Here's the entire menu from McDonald's. I'm choosing McDonald's because I have a lot of international readers, and McDonald's restaurants are all over the world. McDonald's has a "meal builder" tool online. Let's say I go to McDonald's and order a Big Mac (these images may be copyrighted, so I am sharing the links directly from the McDonald's website). The Big Mac has 540 calories, 29g fat, 45g carbs, 25g protein, and 1040mg sodium. I order "fries with that." The small order of fries adds 230 calories, 11g fat, 29g carbs, 3g protein, and 160mg sodium. With all that sodium, I will need a drink. I live in the town which invented Dr. Pepper, and I used to be a Dr. Pepper addict. However, most people would choose a Coke, so I will give the numbers for a Coca- Cola. A small Coke (which no adult ever orders) has 150 calories, 40g carbs, and 10g sodium- to make us thirsty so we will buy more Coke. Most Americans buy a large Coke and get a refill to go on their way out of the restaurant. For my lunch or dinner, I have just consumed 920 calories (assuming the small Coke), 40g fat (some of which may be trans fat), 114g carbohydrates (none of which are healthy carbs, unless you count the slice of tomato on the hamburger), and 1210mg sodium. If I am like most Americans, I am going to eat a meal like this a minimum of five days a week, and I am not going to exercise.
You may know that it takes 3500 calories to put on a pound of flesh or fat on the human body. It takes a lot of exercise to burn 3500 calories. If the average American is eating roughly 1000 calories for one meal a minimum of five days a week and is not exercising, it is no mystery why 2/3 of Americans are overweight and 1/3 of us are obese.
How much does a meal like this cost? In my town, around $5 (2012 USD). Add another dollar for "supersizing." If two adults did the "supersize" option, and two small children got "Happy Meals," dinner just cost $20. Do that five times a week, and a family of four is spending $100 a week, or $5200 a year on fast food alone.
What if this family cooked hamburgers at home? This week my grocery store has beef shoulder roast on sale for $2.97/pound. I could get that ground, or find a cheaper cut of meat. I could purchase a head of lettuce for $1.20 and only use $0.20 worth at most. Onions are $0.77/pound, and I only need a slice or two because the kids most likely do not like onions. I allow $0.10 for onions. Tomatoes are not in season and cost about $1 each. Still, I only need one. Cheap hamburger buns cost about $1 for eight buns. I can make my own French Fries in the oven with a little olive oil and sea salt. Potatoes are cheap- two pounds may cost $1. I'll add about $0.20 for the olive oil and salt. I can make green iced tea at home at about $0.50 per gallon.
How much does it cost to make hamburgers at home? $7.00. Yes, I'm using white bread hamburger buns and non-organic produce, but the family eating fast food every night probably would, too. If I opted for organic everything and whole wheat buns, I may be looking at $10 per meal for a family of four. This is still 50% less in cost and 1000% better for the family's health. If you cooked that shoulder roast with the potatoes and onions in a crock pot, and tossed the lettuce and tomatoes together for a side salad, skipping the hamburger buns altogether, the "health ratio" of the meal goes up even higher. Even more health points are gained if you skip the roast and potatoes, and instead throw raw walnuts on the salad with homemade oil and vinegar dressing.
Here are a few tips on "eating clean" on a budget:
- Only buy produce that is in season or on sale
- Only buy meat on sale for the week, then plan meals around the sales
- Only drink water, tea, and coffee (unless you are juicing)
- Only buy cheap sources of protein: dry beans cooked in the crock pot, tuna, peanut butter, eggs, Greek yogurt, skim (fat free) milk, nuts, whole chicken instead of chicken breasts, bulk frozen fish fillets and other meat. I know a lot of my readers may be secretly screaming at me, but I am talking about families who are on very tight budgets and think they cannot eat healthy at all because they think it is too expensive
- Quit eating so much delivered pizza- it's $25 for a family of four
- Take water bottles and coolers everywhere instead of buying canned soft drinks, coffees, and lunches out. If you don't like the taste of water, squeeze half a lemon or lime into your water bottle.
- Make your own treats at home for pennies on what it costs to purchase them at the store- granola, oatmeal cookies for the kids, and trail mix
- Grow a garden
What other ways do you save money on your healthy food budget?