Is fast food really ‘cheap’?

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Is fast food really ‘cheap’?
Is fast food really ‘cheap’?

During these difficult economic times, families seem to flock to fast food restaurants because they somehow think they are saving money. Fast food is ‘cheap’ right? Well, my gut tells me it isn’t. It may just appear cheap because in the end, most people don’t take the time to calculate the average cost of a home-cooked meal.

Well, my husband and I have been curious lately about how much our home-cooked meals actually cost. I love to cook and I have a lot of fun experimenting with all sorts of recipes. But when compared with fast food, does cooking at home really save money?

McDonald’s vs. Hamburger Casserole

I don’t have too many guilty pleasures, but McDonald’s is definitely one of them. I especially love their french fries and apparently I have eagerly sought them out since I was a baby according to my parents. To be sure, my husband and I do not frequently dine at McDonald’s, or any fast food restaurants for that matter, because we understand that the food is just plain not good for us.

Health standards aside here, I would like to calculate the cost of an average meal from McDonald’s versus an average meal I cook for us at home. I want to find out what costs more and hopefully prove a point with some plain math.

  • Below you will see the cost breakdown for an average meal that my husband and I order at McDonald’s:

2 crispy chicken ranch snack wraps @ $1.59 each
1 large french fries @ $2.00
1 medium soft drink @ $1.90
1 Chicken Ranch BLT Extra Value Meal @ $6.00
Tax @ $0.72

Totalcost= $13.80
Leftover potential = NONE

  • Now here’s the cost breakdown of a common hamburger casserole I make at home:

1 lb ground hamburger @ $3.70
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes @ $0.63
2.5 cups macaroni noodles @ $0.50
1 green bell pepper @ $0.50
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese @ $1.00
1 10.5 oz can cream of mushroom soup @ $0.70
1 6.5 oz can french fried onions @ $2.50

2 glasses of milk @ $0.40

Total cost = $9.93
Leftover potential = 3 more dinners worth

The Verdict

Obviously my experiment here is in no way scientific or even 100% accurate because I had to estimate a few prices I could not find. But the results speak for themselves. The dinner at McDonald’s cost us $13.80 and we had no leftovers. The casserole cost us $9.93 to make and it lasts for 3 more dinners beyond that first meal. So that, in effect, makes each night’s meal cost about $2.50!

One might argue that it takes time to cook meals at home and fast food is easy. Well, what about your driving time, or the price of gas? All in all, fast food is not an economically sound way to spend your money during hard times, or even good times. A treat every once and a while is fine (hey, I’m not ready to give up my fries), but making a habit out of it is not a wise way to spend your money.

Reader Reflection

Do you eat at fast food restaurants to ‘save’ money?

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