I am not the most healthy person in the world. I don’t make food calendars or meal prep. I eat what I want and where I want… for the most part. I shop at Trader Joe’s and I eat out once or twice a week. Outside of my wildly complex dietary restrictions consisting of no dairy and limited raw green vegetables, I can pretty much eat what I want.
Sure, there are plenty of other foods I don’t love like mushrooms, peppers, cilantro, and quite a few other things, but that’s not the point. The point is, eating on $10 a day is a very realistic and viable option.
Trick #1: Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting and yes, I’ll ignore all the eye rolls for all the fasting haters out there, has been a fun experiment for me these past 6 months or so. Essentially, the way I intermittent fast is I eat between the hours of 11am and 7pm… most nights.
When I first started, I was incredibly hungry every morning and getting to 11am was a huge challenge. I craved my waffles with maple syrup or my egg and salami sandwich with melted dairy free cheese on toast, but over time those cravings went away. Now, I can make it to 11am most days without a hitch. Sometimes, I even go longer just for the heck of it or if I get sidetracked.
This has not hindered my performance physically or mentally. As a matter of fact, I think it’s had a net positive impact on both.
But, this article isn’t about fasting…
Intermittent fasting has had a huge impact on my overall spending when it comes to eating food. Instead of eating 3+ meals a day, I eat pretty much whatever I want in my designated time frame. Since I only have 8 hours to eat, I make sure to be intentional with what I consume.
I think being intentional is a key characteristic to success. Whether it be fasting or you wanting to treat people better, make more sales, or whatever, being intentional with your actions is key to growth and improvement.
Trick #2: Food Discipline - Portioning Is NOT One Size Fits All
For me, one of the leading causes for stomachaches is eating too much at a time, getting bloated, and then having to take a 30 minute break from my day either to nap or to hit the john. Every once in a while, you’ll hit the jackpot and do both at the same time. Ok… TMI, I get it.
But, we’ve all been there. Our eyes are bigger than our stomachs and we either get too full because we don’t want food to go to waste or we have just enough extra food that we decide it’s too much to eat now, but not enough to save for later ultimately wasting the food.
I feel like whenever we hear about portioning it’s in the sense of dieting, often in a negative light. Instead, I think choosing the amount of food you eat is not a one size fits all option. It’s a personal preference, but it requires some honest self assessment. Some of us need to eat more than others, so find the size that works for you and your health goals. Be honest with yourself and become aware about how much food it takes you to hit your marks.
When I go out for lunch, I love to eat half during the meal and then save the other half for a few hours later once I know I’m good.
When you portion your food right, it can prevent you from over eating but also it can help you plan for future meals.
Trick #3: Think Ahead
When you think ahead and plan ahead, you can break down the science of food costs. I love math, and I don’t mind doing this, but I also don’t spend every second calculating how much each meal costs.
What I do do though, is be aware of what I consume.
Here’s a sample meal for me from Trader Joe’s.
Orange Chicken - $5.99
Frozen Broccoli Florets - $1.99
Frozen Brown Rice - $3.99
Since I live alone, I always tend to have more food than I can consume in one sitting, so I make sure to plan ahead. I also try to do my best to portion out my foods so I can prevent unnecessary stomachaches. With the above food items, I can easily break this into two meals turning the price of a meal of orange chicken, brown rice, and broccoli into less than $5.
Orange Chicken (2 servings for me) - $3
Frozen Broccoli Florets (4 servings for me) - $0.50
Frozen Brown Rice (3 pack, 6 servings for me) - $0.67
Here’s another great example.
Chipotle is a great restaurant and provides a full meal at a fair rate, but sometimes I don’t want to go all the way to Chipotle to get my meal. Sometimes, I want to make my own burrito bowl.
Frozen Chicken - $6.99
Before you freak out on the healthy factor, I’m aware there are healthier options but this is what I prefer since I am on the road a lot and don’t always have time to eat everything super fresh.
Frozen Brown Rice - $3.99
Beans - $0.99
Tomatos - $2.99
Salsa - $1.99
Again, I think ahead and whenever I can, I make two meals.
Breaking this down, the average cost of a burrito bowl for me is less than $5.
Trick #4: Buy Food You Like
I am a big snacker and I have an extreme sweet tooth, but during the week I try to curb this as much as possible to focus on good eating habits. However, I have found several snacks that satisfy these needs to a certain extent.
Cheap snacks that I love:
Cucumbers with hummus
Sometimes, though, you want something more. You want something that will fill you up and satisfy your needs. In this instance, I indulge in trail mix consisting of purely cranberries, almonds, and cashews. It’s sweet and salty and it lasts a long time.
When you buy food that you like, you aren’t constantly searching ro something else to eat to satisfy your craving.
Trick #5: Don’t Buy Unnecessary Items
I’ve found that a big part of my success for eating on a budget is not splurging on things that I don’t need or that I shouldn't have. I don’t buy the tub of Lactaid ice cream every time I go to the store. I ignore the bucket of cookie dough. I try to hold off on special food items so they don’t become expected in my mind. That way, when I do get these items, I see it as a treat not a necessity.
In the world of studying happiness, there’s what’s called the hedonic treadmill. Essentially it says that the more we have something or experience it, the less exciting it becomes. For example, the first chocolate bar is delicious, but by the time you’ve eaten five, it’s not nearly as enjoyable as the first one.
When it comes to your eating habits, treat yourself every so often, but find a unique variety of cheap and healthy options to keep your taste buds excited about each meal.
Bonus Trick: Treat Yourself
Every so often, you should treat yourself for something you love. Don’t be afraid to hit Taco Bell for a $5 lunch here and there. It really reduces your spending and for me, it increases my happiness. The little splurge I make at my favorite fast food chain makes all the difference in the world.
If you aren’t a Taco Bell person, no worries. Hit a local In-N-Out and grab your favorite double-double.
If you don’t have either or these, then you’re missing out.. Just kidding. But, seriously, treat yourself with something you crave.
I’m not perfect and I don’t eat this way all the time. However, I love to eat and when I do eat I want to enjoy myself. I’m not really into eating the same things everyday or being extremely disciplined like some of my friends are. We all know that one person who hits the gym every single day and has abs of steel but only eats chicken and rice. Yeah, no thank you.
When it comes down to it, you can eat a healthy-ish diet on $10 a day if you want to. You have to decide that it’s right for you and you have to put in the work to make it happen.
Elevate in Action
1. Which trick resonates the most with you?
2. Identify your cheat day/meal and commit to it once in a while.
3. What are some of your favorite healthy snacks? Get them the next time you go to the market.
Jake Kelfer is a lifestyle entrepreneur and life elevator. He is the bestselling author of Elevate Beyond and Elevate Your Network, and a high-energy motivational speaker. He is also the founder of the Professional Basketball Combine, which helps NBA draft prospects turn their dreams of playing pro basketball into their reality. Connect with Jake on social @jakekelfer, and read more posts like this one on his Elevate Beyond blog.