The ketogenic diet, commonly referred to as “keto,” has been gaining popularity as an impressive way to drop weight fast, as well as for benefiting a number of health conditions, including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
It’s also gained a reputation for being expensive. Savvy marketers, latching onto the diet as the next hot thing, push pricey supplements, shakes, and bars, as well as high-cost substitutions for dieters’ old high-carb favorites.
However, it’s perfectly possible to follow a keto diet while keeping your grocery bill low. In fact, because the diet emphasizes eating whole, natural foods and tossing the processed stuff, if you shop strategically, it might actually save you some money.
What Can I Eat on the Keto Diet?
The keto diet focuses less on limiting overall calories than do traditional diets and more on controlling ratios of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Typically, most of your dietary calories on keto come from fat, which makes up around 75% of your diet. Protein is kept to a moderate amount at 20%, and carbs are limited to 5%. This ratio trains the body to burn fat for fuel instead of glucose, a fuel source processed from carbohydrates.
One of the best parts of the keto diet is the focus on eating real, whole foods – not the prepackaged, overly processed meals that have become the staple of many weight-loss plans as well as the standard American diet.
Many Americans eat a lot of highly processed carbs, including things such as potato chips, sugary cereals, muffins, cakes, and sweet snacks. By contrast, staples of the keto diet include foods such as meat, eggs, cheese, low-carb vegetables, nuts, and some fruits, including avocados, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries.
Though the diet may seem restrictive at first, when you ditch all the processed and high-carb stuff, you’re left with simple, real, whole foods that don’t have to cost you an arm and a leg.
How to Follow Keto on a Budget
The following tips can help you follow a keto diet while maintaining your grocery budget.
1. Forget About Pricey Supplements
Although marketers may push supplements – such as expensive multivitamins or electrolyte powders – aimed at making up for nutrient deficiencies, these products are often unnecessary. The keto diet is capable of providing adequate nutrition without the need to shell out extra cash for pricey pills. In fact, if you focus on building your diet around the right kinds of foods, you’re likely to be far better nourished than you were before starting the diet.
Even though you may be getting 75% of your total calories from fat, because fat is calorie-dense, it won’t take up 75% of your plate. Most of your plate is likely to contain low-carb vegetables, which might be cooked or dressed with something like heart-healthy olive oil.
Low-carb vegetables are nutrition powerhouses. Think dark leafy greens such as spinach or kale and colorful veggies such as bell peppers and eggplant. One of my personal favorites is spiralized zucchini “noodles.” You can spiral-cut an entire zucchini for a heaping plateful of noodles without all the carbs, and you’ll get significant does of vitamins B6, C, and K, as well as minerals like potassium and manganese.
Eggs are another staple of the keto diet, and they’re one of the most nutrient-rich foods in existence. One egg, with the yolk, contains a complete nutrition profile filled with a number of essential nutrients and vitamins, including significant amounts of vitamins A and B. After all, a complete chicken can be formed in an egg, so that chicken must get all its nutrients from that egg.
Some marketers also push things like exogenous ketones, ketones that are ingested rather than made by your body. But there’s little proof that consuming exogenous ketones is beneficial. Marketers push the product because it ups your blood ketone level, theoretically demonstrating that your body is burning fat. But it’s not clear that adding ketones means you’re burning extra fat. Your ketone level may only be higher simply because you ingested some.
Another product marketers try to sell keto followers is MCT oil. Although MCT oil has been shown to benefit the heart, it’s not necessary to ingest it if you’re on a tight budget. Most keto dieters pour MCT oil in their coffee to make what’s commonly referred to as a “bulletproof” coffee, which is essentially just coffee with some fat in it. But putting butter or heavy cream in your coffee can also provide adequate fat, making MCT oil largely unnecessary.
2. DIY Whatever You Can
Prepackaged keto foods can be expensive. Many keto bars are $5 apiece, you can pay as much as $13 for a box of keto brownie mix, and a loaf of keto bread can set you back $12 or more.
While it does take some time to cook or bake your own foods, making your own is much cheaper than buying prepared foods. A quick online search reveals thousands of recipes developed by hundreds of bloggers for tasty and satisfying replacements for all your old high-carb favorites. Pinterest is an especially good place to find keto recipes.
3. Rethink Substitutions
Finding substitutions for your high-carb favorites can be important if it helps you stick to the diet, but it will eat up your grocery budget. Substitutions aren’t necessary for following keto.
The goal of keto is to get your body into a state of ketogenesis, in which it burns ketones – a byproduct of fat metabolism – for fuel instead of glucose from carbs. You can do this simply by eating a diet rich with vegetables, protein sources, and high-quality fats such as olive oil. Although things like sweet desserts can be fun and enjoyable, you don’t technically need all that other stuff.
