How To Eat At Whole Foods For Less Than $5

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Overhead view of Whole Foods market hot bar and prepared food section.

All of this beautiful food for under $5 a meal! (Well, maybe not all of it.)

A couple weeks ago, I paid for an entire order at Whole Foods with a $5 bill. Normally, I don’t shop there, but it was on my way home. When I learned my total was $4.40, I thought the clerk made a mistake.

Nobody leaves Whole Foods without dropping at least $20. Often, my grocery bill triples because I’m drawn to sample foods, pricey vitamin supplements, the hot bar, natural cosmetics, and fancy sulfate-free wine.


However, if you enter Whole Foods with a shopping list and tunnel vision, you can eat there on a serious budget. To prove it, I’ve come up with a full day’s menu with ingredients purchased at Whole Foods for under $5 for TWO people, per meal. Let’s dig in.

(A couple quick notes. First, meals don’t include the cost of condiments, spices, and cooking oil, because I expect people have these items at home already. Second, all prices are based on my local Whole Foods. I’ll assume the prices in Boston are just as expensive as other cities—at least I hope they are.)


Eggs ‘n’ lentils: This dish is a healthy, low-fat, high-protein option and similar to the savory classic bacon and eggs. It may sound crazy to eat lentils for breakfast, but this is actually common elsewhere in the world. Ready to get even crazier? Add some greens to round out the meal. This pairs nicely with sautéed Swiss chard or kale. Making an omelet with onion and frozen spinach is also a good, cheap way to sneak veggies into breakfast.

Recipe for two with lowest available Whole Foods prices:

  • I c. green lentils ($2.19/lb) 1 c = 0.97 cents (0.49 cents/serving)
  • 1/2 small onion (1.48/lb) 1 sm onion = 0.25 lb = 0.38 cents (0.19 cents/serving)
  • 2-4 eggs ($3.09/dozen) 1 egg = 0.26 cents (0.26-0.52 cents/serving)
  • 0.25 lbs kale (2.99/lb)  1 bunch = approx 0.5 lbs = 4 servings (0.38 cents/ serving)
  • 2 cups coffee ($4.99/ 14 oz can of whole Three Beans coffee) 24-44 servings depending on how strong and how big the cup is (average 0.18 cents/serving)

TOTAL BREAKFAST COST FOR TWO = approx. $3 – $3.50

Cooking directions: 

  • Sauté the onions until they’re translucent in some cooking oil in a pot where you can add the lentils to cook.
  • Add 2 cups lentils and 2 cups water to the pot.
  • Add any seasonings you like (I suggest garlic powder, cumin, and curry, but don’t add salt or any seasonings containing salt yet—it disrupts the cooking process).
  • Bring the water to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat then reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes. Add water as needed so the lentils don’t stick to the pot.
  • When they’re done cooking, add salt and season to taste!
  • Remove long stems of the kale and chop up the leaves into bite-size pieces.
  • Steam the greens with a vegetable steamer, or sauté them with garlic in a pan with a splash of lemon juice and soy sauce.
  • Cook those eggs however you like.

TIME-SAVING TIP: Make a big pot of lentils on Sunday night and mix in the greens with it. Hard boil several eggs, too. This can be breakfast on-the-go throughout the week, with the help of a microwave.


Tuna wraps: Add a side of fruit or veggies to make a more filling meal.

Recipe for two with lowest available Whole Foods prices:

  • 1 can tuna (1.69/can of Wild Skipjack Tuna) 1 can = 2 servings (0.85 cents/serving)
  • 1 carrot (2.49/2 lb bag carrots) approx. 20 carrots in the bag = 0.13 cents/carrot (0.7 cents/serving)
  • 1 stalk celery (2.99/large bunch celery) approx. 15 stalks/bunch = 0.20 cents/stalk (0.10 cents/serving)
  • ½ small onion (1.48/lb) 1 sm onion = 0.25 lb = 0.38 cents (0.19 cents/serving)
  • Two tortilla wraps (2.69/bag), 8 wraps per bag (0.34 cents per wrap)

Cooking directions: 

  • Finely chop carrots, celery, and onion.
  • Mix well with your tuna (along with mayo and seasonings, if desired).
  • Wrap it up!
  • Serve a piece of fruit or steamed edimame on the side. Buy whatever’s fruit is on sale so it’s 0.95 cents or less per piece, or buy it in bulk. Frozen edimame costs $1.79 a bag, which says it contains three servings, but you could stretch it to four.

TOTAL LUNCH COST FOR TWO = without a side = $3.10, with edimame or fruit, approx. $4-$5


Fried tofu breaded in nutritional yeast with brown rice and greens: This is actually my favorite meal of all time. Not kidding. Nutritional yeast is a delicious, savory seasoning that can be used like breadcrumbs. You can replace the rice with pasta and marinara sauce, too. Greens can be anything, but I suggest broccoli.

Recipe for two with lowest available Whole Foods prices:

  • 1/2  block tofu (1.89/package) 4 servings per package (48 cents per serving)
  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast from bulk bins. (9.99/lb) ½ cup costs less than a dollar (less than 0.50 cents per serving)
  • 1/2 large head of Broccoli (2.49/lb) large head weighs approx. 1 lb. = approx 4 servings (0.63 cents per serving)
  • 1 cup medium grain brown rice from bulk bins (2.19/lb) 2 ½ cups rice/lb (approx. 0.48 cents/serving)

Cooking directions: 

  • Start the rice in advance—1 cup rice to 2 cups water. Brown rice cooks for approx. 45 minutes.
  • Mix the nutritional yeast with a good amount of garlic powder and black pepper.
  • Slice the tofu block in half length-wise, chop one half into squares, about 1/4-inch thick. Save the other half for later submerged in water in Tupperware.
  • Roll the tofu squares in the nutritional yeast mixture so they’re evenly coated. Fry them in 5 tbsp oil over medium heat. About 5 minutes on each side.
  • Steam the broccoli using a vegetable steamer basket for about 5 minutes.


Did I just blow your mind?

Do you have a favorite cheap but healthy recipe? Tell us in the comments!

(Photo: david_shankbone)

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