5 Home Cooked Meals Cheaper than McDonald’s

By blog team member, Kiran. To learn more about Kiran, check out our team page or her blog!

I recently had the chance to hear one of my idols, Mark Bittman, speak at a conference that I was attending. I’ve always been a big fan, and I love his recipes. I find them to be completely doable, and they have minimal ingredients – both wins in my book.

I am also fond of some of the articles I’ve read in his column for The New York Times. So when I heard that he was one of the speakers, I was giddy, to say the least.

Though I loved his whole talk, a few points stuck with me. One of them was the fact that he had researched it and found that it is actually cheaper for families to cook at home than it is for them to buy dinner at McDonald’s. I missed his article on this one, but hearing him mention it certainly got me thinking.

Like many others, I have always been under the assumption that fast food is cheaper than home cooked meals. I’ve figured that was part of the excuse for why so many people buy fast food. Seems logical, right? I decided to put his theory to the test, and I have findings below to support his theory.

Though I’m fortunate to live in an area with a slew of grocery stores around – everything from Bi-Lo to Fresh Market to Food Lion to Whole Foods – I realize that these are not as accessible to everyone. And I wanted to be sensitive to budgets of all levels, so I headed to the one store that most people have access to – Walmart.

5 Home Cooked Meals that are Cheaper than McDonald's on 100 Days of #RealFood
Note: Items in photo vary slightly from meal contents listed in text.

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Before I share my findings below, I need to preface with a few things:

  1. Not everything is organic because it is not always feasible for everyone.
  2. There is not meat in every meal. Budget-wise, this makes sense and it’s also actually a good choice health-wise.
  3. Everything may not be non-GMO. It is what it is, so please save your comments regarding GMO’s. Let’s first focus on getting people to cook at home.
  4. There are no directions for cooking below. I’ll include links to recipes when available, but eggs for dinner could mean scrambled, poached, or fried. You do what works for your family.
  5. The meals should provide ample food for a family of four. If your family size differs, obviously you’d need to make adjustments (as you would when buying a fast food meal).
  6. I am assuming that you have a few basics on hand such as oil, butter, salt, and pepper. The total costs provided do not include the price of those pantry items. If you have to purchase these, the cost would obviously be slightly higher. All of the meals require oil or butter, so you could essentially use this as a meal plan for a week. Purchase two sticks of butter (for $1.99) and split the cost evenly across all five meals.

Spaghetti and Meat Sauce with Spinach on the Side

A staple, for sure. This is such a good go-to meal for when you either don’t have much time or don’t feel like spending hours in the kitchen. And it’s also fairly economical – bonus!

5 Home Cooked Meals that are Cheaper than McDonald's on 100 Days of #RealFood

Items to Purchase:

  • Whole wheat noodles – $1.24
  • Marinara sauce – $1.95
  • 1 pound ground beef – $4.37
  • Organic spinach (with optional oil/balsamic vinegar as dressing) – $2.98

Pantry Items:

  • Oil or butter to brown ground beef

Total Cost: $10.54

Note: 2 pounds of ground beef was $8.74. Purchase this to get the lower cost and use 1 pound in your Spaghetti, and also 1 pound in your Taco Salad (below) – hence the $4.37 per pound rate.

Breakfast for Dinner

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a complaint about this type of dinner! Once again, it’s economical, and my kids love it. Get creative with your eggs and try poaching or simply fry them.

Cube the potatoes and sauté them with a little oil, salt, and pepper for some yummy home fries. Or shred them and make hash browns. If your budget allows, you may be able to add a little cheese into the potatoes and/or eggs.

5 Home Cooked Meals that are Cheaper than McDonald's on 100 Days of #RealFood

Items to Purchase:

  • 1 dozen eggs $4.48
  • 1 melon $1.98
  • 2 pounds potatoes $2.97

Pantry Items:

  • Butter to cook eggs and potatoes

Total Cost: $9.43

Simple Stir Fry

Stir Fry is another great go-to meal. It’s so versatile, and you can add in random vegetables if you have them. I priced a frozen version of vegetables, which is rather large. Between the large quantity of rice and vegetables here, you should definitely have enough for two meals (or some to take for lunch, etc.)