In fact, some keto diet experts recommend you not eat desserts at all because even when they’re made with keto-approved sweeteners like erythritol or stevia, they can keep you addicted to sugar and increase your sugar cravings. Personally, I don’t follow this advice because having the occasional sweet treat helps me stick with the diet for the long term. But it’s worth knowing, particularly if you’re on a tight budget, that they’re not necessary for keto.
What may be even more important for your long-term success is to change the way you think about food altogether. For example, many people, on being diagnosed with diabetes, immediately rush out to buy a bunch of sugar-free candy and cookies. But the commercially made stuff is generally “sugar-free” because it contains maltitol, which is known to spike blood glucose levels as much as sugar. What they really need isn’t a new kind of cookie but a shift to eating more whole foods.
When I first started my keto journey, I realized how many of our social interactions and family traditions revolve around food. We get together with family at the holidays to gorge ourselves on high-sugar foods and enjoy an evening out with friends by going to a restaurant. Finding substitutions in these situations can be challenging. So it might be time for some new traditions, like going bowling or playing a round of mini-golf instead of gathering over that high-carb restaurant meal.
4. Stick to Recipes With the Same Basic Ingredients
One of the things you’re likely to notice if you search online for keto recipes is the wide variety of ingredients. For example, if you search for keto bread recipes, you might find six different recipes calling for six different types of flours or “binders.” If you want to try baking low-carb desserts, you’ll discover many of them require different sweeteners.
The reason for so many ingredients is because different flours and sweeteners react differently in different recipes. As with gluten-free cooking, if you’re attempting to make bread without using wheat, you have to find something to bind your low-carb flour so the bread doesn’t fall apart. Wheat gluten essentially acts like glue in the flour, and common low-carb substitutions like coconut flour and almond flour don’t contain this glue. As a result, many low-carb recipes will call for different binders.
Also, low-carb flours don’t all act alike. Coconut flour soaks up a tremendous amount of moisture, while almond flour can be difficult to get to hold together. Depending on what you’re making, the recipe might call for one or the other or a combination of both.
The same goes for sweeteners. Erythritol is one of the most common, but xylitol is better for making ice cream because it won’t freeze solid. Erythritol also doesn’t dissolve well, so some recipes call for liquid stevia instead. And whenever recipes need the kind of bulk added by real sugar, such as for a cake, you need a sweetener that measures cup for cup like sugar, such as the popular sweetener Swerve, which contains erythritol bound with an indigestible fiber.
When I first started experimenting with keto recipes, I had six different flours and an equal number of sweeteners, in addition to other specialty ingredients like oat fiber, an indigestible fiber that helps low-carb muffins taste like real muffins.
But if you’re on a tight budget, there’s no need to buy so many ingredients. Although it can be fun to experiment with different recipes, your budget will stretch further if you try only one new thing at a time. You’ll also want to search for recipes that only use the same few ingredients you typically keep on hand. Fewer ingredients mean less money spent, so to save your wallet, always keep it simple.
5. Meal Plan
Frugal shopping experts have long recommended meal planning as a great way to save money. When you know what you’re going to cook instead of just winging it, you can go to the store with a list and buy only those foods you need. Also, you’ll be putting all your purchases to use, which means less moldy produce or expired almond milk that has to be tossed.
Don’t just focus on which recipes you want to cook when putting together your meal plan. I was first turned onto the keto diet after reading a book, and when I followed the author’s two-week plan, my grocery budget quadrupled. That’s because every day was a new recipe with a new laundry list of ingredients.
When you’re meal planning, stick to recipes with as few ingredients as possible, that reuse ingredients you can buy in bulk, that rely on pantry staples you normally keep on hand, and that focus on cheaper ingredients. Otherwise, it’s very easy for meal planning to cause your total grocery bill to skyrocket.
Pro Tip: If you want help with your meal planning, you can use a service like eMeals. They have a lot of Keto recipes available, and right now, you can start with a free 14-day trial.
6. Avoid Impulse Buys
One of the primary benefits of meal planning is that it helps you avoid impulse buys. It may be tempting to buy something just because it says “keto-friendly,” especially when you’re new to the diet, but impulse buys can quickly eat away at your budget. Sticking to only those ingredients you know you need to cook your pre-planned meals will help preserve your budget.
If you know you’re normally subject to impulse buys, take advantage of online ordering, which is available at nearly every grocery store and through apps like Instacart. I started ordering all my groceries online and driving to the store just for pickup right after my son was born and doing anything resembling grocery shopping seemed impossible. I still do it because it’s one of the best tools I know for sticking to a grocery budget.
When I pre-order all my groceries, I’m able to see exactly how much I’m spending. And if I go over my budget, I can reconsider my grocery cart and move things around until I’m happy with the total. That’s quite different from checking out at the register only to discover, after everything has been rung up, that you spent too much.
Moreover, many stores now offer online ordering for free, and if you’re ever pressed for time, most will deliver your groceries for a nominal fee.
