The Cost of Food

Sometimes there's nothing like a good salad
Friday just before I got off work I got a text from my husband insisting that I feed him.  He's quick to tell me he's not eating carbs.  Normally I'd tell him to go jump in a lake (he likes fish) but since I am making an effort to cook now I agreed.  Hmmm...what to do.  I've been craving salads lately and it's technically not really cooking.  Sounds good to me.  As I walked around Fresh & Easy picking out my ingredients I started thinking that this seemed like quite a bit of work just for a salad....and it felt like I was spending a lot of money for it too.  They had some small pre packaged ones for about $3.50 each.  That would have taken me 1 minute to grab and would be just as quick to open up and eat.  They say that you save money by grocery shopping and cooking food yourself instead of eating out but when we can spend $300 in one shopping trip somehow it just doesn't feel that way.  So, I decided to do the math.  I divided each product as needed to estimate 1 serving per item.

The Cost of Salad  
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing ($2.79):  .47
  • Lettuce ($1.79):  .44
  • Tortilla Strips ($1.99):  .33
  • Fully cooked Bacon (12):  ($3.49)  .58
  • Pre-Cooked Chicken Breast ($4.99):  $1.25
  • Cucumber (2) ($1.96):  .49
  • Dozen Eggs ($1.89):  .15
  • Onion ($0.89):  .22
  • Shredded Cheese ($3.69):  .61
  • Total Spent:  ($23.48)  $4.21 Per Salad
It  actually is cheaper to spend the time and money making the darn salad.  My homemade salad had a lot more in it then the $3.50 option at Fresh & Easy and if I'd bought one at McD's or Wendy's it would have been at least $2 more expensive.  A Cobb salad at an average restaurant can be anywhere from $10-15 bucks each.  I might spend less money on that particular day for two salads but I get more bang for my buck buying the groceries instead.  Those ingredients last beyond that one day.

These turned out pretty tasty.  We have left over stuffing for wraps.
Then Saturday while we were at the grocery store I was shopping for my Stuffed Green Peppers recipe and I saw that I could literally buy them frozen pre made and stuffed at 4 for $6.99 on sale for $4.99.  Why make them myself when I can just buy them I thought?

The Cost of Stuffed Green Peppers with Rice
  • Ground Beef  1 lb ($3.34):  $3.34
  • Green Peppers (6@.49 ea):  $2.94
  • Brown Rice 16 oz ($2.19):  .55
  • Diced Tomatoes 14.5 oz:  .69
  • Onion (.89@1/2):  .44                     
  • Garlic (3 for $1.00):  .33
  • Total:  $8.29 =$1.38 per Stuffed Green Pepper
My recipe makes 6 so that's $1.38 each as compared to the grocery store price of $1.23 each (on sale) which in this example is actually a tad more expensive at home BUT depending on how much you pay for ground beef that could make a big difference.  Meat is much cheaper on base but I've paid much more for low fat ground beef.  Also, I got more then 6 servings out of that meat.  Sometimes I moan and groan about spending $11.49 on 6 chicken breasts but when you do the math on it that's only $1.91 per breast and think of how much you pay when you buy a chicken breast entree with veggies at a restaurant?

Time, Money or Health?
Bottom line is that in most cases eating out and buying frozen and  pre packaged meals will be more expensive.  So the next step is deciding how much your time is worth.  Do you want to pay restaurant and fast food labor for cooking the food or do it yourself?  For some it's worth it to spend a little more money and save time but for others the extra savings is well worth time spent in the kitchen.  And it's win win especially if you really enjoy cooking.  There are some really great value meal deals going on at places like Applebee's and Chili's but overall I think that dining out meal prices and the tip you have to shell out can be a waste of money.  The super cheap fast food option can only take you so far health wise unless you spend more money to choose healthier options.  The sodium content of all restaurants and pre made food in the frozen foods section is generally way higher so even if you find good deals it's just not something you should do all the time.

