“Is Junk Food Cheaper?”: A Challenge

This morning I made breakfast at home!

That statement probably doesn’t excite you, surprise you or even entice you to keep reading. But, stick with me here!

I do this every day (still not shocked yet, I know); it’s not anything gourmet or unique, but it’s filling. I put 1/2 cup of rolled oats (yes, I buy quick-cook most of the time) in a bowl with 3/4 cup of water, microwave this for 1 minute and 20 seconds, let it cool, add in a sliced banana & 1 tbsp of peanut butter.

That doesn’t require a recipe, or even a cohesive thought. The only thing I could do wrong is overcook the oats, and the only thing to be weary of is totally scorching the top my mouth (which I’ve done, many times). This takes two minutes of my time, and cost me approximately $0.33 total. In other words, it’s not only convenient and quick, but it’s also inexpensive and “healthy”.

Obviously this is only one example of a breakfast at home that’s easy, requires minimal time and almost no cooking skills whatsoever. While I ate my breakfast at home, I read the New York Times’ article titled “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?”.

No, of course it isn’t.

Before your mind jumps to the quick-to-argue comparison of “junk”/fast food vs. organic, the author tackles that rebuttal:

“…food choices are not black and white; the alternative to fast food is not necessarily organic food, any more than the alternative to soda is Bordeaux.

The alternative to soda is water, and the alternative to junk food is not grass-fed beef and greens from a trendy farmers’ market, but anything other than junk food: rice, grains, pasta, beans, fresh vegetables, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, bread, peanut butter, a thousand other things cooked at home — in almost every case a far superior alternative.”

It is far too often that you read the opinion that we should all be eating organic this and that, or grass-fed animals, or dairy from cows not treated with hormones. While I do agree with all of the above, I also think the first issue to tackle is one of cooking at home.

The following quotes sum up what I think are the most important take-home points:

“Cooking once a week is far better than not cooking at all,” says Marion Nestle, professor of food studies at New York University and author of “What to Eat.”

“If you can drive to McDonald’s you can drive to Safeway.”

“For 50 years, says David A. Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and author of “The End of Overeating,” companies strove to create food that was “energy-dense, highly stimulating, and went down easy. They put it on every street corner and made it mobile, and they made it socially acceptable to eat anytime and anyplace.”

“Once I look at what I’m eating,” says Dr. Kessler, “and realize it’s not food, and I ask ‘what am I doing here?’ that’s the start. It’s not about whether I think it’s good for me, it’s about changing how I feel. And we change how people feel by changing the environment.”

I do realize that the audience here is more likely one that is cooking at home, shopping at nearby grocery store and maybe even buying organic. I know this because I bookmark your recipes, drool over food posts and sometimes wonder how to make meals look more photogenic because I want to post them for you but they don’t look appetizing.

I also know that a lot of you have your own blog, your own voice, and your own way to post about something you care about, like I just did.

In your city, or maybe even neighborhood, you’re very likely to be in the minority. You shop at a local grocery store frequently; your neighbors opt for the closest take-out/fast-food.

Do you know friends who would much rather eat out than in? Who choose this out of convenience, over the “time consuming” home-cooked meal?
(I’m not referring to people who eat out for the experience – we do that almost once a week, too. I love me a good restaurant-style, flavorful meal!)

Yes? Then here’s your challenge  – have those friends over for dinner. Host a party! They can bring a bottle of wine, or whatever your drink of choice may be. You cook one of your go-to meals – something easy, colorful, relatively inexpensive (by your own standards (this is your meal), and takes less than an hour to prepare – something they would eat and enjoy, go home and think “I could make that”.

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sweetpburritos 0118.4 080

I’m happy to provide meal ideas, recipes, etc. – especially if we’ve got tricky diners on our hands. (Vegetarian Gluten-Free Paleo-Friendly, anyone?)

Are you in?



Filed under Dietitians, food, groceries, in the News, Nutrition

21 responses to ““Is Junk Food Cheaper?”: A Challenge

  1. SandySays1

    One point – folks that have sugar problems have a little more problem with keeping coin loss down, but no doubt you’re right on.

