Shopping on a Budget: Meals for $3 or Less

Shopping on a Budget: Meals for $3 or Less

by Mary Spiegelberg and Nicole Kiley, MSc, RD

groceryshopRaise your hand if you agree that life can be expensive! If you’re wanting to eat healthier but your budget is tight, this blog is for you! Our goal this week was to bring you bargain breakfast and dinner recipes, each costing less than $3.00. We sent out Dolce Diet Intern Mary Spiegelberg to do some R&D, and here’s what she found.
Below is her grocery shopping list for the week – just $32.08! A couple of things important to note:
– Notice that her grocery list is primarily plant-based, meaning low in meat and dairy. In addition to health benefits, there are also financial benefits to increasing your plant intake! With a grocery bill this low, you may be able to afford a few pounds of quality beef, poultry and/or fish each week. Plants and meat included, that’s approximately $50.00.
– We’ve said before, shop SALES! If you know you consume a loaf of sprouted grain bread each week and Sprouts has it labeled as a “Bountiful Bargain,” buy an extra loaf and store it in the freezer! The storage-friendly staples in your diet can always be purchased in bulk: meats, grains, nuts, nut butters, seeds, frozen fruit, etc.

Grocery Shopping List

Food Item Price Servings per Cost Amount needed Final Cost 
Apples $0.99 3 medium 1 $0.33
Bananas $0.69 3 medium 3 $0.69
Potatoes $0.88 3 medium 3 $0.88
White Onion $0.99 4-5 medium 3 $0.66
Cauliflower $0.98 1 head 1 $0.98
Brown Rice $0.99 ~11 cups 2 $0.18
Black Beans $0.99 2 cups 2 $0.99
Lentils $0.99 7 cups 2 $.28
Rolled Oats $0.99 5 cups 1.5 $0.30
Peanut Butter $2.79 14 (1 Jar) 1 Jar $2.79
Frozen Blueberries $2.99 2.5 (1 Bag) 1 Bag $2.99
Frozen Spinach $1.99 6 (1 Bag) 1 Bag $1.99
California Veggie Blend $1.94 5 (1 Bag) 1 Bag $1.94
1 Carton Eggs $2.89 18 (1 Carton) 1 Carton $2.89
Organic Diced Tomatoes $1.00 1 Jar 1 Jar $1.00
Sprouted Grain Pasta $1.99 8 (1 Pkg.) 1 Pkg. $1.99
Almond Milk $2.08 1 Quart 1 Quart $2.08
Tofu $1.49 1 Pkg. 1 Pkg. $1.49
Whole Wheat Tortillas $2.08 1 Pkg. 1 Pkg. $2.08
Organic Greek Yogurt $4.99 8 (1/2 cup) 8 $4.99
Chia Seeds
(2 lb. bag)
120 (1 Tbsp.) 4 Tbsp. $0.56



{All prices are relative and approximate. Prices will vary based on location and weekly sale items.}


 Budget-Friendly Breakfast Recipes

Rolled Oats w/ Peanut Butter Apple Topping
Serves 1
1/3 cup oats, dry
1 to 2 Tbsp. natural peanut butter
1 apple, chopped
Nutrition Tip

  • When preparing your rolled oats, you may add your diced apples before or after cooking the oats. Before will warm and make apples have a soft gooey texture, adding apple after will give you a crisper texture.

Berry Madness
Serves 1
            1 cup Greek yogurt
¾ cup mixed berries
1 tsp. chia seeds
1 cup Greek Yogurt
1 banana, sliced
1 Tbsp. nut butter
Drizzle honey (optional)
Nutrition Tip

  • Did you know that most Americans meet their protein needs at lunch and dinner but fail to consume adequate protein in the morning? After a hard night training or game, research shows an increased need for protein the next morning! Greek yogurt protein-packed powerhouse. Paired with a nutrient-dense carbohydrate, recovery is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy!

 Scramble w/ Sprouted Grain Toast
Serves 1
3 whole eggs
¼ onion, chopped
¼ bell pepper, chopped
½ tomato, chopped
1 handful spinach
1 slice sprouted grain toast
¼ avocado or 1 tsp. grass-fed butter
Nutrition Tip

  • Eggs are one of the most affordable animal proteins per ounce! Three egg scramble too small? Add a couple additional egg whites to the mix for an added protein punch!

Breakfast Burrito
Serves 1
            1 whole wheat tortilla
2 whole eggs, scrambled
1 handful spinach
¼ cup black beans
¼ onion, shopped
½ to 1 potato (depending on tortilla size)
1/3 avocado, cut into bite-sized pieces
*Scramble eggs, sauté spinach and rinse and warm beans. Wash/scrub potatoes and cut into even chunks, cubes or slices. Add avocado oil to pan and heat on medium high for 15 to 20 minutes, until potatoes are browned. At minute 10, add chopped onion and cook with potato. Add all ingredients to tortilla and enjoy!
Nutrition Tip

  • Did you know the pit (seed) of the avocado helps to keep it fresh? When using less than a whole avocado, use the side without the seed first! You can also squeeze ¼ of a fresh lemon or lime over the avocado (the ascorbic acid in the fruit helps to preserve freshness).

