One of the main challenges that people face when trying to eat healthy is the cost. Time after time I hear clients say “healthy food is too expensive.” While it’s true that certain specialty food products like organic grass-fed beef can rack up quite a bill, there are many nutritious items available at a low cost. Cooking healthy meals at home can be just as economical (if not more) as going through the drive through.
According to a report done by Business Insider the average cost of a meal in 2015 at McDonalds was $4.72 and $5.13 at Taco Bell. Let’s say it costs on average $5.00 per person to eat at a fast food restaurant, and $20.00 for a family of four. For fast casual restaurants like The Habit or Chipotle the price per meal increases quite a bit to $7.44 and $11.00 respectively, roughly $35 for a family of four. Here are five meals, that are likely healthier than what you would be ordering at a fast food joint, and are also a better value. All of these meals feed four or more people, and you would likely have leftovers as well. (Note, prices taken from my local grocery store in Southern California, no effort was made to find the cheapest brand or sale items. It is assumed you already have condiments, spices, and commonly used items like oil or butter)
Italian Night Box of spaghetti $2.50, pasta sauce $3.00,bagged salad mix 3.50, garlic bread 2.00 Total cost for 1 serving: $2.75
Pork chops and Mashed Potatoes pork chops $6.00, russet potatoes $2.00, green beans $2.00, applesauce (1/2 of jar) $1.50 Total cost for 1 serving: $2.88
Rice and Beans with Roasted Vegetables 1 can black beans $1.50, brown rice $1.00, assorted root vegetables $5.00 Total cost for 1 serving: $1.88
Breakfast for Dinner (Breakfast Burritos) flour tortillas $2.00, 1 dozen eggs $4.00, two lbs potatoes $2.00, ½ block of cheese $3.00, 1 tomato $0.50, salsa (1/2 container) $2.00, sliced oranges (3) $2.00 Total cost for 1 serving: $3.88
Chicken with bowtie Parmesan noodles and side of broccoli chicken breast (2 lbs) $6.00, bowtie noodles $1.49, Parmesan cheese $3.30, 1 head of broccoli $2.50 Total cost for 1 serving: $3.32
As you can see, the nutritionally balanced meals above all cost less than standard fast food fair. Not to mention that they are more delicious. Many of these meals can even be made cheaper if you do scratch cooking, for example, buying a bag of beans instead of canned. The majority of these meals can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. That is about the same amount of time it takes to drive to the fast food joint, wait in line, and drive home. The next time you start to think that you can’t afford healthy food, ask yourself, if the real reason is that you can’t afford it, or that you’re not sure where to start. With a little organization and thinking ahead you can make healthy easy and cheap! I recommend taking an hour or two on Sunday to plan your meals for the week so you are ready to go with healthy dinners during the busy work week.
Heather Mason is a Registered Dietitian who holds a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Science. She has a passion for debunking nutrition myths and helping people discover delicious and healthy food. You can read more posts from her on her blog, Nutty Nutrition.