“A generation ago, three-quarters of the money used to buy food in the United States was spent to prepare meals at home. Today about half of the money used to buy food is spent at restaurants–mainly at fast food restaurants.” ― Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
We are a fast food nation, there is no doubt about it. Fast food is easy, accessible and seemingly cheap. However, the so called “fact” that fast food is actually cheaper than real food is one of the main reasons why our country is struggling with an obesity epidemic.
Fast food companies employ some very sneaky marketing strategies to make people think that they are getting a great deal. Such words as value, added, extra, special, and double make people think that they are saving money. In actuality, they are getting a meal made from hyper-processed food that is nutrient void and a risk to their health.
What Fast Food Does $3.99 Buy?
According to Fast Food Menu Item.com, a person can get a double cheeseburger meal which includes fries and a drink for $3.69 at McDonalds. This means that a family of four could eat dinner for $14.76. Another similarly priced option would be the Filet-O-Fish Meal or the Quarter Pounder with Cheese Meal. At Taco Bell, prices are cheaper. A 12-Pack Variety Taco Box is $12.99 or one Burrito Extreme is $2.69. Kentucky Fried Chicken offers a Value Bucket of chicken for $10.99, a 6-Piece Chicken Bite Meal is $3.49 and a kids meal is $3.99.
Stress and Busy Lives
According to Julie Guthman, associate professor of community studies at the University of California, “People are really stressed out with all that they have to do and they don’t want to cook.” So, stress and very busy lives also drive food choices. People make little time in their harried schedule to plan shopping trips and cook. Drive-throughs offer up the perfect solution to a crazy life. In fact, 20% of all American meals are eaten in the car and 1 in 4 people eat some form of fast food everyday.
There are five fast food outlets for one grocery store in the United States. Just the sheer fact that they are everywhere makes them hard to avoid. You are pressed for time, you have to eat and right there is a McDonalds. You may have to drive another fifteen minutes to the grocery and when you weigh the time difference, McDonalds wins.
Three Healthy, Cheap and Quick Options
It is possible to eat healthy on a budget. It is also possible not to have to spend an exorbitant amount of time in the kitchen to prepare a nutritious meal for your family.
Meal #1: Black Bean Chili and Salad ($14.64)
This nutritious and super quick meal will make at least 5 servings and falls below the $3.99/person price.
Onion: 99 cents
Garlic: 75 cents
Green pepper: $1.65
2x 15.5 ounce black beans: $1.50
2x 15.5-ounce mexican stewed tomatoes $2.00
Organic ground turkey: 1/2 pound $3.50
Organic salad mix: $4.25
Meal # 2: Potato and Broccoli Casserole ($16.00)
Perfect for a cool fall night, this casserole is a snap to put together and you can even make it ahead of time and freeze it.
Organic Red Potatoes (1 pound) $3.00
Frozen Broccoli (10 oz): $1.75
Organic milk (1/2 gallon): $4.00
Shredded cheddar cheese: $2.75
15oz can gluten-free bread crumbs: $2.50
Carrot sticks: $2.00
Meal # 3: Organic Bean Salad ($15.94)
This salad is not only filling but also tasty. Change up the toppings and still stay under budget.
Organic salad mix: $4.25
1x 15.5 ounce cans black beans 75 cents
Slivered almonds: $1.57
Green apple: 75 cents
Green pepper $1.65
Shredded carrots: $1.35
Organic dressing: $2.50
Parmesan cheese : $1.87
Changing Our Minds
The question remains, how do we change the mindset of the fast food culture? Experts suggest that once people take a look at what they are eating and realize that it is not really food that only then will things change. It is about getting people to connect the food they eat to the way they feel and to some degree to the way they look.
Although not everyone who eats fast food regularly is obese or sick, it is likely that most people suffer some ill effects of a diet based on hyper-processed food. Whether it be fatigue, headaches, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, asthma, allergies, frequent sickness or other conditions.
Action needs to be taken both at the cultural and political levels in order to embrace healthy eating. We need to be raising children that know the difference between calorie laden, nutrient deficient food and real food that fuels the body.
On the political front, action to limit the junk food market and understand that advertising for fast food is not so much free speech as it is the manipulation of addictive substances. Also, making sure that real food is available for everyone, supporting local food initiatives and reducing subsidization of the junk food industry. Although political change is tough, it is not outside the bounds of possibility. Our collective future depends on it!
-The Alternative Daily