Blueberry Banana Smoothie
Serves 1
1 cup almond milk
¾ cup frozen blueberries
1 banana, fresh or frozen
½ to 1 cup Greek yogurt
1 tsp. chia seeds
1 handful spinach
Nutrition Tip

  • Turn this smoothie into frozen yogurt by skipping the spinach and almond milk. You’ll definitely want to use frozen bananas and blueberries for this tasty nighttime snack!


Budget-Friendly Dinner Recipes

Vegetarian Skinny-Sumo Stir-Fry
Serves 2
½ cup brown rice, dry
1 cup beans, rinsed
2 cups California blend veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, baby carrots)
1 package tofu
1 Tbsp. avocado oil
Low-sodium soy sauce (optional)
*Place a few folded paper towels on a large plate. Remove tofu from package and place on towels. Lightly pat tofu dry. Slice tofu into 1-inch cubes. Transfer tofu to bowl and drizzle with soy sauce (may also add to bowl with soy sauce, grated ginger, sesame seeds and minced garlic). Add 1 tsp. avocado oil to pan and heat on medium-high. Once hot, add tofu (keep juices from bowl). Use a spatula to turn tofu until golden brown on all sides. In separate pan add 2 tsp. avocado oil, tofu bowl juices and veggies. Sauté on medium-low heat until tender. Cook rice according to package directions and heat beans. Add to bowl and enjoy!
Nutrition Tip

  • Not only is tofu an excellent plant source of protein (grams), it is also a complete protein and contains all eight essential amino acids. Tofu is rich in iron, calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Just one package of tofu contains roughly 45% of one’s daily calcium needs!

Funky Fried Rice
Serves 2
1 cup brown rice
1 serving California blend veggies
1/3 onion, chopped
1 large handful spinach
½ package tofu
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. avocado oil
*Prepare rice according to package directions. Sauté California blend and onions in 2 tsp. avocado oil. Add the end, add spinach and let wilt. Dry and slice tofu into 1-inch cubes. Pan fry in 1 tsp. avocado oil. Using spatula, turn tofu until golden brown on all sides. Separately, begin cooking scrambled eggs. Slowly add cooked brown rice, veggies and tofu. Yum!
Nutrition Tip

  • Not feeling the tofu? Leave the tofu out and serve the funky fried rice with a cubed chicken or beef!

Lentil Mix w/ Potato Wedges
Serves 2
1 cup lentils
1 cup black beans
2 cups cauliflower
2 potatoes
Sea salt & pepper
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
*Prepare lentils on stovetop using a 3:1 ratio of water to lentils. Bring to a boil, cover with lid, reduce heat, and let simmer until tender (~15 to 20 minutes). Prepare rice according to package directions or using a 2:1 ratio of water to rice (same steps as above). Add olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper to bowl. Chop cauliflower and coat in oil mixture. Place on baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees F for ~15 minutes, broil for the last 3 to 5 (may stir half way through). Serve lentils and rice under baked cauliflower. Wash/scrub and cut potatoes into thick wedges. Season with salt and pepper and bake at 425 degrees F for ~25 minutes. Serve as a delicious side.
Nutrition Tip
1 cup of lentils has ~18 grams of protein and 1 cup of beans has ~41 grams. There is roughly 30 grams of protein in each serving of this recipe! These plant proteins are affordable, rich in fiber (great for bowel regularity) and heart-healthy (low in saturated fat)!
Power Pasta
Serves 4 to 6
1 pkg. whole-grain pasta
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 medium sweet onion
10 garlic cloves
1 pinch basil, oregano & sea salt (If not already added to diced tomatoes)
1 Tbsp. avocado oil
½ lb. grass-fed ground beef (optional: ~$2.00 to $4.00)
* Add diced tomatoes, garlic, salt, basil and oregano to pot. Heat on medium-low. Wash and chop veggies and sauté in avocado oil. Once tender, add to pot. Cook pasta according to package directions and add to pot. Cook meat in vegetable pan until browned, add to pot. Mix ingredients and enjoy!
Nutrition Tip
This Power Pasta recipe is easy to prepare and can be made in large quantities at once. This delish dinner is a family favorite and costs $2.00 to $3.00 per serving!
– Nicole Kiley is the Head Registered Dietitian at The Dolce Diet.  She believes that long-term health is achieved through an individualized approach to nutrition that is not only evidence-based, but also sustainable and enjoyable.  Serving both our private clients and professional athletes, Nicole aims to empower individuals with confidence and education, fully equipping them to reach and maintain their health goals.
– Mary Spiegelberg currently is pursuing a degree in Dietetics and Food Administration with a minor in Food Science at Cal State Long Beach. Her primary field of concentration is Sports Nutrition. She is a member of UCLA’s Performance Nutrition Team, who work to fuel, sustain and improve performance of collegiate athletes. She is a Newport Beach native and proud owner of Hooked Boxing, LLC.