Food Budgeting: Spending my calories wisely!

Layered taco salad

Raised by frugal parents, it's easy for me to put finances into a budget plan. I've found I need to think of my daily food intake as a budget as well, measured in calories.

When I had no idea how many calories I was consuming in a day, it was easy to just keep eating (and gaining). I didn't know how many calories I even needed per day, so if I was hungry, I ate. And I even ate when I wasn't hungry. (Cheesecake beckons at all hours!)

I had to ask myself, "Am I eating right now simply because I enjoy the taste of this food, or am I enjoying delicious food while satisfying hunger and nourishing my body?" There's nothing wrong with thoroughly enjoying every bite, but that enjoyment needs to be coupled with meeting my body's needs, not burdening it with excess.

Quick steps to a calorie budget:

1. Figure out your daily calorie needs. I used an online calorie calculator using my weight, height, gender, and activity level. Since I'm breastfeeding, I added an additional 300-500 calories to my "budget".

2. Keep track of your spending. I always cringe at the words "counting calories" but I've found again and again that keeping track of the calories I consume is the only way for me to maintain a healthy weight loss. I wrote more about calorie counting in this post, including a calorie-breakdown of our homemade pizza.

When I only have ~2,000 calories to spend each day, I start thinking of some "frugal foods" to eat!

Bananas, at about 100 calories each, remain one of my favorite breakfast foods. They're also a quick snack, and seem to give a lot of energy from those calories! Apples are another favorite.

In-the-shell peanuts are one of my favorite protein snacks. I know peanuts are very high-calorie, so we buy the ones in the shell. Shelling them takes time, so I get to enjoy them more! A half-cup of peanuts (in the shell) is 170 calories. And not surprisingly, those 170 calories really fill me up! (For an hour or so...)

I also love roasted almonds. You may laugh, but I have figured out that our almonds (from Costco) have an average of 7 calories in each. Sometimes I finish the day with  ~50 calories left over, and I "spend" the rest on almonds! Other days, I end up going to bed a little hungry, but I know it's okay since I know how much food I consumed that day.

Shredded cheese on my salads is another way to make a salad seem more like a full meal. I usually opt for mozzarella cheese rather than cheddar, since it's only 80 calories per ounce rather than 110!

What are your favorite foods that give "bang for the buck"? :)

Layered taco salad

Crystal has a guest post with frugal weight loss ideas on her blog, Money Saving Mom.

I especially resonate with "Go Outside"! As a mom of energetic, growing children, I know they need the fresh air and exercise just as much as I do! As I ease back into "everyday life" (yes... the babymoon has to end at some point, right?) it's my goal once more to take the children outside every single day.

A couple of my favorite "free" weight loss tips:

Drink plenty of water!

Get enough sleep!

And on that note, it is time for me to feed a little boy and head to bed myself! :)

P.S. My original weight-loss post, which I still re-read for inspiration can be found here!


Hi Tammy. Just wondering, as a new mom as well, if cutting calories has decreased your breast milk supply? I've been trying to eat less but not counting calories yet. I know that if I actually counted calories, I could certainly lose more weight but was worried it could affect my milk supply. One of my favorite ways to reduce calories and be healthy at the same time is drinking a smoothie for lunch or breakfast. For lunch, I like a small fruit smoothie (with milk, fruit, ice, whatever) and eggs, salsa and mozz. cheese warmed up in a tortilla shell. This is inexpensive and pretty healthy besides a little lower in calories than most things I eat!

I haven't noticed any decrease in milk supply, but have definitely taken my milk supply into consideration and make sure that I eat enough (and have not cut out fat) and drink enough water. I also co-sleep and nurse "on demand" which is every 1-2 hours during the day and every 2-3 hours at night right now (my baby is 7 weeks old). I'm so thankful that my milk supply remains abundant! :)

The smoothies are a great idea that I had forgotten about recently! A fruit smoothie (with some fresh spinach, and some yogurt or whole milk for protein) always seems quite filling for the amount of calories in it! Thanks for the reminder!! (Pulling out my blender for tomorrow morning...) :)

What an incredible post! You can bet I'll be referring others back to this post time and again! I love salads too but haven't been trying the bulk-preparing method for them. I'd like to try that. And because we eat it so much, it would be wise for us to invest in a salad spinner.

I go over-budget a lot on food too, esp. since I like baking desserts. This was a post I really needed!

Thanks so much!

