Calorie Per Dollar List – Eat For 21 Dollars A Week

EDIT: We now have our Nutrient Per Dollar list complete. This is the ultimate guide to saving money on food.

3 Years ago, my wife and I were starting Grad School, and we needed to save $30,000 a year.

“How long can we survive off Ramen(2000 Calories Per Dollar) before we need to take out loans?” Spoilers: We never took out ANY loans.

We went through our expenses:

  • “Car costs are necessary.”
  • “Rent is cheap, we live in a low cost area”
  • “Food – Well hold on now…. how much do we spend on food?”

I had thought about this during undergrad Engineering. We would go to a fast food restaurant and I’d ask:

What Fast Food Item Will Feed Me Most Efficiently?

  1. Little Caesar’s 5 Dollar Pizza – 420 Calories Per Dollar, 21g Protein Per Dollar
  2. Panera’s Cinnamon Raisin Bagel – 430 Calories Per Dollar, 14g Protein Per Dollar
  3. Taco Bell Beefy 5 – 400 Calories Per Dollar, 15g Protein Per Dollar

We went to the Grocery Store and bought our usual groceries. This time, instead of tossing the receipt, I opened a spreadsheet and started plugging in numbers.

I was shocked,

Greek Yogurt only gives us 10g Protein Per Dollar but the Chicken we eat gives us 50g of Protein Per Dollar?”

“Instant Oats cost 5 times more than regular oats?”

Canned foods cost absurdly more than fresh, why do people think canned meats are a good deal?”

That’s when I realized, we think we know what food costs, but we have no idea what nutrition costs. We needed a way to value food.

The results:

calorie-per-dollar-formula
calories6

Download as Excel File

Want More Efficiency? I do the math for everything – you get the results, you save time and money. Get Efficient Tips:

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“How can I use all of this data?”

Here is how we build a delicious and healthy meal:

  1. Pick A Low Cost Protein : Lentils, Beans, Chicken, some Pork, some protein powders, and some ground beef get you around 50 grams of protein per dollar
  2. Pick A Flavor : Spend 1 to 1.5 dollars on spices and veggies. Carrots, Garlic, Onions, Frozen peas, Frozen Green Beans, and bulk spices are delicious and healthy.
  3. Pick A Low Cost Carb : Rice, noodles, potatoes, tortillas, all add a base to the meal providing a median to deliver food to your mouth.
  4. Pick An Oil/Fat : Necessary to your life, you need to eat fats. Add some to anything you cook. Feel good about it too, filling, great calorie per dollar, and tasty.
  5. Search: (Protein)+ (Carb) + (Veggie/Spice) on the internet and follow a recipe.

 

How to google it

30 million results? You will find a few good recipes in there 😛

 

You should aim for around 700 calories per dollar if your goal is to eat for about $1,000 a year.

“What do you eat?”

Recipes

Combining high value foods with delicious recipes that are time efficient, we have developed 28 recipes that we rotate through.

 

What does a $0.90 meal look like? Get Your First Efficient Recipe- Delicious, Nutritious, And Takes 2 Minutes To Prepare:

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Other Tips

  •  The most inexpensive fast food item is almost 2 times more expensive than eating at home – The 5 Dollar Pizza wins at 420 Calories Per Dollar. The cheapest food you can get is at home.
  • Eating only white bread will cost you about $200 dollars a year in grocery bills but thousands of dollars of medical bills when you get Scurvy! Eat diverse foods for your health and sanity.
  • In general, processed foods(ones that are usually boxed, and have a ton of ingredients) are more expensive than their homemade alternative.
  • Canned food is very expensive.
  • Cereal isn’t a value but is delicious with whole milk making it absolutely worth it… to me 🙂
  • Most ‘Junk Food’ is expensive
  • My ‘Super Food’ is (Pinto) Beans and Lentils.  They are give between 80g-140g protein per dollar, give you 60% of your daily fiber in 180 calories, and are loaded with vitamins and minerals. I eat them minimum, a few times a week.

