Here Are 5 Different Grocery Lists For Shopping At Whole Foods On A $20 Budget

Photographed By Alexandra Gavilett.
This story was originally published on May 9, 2017.
We are always hunting for the best budget buys when it comes to groceries. We've cased out and eaten all the cheap finds from TJ's to Aldi and even Whole Foods. But I have a confession: For the most part, I'm strictly a supermarket loyalist. Each week, I spend between the $20-$30 range at my Trader Joe's around the corner. I've perfected this grocery haul to a science and it usually covers me for the majority of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners until it's time to restock and shop again (some few pantry staples aside, and already accounted for). So, when challenged with creating five completely separate shopping lists for as close to $20 as possible from Whole Foods — I was scared. I didn't know if that was even possible!
For me Whole Foods is not only unfamiliar territory, but it's also infamously expensive. The few times I've gone in without a game plan, throwing all of my consumer caution to the wind, I've come out with a badly wounded budget and a confusingly small shopping bag. But NOT this time.
This time around, I was determined to walk out of the grocery chain with my budget in check and my bag full(ish). Could I do it? Would it be possible attempt a similar weekly shop for under $20 at Whole Foods? Click on to check out my five attempts — and see what bang you can really get for your hard-earned bucks.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
List One ($20.79)
This was by far the most surprising total for me — because as you can see, there really aren't a lot of products to work with. The sweet potatoes, although large, were very expensive; those avocados didn't come cheap either. It added up fast and there was really no flexibility in terms of meals I could make with my haul.

2 sweet potatoes, $6.32
2 avocados, $5.00
Carton of strawberries, $3.99
Bag of baby arugula, $1.99
Carton of large brown eggs, $3.49

Meal Ideas
1. Slicing and roasting up those giant taters could easily last a good part of the week mixed in with the arugula, some sliced avocado, and whatever nuts and dried fruit are already in the pantry.

2. Work the eggs into a scramble for breakfast (or a frittata) and serve fresh sliced strawberries as a side.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
List Two ($18.90)
With the second attempt, things were looking up. Not only did this list clock in just under budget, but there ended up being a much wider range of products to work with.

Package of basil, $3.99
Carton of cherry tomatoes, $2.50
Carton of unsweetened almond milk, $2.19
Package of quick oats, $3.19
1 spaghetti squash, $4.28
1 sweet onion, $0.78
4 apples, $1.97

Meal Ideas
1. Make overnight oats for easy grab-and-go weekday breakfasts with the almond milk and quick oats.

2. Use the sliced up apples as snacks with some nuts or almond butter already in the pantry.

3. Roast up the spaghetti squash with some sautéed onions, tomatoes, and basil, for a few lunches or dinners.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
List Three ($22.36)
Okay, so the frozen sockeye salmon filets were a bit of a splurge — but, the the end result is still pretty impressive (even though a bit over budget).

Package of baby spinach, $1.99
Sockeye salmon, $11.99
Bag of carrots, $2.49
Bag of green lentils, $2.99
Bundle of bananas, $2.90

Meal Ideas
1. The bundle of bananas would last the week as a breakfast mix-in (think sliced in cereal, oatmeal, incorporated into smoothies, or served with some almond butter as a snack etc.)

2. The carrots could be a packable snack with hummus.

3. And the salmon, lentils, and spinach would make up a solid lunch/dinner mix for the week. Think baked salmon with a lentil spinach salad and balsamic dijon dressing.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
List Four ($18.88)
List four proved to have the same number of goods as list two and was around the same exact price. But even though this one ended up garnering the most products for the least amount spent, there wasn't much room for recipe variation. However, that's a lot of chicken for well under $10.

Bag of long grain brown rice, $3.29
Can of cannellini beans, $0.79
Can of coconut milk, $2.29
Bag of Brussels sprouts, $3.49
Can of red curry paste, $2.19
Garlic, $0.49
Package of chicken breasts, $6.34

Meal Ideas
1. Dice up the chicken breasts and roast them in the oven with chopped garlic and Brussels sprouts. Cook up a pot of the brown rice. Use some more of the garlic, along with the coconut milk, cannellini beans, and curry paste to make a simmer sauce. Mix it all together and you've got curried chicken and veggie leftovers for the week.
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Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Buxton.
List Five ($20.27)
The final list became fairly targeted and specific to dinner — the makings for a rich and satisfying weeknight meal with plenty of room for leftovers. Cue a pasta dish. A tighter budget here could be achieved with standard noodles instead of a chickpea alternative.

Bag of frozen green peas, $1.39
Package of ground beef, $7.91
Package of shredded Parmesan, $3.99
Package of baby portabella mushrooms, $2.99
Package of Banza chickpea pasta, $3.99

Meal Ideas
1. Sauté the mushrooms, ground beef, and peas, mix them in with the cooked chickpea shells and an ample dose of the shaved Parm (seasoned with salt and pepper, of course). Dinner (and a few lunches) is served in no time!
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Grand Total For All Five Lists: $101.20
Although I went over budget on a few of the lists, it evened out in the end — only $1.20 over budget total. And you know what? I actually felt pretty damn good about my meal results. Here's what I learned in process:

1. Work the sale items in the produce section, because regular-priced fresh goods at Whole Foods add up.

2. The 365 brand is your very affordable friend, get to know, love it, and choose it above name brand options.

3. Canned goods and frozen veggies are cheap and easy substitutions to main dishes when the fresh stuff is just too pricey (save your splurges for fresh protein and produce).

4. When you go into Whole Foods with a mindset to save and some sort of loose menu plan, you can stick to your budget. Just don't go grabbing the first apples or carton of tomatoes you see (there's almost always another sale option that could be less than double the price). Keep calm and never stop hunting for those deals!
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