Fueling on a Budget: Making Smart Choices on the Cheap

Another breakfast option is to pack a cooler with multi-grain bagels, yogurt, and orange juice. You'll get 1,000 calories of premium nutrition for less than $3. If you insist on eating fast food, two decent options for under $3 are: Dunkin' Donuts Honey Bran muffin + small low-fat latte (600 cal), McDonald's Hotcakes + Small Fruit and Yogurt Parfait (750 cal).

Lunch and Dinner

The most nutritious sources of carbohydrates are fruits, juices and vegetables -- but they tend to be costly for the amount of calories they provide.

Fruits and veggies cost at least $4 per pound at a salad bar -- and may offer inadequate calories (until smothered with salad dressing, that is.) A money-saving option is to buy apples, oranges, raisins, dried apricots, figs, juices (in boxes, plastic bottles) at a supermarket and pack them in your gym bag.

Use them to supplement the following fast food best bets:

  • Burger King: Chicken Whopper (without mayo), Veggie Burger
  • McDonald's: McGrilled Chicken, Vanilla Cone, Egg McMuffin
  • Wendy's: Chili, baked potato (only a little topping), Frosty
  • Taco Bell: Burritos, soft tacos, gorditas, frajitas (w/o sour cream)
  • Papa Gino's: Spaghetti or penne with tomato sauce, bread sticks

Cost/Calories

Here's a calculation of cost per 1,000 calories of some fast foods. Value meals aside, the best fast food bargains can be found at Mexican (bean meals) and Italian restaurants (pasta).

Taco Bell wins first prize (among the fast-food places profiled here)! There, you can enjoy 1,100 (mostly healthful) calories from three bean burritos for only $3.30. Notice that supermarket snacks are a wise way to inexpensively boost your carbohydrate intake and supplement fast-food meals.

Food/Calories/% fat/Cost per 1,000 cals

Dunkin Donuts
Bagel: 350/12%/$2.57
Honey Bran Muffin: 490/26%/$2.42
Double chocolate cake donut: 310/49%/$2.29
Latte, small, whole milk+sugar: 160/33%/$11.19

McDonald's
Big Mac: 600/50%/$4.65
Chicken McGrill: 400/36%/$9.72
Chicken McGrill without mayo: 300/18%/$12.97
Supersize Fries: 610/43%/$3.43
McFlurry, M&M: 910/33%/$2.86
Hotcakes, with syrup, no butter: 510/12%/$3.58
Orange juice, medium (16 oz): 180/0%/$8.61

Taco Bell
Bean Burrito: 370/24%/$2.95
Gordita baja, steak: 230/27%/$6.05
Soft Taco, chicken: 180/20%/$8.28

Papa Gino's
Pizza, 1/2 lg: 1,000/24%/$4.50
Spaghetti: 650/15%/$6.55
Spaghetti + 2 meatballs: 905/29%/$5.83

Supermarket snacks
Yogurt, Columbo Cherry, 1 cup: 220/8%/$3.40
Granola bars, Nature Valley: 180/30%/$2.77
Teddy grahams (24 pieces): 130/27%/$2.55
Fig Newtons, 2: 110/20%/$2.42
Banana, large: 150/0%/$2.35
Burrito, frozen microwavable Tina's: 340/24%/$1.32


Nancy Clark, MS RD CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics) counsels casual and competitive athletes in her private practice at Healthworks, the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill MA (617-383-6100). Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook, new Food Guide for Marathoners, and Cyclist’s Food Guide are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com. Also see www.sportsnutritionworkshop.com for information about her online workshop.

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