Thrifty Keto: A 3 Day Ketogenic Meal Plan For Under $30
If you keep up on all things wellness related, you have certainly heard of the ketogenic diet, which is having a pop culture “moment.” But don’t be fooled – this high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb way of eating is no passing fad. It’s research-backed with numerous studies demonstrating how eating keto has helped people restore energy, enhance brain health, stabilize blood sugar, lower inflammation, and so much more.
But there is always room for improvement. A traditional ketogenic diet is meat- and dairy-heavy, and for many people, this isn’t the preferred way to eat. Some prefer a more plant-centric diet. This is one complaint I hear in my functional medicine clinic. Another common complaint is that eating this way is expensive, especially with all organic, grass-fed sources of meat and dairy.
What to do…you want to save money, you want to save the planet, and you want to save your health. The solution? A more plant-centric version of the ketogenic diet! It’s great for your health and the environment – and bonus, it’s a lot easier on your wallet!
Two people can eat a clean, whole-food, plant-centric keto diet for three days – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – for a mere $10 a day per person.
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First, consider where you shop. To stay within my budget, I started my shopping trip at ALDI and ended up at Trader Joe’s, comparing prices and availability as I went along. I chose some organic items, but for other things, I bought conventional (consult the Clean 15/Dirty Dozen list to see what items are best to buy organic, and which don’t matter so much). I also had some things on hand such as pantry staples and spices, so that was a money saver, too.
I had these all on hand, so you’ll need to purchase them if you don’t – but one bottle, jar, or container of all these things will last you through many meals.
- Avocado oil
- Black pepper
- Coconut aminos
- Coconut oil
- Ground ginger
- Hot sauce
- Olive oil
- Ras el hanout seasoning
- Red pepper flakes
- Sea salt
- Sherry vinegar
- White wine vinegar
Budget keto shopping list for 3 days
Now for the fresh stuff – the items on this list cost me about $60 for two people, and should last through three days of meals with my ketotarian menu. They are divided by what I bought at ALDI and what I bought at Trader Joe’s. (If you don’t live near these stores, prices should be fairly comparable at markets local to you).
- 1 head of garlic
- 2 zucchini
- 2 heads cauliflower
- 1 bunch organic kale
- 1 bunch snap peas
- 1 bunch asparagus
Eggs and dairy
- 1 dozen cage-free eggs
- 1 carton organic almond milk
- 1 container vegan nut cheese
Other grocery items
- 1 container Kalamata olives
- 2 avocados
- 1 shallot
- 3 to 4 radishes
- 12 ounces of baby spinach
- 1 English cucumber
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 bunch fresh chives
- 1 bunch fresh parsley
- 1 bunch fresh basil
Other grocery items
- 1 bag walnuts
- 1 container black olives
- 1 jar roasted red peppers
- One 13.5-ounce can coconut milk
You’re fully stocked. Now, here’s what to do with those thrifty groceries!
Tips for any of the three days:
- If you have some nutritional yeast on hand, you can use it to increase your plant protein. It adds a pleasant cheesy flavor to any savory dish.
- If you have any plant protein powder in your pantry you could make a budget-friendly quick keto smoothie for a snack. Just add any leftover almond milk and coconut oil you have from your grocery run.
All you need is one avocado per person. Cut in half, remove the pits, and crack an egg into each half of the avocado (for a total of two eggs per person). Season with sea salt and pepper, and bake at 350 until the eggs are cooked to your liking.
Lunch: Creamed Kale
Heat up some avocado oil in a skillet with some minced garlic and shallots. Cook, stirring often, until soft. Add in a can of coconut milk and heat until it starts to thicken. Toss in 5 cups of kale and some ground ginger and cook until the kale wilts. This is a quick, delicious lunch that will keep your brain sharp all afternoon.
Dinner: Pesto Zoodle Bowls
For the Pesto
- 1½ cups baby spinach
- ½ cup packed fresh basil leaves
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup walnuts
- 1 garlic clove
- ⅛ teaspoon sea salt
For the Zoodles
- 2 medium zucchini
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Dash of ground black pepper
- 2 ounces vegan nut cheese
- ¼ cup pitted black olives
- In the container of a food processor, combine all of the pesto ingredients. Cover and process using the metal blade until nearly smooth, stopping and scraping the sides as needed.
