No More Excuses for Choosing Fast Food over Real Food

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last summer, blogger Beth Donovan and I worked on a project that's one of my passions: proving that healthy eating is easy and affordable at any budget. Together, we created this illustrated blog post: $20 Food Showdown: Fast Food vs. Healthy Food. You agreed. It has been liked 5,000 times on Facebook and viewed more than 100,000 times.

As a follow-up to our popular blog 25 Cheap and Healthy Foods, we hit the supermarket with calculators and notebooks in hand. We found that you could fill your carts with real, healthy foods that would last you for more than one meal--for less than it would cost you to buy fast food for dinner.

Sure, you'll have to take the time to cook those real foods, but you're getting healthy food--without excess salt, sugar and fat.

Mark Bittman's recent op-ed piece in the New York Times bolstered our argument.  His comparison shopping graphic even includes nutritional comparisons of the healthy foods versus fast foods.  

When you look at whole (healthy) and fast (junk) foods side by side, it becomes clear that money is not the primary issue for most of us, even if we are on a tight budget. We're not comparing apples to apples or even apples to oranges. We're comparing apples to orange-flavored "fruit" snacks or Apple Jacks to oranges. The reasons why we aren't choosing the "right" foods are different for each of us, but recurring themes emerge: We're hooked on them, they taste good, they're more convenient, they're easier than learning to cook.

The good news is that you have SparkPeople, and we can debunk each and every one of those excuses:

We're hooked on the salt, sugar and fat in fast food.
Eating isn't only about satisfying our physical hunger; for many of us it fills an emotional void as well. If emotional eating is something you struggle with, consider joining a SparkTeam to help you find alternatives to eating.
Fast food tastes good.
Healthy food tastes good, too. Once you start recalibrating your palate by eating fresh, wholesome foods and meals cooked at home, you'll learn to appreciate the inherent goodness of all kinds of foods. You'll expand your tastebuds beyond fatty, sugary, and salty: nutty brown rice, bitter greens, creamy white beans, rich roasted chicken, tangy vinaigrette--even a simple meal of salad with rice and chicken can seem like a party in your mouth. You can even recreate your favorite restaurant recipes at home--for less money and fat.
Fast food is so convenient! I don't have time to cook!
Home-cooked meals don't have to be fancy. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole-wheat bread with carrot sticks and a cup of milk is healthy and ready in five minutes. Grilled cheese and veggie sandwiches, reduced-sodium canned soups, simple grilled chicken, a salad with whatever's in your fridge--these are all healthy meals that can be on the table in no time. Even though there are plenty of supermarket convenience foods that are also full of salt, sugar, and fat, taking some help from the grocery store is fine. Just look for products that have as few ingredients as possible, and add on extra servings of fruit and vegetables to add nutrition without a lot of calories.
I eat fast food because I don't know how to cook.
As you've read, healthy cooking doesn't have to be complicated or fancy. Start small, with a healthy recipe on And pick up a copy of "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight" (available Oct. 4). It's packed full of healthy recipes with almost 100 color photos, step-by-step instructions, and chapters on stocking a healthy kitchen and healthy cooking techniques. We also have a healthy pantry checklist, meal plans, and shopping lists to make healthy cooking easy, fun, and delicious.

Healthy eating and cooking at home doesn't seem so daunting anymore, does it?

Now you tell us: What is your biggest challenge when it comes to cooking at home? What foods do you turn to when you're short on time but want a healthy meal?

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another "featured" article that is out dated.....from 2011...surely you have some current getting information but would like more current information/articles.. Report
No challenge. I love to cook at home! Report
My biggest challenge is time. So I Keep spinach and salad fixings on hand, as well as soups, canned and frozen homemade. Chicken sausages are quick to un-thaw, cook, and low-fat too.

I rarely eat fast food anymore, it just doesn't appeal, and it doesn't taste as good as mine. Especially hamburgers! Report
I, also, am diabetic. I carry something in my purse at all times to eat when I am away from home too long (even my grandchildren make sure I have something with me). I am learning to eat less and less fast food. We use to eat fast food 6 or 7 times a week. Now we are down to 1 or 2 times and some weeks none. We are still learning. Usually when I have fast food it is a craving for a burger. I am working on cravings now. Report
My biggest challenge is emotional - I enjoy "being pampered" by going out to a good meal, especially in the company of good friends and conversation rather than eating alone at home. Trying to get those needs met in nonfood ways. Report
I've always felt this way. One day I was driving back to my office after a meeting and I was starving. I stopped at a 711. My choices were some kind of buffalo chicken roll up for $2.22, a bag of chips for $0.99, or a banana for $0.50. The banana was the cheapest and the healthiest. I think that the problem is that a lot of people don't even think about whole foods anymore. It wouldn't even occur to them to get the banana when there's a whole store full of convenience foods.

Another thing to remember is that not buying chips, cookies and ice cream at the supermarket is cheaper than buying those things. That kind of evens out the difference that you pay for whole grains and lean meat. Report
How about when both people come home bagged and the wife has been sick for 10 days? (I can still feel the Angus burger from rotten Ronnie's). I should have made supper only I was later than usual . Report
I feel that I am able to successfully eat healthy foods I cook and avoid a fast food diet but I spend 6 to 8 hours EACH DAY planning menus, grocery shopping, bargain hunting and cooking healthy from scratch.

For me the true cost of healthy eating is not money, it is the investment of time required. Report
my problem, is that I hate cooking...When I'm in the mood, that's another story. I eat eggs, Lean Cuisine, tuna, salmon. I try to cook at least 3 or 4 days a week, though. Report
In my past, I have been guilty of eating way too much fat and not enough veggies or fiber. Since joining Spark, I am eating much less fat then I used to, and get my minimum requirements for fiber most days (5-6/7).