 

Want to find out if Dried Fruits have better Vitamins Per Dollar? Want to find out if Frozen Vegetables are healthier per dollar than Fresh?

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Which of your friends would really like this?

Spread the word, I’d appreciate it

Looking to expand this list to do more, including nutrition, and change the world. I’m looking for android users to collect a grocery store worth of data. Will pay 13 cents per entry. Email me for details.

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43 thoughts on “Calorie Per Dollar List – Eat For 21 Dollars A Week

  • October 6, 2016 at 5:14 pm
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    I’ve been wanting to do something like this for years, thank you for actually taking the effort and for sharing all this valuable information!

    Reply
  • October 6, 2016 at 7:42 pm
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    Thanks for this. This is great. Been meaning to do something like this for ages!

    Reply
  • October 7, 2016 at 12:15 am
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    > Canned food is very expensive.

    That seems like a vague and meaningless statement. Canned food means…chili? Beans? Tuna? Soup? How do you compare a canned ready to eat food with a long shelf life with one that either has to be refrigerated or will deteriorate in a few months or a year? I think the history of canned/preserved food is all about efficiency. Canning foods at the source vs shipping perishable foods to market seems like a very efficient way to deliver a lot of nutrition to broader market.

    Reply
    • October 22, 2016 at 9:30 pm
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      There is a value to canned food. I keep some emergency canned tuna at work and some canned salmon at home. Other than that, we avoid canned food.

      We buy our groceries 1 time a week. Nothing goes bad in those 6 days.

      I recommend buying canned in bulk. We found Costco had way better deals on canned than Walmart.

      Reply
    • April 7, 2017 at 4:25 pm
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      I agree.
      It’s a short sighted statement.
      It may cost more on the surface but saves on shelf life.
      I feel that this is 100% dependant on your buying and eating habits.
      Meaning if food tends to sit until it spoils I’m your fridge then canned foods value goes up

      Reply
  • October 17, 2016 at 10:53 pm
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    elements were invented for a reason

    Reply
  • October 18, 2016 at 1:37 pm
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    This is pretty awesome. I went to school for restaurant management for a few years in high school and college. We are ALWAYS about cutting costs with stuff like this and I am loving the different point of view we always go by servings and total yield. To get the right number would someone just find the total calories and protein per package from the seeing size divide by total cost to get calories per 1 cent then multiply by 100 for a dollar? Or is there a simpler method?

    Reply
    • October 22, 2016 at 9:05 pm
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      Great question, I updated the page at the top to show the formula.

      Take the Servings * Calories divided by dollars.

      IE: 4 servings * 200 Calories / $2.50 = 320 Calories / $

      Reply
      • December 18, 2016 at 5:33 am
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        “Great question, I updated the page at the top to show the formula.

        Take the Servings * Calories divided by dollars.

        IE: 4 servings * 200 Calories / $2.50 = 320 Calories / $”

        What???? * = ? Could you break this down into a language I might understand?

        Reply
        • January 6, 2017 at 9:08 pm
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          * is short hand for multiplication.

          Would x be better?

          Reply
        • January 17, 2017 at 8:02 pm
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          The 200 calories listed on the box is how many calories you’ll get for 1 serving of the food. And the box will also tell you how many servings are in the box. In this example, there are 4 servings. So you can either feed 4 people with this box of food, or eat 1 serving four different times. That whole box only costs $2.50 – and feeds 4 people (or 1 person four times). So far so good?

          Now, to find out how many calories per dollar, we have to consider that the 200 calories listed on the box is counter “per serving”. And if there are 4 servings in the box, that means there are actually 800 calories in the box (= 200 calories TIMES 4 servings). So for $2.50 you’re buying 800 calories of food. Now we divide that 800 calories by the price and we get the magical calories per dollar.

          So, 800 calories DIVIDED BY $2.50 = 320 calories per dollar

          Hope that helps.