5 Home Cooked Meals that are Cheaper than McDonald's on 100 Days of #RealFood

Items to Purchase:

  • Frozen vegetables – $5.98 for a 58 ounce bag
  • Brown rice – $0.82 for a 1 pound bag
  • Chicken tenderloins – $6.80 (1.24 pounds – use less to cut down on cost)
  • Soy sauce – $2.12 for a 15-ounce bottle

Pantry Items:

  • Oil or butter to cook chicken

Total Cost: $15.72

Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup with Carrots and Celery

Don’t let the dried beans scare you. This Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup is simple to prepare and a winner with most. To beef this meal up a bit, feel free to add in some nut butter with the celery sticks (if budget and allergies allow).

5 Home Cooked Meals that are Cheaper than McDonald's on 100 Days of #RealFood

Items to Purchase:

  • Carrots – $1.48 (a few used in soup)
  • Celery – $2.24 (2 stalks used in soup)
  • 2 cloves garlic – $0.98 for 2 heads
  • 1 medium onion – $0.44
  • 1 pound uncooked black beans – $1.48
  • 1 cup salsa (I even found organic!) – $0.99
    (Cost of the jar is $1.98. Use half in this recipe and half in the Taco Salad below.)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth (found organic) – $0.99
  • Also need – 2 cups water

Pantry Items:

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano

Total Cost: $8.60

Taco Salad (based on this recipe)

Taco Salad is another winner in our house. I rarely get push back when this one’s on the menu. It’s so versatile that you can add/subtract ingredients as you please.

5 Home Cooked Meals that are Cheaper than McDonald's on 100 Days of #RealFood

Items to Purchase:

  • 1 package green lettuce – (organic!) $3.58
  • 1/2 onion – $0.44 for a whole onion
  • 1/2 cup black, kidney, or pinto beans – $0.72 for the can
  • 1 pound ground beef – $4.37
  • 4 ounces cheddar cheese – $2.48 for 8 ounces
  • 2 tomatoes – $1.98
  • 1/2 jar salsa – $0.99
  • Tortilla chips for topping/etc. – $2.00 (for the bag)

Pantry Items:

  • 3/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano

Total Cost: $16.56*

*Note: The cost of this meal includes a full package of lettuce, a whole can of beans, and 8 ounces of cheese. Only half that much is used in the recipe. If you use the other half in other meals, the cost would technically be $11.35 for this meal.

McDonald’s Meal for Four (for comparison sake!)

Now for the eye opener. I priced out a meal at McDonald’s for four people. I chose “meals” since you would not have to include additional drinks, And no, I was not even opting for the “healthier” menu items, which actually may increase the overall price.

  • Big Mac Extra Value Meal – $5.69
  • Bacon and Cheese Quarter Pounder Meal – $5.79
  • 4-Piece Chicken Nugget Meal – $3.19
  • 6-Piece Chicken Nugget Meal – $3.99

Total Cost for McDonald’s Meal: $18.66

So there you have it. You could have one or the other, and I hope you agree your health is worth the extra effort to spend a little time preparing a simple meal. Which would you choose?!

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125 thoughts on “5 Home Cooked Meals Cheaper than McDonald’s”

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  1. Great post! I love the simple easy to prepare dinner ideas that Kiran provides. I somehow knew it was more expensive to eat out, but I too thought fast-food was not really as expensive. I see now I was wrong and when you consider a family of seven, it is even worse – not to mention what we are actually eating. Now, with a little planning and sticking to real food, I know I can do better with my food dollar. Thanks for the information and inspiration! :-)

  2. Great ideas and VERY affordable! I believe with planning and preparing it is doable for the majority. If you put your mind to it – it is possible. I too believe the lower income families can make it possible. With any family you have to set your priorities- what is more important an easy unhealthy meal at a fast food restaurant or spend time in the kitchen cooking a healthy meal with the family.

  3. I am shocked at a few of the grumpy and negative comments here. Wow. In my experience, eating “fast food” is always more expensive than a homemade meal. It is also often much slower than I would like (yes, the drive through at Chick fil a can take 20 minutes at peak eating times). I routinely feed my family of 6 (well, only five old enough to eat food) for $10 or less per dinner. This article is a great reminder to people who haven’t figured out this math yet that fast food is expensive in more ways than one – it costs up front and as well in the long run in terms of health costs. Anyone seen the movie “Super Size Me”? Hello! Major health implications! For those arguing that they don’t have time… cook a double batch of whatever you are making and eat twice. Eating is among the most basic of human necessities, right behind breathing and drinking, so making time for it is really not optional, nor is it a luxury as some commenters are suggesting!
    Thank you, Kiran, for sharing a few easy meal ideas for comparison’s sake. By shopping sales and re-using the extra ingredients from these suggestions, the costs will be further reduced.