Thank you, Lindsey! Oh, I love baking... I love desserts and I really love homemade bread! It takes a lot of self-control for me to eat one slice and not half a loaf when it's fresh out of the oven!! :)

I have found that by simply waiting until I am truly hungry to eat (0 being hungry) and eating until I'm a tad bit full (a 5 from a scale of 0-10, 10 being Thanksgiving stuffed) I have found that I no longer have to count my calories. The book called Thin Within is a Bible based weight loss program that teaches how God already put in each and every one of us a gage to go by, which is our stomaches. If we start listening to our stomaches and not our heads we will just naturally lose any access weight that we may be carrying. But I know there are plentry of people that like to count calories and that's perfectly fine. :o) I am one of the people that totally dislike the thought of calorie counting, so I thankful that I can just wait until hungry to eat and not worry about the counting- Math was never my favorite subject ;)

I very much agree about listening to our stomachs -- especially if we're eating whole, nutritious foods! On the other hand, I like counting calories because I hate being really hungry and would rather eat small amounts all the time! I usually eat 3 meals and at least 3 snacks (a serving of nuts, a banana, a serving of cheese, etc.) throughout the day and I love it that I can eat when I'm a *little* hungry (as long as I'm eating a proper portion)! But if I didn't keep track, I would have no clue how many calories I had consumed in a day... :)

A website that I use to count calories and keep track of exercise etc. is

One thing that I love about that site is that it has a recipe calculator. You input cooking directions and how much of each ingredient and tell it how many serving and ta-da! It calculates the nutrition for you! (and saves it in a virtual recipe box for you).I have often used it to change recipes I already have to improve the nutritional content. It is also COMPLETLY FREE.


I've been attending Weight Watchers since the first of January and it is this exact concept that I believe has helped me. I was chatting with my mom about it, my sister in law has now problem with wieght loss or managing her weight but can't get her head around bugeting money. I have been the exact oppisite and it wasn't until I put my money bugeting strageties into effect with my food that I saw any movement to the scales. For me it was like a lightbulb going off.

I don't normally talk about my journey into weight loss but your post exactly said what I've been doing, that I had to comment.

It is always really eye opening to find out how many calories are really in the foods we eat. I think oats are really filling for the amount of calories they provide. I also like to snack on raw veggies and apple slices with peanut butter.

It is important to remember that eating a balanced diet can sometimes be more important than the exact number of calories consumed. It is very easy to overeat refined carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, etc. Adding in a little protein helps to keep blood sugar levels more stable so you feel full longer.

These are just some little things I have picked up on my journey toward healthier eating. Great job being more conscientious about your diet!

Thanks for this post.It is a great reminder for me.Some times I think I am hungry but a big glass of water and then get a small snack would be better and work fine.I always forget to get lots of water in daily.

I was reading in your archives about your family using Dr. Ellies tooth care system. My family has been on it for about 5 weeks and we love it. We need to get the xylitol habit more though.
Are you satisfied with the plan after using it this long?
Thank you for your time.
You have a beautiful family.
By the way, its terrible your husband has to gulp down his food in 10 min. Bless his heart.

I've heard of people using play money each day so that they have visual of how much they can "spend"

my favorite filling/ healthy/ snack/ treat:

finely chopped apples mixed with some nuts and raisins
put a handful in a little bowl and sprinkle with some cinnamon!

I just wanted to say thank you for your original post. When my son turned 1 and I still had "baby fat" (how long can you call it that anyway?!) I was determined to do something about it. I remembered your post and started counting calories and it made a HUGE difference. I have since stopped counting calories, but I still don't eat as much as I used to. Counting calories gave me a good idea of just how much is a healthy portion size.

So, thanks for sharing your ideas!

Tammy, thanks for these healthy posts! I am just starting my second trimester so I am not watching my waistline at all. However my husband has been trying to loose a few pounds so this is great motivation for me and how I am cooking for the poor guy. Those salads you had posted about look a bit more healthy than the meals that I have been serving lately. I have gotten into a cooking slump where food smells terrible - - but those salads would be JUST the ticket. Thanks!

This post and the other one resonated with me because weight has been a terrible struggle since having my girls and sometimes I don't recognize myself. I've been struggling over and over to start the process, especially with my little one being three already. Thinking about it in a sort of bank statement way helps; I also like the part in a previous post about having to actually have self control and cut back on my food intake. We just suffered massive damage to our home due to weather, and I notice when I feel out of control in one area of my life, I scramble to have control in another (like eating). It's all about balance and accepting that you can't eat like a linebacker in training camp..... I used to designate Sunday as my pigout day and that day only. Lifelong self control is a scary prospect. I like the idea of bulk salads; it will be interesting to see you come up with food your kids will eat but is still health conscious. I adore fish and tofu but my husband and kids hate it- he's a meat and potatoes kind of guy and my kids just want sandwiches and yogurt all the time.

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

User login

Subscribe for free recipes, menu plans, and kitchen tips!