Grass-fed meat, avocados, MCT oil, premade bone broth, and fancy cheeses: A ketogenic diet, which is associated with a host of benefits such as weight loss, enhanced energy, and a boost in mental clarity, might appear to be pricey to stick to.
But this doesn’t have to be the case: There are ways to follow a keto meal plan on a budget and still reap the benefits of the program. Keto on a budget is completely doable, says Brooklyn-based nutritionist and health coach Lianna Nielsen. She explains that making a few tiny tweaks like purchasing cheaper frozen vegetables instead of the fresh ones in the produce section, opting out of pricey prepackaged keto snacks, and changing where you purchase your eggs can go a long way in helping you to stick to a keto on a budget plan. Here are some expert-backed tips on how to follow a ketogenic diet and make it a little more wallet-friendly in the process.
Keto on a budget
Eat real food
“Since its rise in popularity, so many companies have jumped on the keto bandwagon. There is now a vast array of products from keto cookies, to keto bagels to keto pasta, even keto moon cheese most of which is junk, but also tends to be expensive,” says Nielsen. So if you want to keep keto affordable, she says the key is to eat real food. “It’s that simple. Skip all the fancy, processed keto meals and products and actually cook. Not only will it be cheaper, but it will also be healthier for you,” she explains.
Focus on cheaper protein sources
Drew Manning, author of Complete Keto, says has his own trick he sticks to whenever he’s helping patients map out keto meal plans on a budget. He advocates for purchasing cheaper sources of protein like eggs in bulk, canned tuna and sardines, and ground beef, instead of steeper priced items like steaks and wild salmon filets. You can also buy meat when it’s on sale and stock up instead of hitting the deli so frequently. Another option is to ask the butcher for lower cost cuts—i.e. buy chicken leg quarters in lieu of chicken breast.
Cook your own low-carb meals at home
Frequent takeout can add up quickly. So instead, Colette Heimowitz, VP of Nutrition at Atkins, says to prioritize cooking at home. “The Atkins website has a large arsenal of recipes that you’ll be sure to find a low-carb version of your favorite take out meal,” suggests.
Don’t rely on pre-packaged keto foods
Many of these come with hefty price tags and can be easily replicated at home if you take a few extra steps. For instance, “instead of eating packaged cauliflower rice, grab a grater and make your own at home,” says Heimowitz. She also says not to buy pre-packaged salads and to save money by buying the ingredients and putting them together yourself. “Individual heads of lettuce will always be less expensive than greens that are washed, chopped and sealed,” she explains.
Oils can be a staple ingredient on a ketogenic diet and can be expensive to replace. Heimowitz has a way around this. “Opt for the large containers of less expensive oils (think canola oil) to use for stir frying and keep smaller quantities of high-quality oils (think: extra-virgin olive oil) for dressings,” she says. Logan Vanderpool, a registered dietitian in Santa Cruz, California, adds: “Stock up on larger sizes of wholesale, bulk keto-complaint items like avocado oil, butter, meats, fish, avocado at membership-based markets like Thrive Market or Costco.”
Become friends with the freezer aisle
“Veggies like cauliflower or broccoli are the perfect side to any keto meal and can be less than 1/2 the price in the freezer section, while still retaining nutritional value,” says registered dietitian/nutritionist Corinne Kohlen. She recommends tossing frozen veggies with your favorite protein and teriyaki or Korean BBQ sauce to make a quick 15-minute meal.
Try “half scratch” cooking when you’re pressed for time
“Half scratch” cooking, explains Kohlen, means using minimally processed food items that are convenient and easy to make and can be combined with fresh side dishes to make a complete meal. “It’s the perfect option for those of us who struggle to find the time to cook from scratch, but don’t want to eat out,” she explains. “Some of my favorite go-to quick and affordable keto-friendly combos are Kevin’s Natural foods Thai Coconut chicken over cauliflower rice and mixed veggies, or teriyaki chicken lettuce wraps,” Kohlen adds.
Map out your meals ahead of time
Meal planning, says registered dietitian Dr. Olivia Audrey, “helps you stay consistent to your macros as well as adhere to your budget when you go to the grocery store.” And walking into the store knowing exactly what you need—and sticking to the list—helps you to avoid pricey impulse buys, thus helping you to stick to your keto on a budget plan.
Make use of your leftovers
“When following a strict eating regimen, it can be difficult to have compliant foods for the rushed meals or days when there just isn’t much time for cooking,” says Gabby Geerts, a registered dietitian at Green Chef. But leftovers, she says, can last up to five days in the refrigerator, so you can make a few extra servings to have for later in the week. “It’s more expensive to grocery shop for a whole new dish for each meal rather than just bulk up the current recipe with more of the ingredients you’re already buying,” she explains. Try things like adding leftover chicken to a salad or adding it to a stir-fry.
Fill up your freezer
If you find a good deal, buy larger amounts and then load your freezer with all your keto essentials. Cheese and butter, for instance, freeze well in airtight bags, says Geerts. You can also freeze extra meats, nut-based flours, and even avocados—once peeled and pitted.
Make your own sauces and broths
Instead of buying pricey sauce blends, Geerts says you can easily whip up your own. And this might not be as involved as you think; many sauce recipes involve just a few ingredients and can often be created with things you already have on hand. “Make your own bone broth to be enjoyed on it’s own or as a splash of flavor in a dish. Pesto and mayonnaise are simple to execute at home with a food processor,” says Geerts.
Pair it with intermittent fasting
“Another great benefit of keto is that being in ketosis naturally suppresses your appetite,” says Nielsen. “Thus, if you are a grazer or someone who tends to eat three square meals a day you’ll probably find that you need fewer meals and snacks.” When clients come to her and want to try keto for weight loss, she often has them pair it with intermittent fasting. “Intermittent fasting helps the body to get into ketosis quicker, lowers inflammation, lowers insulin levels, increases human growth hormone, speeds up cellular repair, and of course expedites the weight loss process,” says Nielsen. “Additionally, eating fewer meals and snacks, happens to be an easy way to save money,” thus helping you to stick to a keto meal plan on a budget.
Go crazy with non-starchy vegetables
Nielsen says that a common mistake that people make when attempting keto is consuming way too much fat and protein and not enough vegetables. “It’s more about eating low carb than super high fat.” “While vegetables are mainly carbs, there are quite a few that have less than 5 grams of net carbs per serving,” she notes. Nielsen adds that vegetables like spinach, zucchini, lettuce, cucumbers, cabbage, asparagus and kale can be eaten freely while keeping your net carbs low. “Veggies also happen to be inexpensive and provide important fiber to keep you full and your microbiome happy and healthy,” she explains.
Take advantage of co-ops, CSAs, and farmer’s markets
“A great way to save money on produce is to join a local CSA and purchase directly from a farm,” says Nielsen. And you don’t have to live in the country to reap these benefits. She notes that this is even something you can do in New York City. “Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is when you purchase goods from a farmer at the beginning of the season, which are either delivered or picked up week. By cutting out the middleman you can save a significant amount on organic vegetables and fruit, as well as meat and eggs.” You can also join a local food co-op. Nielsen explains that food co-ops sell local and high quality products at a discount to their members. “They often require either a membership fee or a monthly work exchange, but it comes with the benefit of saving 20-40 percent off groceries.” And sometimes your local farmer’s markets can be cheaper than grocery stores, depending on the product.
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