7. Splurge Strategically
I admit I indulge in a few splurges when it comes to my keto diet. I buy keto buns for my hamburgers from Fox Hill Kitchens and Rebel Ice Cream to get my dessert fix. I splurge on these things because it’s both easier than making them myself and these products are simply better than anything I’ve tried to make myself. I also splurge on sweeteners and flours for making low-carb baked goods.
Buying a lot of specialty ingredients and prepared foods can quickly eat away at your budget, but these kinds of splurges can also make life with keto a little more enjoyable. Especially when you first switch to a keto diet, you may be tempted to try everything – every recipe you can find, every sweetener on the shelf, every keto-friendly candy bar – simply because it can be fun to explore and experiment.
You don’t have to give up on splurges entirely, even if you’re on a tight budget. Instead, try a common budget trick and set aside a specific fund for your splurges. It will help you cut down on impulse buys while preserving the fun of trying new things.
8. Shop at Lower-Cost Stores
It pays to shop around. In my area, the store with the consistently lowest prices has always been Walmart. When I purchase the same items at our local chain store, they cost twice as much.
Another low-cost store with some great keto-friendly items is Aldi. My local Aldi has the lowest prices on grass-fed beef, heavy cream, and almond flour. It can also be a great place to find low-cost meats, nuts, and seeds.
9. Focus on Cheaper Ingredients
When you’re meal planning, make sure your plans and recipes focus on cheaper ingredients. Here are just a few examples of cheap keto foods:
- Ground Beef. Ground beef is one of the cheapest and most versatile meats. And when it comes to keto, you can forget the more expensive lean ground beef. The higher the fat content of the beef, the cheaper it is, and that’s perfect for both a keto diet and your grocery budget.
- Chicken. Chicken is another highly versatile meat, and it’s easy to buy in bulk in the freezer section. It’s cheaper to buy the whole chicken rather than pieces, but if you do buy pieces, go for the fattier chicken thighs. They’re not only cheaper than chicken breasts, but the extra fat is better for a keto diet.
- Eggs. Eggs are one of the best food bargains around. For the price, you get substantial calories, including protein, fat, and virtually zero carbs. They make the perfect keto breakfast, and you can make use of eggs in many other ways. Try them hard-boiled for a snack, sliced over a salad, or mash them with some mayonnaise and make egg salad for the perfect keto lunch.
10. Stock Up on Frozen Vegetables
Although we often think of fresh produce first when it comes to buying healthy, nutritious foods, frozen vegetables are not only cheaper, but they can also be better for you. Fresh vegetables are often transported long distances and then spend days or weeks in your refrigerator before you get around to eating them. While time passes, they lose valuable nutrients. Frozen vegetables, on the other hand, are frozen at the peak of their freshness, so they retain all their nutrients.
Moreover, they’re significantly cheaper than fresh veggies. For example, you can buy a bag of frozen spinach for $1, but the same amount of fresh spinach could cost you at least $6.
11. Buy, Cook, and Freeze in Bulk
Once you’ve discovered that you like a certain food, always look for a bulk option. Though you’ll spend more buying the larger size, you’ll save on the per-unit cost. For example, meat is arguably one of the most expensive items in anyone’s grocery budget, keto or not. But when you buy it in bulk, your overall spending decreases. Consider that at my local Walmart, a pound of ground beef costs $4.34, but 4.5 pounds costs $13.98, which comes to $3.10 per pound. You save $5.55 by buying the larger size, which is like getting over a pound of beef for free.
Since I know we’ll eventually eat it all, I always buy the largest size I can of whatever meat I’m looking for that week. I divide it up into packages, each with enough meat for one meal, and freeze them so that I can just reach into the freezer and grab what I need when I need it.
It’s also money-saving to cook in bulk. Whenever you can, cook a large portion of your meal and freeze the leftovers. This is called batch cooking, and it’s one of the best ways to always have keto meals in the house while also saving money. You can batch cook by either doubling recipes when you cook or choosing a day of the week to prep several meals. I always batch cook several meals on Sundays, including all my breakfasts and lunches for the upcoming week. As an added benefit, when you meal prep, it will be easier to reach for those already-prepared keto foods than something else that may be convenient but not keto-friendly.
Buying in bulk, cooking in bulk, and freezing your meals not only saves time in the kitchen; it also saves money. When you find bulk deals, especially on anything frozen, make sure to stock up.
12. Shop the Sales
Another way to save on any item on your grocery list is to take advantage of sales. One of our local grocery stores regularly holds buy-one-get-one-free (BOGO) sales on beef roasts, which are normally an expensive splurge at an average cost of $15 per $20 roast. Whenever they have a BOGO sale, I make sure to pick some up and toss them in the freezer.