What would be the cheapest way I could think of to eat out every day without developing cardiovascular disease?  I'm a huge fan of $5 foot longs at Subway and I seriously think I could eat it every day although Mj absolutely could not.  If we ate one every day for lunch and dinner and spent $3.00 for their breakfast which is typically and egg sandwich type deal and coffee it would cost us about $56.00 for a week which is $224 for a month.  Then, I'd have to double that because it would be for both of us.  That's $448 per month provided we spent no money on any other food whatsoever which is more then we normally spend on groceries in a month.  That's about as cheap is it could get but it leaves no room for extras and you are pretty limited in your food choices.  It's also a lot of carbs, not that I don't do major carb damage anyways!  So, yeah as much as I wish it actually were cheaper to buy food out instead of spending the time making it that is not the case so the joy of grocery shopping and cooking is here to stay.


Nylse said...

THIS IS a well written case for something we all hear but never took the time to break down and justify. thanks!
so the take away is - if and when you do eat out do it because you want to.

Michelle P said...

This is a great post. Ever since I started cooking more, our food budget has definitely gone up.

Lay said...

Great post! And I totally agree... I spend WAY less money making my food at home. I used to eat out for lunch every single day and decided a couple of months ago to start eating clean which means I had to start making my own food. I was pleasantly surprised at how much money I was saving in the process :)

The Sweetest Thing said...

Healthy food isn't cheap. Cheap food isn't healthy. :)

I feel ya on this. I LOVE COBB SALADS. Since eating them, I have had better luck taking in less calories. But you are so RIGHT. They are {so} expensive!

My only problem is that when I make a salad at home it never tastes anywhere as good as it does at say Panera or Red Robin.

The Funky Junkie said...

Great post! I've been really falling into the trap of eating out lately, especially at work. Because there are so many options near my office that are way more appealing than a sandwich from home! I've been on a salad kick lately too; my favorite is romaine, pears, gorgonzola, and toasted nuts. Sooo good! The only problem is that salad fills me up for a little while but then an hour later I'm hungry agagin,,,,

Mrs. Williams said...

Good Post, I've always heard it was cheaper to cook and eat at home verses eating out. But, I've never actually seen it broken down. Having a family of 4 means I'm cooking majority of the time because I just know eating out is way to expensive for the 4 of us. Although, I do enjoy going out to eat on the weekends, I'll splurge every now and then.

Amy said...

I think I am going to have stuffed peppers for dinner tonight. And thanks to your post I might just make them myself!

Mrs. Pancakes said...

This is definitely a great and useful post! And I have to try the stuffed peppers!

Newlyweds on a Budget said...

Well I wouldn't be shopping at Fresh n Easy! That's an expensive store. And the only reason it comes out more expensive is because you're not shopping based on what's for sale. I plan meals based on what's on sale that week. For example, $4.99 for pre-cooked chicken breast? Are you kidding me?! I don't pay more than $1.99 for chicken breast, I cook it myself.
$3.69 for shredded cheese?! No way. The most I pay is $2 for a bag, I stock up when it's on sale, and I don't buy it unless it's on sale.

Janna Renee said...

I always take my own lunch to work and we rarely eat out, which is evidenced in our bank account and I love it! Lately, we have been eating out so that the boys can eat all the fun stuff before they leave and it's been soooo expensive! Not to mention, I feel like crud after all this bad food. After they leave, I am TOTALLY going back to my normal eating habits.

Ameena said...

Except for my sushi habit, I usually make everything from scratch. Not only because it's cheaper but because I like to know every ingredient I'm putting in my mouth.

The bell peppers look delicious!

Nicole at Fresh & Easy said...

First, thanks for coming in to the store, CeCe! You've captured so many aspects of the questions and concerns we hear from people about food all the time - it's a lot of work to make meals at home and people wonder all the time if it's worth it, since there are so many options to 'just eat out'!

You really hit it spot on that it's usually both more affordable and more healthful to prepare your meals at home. We love that you and your friends notice that and care, since that's one of our key concerns, too! We try to offer good prices and still provide some prepared or ready-to-cook options (like the peppers on sale or the affordable salad option you mentioned) for when life gets too hectic to do all of the cooking yourself. Thanks so much for sharing!

LWLH said...

That is a struggle here.
It's so hard to eat healthy when everything is so expensive.