A ketogenic diet, one of America’s most popular eating plans, can also be expensive, especially when exclusively choosing a diet of organic vegetables and grass-fed meats. The idea behind the diet is to eat high-fat, moderate protein and low amounts of carbohydrates, typically between 20 and 50 grams a day, to get your body into a state of ketosis so it burns fat instead of sugar. But keto on a budget? We all know protein can be expensive.
Maria Emmerich, a wellness expert and best-selling author, says she has maintained a healthy (and affordable!) keto lifestyle for more than 20 years. She learned first-hand how to cook keto-inspired meals on a budget after her husband lost his job during the recession that started in 2007. When the couple adopted two boys from Ethiopia in 2011, they were determined to continue their ketogenic lifestyle while still keeping food costs down.
She and other experts we talked to say it’s absolutely possible to stretch your food dollars while watching your carbohydrate intake, especially if you plan ahead and prepare meals at home.
Eggs as a secret ingredient
When Emmerich first brought her boys home, one of them didn’t like eggs. On a budget, she decided to disguise inexpensive boiled eggs in a homemade chocolate pudding. “I blended them (in a blender) with coconut milk and cocoa powder and he devoured it,” she says. “It was dairy-free and totally delicious.”
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She has shared the recipe in cookbooks and blogs, including this one that calls for 10 hard boiled eggs. It’s also a great way to get protein without using packaged protein powders. The pudding, she says, also freezes well for keto-friendly chocolate pudding popsicles.
Other ways to incorporate eggs, Emmerich says, is to use them in keto pancakes, preparing them in large batches, then freezing the leftovers to heat up later. Here’s a recipe for a four-ingredient sugar-free syrup to go with the keto pancakes.
Packed with protein, a large hard boiled egg has about 0.6 grams of carbohydrates, which means two scrambled eggs cooked in real butter will clock in at about 1.2 grams of carbs and 12 grams of protein.
Keep it Simple
Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at dietdoctor.com, says keeping meals simple can be the key to eating keto on a budget: “Pair your protein of choice with vegetables and healthy fat, such as real butter or olive oil, and you’re good to go.”
Some of her favorite budget-friendly keto meals include veggie omelettes made with cheese, spinach, and tomatoes and a salmon salad using canned salmon with mayonnaise or half an avocado (if it’s on sale) to serve over mixed greens. For dinner, she suggests serving a whole roasted chicken with sautéed vegetables in season or on sale. To save time, you can pick up a rotisserie chicken already prepared from your local grocery store.
Emmerich often serves her family bunless burgers wrapped in lettuce. Buying meat in larger quantities at lower price points means you can cook some now and freeze the rest for later.
Low cost keto-friendly snacks
While one of the major advantages of eating keto and low carb is being able to go for several hours without getting hungry, Spritzler says, sometimes you may need a snack to tide you over until your next meal.
Some affordable keto-friendly snacks include hard-boiled eggs, deviled eggs, real cheeses (not processed ones) raw chopped vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and zucchini, and nuts, such as peanuts. While pecans and almonds also make great low-carb snacks, they can be more expensive. Shop the sales, Spritzler says, or check out warehouse clubs such as Costco where you can buy a two-pound bag of almonds or pecans for about $12. A one-pound bag of almonds can cost up to $10 in many U.S. grocery stores.
To buy or not to buy organic?
Although the topic of organic versus non-organic food can be controversial, Spritzler says, many nutrition experts don’t believe that people need to eat exclusively organic food, noting that conventionally raised meat, poultry, eggs, and produce provide nearly the same nutrition as organically raised animal and plant products.
While there are some benefits to eating organic, if cost is a consideration, she says, purchase organic only when it’s on sale or fits in your budget.
Emmerich opts for organic produce for things that grow in the ground, such as onions and root vegetables. It’s OK to skip the organic brands on some produce, such as avocados, she says, which have a thick outer layer that is typically peeled away before the fruit’s flesh is consumed.
Keto-friendly grocery list for Costco
Those looking to follow a keto lifestyle can definitely cut costs by doing much of their grocery shopping at big box stores, Spritzler and Emmerich say. In addition to buying in bulk, look for store brands, such as Kirkland at Costco, or online direct to consumer health and wellness brands like Gold Bee to maximize savings.
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Keto-friendly foods our experts recommend buying at big box stores:
Canned salmon and tuna
Cheese (not processed)
Fresh and frozen vegetables
Coconut oil and olive oil
Gluten-free beef sticks
Pecans and almonds
Top strategies for cutting carbs on a budget
Focus on food that’s on sale and produce that’s in season.
Choose less expensive meats, such as pork, organ meat and chicken thighs.
Learn to love leftovers to save time and money.
Make large batches of soups and chili and freeze leftovers.
Use leftover protein from dinner to top a salad the next day.
Keep low-carb snacks with you, such as almonds or peanuts.
The folks at KetoConnect offer a series of free videos, menu plans and shopping lists for those who want to maintain a keto lifestyle on the cheap. Check out Keto on a Budget/$5 A Day.
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