Autumn Proves Eating Healthy Is Not More Expensive


“Healthy food is too expensive!” is a complaint that Autumn Calabrese, creator of the 21 Day Fix, hears all too often. But it’s simply not true. So, Autumn decided to prove once and for all that a healthy home-cooked dinner can cost the same as fast food from McDonald’s. Let’s call it a tale of two meals.

First, Autumn went to McDonald’s to buy dinner for herself and her son, whom she calls “Little Man.” She ordered a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, large french fries, and a large drink for herself. For Little Man she ordered chicken nuggets (6 piece), a small fries, and lowfat milk. The bill was $13.91. Here is the approximate nutritional breakdown of the meals using nutritional data from McDonald’s website.

• 1310 calories
• 50 g fat (15.5 g saturated fat)
• 185 carbs
• 35 g protein
• 830 mg sodium
• 80 g sugar

Little Man:
• 669 calories
• 31.5 g fat (6 g saturated fat)
• 60 g carbs
• 23 g protein
• 795 mg sodium
• 18 g sugar


Next, Autumn and Little Man went to Trader Joe’s with the goal to spend the same amount of money on ingredients to make a healthy dinner. She spent $15.01, about a dollar more, but she had enough for  leftovers. Her $15 purchased one packet of 5 thinly-sliced chicken breasts, two potatoes, a cucumber, a bell pepper, and a tomato. With those simple ingredients, she made 34 chicken nuggets for her son (leaving 28 for leftovers) and made 2 chicken breasts for herself (giving her one for leftovers), baked homemade french fries with one of the potatoes, and chopped veggies for a large salad. Watch the video below to hear more about her cost comparison.

There are many healthy inexpensive options out there. Look for fruits and vegetables that are on sale, those tend to be what’s in season too. Check the bulk bins for dried beans and lentils, brown rice, rolled oats, and other whole grains. Get more tips for eating healthy on a budget here.


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  1. L. P. said:

    Way to go Little Man for being so patient! Thank you for showing how a healthy meal can be bought and prepared!

    • Mary M. Bella said:

      Andrew, you get what you pay for? What’s in that Mac&Cheee? Is the ingedients fresh, origami? You can make your own healthier Mac&Cheese for possibly the same price per serving.

          • Lisa D said:

            JimGood that was very disrespectful. I see you go around on other posts and call people idiots too.. Stop trolling the blog posts if you have nothing nice to say. Everyone is on a journey and it is not yours to judge. Keep your comments to yourself if you can’t be positive.

          • Ashley Severo said:

            She was giving advice to Andrew I thought?…not you JimGood. Plus your arrogance is very unattractive, you could quite possibly be the fittest man commenting here but your demeaning comments make you the ugliest! These blogs are here to encourage, inspire and lift others up. We all come from different walks of life, and regardless of where Mary is on her journey, her advice is legit. Keep fighting the good fight for you (Mary M.Bella), and pray for the haters 🙂

          • David Cagulada said:

            Looks like yet another reply from an internet troll. May God bless you JimGood as you continue your journey.

          • Paula Hunt said:

            Jim, not all obese people sit around eating donuts all day, you might be surprised. There is such a thing as being fat and healthy as well as being thin and ill. I know several thin people who have cholesterol levela through the roof. I would ask that you be kind to others in this forum. Let’s all support one another on this journey called Life.

    • Debbie DiFrancesco said:

      I make my own mac and cheese, if I’m buying a 1 pound of cheese for my hubby’s lunch, that also is what I make, grilled cheese sandwiches, making a few meals…My son will eat the box mac & cheese, I personally hate it… also as Mary stated, there is no way ramen (which is wrapped in wax to last longer) is healthy… yes they may be cheaper, I don’t know!!!!!! I’m on a fixed income and disabled and try to cook healthy.. we don’t eat 3 meals a day, my kids are all grown so breakfast consist of coffee, toast, yogurt, I did by the 21 day fix for my hubby, sadly he hasn’t opened the box… lol What I’ve seen is, you limit ur intake, try to eat healthier, fruits, veggies, no sugar, the things they’ve been telling us for years…. This maybe a great program for the ones who can afford to buy fresh foods daily.. Me, I just try to stay away from processed foods… Best to all on the road to health

