Saturday, July 30, 2011

Debunking a Myth

Continuing my quest to see if you can eat healthier - or at least cheaper - than buying fast food, yesterday I did a little research at the grocery store.  After hearing the family on Food, Inc. complain that the couldn't afford to eat anywhere other than off the dollar menu at McDonalds, I decided to start with a typical fast food meal.  If a family of four each bought a burger, fries, and soft drink, the grand total would come to $12 for that meal.  (I didn't include condiments as the cost for these for a meal is nominal.)

Browsing at my local grocery store,  I priced these components.  A bag of frozen fries (with 11 servings) is $2.  Preformed frozen hamburger patties are $7 for a package of 8.  A package of 8 hamburger buns is $1.  I didn't actually price soft drinks but I'm sure a 2-liter bottle is no more than $2.  So, for $12 a family of four can eat two fast-food type meals at home for the same price as one purchased off the $1 menu.  

Instead of fries, you could substitute ears of corn ($.88 for 2) for the fries or steam a bag of frozen broccoli ($2-$3 for a 24-ounce bag).  Of course, the soft drinks could be eliminated and water offered instead, which would reduce the cost of the meal.  

Now, I know this is not the healthiest meal, but I am trying to compare apples to apples to show that money is not the issue.  Actually, this meal could be slightly healthier than the restaurant meal as the fries could be baked instead of deep fried.  And the vegetable substitutions would be healthier, as well.

I wonder about whether or not preparing this meal at home would be just as fast as driving to the restaurant, waiting in line, waiting for your food to be prepared, finding a table during rush hour, and then driving home. 


Shona~ LALA dex press said...

I've seen other comparisons such as the one you did + I'm thinking that the meal you make from grocery items is much healthier than the fast food version.

Waaaay back when I used to shop at Wal-Mart (our town has grown past Wal-Mart being the only game in town) I used to see Mexican families with their carts (sorry, in the south they are "buggies") full to the top, and sometimes a second cart, of tortillas, beef, bags of beans + all the ingredients for traditional Mexican fare. I liked to get behind these families just to eves drop on their purchase total + man! did they know how to shop + stretch a dollar.

Cherie said...

Shona, thanks for the feedback on this post. After writing it, I started reading about how fast food is adulterated with "flavoring" and other things to make it taste better after the flavor has been processed out of it. Reading that, I do think the grocery store meal has to be healthier.

I still call them "carts," even after spending most of my life in the south.

Kate said...

Getting in on the convo... after 2 years in the UK I still occasionally slip up and call carts "trolleys" which gets some odd looks!

I love this comparison. There really is so many ways to make a tastier and healthier version at home. We used to do hamburgers (sans bun... mine are tasty and a lot of times a bun takes away from that) with frozen french fries that I seasoned with garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne and a side salad or some broccoli. With water or iced tea. Super cheap, delicious, and healthy!

Realistically you can also take a whole chicken, roast it, and for a family of 4, eating normal healthy portions with a starch and veggies as a side (and maybe a simple pureed soup using the carcass from the last chicken for stock), make it last 2-3 meals easily! I've added up some of our meals before and it's ridiculous.

Yes, we enjoy going out... but can afford to do so occasionally to excellent restaurants because of all the in house cooking we do!

Cherie said...

Kate, you are a great example of how to live well on a budget. And it is so much better to save your restaurant dollars to have one good meal rather than a lot of bad ones.