          Reply
  • October 21, 2016 at 2:25 pm
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    Good list of tips for sure! i find myself doing this type of analysis frequently.
    i do have to take issue with your “140 calories of pinto beans = 100% DV of fiber” though…
    140 cals of pinto beans is about 7 or 8g of fiber, which is only about 20% of the average recommended ~ 38g per day. For sure a super food on a budget though…!

    Reply
    • October 22, 2016 at 6:48 pm
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      Good call – I like someone who knows their nutrition!

      I was mistaking Lentils which has

      15g Fiber/Serving

      180 Cal/Serving * Divided By 0.6% Daily Value = 300 Calories

      Still a very small amount of lentils. Beans would need 400 Calories to meet daily fiber. Its an efficient way to supplement your diet, great protein per dollar.

      Thanks

      Reply
  • October 24, 2016 at 4:52 am
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    Your lentil calculation for protein per dollar is pretty far off. Lentils are 1576 calories per 116 grams of protein, not 926. Therefore, if they have 926 calories for each dollar, they contain 68 grams of protein per dollar. Also, they’re 13.6 calories per gram of protein. You actually got my hopes up so much that I had look it up. I thought this would be a great, cheap alternative to meat that would easily allow me to hit my protein target for the day while allowing me to have plenty of room for treats. However, instead, it would have to comprise over 70% of my food intake for the day to use it as my only source of protein. The 42% you presented seems much more doable.

    Though I can’t argue for the price, black bean pasta actually beats your false lentils when it comes to protein. They contain 128.6 grams of protein per 926 calories. I could legitimately make up 1/3 of my calories for the day an finish off my protein a variety of low to moderate protein foods.

    Reply
    • October 27, 2016 at 3:25 pm
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      So I went to the store and bought a new bag of lentils

      > $1.78
      > 13 Servings
      > 10g Protetin/Serving

      130 g Protein/$1.78= 73g Protein Per Dollar.

      Good Call! Wonder what caused the price of lentils to go up… California water?

      Where do you buy your blackbean pasta? I’m Def interested

      Reply
      • October 29, 2016 at 4:26 pm
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        I’ve never actually tried it. I was looking at vegan protein sources and trying to figure out the cost in comparison to my current diet. I came across this list and thought lentils would make going vegan super easy. Wheat gluten is a very cheap source of protein, but I’m prone to food intolerances. I don’t want to eat this stuff on a regular basis and develop an intolerance to gluten or something. It’s only $5.45 for 20 servings, and each serving contains 120 calories and 23 grams of protein. This makes it far cheaper than any protein powder.

        Reply
  • November 13, 2016 at 8:14 pm
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    Dude you should look at contributing this info to openfoodfacts.org – the free food products database. I encountered it as a place to check how healthy specific products are, but adding this layer of information would be amazing! Plus it’s an application of the Semantic Web, part of Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision for the web.

    Reply
    • November 23, 2016 at 1:06 pm
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      I’m currently mapping an entire grocery store. Plan is to give it away to everyone for free.

      I’ll definitely get this over to that website. Combining it with nutrition data will be eye opening.

      I hadn’t heard of that website before but I’ll be checking it out! Thanks for the recommendation

      Reply
  • November 22, 2016 at 9:55 pm
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    Found small pecan pies at Walmart which is the most calories for a dollar.
    Two of these pies have 960 calories, and 10 grams of protein. They are only
    3.25 oz each and with a .50 price per pie, it is the best deal as far as calories
    per dollar that I have found.

    Reply
    • November 23, 2016 at 1:01 pm
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      Pecan pies… Hmm…

      I recorded a hundred desserts like twinkies and Hostess. Most were around 700 calories per dollar.

      I’ll keep an eye out this weekend! Thanks for the recommendation 🙂

      Reply
  • December 5, 2016 at 12:55 am
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    Can you show your columns for $/pkg and servings/pkg? This would help people compare values for their local stores.
    For example, you have eggs from Costco as 802 calories/$ and 70 protein/$, but if I get a dozen eggs from Safeway for $1.59, and use Myfitnesspal’s data of 71 calories and 6g of protein per egg, that is only 536 cal/$ and 45 protein/$ (which is basically the same as your Walmart values).

