Sunday, March 31, 2013

The True Cost of Fast Food

A recent survey showed the average American family ate fast food 2-4 times a week, some even ate five times a week, and a smaller percentage seven times a week. My first thought was how can they afford it? CNN described eating out as cheaper than cooking at home. Check out the article out for yourself. In the article, CNN shopper pays $4 for spaghetti, seriously? They also skip the expensive drinks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and dessert. If I am going out to eat, it is a special event and I’m getting dessert.

Back in the day, when my children were small I knew when various restaurants offered free kid meals. I may have milked that cow dry. The age keeps getting younger and younger for the elusive free kid meal. The children meals you buy are almost as much as an adult entrée. How do you beat the high price of eating out?

Realize eating out is not a right, but a luxury. Most people want to eat out because they are tired and don’t want to cook. Even elbowing your way into the drive-thru line at your local burger barn will take 20 minutes out of your commute. It costs an average family of four between $32-40 dollars per fast food meal. Twenty minutes you could have nuke lasagna, baked chicken strips and fries, or set the table for a crock pot dinner you started before work. You could also bake the bargain pizza you have in the freezer. If you don’t think you’ll feel too much guilt about it, eat cereal.

Going back to the CNN article, which was little more than a commercial for Darden restaurants. Hey, I like all the Darden restaurants, but it is misleading. When I buy a bag of salad, I never pay four dollars for it and I do not eat it all myself. The report gave each person their own bag of salad, a bunch of asparagus, and even a box of overpriced pasta. Not only could these items be divided up among family members, there might even be leftovers. If you dine at a mid-range sit down restaurant, you have taxes and the tip, which makes the total even more.

How to eat out, but not pay too much while doing it tips.

1.       Cut out all the fast food coupons and mid-range ones too. I’ve even googled them. Keep them in the car or your purse. A coupon you don’t have doesn’t do you any good.

2.       Eat breakfast out. It is the cheapest meal of the day.

3.       Order water

4.       Go during the weekday lunch specials (avoid the weekends and dinners at mid-range restaurants since the price goes up)

5.       Buy the smaller portion or dollar menu items. You may find you are not as hungry as you might think.

6.       Want fries, then share a large.

7.       Get kids meals. Use the drive-thru. I have never been denied a kids meal.

8.       Sign up for every birthday club you see. It is a free meal.

9.       Start saving the money you’re not spending on fast food to do something fun and healthy such as miniature golf or canoeing.

Is it cheaper to eat out than stay at home and cook? Not the way I shop, and probably not the way you shop either. Do you spend $60 every night to fix your family of four dinner? That’s what I thought.


  1. Morgan, I couldn't agree more! With 5 minutes of planning on Sunday and a trip to the grocery, we are set for the week. It is healthier and less expensive than eating out for sure. And I love my crock pot! Great post!

  2. Lana, two thumbs up on your healthy grocery planning. Took my daughter out because I had a gift card to a popular Italian restaurant. Soup, salad, and breadsticks cost $24 including tip and taxes. Same meal at home about $6.00. I rest my case.