$20 Food Showdown: Fast Food vs. Healthy Food


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
4/18/2013 6:00 AM   :  701 comments   :  1,809,956 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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  • 651
    I definitely feel that the prices for healthy food are way too low. - 10/27/2013   7:11:03 AM
    So the supermarket prices are a bit "dated". So are the fast food prices. It is a comparison, folks.The point is that you can save a lot of money and be healthier by making wise food choices and getting the most for your money, and that point never changes - 10/27/2013   5:22:07 AM
  • 649
    I love these types of comparisons. However, the prices are really out of date, especially for good stuff. And maybe in the new comparisons, the groceries should be grouped by meals. So you get that 1.5 pounds of turkey Italian sausage but what goes with it? And what do you make with the ground turkey?

    And also, could you pick a different store than Walmart. There are many people who won't or can't shop there. What can you get for $20 at Kroger, Giant Eagle, Piggly Wiggly or something like that. - 10/21/2013   1:27:10 PM
  • 648
    I think they should rewrite this article so that it is more up to date. Maybe make meals instead of just listing healthier stuff. It is an eye opener but why not redo it instead of using one from three years ago? - 10/21/2013   12:51:05 PM
  • 647
    Wish I knew how to delete a comment if showed up twice for some reason. . Sorry - 10/21/2013   12:50:58 PM
  • 646
    I love this!! Thank you so much. I normally ask my family members is what you are asking for a want or a need?
    Now can I show them this and see where there mind leads them. - 10/21/2013   10:14:07 AM
  • 645
    The comparisons are a great idea, though wildly impractical for most of the country since those grocery prices haven't existed in most major metro areas for well over a decade! - 10/19/2013   1:57:56 PM
  • 644
    I love the comparisons, but in Australia, I would get nowhere near the amount of healthy food as everything is so expensive. No wonder people on low income opt for the easy convenience of fast food. I try my best but it costs me a lot more to eat healthily, which I do anyway. - 10/13/2013   9:09:26 PM
    A better comparison would be processed/ junk food (which could include fast food) versus healthy food. I don't know many people who claim they have to eat fast food because it's cheaper, but I do know a lot who buy the processed, junk food over fresh/healthy food because it's much cheaper - not to save money but because that's what they can afford. - 10/1/2013   7:14:43 AM
  • 642
    I love the comparisons, but obviously the author of this article does not live in a place where meat and fish are nearly as expensive as my city. - 9/17/2013   4:43:37 PM
  • 641
    I live in Hawaii where a gallon of orange juice costs $9, fish is $18 a pound, a half gallon of milk is $6, and one pound of chicken breast-on sale-is $4. Still, I manage to buy healthy foods for the family because it is much cheaper than paying for medical care down the road. Eating bad food is a dumb place to save money, cutting off cable TV is a smart place to save money. It all comes down to priorities. - 8/31/2013   1:43:46 PM
    Here it is 2013 and grocery prices are quite high but still cheaper to fix our own than buy fast food(which we don't eat anyway). I do love to cook and Hubby loves my cooking even though he is down to about one large meal a day because he really does want to lose weight and he is!I love all the high fat foods but will NO longer cook them as they are to high in salt and fat content.I think I could give up all sweets if I could eat more fried high fat foods,I love that stuff!!Now I cook light and with a little help from my spices the food tastes pretty good.Lots of salads help. - 8/31/2013   10:49:57 AM
    I live in Cincinnati and every few weeks you can find chicken breasts on sale for about $1/lb. Boneless, skinless breasts for about $2/lb. In fact Kroger has boneless breasts for that price this week. You have to buy enough to hold you over for the next sale and freeze them but these prices are realistic here. - 8/27/2013   1:23:33 PM
  • 638
    The healthier food here is pretty spot on other than the chicken and milk, but I did get b.s. chicken thighs for .84 a pound this month and can often get ground turkey for $1 per 12 oz
    . What this doesn't account for is here we also have $5 large pizzas and $1 meals everywhere, so fast food can be pretty darn cheap. But other than that it'd a fair compairison.
    - 8/20/2013   3:58:27 PM
  • 637
    i live in the wrong place... northern virginia, chicken breasts today (boneless skinless) $4.29/lb. and thats store brand, not perdue. - 8/5/2013   7:10:14 PM
    In the third picture down, where are you finding two pounds of chicken breast for $1.96? I just got chicken breast from the store yesterday and for just over two pounds it was about $10. - 8/4/2013   3:44:22 PM
  • 635
    The grocery store prices here are definitely low compared to the prices we end up paying. Admittedly though, I only go into a Walmart in dire emergencies. That place is the devil! - 7/25/2013   4:12:21 PM
    Like all of the other writer's of complaints... I am not finding those food prices realistic. Here in the Bay Area, Ca, if you find a lot of those foods that cheap you'd have to ask what is wrong with it. Otherwise those food prices don't exist. My struggle consistently is that my fresh veggies (that I spend $30-60 on) go bad too fast. Other option is to go shopping every couple days. Eating out inexpensively and keeping up with fresh foods seems to break even in cost. I could be wrong (and I HOPE I'm wrong). I have a spot where I eat fresh Mexican and get full for less than $5 per meal. No joke. And not too greasy or anything. - 7/25/2013   4:06:19 PM
  • 633
    oh all the neigh Sayers . . . remember Wal-Mart (where they got these prices) matches other stores prices so you can go through the adds and get all the sale prices at one time in one store (which is the only way i get my fruits and veggies) i do see prices like this especially during the summer and when price matching its really quite simple just tell your cashier the sale price BEFORE they ring up the item ( i always have my adds on hand in case there are any questions) - 7/21/2013   2:06:07 AM
  • 632
    I understand the purpose of these articles but I have not seen these food prices since the 1980's. If you're going to write something like this, you have to be honest and realistic about the price of food. - 6/30/2013   11:00:53 AM
    Although interesting, what I do not like about this article is they show an actual meal (bad) vs a bunch of random food they threw together for under $20 (healthy. Okay, that is great, but why did they not show actual food to put together and make a MEAL for $20?? that would be MUCH more helpful for those of us looking for healthy alternatives! - 6/25/2013   5:45:28 PM
  • 630
    I never go to a fast food restaurant.
    The prices on the food at the grocery store are way too low as listed. At least where I live in Wisconsin food is much more expensive.
    And when I want beer or ice cream, I certainly don't want to replace it with what is shown. I want my vodka and ice cream when I want it. - 6/14/2013   5:09:22 PM
    I know a lot of people are saying this already but... If I could actually buy that amount of healthy food for that low a price it would be amazing. But the truth is the "bad" stuff is accurate and the "good" stuff is about twice that much, yes where there's a will there's a way but even just a little fresh fruit/veg is enough to eat up my entire budget and that is before meat and other things. - 6/7/2013   2:21:15 PM
  • 628
    So a lot of people are mentioning the price per pound on the chicken, and not even mentioning that what they show in the photo isn't even 1lb! In the one with the taquitos, that's gonna be at least a 2.5lb container of chicken. But yeah, those prices are way off, except for maybe the corn. My HEB has them 5/$1 right now, but do you really want to eat that much corn? - 6/6/2013   2:56:36 PM
    These prices are accurate for Northeastern Ohio, if you shop Walmart, Save-A-Lot, and Aldi. Chicken breast can be found for .99/lb at local meat stores on occasion.

    The perks of living in a low cost of living area outweigh the long, dreary winter we just endured =)

    - 5/30/2013   8:42:23 PM
  • 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
    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 age.com 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 quality...you 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
  • 608
    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 eating...no 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

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