If you get flyers in the mail, make sure to peruse them for the latest store sales. If you don’t get flyers, the Flip app is a great tool for checking out local sales. Sales usually repeat every six weeks, so when you see something for a good deal, stock up on six weeks’ worth.
13. Shop in Season
The best way to save money on produce is to grow your own. Barring that, the second best way is to shop in season. Seasonal fruits and vegetables will always cost less in season than out.
For example, during the early summer months, our local grocery store has BOGO sales on strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. These sales never happen in the winter, so during the summer, my family eats a lot of delicious and nutritious berries. You can also freeze fresh berries to eat later on when they’re no longer in season.
14. Try Some Meatless Meals
You can also save on the cost of meat by cutting down how much of it you eat. The keto diet isn’t a high-protein diet; it’s a moderate-protein diet. Most of your calories on keto come from fat. It’s entirely possible to do keto on a vegetarian or even a vegan diet. Some of the healthiest fats come from natural plant sources such as nuts, olives, avocados, and coconuts. So if you’re looking for a way to save money on meat, try having a few meatless meals per week.
15. Stick to Whole Foods
When you meal plan, stick to simple recipes with few ingredients, and focus on whole foods, you’ll save significantly. For example, a dozen eggs, which could feed you for a few meals, costs about $0.88 at Walmart; a single Snickers bar, which isn’t even one complete meal, costs almost as much as $0.78.
16. Prioritize Where You Spend Your Money
When you’re first starting keto, it’s not necessary to buy grass-fed beef and free-range chicken and eggs. Nor do you have to focus on all-organic fruits and vegetables. All you have to do to get into ketosis is control your fat, protein, and carb intake. Over time, though, you may find you want to focus on eating the highest-quality foods so you can get the best nutrition from them. Also, foods treated with pesticides can be dangerous; pesticides are known endocrine disruptors, and many of the ones used on our food are actually toxic.
Always buy the highest-quality food you can comfortably afford. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and what you spend at the grocery store, you may reap several times over when it comes to your lifelong health.
However, when money is tight, focus on just getting into ketosis first and foremost. That, by itself, comes with significant health benefits. Then, when you have a little more to spend on your groceries, start by prioritizing. Pesticides are most concentrated in meat, for example, so you may want to start with organic meat.
Grass-fed beef and free-range chicken, though always not organic, are also considered healthier meats. They’ve have become so popular that it’s possible to buy some organic, grass-fed, free-range meats at big box stores such as Walmart. Buy in bulk wherever possible or sign up for a delivery service such as ButcherBox for additional savings.
Next, consider buying keto-friendly organic versions of any of the “dirty dozen,” the fruits and vegetables considered to be the most contaminated with pesticides.
17. Use Shopping Apps & Coupons
All of the same advice that applies to grocery shopping, in general, applies to buying keto groceries, so make use of grocery shopping rebate apps such as Ibotta or Checkout 51. Clipping coupons can also help you save when shopping for keto foods.
18. Cook Meals at Home
It can be difficult to eat out on a keto diet. Although most restaurants have at least one low-carb option on the menu, it can be hard to say no to your old favorites, and you can’t always know for sure what ingredients the restaurant is using.
If you cook more of your meals at home, you’ll automatically save money compared with eating out. Even better, you can cook low-carb versions of your favorite foods and control all the ingredients so you know exactly what you’re getting.
19. Cut Down on Snacking
Many of your favorite high-carb snack foods – like potato chips, cookies, and candy – are also expensive. Fortunately, one of the benefits of a high-fat diet is a decreased appetite. You may find that once you embark on a keto lifestyle, you no longer have any desire to snack.
Don’t worry about snacking too much in the beginning, as your focus should be on getting used to a keto diet. But if you eventually decide to give up snacking, it will definitely save you money.
20. Consider Eating Two Meals per Day
It’s no surprise that eating less naturally means spending less money on food. And while keto is restrictive enough without having to worry about forgoing meals, as with snacking, you may eventually find you no longer feel the need to eat more than two meals per day because the meals you do eat leave you satisfied.
In fact, many keto dieters eventually find themselves skipping breakfast and instead consuming only a coffee with added fat, such as butter or heavy cream. The fat has the power to keep many people satisfied until lunchtime. Moreover, research has shown some positive benefits for both weight loss and diabetes management with intermittent fasting, which includes a pattern of stopping eating after dinner and not eating again until lunch the next day.
As with anything, the keto diet can take a while to get used to. It takes time to establish new habits and get accustomed to a new way of eating, and that includes figuring out how to make low-cost meals that are also delicious and satisfying.
But if you stick with it, it can become a new way of life that’s both natural and budget-friendly. It can also lead to some significant health improvements, especially if you suffer from any of the conditions a keto diet is proven to help. And better health can mean fewer doctors’ visits and lower medical costs.
Are you on the keto diet? Do you have any favorite tips for sticking to a budget while shopping for keto foods?