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Health food that’s half the price of fast food

Healthy and Cheap

I am a bit of a health nut, so I’ve had numerous conversations with friends about how ridiculously unhealthy fast food tends to be, and why people keep going back to it.

I’m no saint.  I’ll indulge in an Egg McMuffin a few times a year, but I tend to treat fast food like an exotic delicacy, because you’d be crazy to spend money to eat that sugar and salt infused goodness every day.

Yet millions Americans do just that; it’s damaging to their life expediencies and their wallets.  Well I’m here to tell you, nay, prove to you that anyone can eat for less than half of what you’d spend at McDonalds and still have healthy, delicious, and quick meals all week long.

Have a little faith

This is not a generalized list of suggestions on how to stay healthy and loose weight.  There are millions of resources out there for that.

This is simply proof that if you learn a tiny bit about cooking, you’ll never have to throw money away at fast food joints ever again.

Most other health nuts I discuss the topic with lament the fact that the obesity epidemic is a direct result of fast food being the cheapest option.  In some areas it is the only option, but that’s another problem all it’s own.

So what if there was some miracle food that could turn the tide in the war against obesity, and it cost next to nothing?  It turns out it does exist, only, it’s not marketed very well.

The Baseline

Ok, so let’s say you are a single individual who enjoys an Egg McMuffin and Coffee for breakfast, a McChicken with fries for lunch, and a Big Mac “Value” Meal each evening.  And let’s say that you haven’t ballooned to a million pounds and died yet due to eating exclusively fast food.

You’d be spending (I actually had to go to a McDonalds to do some research…)

  • Breakfast: Egg McMuffin and coffee – $2.79
  • Lunch: McChicken and small fries – $2.00
  • Dinner: Big Mac Meal – $6.62

That’s a total of $11.41/day or $79.87/week.  So in order to fulfill my challenge, I’d just have to figure out a way to get all my meals throughout a week from just $39.93.  This is a challenge I’ll gladly accept.

And just to quiet the skeptics, if you ate only these items each day, you’d actually be taking in 2,240 calories which is right around the recommended value for most adults.

 Oatmeal, Lentils, Rice, and Beans 

I’ll be the first to admit that the number one food Americans need to eat more of is their vegetables.  But before I jump into a love song for pepper, spinach, tomatoes, and carrots, let’s talk about some foods that form the base of a meal.

  1. Oatmeal – At $.04/oz, oatmeal is one of the cheapest foods on the planet.  It’s also a delicious breakfast which I eat every day.  
  2. Lentils – Lentils cost $.11/oz.  If you’re not too familiar with them, they are a legume and have a substantial amount of protein.
  3. Rice – This staple of many eastern cultures comes in at $.07/oz.
  4. Beans – Black beans cost about $.08/oz

These four “base” foods are so cheap, it’s like the grocery stores are giving them away.  I will say now that these foods take slightly longer to cook than McDonalds food (with the exception of oatmeal), but I’ll get to that.

Getting ready to be healthier

So there’s a variety of dishes you can make with these base foods.  I could list out recipes, but that’s not the goal of this post.  The goal of this post is to show I that when you start with these ludicrously frugal foods, then add a few vegetables and fruits to make it healthier,  I can still make way cheaper meals than McDonalds can!

So I just happened to hit up my local grocery store and I purchased some vegetables that will go nicely in any number of lentil and rice dishes.  All I’ve got to do is add a little seasoning and salt to each dish and I’ve got myself a super-meal.

Here’s what I bought for the week.  This is just a random selection of reasonably priced produce.  Of course different produce will be cheaper at different times of the year.

  1. A big ol’ bunch of celery – $1.39
  2. 2 large onions – $1.48
  3. 3 tomatoes – $1.56
  4. 3 orange peppers – $0.82
  5. 3 avocados – $1.47
  6. 8 bananas – $1.83

That load cost me a grand total of $8.55.  The next step is to spend about an hour cooking about 3 or 4 cups of lentils, rice, and beans, chopping the vegetables,  adding some spices, and repackaging the giant pot of food into 14 plastic containers.  When you add it all up, the ingredients in the pot should have cost you right around $19. (then you’ll divide that by 14)

The frugal option

So this is just one example of a cheap week.  Obviously you wouldn’t want to eat the same dish every week, but that’s why you have a freezer.  If you do this a few days in a row, you’ll have a rotating meal plan that’s good for a few weeks.

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with banana – $0.39
  • Lunch: lentil and rice creation – $1.34 ($19 divided by 14)
  • Dinner: lentil and rice creation – $1.34 ($19 divided by 14)

Since the main course took about 1.5 hrs to make, divide that by 14 and you’ll see that the 6 minutes prep time for each meal is probably less than the time it takes to drive to the fast food joint.

The frugal meal plan costs me $3.07/day or $21.49/week. That’s about 25% of my original fast food budget… (way less than half).  Just try to imagine what you could do with all that money now that you’re not handing it over to various fast food restaurants!

Maybe the obesity epidemic is a result of poor food education, and not simply because it’s more expensive to eat healthy foods.  Some food for thought.

What do you think?

  1. timeismoney
    January 23, 2013 at 7:20 PM

    It’s cheaper to eat healthy foods, but when talking about the obesity epidemic you also have to consider that for many people, time is money. For people working long hours, going from one job to another, or people trying to get kids to various activities, it’s just easier and faster to choose a frozen meal or fast-food restaurant– and it leaves more time for them to do activities that are valuable to them. I’m not saying it’s right, just that it is.

    • January 23, 2013 at 7:48 PM

      Thanks for the comment. I guess the point I was trying to make is that if you cook once a week for about an hour and a half, you could have enough food for the whole week. Sure, it might not work 100% of the time. But if it’s that or eating fries everyday, I know what I’d choose.

  2. January 23, 2013 at 9:29 PM

    3 avocados for that ??? It costs $1.50 for ONE here. Ughhhhhh. We need a discount grocery store asap. So true that home cooking is so much cheaper, and healthier!

    • January 23, 2013 at 9:50 PM

      Yea, the grocery store near my apartment was having a super good deal on avocados. They make any meal look fancy when you slice them up and put them on top.

  3. January 23, 2013 at 9:51 PM

    American prices at McDonalds are much less than we pay in Canada but our rice and beans cost about the same. I have no idea how much lentils cost because they are just so awful.

    If you can’t win them over with the cost savings maybe you can win them over with the calorie savings.

    • January 23, 2013 at 9:54 PM

      That’s interesting that the Canadian McDonalds prices are higher. Is it because your government taxes unhealthy food more?
      I never used to like lentils either, but for some reason I’m on a lentil kick right now.

      • January 23, 2013 at 9:58 PM

        I live in Ontario and the minimum wage is $10.25. We have a large social services net available for all Canadians so workers and employers have to pay extra and that makes prices higher.

        There is also a provincial and federal tax added at the cash register.

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