  2. I LOVE this!! So many people assume the opposite answer to junk food is an extreme, but it’s not. I guarantee my food bill is less than most people eating cheap junk food. I hope a bunch of people step up to your challenge! 🙂

  3. I MUCH prefer cooking a delicious meal at home, in fact – my husband and I rarely go out on “date night” but make a gourmet meal at home and call it date night in. It tastes better, it’s healthier and the portions aren’t insane. Plus, it’s awesome bonding time; we often have “throwdown” style meals to see who can outdo the other 😉

  4. Oh man this perfectly describes my man-friend! He would MUCH Rather go to McDonalds. Even if I’m willing to cook dinner. He automatically thinks if it’s “healthy” it’s not going to taste good. And he thinks healthy food is always more expensive. It drives me crazy, but I’m working on him, one meal at a time 😉

  5. I think – but I can’t be certain – that you just invited us over for dinner! We’ll bring the wine.

  6. Jessica

    I love this post Heather. I have been trying to do this for so long. And I think I have it down now but sometimes I really struggle. Especially because I usually cook for me and my 11-year-old daughter. Although I pretty much eat lots of colors she doesn’t. It’s harder to come up with ideas that she will enjoy. I have tried many of the obvious meals that lend themselves to hiding the veggies such as pasta and pizza. Do you have any other ideas that might help me?

  7. Yes! My mother. She complains about being overweight because she doesn’t have “time” to cook for herself. I know she’s tired at the end of the day because I know that feeling too but usually preparing the food wakes me up and gives me energy anyways. Plus cooking dinner is a nice way to relax after a long day, for me anyways.

    As I read this/type this I realize I have plans to eat OUT for every meal today though. Whoops, that is definitely out of the norm for me and I’d say, on average, I eat out 2-3 times per week (mostly lunch) :S

  8. yes yes! i read that article! we need to share the knowledge of how to prepare meals on a budget and FAST! it would save us $ and our health. Thanks heather!

  9. Great post. I love the quotes from the article that you included! The challenge you put out there is such a great idea.

  10. Lee

    I’m in! I read that article last week and really liked it. It’s so true – the opposite of junk food is not expensive organic food.

  11. Great post Heather! 🙂 I love having friends over for dinner INSTEAD of going out like they suggest 🙂 I rather cook for them, use my skills, and create a nice night for us 🙂

  12. We try to eat in most every single day. I like saving money. My husband feels that almost all restaurant food tastes the same (we avoid fast-food at all costs). Most of our friends are eat in people. Money being the biggest issue (little ones can rack up a bill fast).

    And, we LOVE leftovers. That is what we eat for lunch during the week.

    Now, we have a great Mexican restaurant near us that has WONDERFUL enchiladas. Sometimes we MUST go there. I keep meaning to find a good sauce recipe (I am not a hot fan…flavor/spice yes).

    • Heather C

      Mmmm, we love a good plate of enchiladas, too! Hard to make them the same at home, but I have a few go-to recipes that don’t let us down.

  13. Great argument for home cooking! Even preparing “fast food” type-foods @ home one will likely use less salt, of course no other preservatives. It’s just a win all around.

  14. Amen! I just set out to prove this true last month with an experiment to see if I can eat good food 4 times a day on $40 a week. It’s going well, but I can assure you it does NOT involve eating out.

    • Heather C

      Our budget (for two people, so $80) usually stays right around there and we make it work. That doesn’t include eating out for us either, but it keeps the grocery bill in check!

  15. Great idea! I have to admit, when we have people over for dinner, I tend to make things that are a little fancier and more expensive. But it’s a great idea to have people over and just cook a simple, affordable meal. Thanks Heather 🙂

  16. joslynn

    I love steel-cut oats. The nutty flavor and crunch is the best. The only thing is making them takes a while! As a time saver, I make a huge vat on Monday morning. I freeze a half-cup in silicone baking cups, usually get a full dozen. So the rest of the week I just pop two of them out (the silicone works amazing here) and put them in the microwave for 2 minutes. Then add almond milk, bananas and cinnamon as toppings. Such a fun, healthy and quick breakfast on the go all week long!

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