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$20 Food Showdown: Fast Food vs. Healthy Food

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
4/18/2013 6:00 AM   :  676 comments   :  1,421,048 Views

Budget constraints prevent many people from eating right.

"I can't afford to buy healthy food."
"Fruits and vegetables are too expensive."
"Grocery store prices are astronomical."
"It's cheaper to eat fast food."

We hear these "excuses" every day--and they're good ones. But we don't give up that easily and believe any excuse can be overcome. Today we're setting out to prove that healthy eating is possible on any budget.

We compared the cost of unhealthy foods from the drive-thru, freezer section and snack foods aisle to the cost of healthy foods. By making even one of these swaps, you can make room in your grocery budget for a few new healthy foods.

The photos below aim to show the diversity in healthy foods available. Prices may vary in your area (some items were on sale when we shopped), but we think you'll be shocked at how far you can stretch a buck at the supermarket when you buy healthy foods!

If you bought all that junk food in one month, you would spend $115.64. The healthy food would cost $111.83 but feed you and your family for far more meals.

It might take a bit more time and planning to put these foods on the dinner table each night, but at least now you know you can afford to try!

Foods are store brand unless noted.

(Grocery prices from Wal-Mart and Meijer in Noblesville, Indiana, and Cincinnati, Ohio; fast food prices from the greater Indianapolis and Cincinnati areas, 2010)

Research: Beth Donovan and Stepfanie Romine

Photography and Design: Elliott Giles

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  • 626
    Interesting. - 5/29/2013   12:45:15 AM
  • 625
    i have tried to explain this to people many times. i use the example of eating lunch out daily to making yourself a lunch at home. you could spend 6-7 bucks in the drive thru for lunch every day or you could go to the store spend 20-30 bucks and sandwich and other lunch items. which is cheaper and lasts longer? buy a bag of chips for 3-4 bucks and a bag of carrots. the carrots will be cheaper and last longer.
    i know prices vary, but 10 bucks for an 18 pack of beer is real far off. makes me wonder how old this story is. i swear i've seen it before. - 5/21/2013   2:57:22 PM
    The article says "Prices may vary in your area (some items were on sale when we shopped)". Take the point the article is trying to make and do something positive with it and not chatter to make it seem like it can't be done or that's its not true. - 5/21/2013   2:45:12 PM
    This is great. I started doing this for my members especially since they want to save money, but it also provides them a chance to really plan the meals for the week.
    - 5/19/2013   2:38:11 AM
  • 622
    Prices for the healthy food are not accurate - but likely the same is true for the fast food and convenience foods. The comparison is still good and eating healthy is probably within the grasp of anyone who wishes to do so! - 5/17/2013   11:41:35 AM
  • 621
    Love the idea but I would also like to know where I can buy a 1lb of chicken breasts for $0.98 - 5/15/2013   12:19:36 PM
  • KBEAR3991
    Eye-opening examples - 5/14/2013   7:27:25 AM
  • 619
    Thanks for sharing this and to show us that we can shop and eat healthy on a budget if we put forth the time and effort. - 5/11/2013   9:11:00 AM
  • 618
    WOW! The old saying "Seeing is believing" comes to mind. Knowing something and actually seeing it in use makes a huge difference. Thank you for sharing. - 5/9/2013   9:45:59 AM
    I don't eat fast food any more as I have finally figured out how to shop for one while living in hotels and traveling on business about 45 weeks a year, but I do take issue with the food groupings. The problem I see is that many people are either on the run and need a COMPLETE meal in one purchase, none of which the above offers, or they are truly on a tight budget and don't have in stock nor can they afford the other items required to make any of those $20 groupings into any sort of a reasonable meal! Try it, it's tough, especially if you don't want to end up eating the same meal for 8 days in a row lol. I have a degree in fitness and nutrition and it has taken me a long time and a lot of experimentation to figure it out, and most people have neither the time nor the interest. And if you are trying to feed a family healthily, it becomes even more complicated. My hat is off to all trying and succeeding in ANY measure :) - 5/4/2013   11:22:29 AM
  • DYONIA229
    Folks, for those of you wondering where and when these prices were found, at the very bottom of this "blog post" is this blurb: "(Grocery prices from Wal-Mart and Meijer in Noblesville, Indiana, and Cincinnati, Ohio; fast food prices from the greater Indianapolis and Cincinnati areas, 2010)" Either they didn't add that till very recently, or you skimmed past it while you were reading. - 4/23/2013   12:26:21 PM
  • 615
    When you find chicken breast for 98 cents a pound and grapes for 88 cents a pound - please post the location so I can buy them! I get the concept here, but really - this article has to be VERY out of date to feature those prices. Sad. - 4/22/2013   3:43:58 PM
  • DINALORI1969
    Scatterbolt, you took the words right out of my mouth. What planet are they living on where grapes are only 88 cents a pound?! 98 cents for a pound of chicken breasts? Only if you buy the "club pack" size (on sale) and you still end up spending $6--$8 for the food. Even in my local Wally World (where the quality is less than ideal) the prices are nothing like what they have listed here. - 4/22/2013   3:11:49 PM
  • 613
    Thanks for sharing - 4/22/2013   7:22:08 AM
  • 612
    Dear God, those grocery store prices are not realistic. You list a pound of chicken breasts as 99 cents - here, $1.99/lb is the price you sometimes get bulk packs on sale for. The regular price is more like 3.49/lb. 4 pack of yogurt for 1.99? Think twice that. You put .88 cents for a pound of grapes - here it's anywhere from 1.99 to 4 dollars. 1.18 for oats? Store brand steel cut oats are 3.49 here. You have 1.67 for strawberries, the current price here is 2.99. I don't live in Antarctica...I'm in Upstate New York. Anyone want to buy this stuff where they did this research and ship it to me? - 4/21/2013   7:34:37 PM
    Please stop recycling blogs. Along with the fact that I have already read this, and didn't need to read it again, the prices are WAY outdated. - 4/21/2013   9:52:03 AM
  • 610
    My personal experience is that it just plain costs more to eat unhealthy, especially if that also means I am eating more than my daily requirement of calories. Whenever I drift away from Sparking, my grocery bills go up noticeably not only because I am buying junk, which is prepared and expensive, but because I am also eating more, period. On a news segment I saw a family with the kids crying about eating pizza again because the mother said that pizza was all she could afford. She could have fed her kids veggie omelet, homemade vegetable beef soup, or a chicken stir fry for less. There is an article on real that shows that people who eat healthy save thousands in health care costs, which would pay for a lot of tuna, peanut butter, and freggies. - 4/20/2013   5:04:50 PM
  • 609
    On the whole, this blog makes a great point!