  2. jenny said:

    I LOVE what you are doing here. However, I very closely with an agency that works to provide food for families in need. It is cheaper to buy a dollar hamburger and a dollar french fry at mcdonalds than it is to buy the other meal. Also, what many people do is buy the Ramen, The Mac and Cheese, the 88cent pkg of hot dogs. That is what people are saying when they say it is more expensive to eat healthily. ( I know it is about choice . . FOR SOME. I am lucky enough to be able to choose the healthier options. However many families are not. But I LOVE the options ideas and options BeachBody and Autumn provide. (I have lost 24 pounds so far between 21 day fix and my gym) THANKS AUTUMN

    • Shelley Walling said:

      I agree with you Jenny. Not only can it be cheaper to eat Ramen, $1 packages of hot dogs, but it is also the time it takes to prepare the healthier meals. Not all families have a stay-at-home mom who can prepare those healthier meals. Some have a full time working mom and no husband physically there to support her and the children. The $120 a month it costs to buy the 21 day protein powder alone takes one full week of grocery money and other household items money, away from my family. So that is why you generally see wealthier people who are healthier people. Not saying it CAN’T be done, just saying there far more obstacles for people in the lower income bracket.

        • Shelley Walling said:

          I wouldn’t know how to compare the ingredients of the 21 day protein powder to other protein powders because I am not a scientist, chemist or nutritionist. I didn’t say the 21 day fix protein powder was inferior nor did I say it was expensive. I did the 21 day fix work out with the powder, last year, and lost 12 pounds in one month. However, since being diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer this year, I had to quit my new job to go through a rigorous round of chemo therapy and now radiation so I can’t afford the protein powder. You must have an opinion about protein powders, or you wouldn’t have asked the question.

          • Paula Hunt said:

            Shelley, my only experience with protein powder is whey protein that I purchased from either Whole Foods or Sprouts for roughly 20.00 a can which lasted maybe one month at the most, with one smoothie a day for breakfast. Ha, I am not a scientist either Shelley.I wish you well on your road back to good health Shelley.

        • Kimberly Gayle Manring said:

          You can do the 21 day fix without SHAKEOLOGY. Yes, you can buy any other protein powder that doesn’t have a ton of carbs, but you can still do the plan with no protein powder at all. Please also read the comment I made to Shannon above, to do the 21 Day Fix for a fraction of the cost.

    • Kyle said:

      Looking at what Autumn bought, I am betting 75 of the cost went into the meat. Meat is and has been a luxury for most people throughout history. Replace the meat with starches and legumes and the cost drops dramatically.

      Brown rice with black beans and a couple tbs salsa. Diced tomato, avacado, and onion with a little shredded lettuce if finances allow. Cheapest, easiest, healthiest meal ever. No garbage or poison in that. And super filling! It’s what my girlfriend and I had last night. 🙂

  3. Anna said:

    Its called the dollar menu. So yes eating fast food is cheaper if you dont get the drink. Even the dollar tree is cheap but extremely unhealthy. And the products to cook and wash with etc. Eating healthy is expensive. I am 5’7 132 lbs and malnourished and also hungry 🙁

  4. Anna said:

    Celebrities have millions of dollars but none to help the poor with healthy food. Theyre just selling stuff. Heaaallltthhyyy food not canned food etc. Shelter etc.

  5. Shannon Hennessey said:

    I’m pretty confident she wouldn’t be caught dead in a McDonald’s. Just saying.
    How many of the meals in the new cook book are this cheap I wonder? I’d really like to buy it but I never have the money. :/

    • Kimberly Gayle Manring said:


      If you’re talking about not being able to afford the 21 Day fix, you can just buy the containers here…. for $17.85

      If that link doesn’t work, just go to, select SHOP then on the top left of the page type in containers. They are $17.85.
      I was just going to go to a dollar store and buy similar containers, but these really are much better and worth it. 🙂

      And you can get all the paperwork here…

      I’m on my 1st 21 days, day 20, and I’ve lost 20lbs.

      That page I just sent you to has way too many things to print, and you only really need to print 3 of the pages. If you’d like help, you can friend me on facebook, KIMBERLY GAYLE MANRING, and I’d be glad to help you.

