Friday, August 6, 2010


There seems to be a mass misunderstanding among Americans that cheap food cannot be good for you.  If you watch TV commercials, you will see what I mean.  I can go down the street to Taco Bell and get a “value” meal for $4.  Or I can go over to McDonald’s and get a Mini Meal for $3.  I’ve heard personal stories on TV from people struggling with obesity:  “My mom tried to do her best, but we were poor so we ate a lot of fast food.”

What?!?!  We don’t eat fast food because money is tight!  Not that we would eat much of it if we had more money.  But the point is that I can feed my family a healthy meal at home for a lot less than at a fast food restaurant.  Three or four dollars doesn’t sound like that much for a meal, but multiply that times five, add sales tax (9.25% where I live), and it would cost us $16.39-$21.85 to eat one meal at Taco Bell or McDonald’s.

When I am planning my meals, I try to aim for $5 per dinner—for the whole family.  While this sounds almost impossible, it isn’t so bad if you follow a few simple rules.
  1. Use meat sparingly.  Better yet, cut it out and replace it with other sources of complete proteins (e.g. grains and legumes, eggs).
  2. Cook more than you need.  If you’ve prepared a freezable meal, divide it up into useable portions for another night’s dinner or another day’s lunch and keep it in the freezer to reheat when ready.  If the meal you prepared will not freeze well, eat the leftovers another night or pack them as lunches.
  3. Buy plain, dry ingredients.  Dried beans are much more economical than canned beans and don’t contain all the added salt and sugar (yes, they add sugar to canned beans).  Regular rice, white or brown, costs a lot less than processed minute-type rices or bagged or boxed rice mixes.  Dry pasta is cheaper than refrigerated.
  4. Use frozen vegetables.  Vegetables mainly come fresh, canned, or frozen.  Of these three options, canned is the most expensive and the least nutritious.  The canning process causes the breakdown of nutrients.  And unless you are buying fresh produce from a farmer’s market or farm stand or are growing your own, frozen vegetables are more nutritious than “fresh.”  Frozen vegetables are frozen within hours of being harvested.  This stops the breakdown of nutrients.  They are also usually cheaper than fresh vegetables and are much easier to store and keep on hand.
  5. Plan your meals.  By planning your meals ahead of time, you can make meals that use the same ingredients so nothing goes to waste and you need to buy less.
With a little effort, anyone can prepare healthy meals with minimal cost.  For the amount of money my family would spend at a fast food restaurant for one meal, I can prepare three to four meals.  Thank you, Taco Bell and McDonald’s, for your “value” meals, but we’ll be eating at home tonight.


JRM said...

I completely know where you're coming from! Yes, I know it isn't as convenient to cook ahead and in some urban areas there aren't inexpensive places to get food, but for the majority of people, what you've suggested it totally doable. Don't get me wrong, I have certainly run through the fast food window when time has been tight or I'm completely exhausted, but it's a lot less now that I keep easier to prepare staples on hand.

Corinne said...

What?!?! We don’t eat fast food because money is tight!

My mom was one of those who fed me a lot of fast food because we didn't have a lot of money...or a place to prepare food or store food on a regular basis. We didn't order meals - we would generally get the cheapest thing: a burger; maybe some fries if I was "lucky". My mother fell prey to ignorance - she had been told that growing children need protein, and what better source of protein than a burger? Plus, it had some veggies on it (well, the cheapest burgers only had pickles). It was not just quick, at $0.59 to $1.00 it was affordable. Frozen foods were $1.00 or more, and you had to have somewhere to at least microwave them. :)

What you say is true - it's healthier and cheaper to eat at home, but we cannot discount the stories of those who think they only have fast food to turn to. They probably don't have access to the Internet either to read awesome blogs like yours and become educated on such matters. But every little bit helps!

Thanks for writing - you two are doing a good work. :)

For His Glory said...

WOW never new forzen veggies were healthier than fresh! I just learned something new :)

Heidi Michelle Click said...

I agree budget had to be trimmed recently and so I stopped eating out. And started cooking at home, packing my lunch and shopping a little smarter. It does help the green stretch a bit more.

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