- Using a julienne peeler, make long slices along one side of each zucchini until you get down to the seeded core. Rotate the zucchini and continue to peel until you’ve done all four sides. If you have a spiralizer, you can use that instead of a julienne peeler. Discard the core.
- In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the zoodles and pepper; cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until crisp-tender. Remove from the heat; add the pesto and toss to coat. Divide the mixture between two serving bowls. Top with cheese and olives.
Breakfast: Intermittent fast
It doesn’t cost anything when you don’t eat! Intermittent fasting also helps increase autophagy (your cells’ self-cleaning process) and helps you get into ketosis (the fat-burning state, as opposed to the sugar-burning state) faster. You’ll also find that once you’ve been eating this way for a while, you will become more keto-adapted. This means you will get less hungry (and less “hangry,” thank goodness!). Once you achieve a more sustainable fat-burning metabolism, those filling healthy-fat-rich meals will keep you so satisfied that you may not even think about food until lunch!
Lunch: Roasted Cauliflower with Hot Sauce, Olives, and Lemon
This is one of my favorite lunches. It’s so simple, but so flavor-packed. Just roast up some cauliflower florets and mix them with some hot sauce and olives. Drizzle with fresh lemon juice and prepare to be dazzled!
Dinner: Spicy Frittata Pizza With Spinach and Olives
Although I eat a mostly plant-centric diet myself, eggs are one vegetarian keto food that I like to include. They are full of valuable nutrients at a low cost, and they are extremely versatile and satisfying. My family likes to eat them for dinner as well as breakfast. Frittatas are one easy way to make eggs into a meal. Whip up about two eggs per person, pour them into a baking pan, top with whatever ingredients you have on hand, and bake in the oven until the eggs are firm. Slice and serve! One of my favorite combinations is baby spinach, kalamata olives, basil, and a little vegan nut cheese.
Breakfast: Asparagus Scramble
No time for a frittata? A scramble is an even faster way to have eggs, and just as customizable. Try some asparagus, red bell pepper, chives, and more vegan nut cheese for some additional healthy fats. What could be better for breakfast?
Lunch: Cucumber Radish Snap Pea Salad
Salads are perfect for lunch as they don’t have to be reheated so you can enjoy them wherever you are. I take one to work with me almost every day. Here’s one of my favorite salads.
- 3 tablespoons avocado oil
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons coconut aminos
- 1 cup sliced English cucumber
- ½ cup fresh sugar snap peas, sliced crosswise
- ¼ cup thinly sliced radish
- 1 medium avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and cubed
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, and coconut aminos.
- Add the cucumber, sugar snap peas, and radish; toss to coat.
- Gently stir in the avocado. Serve cold.
Dinner: Grilled Cauliflower Steaks With Romesco Sauce and Toasted Nuts
This is a staple in my house for a super filling, decadent-feeling family dinner. It looks and tastes fancy, but it could hardly be easier.
- 1 2¾-pound head cauliflower
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon ras el hanout seasoning
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ cup walnuts, chopped
- ¼ cup roasted red bell peppers, drained
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
- ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
- Preheat the grill to medium-high heat. Hold the cauliflower head stalk-side down on a cutting board. Cut the cauliflower into 1½-inch-thick slices all the way across, yielding two large “’steaks” from the middle of the head, and florets from the edges. Trim and discard the green parts and the bottom inch of the stalk from the steaks. Save the florets for another use.
- Whisk 2 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar, the ras el hanout seasoning, and ¼ teaspoon salt until thoroughly combined.
- Brush the cauliflower steaks with approximately half of the olive oil mixture.
- Grill the steaks, covered, on well-oiled grill grates for 8 minutes, until slightly charred. Turn and brush with the remaining oil mixture. Cover and continue to grill for 8 to 10 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender but not mushy. Remove from the grill; cover with foil and keep warm.
- Meanwhile, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, the remaining 1 tablespoon vinegar, 2 tablespoons walnuts, bell peppers, garlic, the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, and black pepper to the container of a small food processor and puree until almost smooth, about 1 minute.
- Divide the sauce between the steaks. Sprinkle with the remaining chopped walnuts and parsley.