    Reply
    • December 5, 2016 at 10:40 pm
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      The excel file should have what you are looking for

      Click here

      I’m collecting more data, if there is any data or calculations you would like to see – let me know 🙂

      (love myfitnesspal btw)

      Reply
  • December 7, 2016 at 1:28 am
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    The numerator of the first formula, “servings*calories/servings” is redundant. You could write it as “servings/servings*calories” and you’ll see that it can be simplified to just “calories” in the numerator. It won’t cause you any issues unless you did this with decades worth of data, at which point it would take the computer only seconds longer to make the extra calculation, but I thought I would share anyway.

    Reply
    • December 8, 2016 at 12:31 am
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      Haha I love that you found this!

      Sometimes I get cranking into the stoichiometry and forget to remove the redundancies. The units always cancel out in the end, but to my math mind things work. You are correct though, it would be inefficeint to do over a large dataset.

      I wrote a Calorie Per Dollar App that does not have that extra column. Funny how you notice these things when you are entering hundreds of them –

      Thanks for catching that 🙂

      Reply
  • December 13, 2016 at 5:57 pm
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    I’d recommend that you get price information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
    http://www.bls.gov/regions/mid-atlantic/data/AverageRetailFoodAndEnergyPrices_USandMidwest_Table.htm
    Don’t put a lot of work into gathering your own data when they have more representative data. They gather it for calculating inflation statistics, so it is pretty comprehensive data. Anyhow, those are some crazy expensive bananas that you have been buying. I rarely pay more than 60 cents per pound. This should be fun for some classes I’m teaching. Thanks,
    -Jonathan (www.medianism.org)

    Reply
    • December 13, 2016 at 6:02 pm
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      Very cool Page. I’ll see if it can be used.

      My current issue is that many of these don’t have detailed descriptions like store and nutrition.

      I see chicken is 3.50/lb which is 1.50 more than I see at any mid west Walmart. I think they might be weighing all stores the same.

      Anyway, the link you posted looks promising if I can understand their methodology.

      Reply
  • January 9, 2017 at 12:42 am
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    Excellent work, thanks for sharing! Much appreciated.

    Reply
  • February 4, 2017 at 4:35 pm
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    I’ve been flipping through your blog posts and I can’t believe there is a site like this!

    I loved the caffeine per dollar article. Its so weird and I love it!!!!!!

    Reply
    • February 4, 2017 at 4:37 pm
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      Ah, I’m not sure how to edit posts, but you should do an entertainment study.

      Like internet entertainment per dollar and include netflix.

      Reply
  • February 8, 2017 at 7:06 pm
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    Michael,

    I am curious what your thoughts are when it comes to supplement drinks and powders that can provide a full meal replacement. For example, I recently discovered http://www.Soylent.com For around $3.00 (regular price) a meal, it provides 20% per bottle of daily nutrition based on a 2000 calorie diet. Each bottle provides 400 calories, Carbohydrates 37g – 33% of calories, Lipids 21g – 47% of calories, Protein 20g – 20% of calories, 25 Micronutrients – 20% DV, 2g Saturated Fat – 10% DV, 300mg Sodium – 13% DV, 3g Fiber – 12% DV, 0g Trans Fat, and 0g Cholesterol. I been able to purchase this as low as $1.74 per serving.

    According to your spreed sheet this equals (based on $3.00):
    Cal 133/$
    Protein 7/$
    Cal per Protein = 20
    Protein Rating = 20.1
    Cal Rating = 33.5
    Weighted value = 672.63
    Yearly cost = 5,475.00

    Solylent would fall close to the subway foot long on your chart as far as cal/$, Protein/$ and yearly cost. With the ability to purchase Soylent below the regular price ($1.75) these numbers improve to (I realize I cannot count of this price all the time):

    Cal 229/$
    Protein 11/$
    Cal per Protein = 20
    Protein Rating = 11.7
    Cal Rating = 19.5
    Weighted value = 228.88
    Yearly cost = 3,193.75

    This would come close to the Walmart Lunchable on your chart.

    Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    Regards,

    Joe

    Reply
    • February 11, 2017 at 5:26 pm
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      Wow I love that data!

      We aim for about 700 calories per dollar in a meal in our goal of eating for $1,000/year. That sounds pretty close to my protein shakes I’ll make. Protein powder + milk + 2tbsp extra virgin olive oil

      Protein ~45g/$
      Cal ~800/$

      From your numbers, it seems Soylent is convenience product on par with other premade and restaurant foods. I’m working on a Calories per second and protein per second article, premade protein shakes would score quite high.

      Make sure you get that on sale! The yearly cost goes up thousands of dollars to visualize the cost delta.

      Reply
  • February 28, 2017 at 10:32 pm
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    Test

    Reply
  • March 28, 2017 at 6:02 pm
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    Why is Costco olive oil more expensive than the 101 fl oz extra virgin olive oil? Where did you find the 101 fl oz olive oil?

    Reply
  • March 31, 2017 at 12:28 pm
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    Me and my wife eat almost exclusively from the reduced-price stock that supermarkets mark down, an hour before closing time (with the help of a medium sized freezer).

    We eat like kings and easily spend less than $1000 a year on food (well, we live in the UK, but I’ve used the exchange rate to check).

    By the way – love the site and this article in particular is good, but you may have missed a trick here. Unfortunately it won’t be easy to gather data on this option, but I can guarantee you that reduced-price food beats a calories-per-dollar approach in all 3 of taste, cost and health.

    George

    Reply
    • April 3, 2017 at 2:17 am
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      I think I’m with you on the Reduced-Price foods. I’ve been convinced today!

      While studying fruits and veggies Nutrition Per Dollar, a lady asked me to evaluate her cart.

      To my surprise the marked down items she grabbed were fantastic protein per dollar. That combined with recent sales has converted me- I think loading up on reduced cost foods can be a great deal.

      We’ve gotten 3,500 Calories Per Dollar and 130g protein per dollar from reduced price Peanut Butter. We bought 4 of the containers!

      Our grocery store is open 24/7 and the marked down foods are sporadic but we always try to snag them 🙂

      Reply
      • April 3, 2017 at 4:48 am
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        Glad you agree! 24/7 stores are not common in London – at least not within a 10km radius of the centre. There are some in the outer suburbs but realistically everyone drives to those as they are not in residential areas.

        We know exactly when each store in our town marks down their food and we are there like clockwork. Often the mark-downs are 80-90%!

        Hey, if you ever find yourself in London, let me know (do you have my email now that I’ve commented) We could probably learn a lot from each other.

        George

        Reply
        • June 29, 2017 at 12:54 am
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          Hey London is on my to do list! If we schedule a trip I’ll send you an email and we can go grocery shopping!

          Reply
  • June 22, 2017 at 8:37 pm
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    Love this data, glad to know there are others out there who do this. I calculated potassium/calorie to identify best choices when I wanted to increase my dietary potassium. Tomato paste and blackstrap molasses way more efficient than the well known banana.

    Reply
  • July 28, 2017 at 2:47 pm
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    This list has given me a new respect for 50 cent grocery store bagels. A bagel and a tall glass of milk are a fast, protein and calorie rich breakfast.

    Reply
    • July 28, 2017 at 2:55 pm
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      I estimate those bagels come out to around 700 calories per dollar? That with milk hits my targets!

      Reply
      • July 28, 2017 at 3:40 pm
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        Yes, it’s a nice “fast food” option. Especially if you find good bagels. Here in the west, I get them at Winco. I’m always looking for the quickest affordable food options, especially when I’m traveling or I don’t have time to cook.

        Reply
  • August 22, 2017 at 9:29 am
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    Thank you for sharing!

    Reply

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