Diet

We’ve all heard the joke: Whole Foods, whole paycheck. The humor seems exaggerated, until you shop there or at some other natural foods market. Before you know it you’ve spent $70 or more when all you were after was Fair Trade coffee, a fresh baguette and a few excellent cheeses.

Sound familiar? One man recently admitted it costs him $800 a month to purchase his groceries from Whole Foods, and he’s only buying for himself, his girlfriend and an average-sized dog that he feeds like a human. That’s $200 a week—between $28 and $29 a day for a man, a woman and one satisfied pet. Who can afford that?

Well, plenty of people are trying to. According to recent statistics from The Hartman Group, a Bellevue, Wash.-based market research firm, 73 percent of the U.S. population consumes organic food and beverages at least some of the time. What’s more, the Hartman research shows that it’s not just the stereotypical highly-educated, high-income, Caucasian female who buys organic. African Americans, Asian Americans and Latino Americans are a fast-growing segment of organic consumers, according to Blaine Becker, the firm’s director of marketing and communications.

In fact, almost as many households with an annual income of less than $50,000 are buying organic foods, as are households with incomes higher than $50,000. This means that people who earn less are still choosing more expensive organic products.

But that leaves a fundamental problem: How can you eat healthy without going broke?

To find out, MSN Health & Fitness sought help from nutritionist Lynn Smith, a registered dietitian and owner of Source Nutrition services in Boulder, Colo. Our mission: To see if a single person can eat a healthy and predominantly organic foods diet on $7 a day. That’s $50 a week, $200 a month.

When I met Smith at a Whole Foods store, she immediately brought me down to earth with a sobering assessment: “This means you have $2 for breakfast, $2 for lunch, $2 for dinner, and $1 for a snack.” With that reality check, we hit the aisles.

Work the Healthy Combinations

Before pricing produce, Smith outlines several healthy combinations of food that help when on a tight budget.

“The first is balance,” she says. “About a quarter of your plate should be protein, one-third veggies, and a quarter to a third starchy carbs.” For the rest, fill it out with any of the three, along with a smaller amount of healthy fats.

Combining certain foods helps complete a meal, says Smith. One mainstay combination for this Healthy Eating on $7 a Day mission is beans and a grain.

“Beans have protein and good, complex, starchy carbs,” says Smith. “Rice alone is not going to last you as long as it will when paired with beans.”

The next combination is a grain and vegetables, topped off with a plant-based protein like almonds or tofu. The third meal combination is a salad with adequate protein and fat, and some type of carbohydrate.

“In this case you would use nuts or eggs on the salad, and then on the side you would either have whole grain bread, or a cup of bean soup, or hummus.”

Smith’s fifth combination for healthy eating—pairing vegetables with fish or meat—is out, at least on a regular budgetary basis, for the $7-a-day shopper. Most meats and seafood are too expensive. Which brings us back to the produce aisle.

Read Healthy Eating Guide