Actual Costs of Eating Healthy vs. Eating Junk

by Scott Sery on February 19, 2014

Costs of Eating HealthyWe all know that we SHOULD eat healthy.  But the most common argument is that it is just too expensive.  Instead, many people head to McDonald’s or some other fast food place, and they eat some of the worst “foods” on the planet (nutritionally speaking, I’m not saying that fries are not one of the most delicious things ever invented).  So what does it actually cost to eat junk food versus eating a similar, yet much healthier, meal?  Let’s take a look at the numbers.


There is obviously a wide variety of foods on the McDonald’s menu.  For the sake of argument, let’s just look at the costs of their Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal.  This meal comes with a 4 oz meat patty, a slice of American cheese, lettuce, tomato and a bun.  It also includes 4.1oz of fries and 21oz of beverage (most people get a soft drink).  Now for the sake of argument we all know that eating a burger, fries, and coke is not healthy.  But if you really want to check them out, McDonald’s posts the nutrition facts online.  The cost for your meal will run roughly $5.99 before taxes (prices and taxes vary by location).

Healthier Option

Let’s consider that you still want a burger, fries, and a coke.  If you were to go to the store and purchase all the supplies to make your own, you will have to buy enough for several burgers and fries, but breaking down the cost per meal is simple.  Keep in mind these are prices from here in Billings, Montana.

1 pound extra lean (97%) burger: $5.49

Price per burger: $1.37

8 Buns: $1.25

Price per bun: $0.15

1 pound tomatoes: $2.99

Price per slice: about $0.18

1 pound lettuce: $1.50

Price per leaf: about $.05

1 pound Cheddar Cheese:  $6

Price per slice: $.20

5 pounds potatoes: $1.99

Price per 4oz of fries: $0.10

2 liter of Coke: $1.79

Price per 21 oz: $.60

If you add up the costs for all of the individual components (and we aren’t including the couple pennies on mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, etc), then your burger fries and Coke come out to around $2.65 per meal.  Want to make it even cheaper?  Have water instead of a soft drink.  Want to make it healthier?  Swap steamed vegetables in place of fries, and swap the burger for a piece of grilled chicken.  The cost for your healthier meal: right around $2.33 per serving.  You could eat 3 meals at home and pay hardly more than you would if you were to eat at McDonald’s for those three meals.

We could go on and on doing this analysis for chicken sandwiches, fish sandwiches, and basically any other thing you want to look at and come to the same conclusion.  Also, you might argue that these are restaurant prices.  I took that into consideration.  I swung through the frozen food aisle at Albertsons and discovered that a box of 2 hot pockets are $2.39.  I know personally after eating 2 hot pockets I am not nearly as full as if I eat a burger and vegetables.  In addition, it does not stick with you quite as long and you usually feel a little sickly afterwards.

The one thing my analysis does not take into account is the time that it takes to make a meal.  And if you have a value on your time, which you should, then the cost factor suddenly swings in favor of eating out.  However, most people do not spend those minutes saved working, but rather they spend them conversing at the restaurant.  In addition to that, the average American spends 5 hours per day watching television.  Even if you spend 1/3 of that, you have plenty of free time to cook a meal.

Eating junk is neither cheaper, nor healthier.  The only reason people do is convenience and, let’s be honest, fries taste good.

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Scott Sery

Scott Sery is a native to Billings, Montana. Within an hour in nearly any direction he can be found fishing, hunting, backpacking, caving, and rock or ice climbing. With an extensive knowledge of the finance and insurance world, Scott loves to write personal finance articles. When not talking money, he enjoys passing on his knowledge of the back country, or how to live sustainably. You can learn more about Scott on his website Sery Content Development
  • Love this! We have been eating healthier and we have been saving money. Fast food doesn’t even sound good to me anymore, the smell lately has actually made me sick.

    • My whole body just feels better when I eat healthy. That doesn’t mean I don’t crave a greasy hamburger every now and then though. 🙂

  • While I admittedly grab food on the go more often than I’d like, it’s NEVER fast food. I think it’s been well over a year since I patronized your typical McDonald’s, Wendy’s, etc.

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