      I have the exercise videos, because I bought the whole package, but haven’t used them and I’m still losing weight. You can do it WITHUT the videos. Just get some type of exercise, like swimming or walking or whatever.

      I hope this helps. Good Luck!!!

      • Kimberly Gayle Manring said:

        It looks like the links didn’t work after I hit enter. For the stuff you want to print, just go to google and type in 21 DAY FIX IMAGES.

      • Shannon Hennessey said:

        I actually bought the 21 Day Fix Program. I just haven’t had the time or energy to start it and mess with the cups for measuring. What I’d love are recipes I can make in bulk for the week, and just scoop out a cup of it for work or something. That’d be great. I was referring to not being able to afford the cookbook, Just been tight on cash lately and by the time I have a chance to buy something for myself, my money is long gone lol

        Congrats on your first 20 pounds! That’s awesome… The kind of results I am looking to achieve 🙂

  6. Anna said:

    Shannon, all meals in a cook recipe book are cheap to them. They have money no worries. Most americans that work over 40 hrs a week still can not afford to eat 3 meals a day even 2 because its a struggle everywhere. The rich people just forget the poor.

  7. Darlene A. Davis said:

    This is my take 80 grams of sugar is not healthy. People usually have a bunch of junk food in their cupboards, like hambuger helper or cake mixes that were on sale 6 months ago and some have now experied. Or what is that mystery meat or vegetable in your freezer, also bought on sale and forgotton about. The most expensive food you will buy is the one you throw out. In the USA, compared to the rest of the world we have cheap food and expensive medical care. Most of the rest of the world has more expensive, “good for you food”, and much lower participation or need of doctors and meds. Ask yourself why is there no autisim in France or no peanut allergies in Africa? Mostly I have questions. These are not condemnations, I am questioning myself also concering these things. I am looking for real answers to our problems with food. What is the solution?

  8. JP said:

    I will agree that buying fresh fruits and veggies is more expensive than Ramen Noodles or McD’s dollar menu. However, you have to look at the longer term effects too. I did the 21 day fix (videos and changing my meals) and am on Round 2. Since starting 23 days ago I have reduced my heart rate, have no heartburn (which I ate Tums like they were candy) and had severe back pain which is minimal now. So if this is how I feel after 3 weeks, I can only imagine the money I will save on doctor visits and medications in the future. Seems worth it to spend a few extra bucks now.

    • G said:

      its not about what its “worth” its about what people can actually afford to feed themselves. People working at high labor jobs are also going to need a lot more food than that. also this “fifteen dollar meal” is fine if you only eat healthily like once a weak but if you spend this much on only two people every day for only dinner that equals four hundred and fifty dollars a month spent on dinner for two people. do you know how much it costs to have two people eat a bowl of ramen for diner every day for a month? it costs 7.80 guess what, if im a college student working a minimum wage job im not going to spend four and a half hundred dollars on dinner for a month. thats just ridiculous. no matter what budget you give youself, its still ridiculosly more expensive to eat healthily than it is to eat ramen every night

  9. Willow said:

    I am not a stay at home mom, and on top of that I am a single mom! I have made it my lifestyle to be healthy NO TV (cable or sattelite) No internet at home… and so on I choose to make healthy decisions because that is what I was taught at a very young age. I Work 40 hours a week, and survive on my one income, and still eat healthy, it’s about making sacrafices (like cooking) because its more than worth it. If you choose to be healthy its not a DIET its an entire lifestyle change. Beginning that in the middle of your life is WAY harder than teaching your children YOUNG the smart and healthy choices are not MCD’s or any type of fast food, but fresh and if possible organic. Thats how I was raised a family of 6 on ONE income and we still managed to eat healthy and not eat garbage food. There are EXCUSES anyone can make. It truly depends on how bad you want to be healthy, or to have the Rims or new clothes or cable or whatever the Splurge is instead of having the 20$ extra on each grocery bill…. It can be done by anyone, its sacrifices that must be made though!

  10. shesfuntastic said:

    except for the Mcdonalds i worked at we got half off food any time.. so her $14 of McD’s food would have cost me $7 all together..