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Now this is just what I ate in a three day period. You don’t have to follow this plan exactly but it is possible to be budget-conscious when following a keto diet. By having a few budget-friendly keto-friendly foods on hand at all times, you will always be able to have a nutrient dense meal without breaking the bank.
The Best Budget-Friendly Keto Foods To Always Have On Hand
Olive oil gets a lot of attention for its health benefits, but you can’t forget about whole olives, too! Olives are packed with healthy fats and make a great keto-friendly snack. You can also add them to a number of recipes for extra flavor.
Great news, guac lovers! Avocados are one of the cleanest keto-friendly foods you can buy. They are a little pricier than some of the other choices on the list, but they are full of healthy fats, very filling, and are still less expensive than grass-fed animal protein or dairy products.
Eggs don’t work for everyone, but they do contain important nutrients like choline, calcium, iron, and vitamins A, D, E, and B. All of these nutrients are important for maintaining healthy methylation pathways and hormone balance in the body. On top of being vegetarian and pescatarian-friendly, eggs are also extremely versatile, can be eaten at any meal of the day, and when compared to organic meat or other protein sources, they’re a steal financially speaking. Be sure to choose cage-free whenever possible.
4. Dark Leafy Greens
No matter what diet you’re following, dark leafy greens should be a staple. This includes spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and arugula. You can buy leafy greens fresh to make salads or add to smoothies or you can buy them in bulk in the frozen aisle if you’re looking for a cheaper option. The good news is that frozen veggies have just as much nutrient content than fresh greens, so you’re not missing out on any essential vitamins and minerals.
5. Frozen Vegetables
Speaking of frozen, let’s talk about frozen veggies. As we just learned, they’re always cheaper than fresh veggies — even if they’re organic! — and they’re just as healthy for you. You can throw them straight in a smoothie or sauté them with your favorite keto-friendly protein like fish or eggs.
Veggies are often skipped on conventional keto diets for fear of going over your daily carb count. However, vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli are both low-carb and high in methylation-supporting B vitamins.
6. Cooking Oils
Avocado, ghee, coconut, olive, sesame… there are a ton of different types of cooking oils to choose from. My two favorites are extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil, especially when you’re on a budget. They tend to be cheaper than grass-fed ghee or avocado oil and can be purchased in bulk from popular stores like Costco or Sam’s Club.
7. Canned Wild-Caught Seafood
Canned food gets a bad rap, but if you’re pescatarian, canned wild-caught seafood is a great food to lean on. Canned tuna, salmon, or sardines are much cheaper than fresh seafood and high in DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain health, hormone health, and so much more. Plus, canned fish is shelf-stable so you can keep them at your desk or in your purse for when you’re traveling or need an on-the-go snack.
8. Hemp Protein
My favorite type of protein has to be hemp protein. With 12 grams in every 4 tablespoons, it’s high in protein. It’s also rich in healthy fats, can be bought in bulk to save money, and can be added to pretty much any recipe you’re making. Hemp is also high in fiber, which means that it feeds the good gut bacteria in your GI tract, keeps you fuller for longer, and helps keep your blood sugar balanced.
9. Coconut Milk
Before you go spending money on expensive nut milk made from macadamia, cashews, or hazelnuts, consider coconut milk, which is full of healthy fats for a fraction of the price. Canned coconut milk, in particular, is a wallet-friendly jack-of-all-trades; you can use it as a substitute for milk or creamer in coffee and in recipes, plus, it adds a creamy touch and an abundance of healthy fats like MCTs to many dishes like homemade ice cream, curries, smoothies, oatmeal, and more.
10. Almond Butter
Check inside my pantry and you’ll probably find about six types of almond butter, which is high in healthy fats and protein. I love pretty much everything about almond butter; I love how convenient it is, how it lasts forever, and how it tastes so good that you can eat it by the spoonful if you need a quick snack or a blood sugar stabilizer. I also use it as one of the main ingredients in stir-fry sauces and salad dressings.
Without being able to rely on cheap staples like bread, pastas, and rice, the keto diet can feel like a real challenge budget-wise. But if you lean on the foods above, you might just find the keto diet can be friendly to your health and your bank account.
If you want to learn more about your own health case please check out our free health evaluation. We offer in person as well as phone and webcam consultations for people across the country and around the world.
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.
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