It has gotten so that when I eat out that I closely monitor the food choices and ask for cheese to be deleted from any toppings, completely. Instead of getting the starch and veggie that are the standard sides, I ask for a salad or extra veggie substitute for the starch.

On the occasions I do splurge and eat rich food, my gut tells me how badly I have treated it for at least 24 hours.

Even in fast foods I eat more healthy. Salads, small bowl of chili, etc. are now my "go-to" choices. Restaurant breakfasts now have egg substitute or egg white veggie omelets as the main focus and fruit is substituted for the hash browns (usually), and I share one piece of crispy bacon from my DW's breakfast.

Any milk I drink is Skim, and my ratio of water to diet soft drinks has gotten dramatically better. Report
My slow cooker is a champion at my home. I just throw ingredients in and something wonderful comes out. Plus, there's usually enough for several meals so I freeze some of it right away. SparkPeople has so many slow cooker recipes - it was those recipes that got me to take my crockpot out of storage - I hadn't used it in at least a decade, probably a lot more than that! Now I use it several times a month. Report
My biggest challenge is variety! We eat a lot of chicken around here, but I seem to run out of healthy ways to cook it. My husband is a big beef eater, but I've curbed it back since I am unable to eat beef, so chicken has become our meat of choice. Report
None of these cover the rare times I get fast food. I am diabetic and I have to eat pretty close to a scheduled time. If I am out of the house and can't make it home from what I am doing in time to eat, then I get fast food, but am very moderate in what I get. Report
It's fair to say that eating healthy is cheaper than eating fast food but I LOVE to cook and have always been a from-scratch cook and do NOT agree that eating healthy is cheaper than not-eating healthy when you truly compare apples to apples... that being a from-scratch not-healthy menu vs a from-scratch healthy menu. Is it less expensive in the long run (given reduced medical costs and increased productivity), probably. But when you are faced with the immediate increase in your grocery budget a change from not-healthy (not lean meats, white flour, white rice, white bread, starchy veg) to healthy (lean meats and fish, whole wheat flour, brown rice and other great grains, whole wheat bread/rolls/tortillas, fresh green veg) it can be quite discouraging. Report
I didn't grow up eating fast food and our parents encouraged/required us to try lots of new foods, so eating healthfully doesn't seem unfamiliar to me. I did get into a rut with processed/packaged foods but have broken out of that, with gratifying results.

I do like many of Trader Joe's low-sodium, boxed soups for a quick meal. Zone Bars are my emergency stash in the car for those days when I'm out for hours and need something to keep me going. Report
Weekends are hard around here because my dh likes to "give me a break" cooking, which means take out. The healthiest being rotisserie chicken, a bag of frozen brown rice, and some veggies from the grocery store.
My biggest challenge though is my meat and potatoes eating husband. He likes 2 true vegetables: green beans and cucumbers, otherwise its all starch and meat. However, I have been able to convert him to a few healthier versions of foods like whole wheat biscuits, mashed potatoes using light sour cream instead of butter (hope to eventually use yogurt), and slipping tomatoes diced really small into stews. That's seems to be the key: making tiny changes or dicing things up so small he doesn't really know he's eating something healthy. It helps with the picky kids too. One is trying new foods on his own now, so I have hope that 3 of my 4 kids will eat healthfully by the time they grow up. Now to tackle the youngest and his dad! Report
I couldn't agree more. It does get more expensive if you're a extreme athlete though I feel. Protein cost way more than carbs. But for the more average fitness enthusiast the cost between fast food and home cooking varies very slightly if done correctly. And correctly just means healthy and smart. Report
I've never really understood the "it's quicker" argument. I rarely eat fast food because it wasn't the norm as I was growing up--it was a treat, and a rare one. If I'm out running around and get hungry, it's almost always quicker (and certainly cheaper), to go home and eat something that's there rather than make a stop for fast food. Report
It's rare that I eat at fast food places I do 99% of my own home made cooking have for years but I also love to bake and there is where the weight issues come into play, so I have stopped baking unless it's for a special occasion. Report
My biggest challenge is that I don't enjoy the cooking process enough, and there's always something more important to do. However, both of us do cook when we eat at home. Report
I most often eat what is turned "Alabama Take-out", since I live in Pensacola, Florida. LOL That means going into a grocery store and getting something to eat from the outer aisles of the store; fruit, veggies, dairy, etc. It is just as fast to go through the "20 items or less" and be back in the car. I'd always take water bottles in a cooler when my children were going to JUDO, Soccer, etc. so I didn't spend money on drinks. Report
I really like to plan menus ahead, but lately it's been difficult because of my husbands work schedule, son's school and work schedule, daughter's volleyball schedule and the kids' girlfriend and boyfriend. I never know if I'll be eating alone or cooking for 6 or when they'll show up. It's like herding cats! Report
Interesting article and it brings out some very true points. It really isn't more expensive to cook at home than it is to eat at a fast food place. I don't remember the last time I went to a fast food restaurant. Report
11/18/2005 was the last time I ate fast food. And seriously I don't miss it!! Report
When I am in a food rut or when it happens that I did not make time to cook ahead, I like to turn to canned tuna or eggs for a quick meal. They are easy to toss in a salad or with a side of frozen veggies. When I do give in to sweets, I can usually link my craving to feelings of being tired, stressed or worried. I try to rest and it usually takes the craving away. Report
Just what it says they are "excuses" for eating fast food. Like this info.!! Report
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