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Cheap and Clean: Eating Healthfully and Inexpensively

A super healthy and inexpensive single-day menu.

If your goal is to be fit and lean, there’s no getting around mastering your eating habits to emphasize "clean" calories: a high concentration of vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein grams for a given calorie count. The best way to achieve such calories is to eat nearly all veggies, fruit and whole grains. For protein, it's best to eat lean meat, low fat dairy, legumes and/or soy.

That focus, and keeping empty calories like sugar, high fat (especially animal fats) and alcohol to an absolute minimum is the key to a flat, firm abdomen.

But it’s also good if you can keep the costs down to a reasonable level. And that’s actually not very difficult if you have some super-cheap anchor products in each food group such as cottage cheese, oatmeal, fresh fruit and frozen vegetables.

So, below is a sample menu for a day. It includes a balanced mix of some of the most affordable foods you can buy and requires minimal prep work. Depending on the volume you consume, which I’ve left vague here since body size and activity levels cause this to vary, here are my estimates for calories and protein (this menu is packed with fiber and rich with a wide array of vitamins and minerals):

Calories: 1,800-2,200; Protein: 70-120g

Breakfast: Oatmeal cooked in low-fat milk with cinnamon, brown sugar, raisins, dried cranberries and topped with mixed nuts; hard-boiled egg and V8 juice.

Midmorning snack: Smoothie made with Greek yogurt, frozen bananas and berries. Click here for the recipe.

Lunch: Pasta salad. Click here for the recipe.

Midafternoon snack: Granny Smith apple and a cheddar cheese stick or cottage cheese drizzled with honey and topped with trail mix.

Dinner: Spinach salad with grilled chicken breast or tuna, crumbled feta cheese, petite frozen (thawed) peas, sunflower seeds, tangerine slices and grape tomatoes dressed with lemon juice and balsamic vinaigrette.

If you get hungry for a late night snack, frozen blueberries or grapes are a great choice.

Want more useful information on how to eat well and get in shape? Contact Dan at http://trivalleywellness.com.

Sheila Coopere June 22, 2011 at 04:24 PM
The day's menu is a little light on veggies. It's helpful to keep a week's supply in the house. Raw sticks of carrot, celery, and zucchini, as well as radishes and green beans are great lunch munchies. Sheila Cooper
Dan Taylor June 22, 2011 at 05:07 PM
Hi Sheila - Looks like you may have missed the recipe for the pasta salad, which is about 25 - 30% broccoli. That takes the total veggie composition for the day (with the V8 and spinach salad) to around 1/4 of the day's total intake. Most fit and athletic people have trouble meeting their kcal needs if veggie composition is much higher than that. But thanks for the additional veggie ideas!
mark nunes June 22, 2011 at 07:15 PM
Hi Dan, Thanks for a very informative article. In my opinion all of the foods and recipes you mentioned are very doable. I also think that the percentages of veggies a little under or over is a mute point. It's a well know fact that most people do not come close to eating the recommended amount of servings of fruits and veggies. Mark Nunes
Lara Berteig Marriott June 23, 2011 at 01:17 PM
That sounds yummy and a bit intimidating. What are your thoughts on coffee? Also my family loves to eat yogurt. What is a good daily portion size? Thanks Dan. Love reading your write ups. They are very insightful.
Dan Taylor June 25, 2011 at 05:59 PM
Thanks, Mark and Lara! Mark - I agree that any progress toward a more veggie-heavy daily intake is cause for celebration. Many people eat few or no veggies at all! I'm always pleased when my clients manage to work them regularly into most meals and snacks. Thanks for the input - having achieved a much healthier lifestyle and body-comp, you have significant street-cred ;-) Lara - I'm not a fan of caffeinated coffee before or as a substitute for meals, since it can masquerade as food in the stomach and can trick the central nervous system into thinking the blood sugar is elevated. But I have decaf low fat lattes almost daily since I love the coffee flavor and it's mostly steamed milk. Portion sizes vary based on eating frequency but 4-6 meals of about 1-2 fist sizes are ideal for most. More if it's low cal (veggies, lean protein) and less if it's higher calorie (sugar, refined grains and fat).

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