ tablespoon dried Cilantro (10¢)
  • 1 tablespoon Chili Powder (30¢)
  • 1 teaspoon ground Cumin (10¢)
  • 1 teaspoon Onion Powder (10¢)
  • 1/8 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (optional) (10¢)
  • 8 Corn Tortillas ($1.60)


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F
  2. Saute the bell pepper and onion in 2 tablespoons of the tomato sauce until tender.
  3. Stir in remaining tomato sauce, beans, corn, and spices.
  4. Simmer for 5 minutes.
  5. Spoon bean mixture into each tortilla and roll-up. Place the filled tortilla in an oven-safe baking dish and bake for 15 minutes


Dad’s Easy Chili


  • 3 (15 oz.) cans Dark Red Kidney Beans, drained and rinsed ($1.77)
  • 3 (15 oz.) cans Light Red Kidney Beans, drained and rinsed ($1.77)
  • 3 (15 oz.) cans Chili Beans ($3.27)
  • 1 (15 oz.) can Black Beans, drained and rinsed (59¢)
  • 1 (15 oz.) can Tomato Sauce (50¢)
  • 2 (15 oz.) cans Mexican Style Diced Tomatoes ($1.38)
  • 1 teaspoon Chili Powder (10¢)
  • sliced Jalapenos to taste (32¢)
  • Tabasco (optional) (5¢)


  1. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.


Apple and Peach Delight


  • 1 & ½ cups Frozen Peaches, sliced ($1.92)
  • 1 Apple, sliced (79¢)
  • 2 tablespoon Raisins (15¢)
  • ½ teaspoon Cinnamon  (11¢)


  1. Preheat the oven to 375° F
  2. Spray an 8 x 8-inch oven-safe baking dish
  3. Place all ingredients in the baking dish and toss together lightly
  4. Cover the dish with a lid or aluminum foil
  5. Bake for 45 minutes or until the apples are soft


About the Author

Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.