    However, the deals featured in this article on the healthy food seem to be that--really good deals. They don't seem representative of average food prices in most grocery stores.

    Places that sell fresh produce and meat that cheaply (like Walmart, certain chain grocery stores) don't usually have the best will end up paying a bit more for produce that actually looks appetizing enough to motivate you to eat healthy consistently. Just a thought.
    - 4/20/2013   11:14:35 AM
    Frankly, I don't care if I do pay more for healthy food, because in the long run, the healthy food will save me so much money in medical bills! Still, I agree with this blog -- fast food is expensive and costs more than buying healthy food.
    - 4/20/2013   10:33:19 AM
  • 607
    Regardless of whether or not the prices are correct for my area or not, I was looking at what I could make with that purchase. With ground beef and dried beans.....I don't know. I need more. It wasn't a comparison. The fast food gave me a meal and the other didn't always. A lot of the times "fast food" is exactly that. It's a convenience. I love eating healthy and realize it does cost a bit more and may take more time to cook it as well.

    Yes, dried beans are cheap, but there is only so much you can do with it and when time is limited, that isn't a great choice. I don't recall seeing many veggies other than frozen. Because they are more expensive.

    It's all a matter of shopping in season and finding sales. Cook when you can and stock up.

    Try to eat healthy and at home, it's worth it in the long run.

    rumbamel - 4/20/2013   9:55:35 AM
  • 606
    I love this blog I always smile when I hear eating healthy cost so much and I don't have time to cook. I would love for you to do a comparison on cooking a health quick meal and waiting in line at fast food places - 4/20/2013   8:03:48 AM
  • 605
    Why are blogs being recycled? If I re-read them, I should be able to receive the points. But to put them up like they are new is like cheating to me. - 4/19/2013   11:52:19 PM
  • 604
    I think this was a good article. You can eat real clean food versus fast food for about the same amount or cheaper. I went from processed foods to clean processed foods and spent about the same amount or less some times. With processed foods or fast foods there are no left overs. With my clean eating I always have left overs.......the crockpot comes in handy for that. - 4/19/2013   11:34:34 PM
  • 603
    Even if the prices aren't the latest, the idea is still the same and I totally agree. Well Done!!! - 4/19/2013   11:30:32 PM
    Wow sure would like to know where they are shopping! - 4/19/2013   10:12:35 PM
  • 601
    Not that I'm a beer drinker, but here in Canada a case of beer costs at least $40.00. - 4/19/2013   9:55:47 PM
  • 600
    Where can I get chicken breasts for $0.98 a pound? And that wasn't the only thing...the carrots, the corn, the fish, the peanut butter....I do think it is probably cheaper to buy groceries and cook at home but honestly, my husband and I have found that the price difference isn't as huge as one would think.... - 4/19/2013   9:20:43 PM
  • 599
    Prices shown for the most part are much lower than where I live. Where was this shopping done? Even allowing for sales, I do not find them on a realistic level. As for the comments where people mentioned a chorus of "These prices are too low" in their comments, well, the fact of the matter is they are. I do not think this article presents an appropriate comparison if prices presented are just not the norm. - 4/19/2013   6:03:44 PM
  • 598
    THANKS!! - 4/19/2013   6:01:48 PM
  • 597
    I could see some of those to be true but quite a few were way off.....especially here in Chicago. I could shop at Aldi's and still need about $2.50 - $7.00 on some of those. But definitely eating at home is far cheaper... - 4/19/2013   5:47:01 PM
  • 596
    It is always cheaper to eat at home than to eat out and usually you have left overs, - 4/19/2013   4:32:59 PM
  • 595
    This blog looks like it took you quite a bit of time to put together. That being said, Thank You. However, if it was to be done again, I would like to see actual meals put together intead of a bunch of random items. I would also like to see today's prices, not 2010's. The overall theme of the blog is very helpful though. - 4/19/2013   4:29:13 PM
  • 594
    Good to see - but I agree that some prices given for the healthy choices aren't representative of what things actually cost. The lesson being is that we CAN make better choices. - 4/19/2013   4:16:06 PM
  • DEBRI8
    The Cooking Channel 231 (Direct TV) has a program that shows how to make four meals for under $10. - 4/19/2013   3:26:49 PM
  • 592
    Great Comparisons!! Thank you for posting. - 4/19/2013   3:08:11 PM
  • 591
    I'd like to know where you found a pound of chicken breast for 98 cents! - 4/19/2013   2:45:38 PM
  • 590
    Wow, very interesting to see the prices of things - I don't think I've ever seen chicken breast for 98 cents - around here a "sale" is when chicken thighs are $1.88 pound.

    Good comparisons - easy to see at a glance what your money buys. I'll be checking out some of those prices at Walmart tonight just out of curiosity. - 4/19/2013   2:31:01 PM
  • 589
    you spent a lot of time on this-
    great visuals. that says it all.
    I personally got away from most that other stuff over a year ago.
    I have lost some but feel 100% better. - 4/19/2013   2:23:26 PM
  • 588
    Great and the timing is perfect. My teaching partner and I are teaching the kids about budgeting and shopping and because it's near an dear to MY heart, planning Healthy meals. I copied and pasted this blog into a word document and plan on using it in next week's lesson, especially with the senior who's ideas of healthy meals are heart stopping in many ways! Thanks for doing all the leg work! =) - 4/19/2013   1:39:16 PM
  • 587
    The food prices are definitely not the same as here but I get the general idea and it is right on. - 4/19/2013   1:36:19 PM
  • 586
    I agree with those that say the prices are way off. Bananas are fairly close with only about 15 cents difference. I haven't seen less than $3.99 for ground turkey for years. I do get the chicken breasts on sale for less than the usual $4-$4.50/lb (the ones you show are the boneless/skinless), but the lowest is $1.99/lb and only one store gets that low. Your $10 worth of meat and fish would cost me closer to $50. Whole wheat bread (or any bread) runs around $4/loaf unless you go stock up at the outlet store. As usual, the push is there for beans and rice in a healthy diet which probably over half the population cannot eat healthily.

    Your $10 pail of ice cream is half that cost here. - 4/19/2013   12:35:54 PM
  • 585
    Wow! I wish I could buy chicken where you buy it! Regular price around here is $3.99 a pound, sometimes it can be on sale for $1.99 a pound! Regardless, I have been eating healthy, very seldom ever go to a fast food place, rarely buy any sweets, so now I'm dreaming about $.99 cent a pound chicken! - 4/19/2013   12:31:22 PM
  • 584
    Your article made me smile when I realized that my groceries mimicked the latter choices in each of your comparisons. It has been a slow and steady turnaround for me over the last three and a half years here on Spark. Thanks. - 4/19/2013   12:23:07 PM
  • 583
    Waaaay off! Where do I get 2 pounds of chicken for 2 bucks? Even if I knew, I would be scared to eat it!!! - 4/19/2013   12:19:45 PM
    I understand your point, but who buys Soy Milk & yogurt instead of ice cream? Come on! I was with you up until that example! - 4/19/2013   12:18:05 PM
    I agree these prices are way off. Where do you get grapes for .88 cents? - 4/19/2013   12:06:45 PM
  • 580
    Perhaps some of the prices are off. I would still rather spend a little extra and eat real food.Grapes,bananas and vegetables are way more appealing to me than a case of coke. - 4/19/2013   11:20:52 AM
    Where the heck are they getting the prices of chicken from? I've never seen it that cheap! - 4/19/2013   11:12:37 AM
  • 578
    Where do you shop? Broccoli costs $2.98 on a rare sale and usually $4.99 and chicken breasts were $0.98 somewhere in my dreams! The price of the junk food is inflated here and healthy stuff....well those prices must have been pre-Obama days! - 4/19/2013   11:11:29 AM
  • 577
    This give me some unexpected insight on why processed and fast food might be so appealing up here in Alaska. The prices of the bad choices are more comparable to what we pay here than the good choices. The Alaska prices for the fresh items are just about double. - 4/19/2013   11:09:26 AM

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