  4. Great article, Kiran!I will say this: growing up in Ukraine 95% of us were poor, had no cars and barely any money, not to mention living conditions. We made no excuses to put fresh homemade meal from scratch on the table because we had to eat. We worked a lot, carried food in bags and had zero fast food restaurants. We were healthy!

  5. I appreciate your encouragement to people to cook healthy meals. At the same time, I find the price you’re using to be incredibly discouraging. I’m a family physician working with families living with low incomes. No one has enough money to spend $10-15 on a single meal… That’s their food budget for an entire day! I have also had the eye-opening experience of having a stroke and being forced into the same small budget.

    And while I’m happy for those who see no problems getting groceries home (and kudos to the single mom who did it!) not everyone can manage. Those who think everyone should lack experience or the ability to see the world from another perspective than their own. I, for one, couldn’t do it myself. I know many women in my situation whose husbands bailed… Thankfully mine didn’t so I can still send him for the groceries. :) Cooking also takes a lot of time. Not having money often goes along with lack of time.

    For people who are spending $15 on a single meal at McDonald’s and have the transportation, kitchen tools, time to spend in the kitchen, and knowledge to cook, this is a great article. I bet most of your readers will fit into that category.

    I’m still hunting for a resource for the people I see every day. I have tons of experience and a husband who can haul home anything I want on his bike but I still can’t manage on $300 a month for groceries without running out around the 20th. The rest of the month is a lot of baked potatoes, brown rice, and scrambled eggs. I worry that this sort of article will further the unfortunate stereotypes. Healthy food really is more expensive than what my patients are typically eating.

    But I hope this helps your comfortably middle class readers who could use a little kick in the pants!

  6. I think a lot of your meals could actually be cooked for even less with smart shopping and planning. I suppose prices also vary by location. I bought WW spaghetti noodles at Walmart for $0.88 a box today.

    I think you’re preaching to the choir though on this website. Not to say we don’t sometimes grab something fast and not so healthy for dinner, but people reading this site aren’t likely to eat fast food for dinner multiple times every week. A lot of people who eat fast food regularly buy off the value/dollar menus believing there is a savings cost. Also, many of these people are hardworking single mothers who are exhausted. They may not see cooking as an easy thing to do, and they may not know much about how to cook either. This is why it’s common to see a basket of highly processed or “junk food” being purchased with food stamps, etc. If you don’t know how to cook, or feel you don’t have time, you buy what’s fast and easy.

  7. I love that you have chosen easy recipes that can easily replace fast food runs. Yes, there is still some planning to do, but these are overall easy recipes and kid-pleasers. I have many a time cooked up eggs and added fruit and toast in less time than it takes to sit in a drive through during rush hour. Thanks for your ever helpful blog. I enjoy it so much!

  8. I’ve never considered fast food to be cheaper than home cooked food. In fact, the few times that I buy it (usually when I’m in a terrible rush and far from home), I’m usually shocked at how much it costs for so little! Perhaps buying a single $1 burger for one person feels cheap, but not when you’re trying to feed 4 or 5 people and actually make them feel full. I assume that many families that choose fast food on a regular basis do so for reasons beyond cost. It may be that they do not have grocery stores in their neighborhood and do not have a car, but there is a fast food place on the corner they can walk to. It may be that they lack a working refrigerator or stove, or live in a motel room with no cooking facilities at all. Or it may be that they work so many strange shifts and are so exhausted that they simply can’t handle the stress of one more thing. Also, if the family all works different shifts, they won’t be sitting down to eat together and they’ll need homemade options that reheat well, plus a way to reheat. The choices faced by people in poverty often require choosing the least bad of many bad options.

    I do love that this article points out that cooking at home can be easy and cheap. You don’t need to be a chef or buy a million spices and ingredients. I do hope it inspires more people to eat at home!

  9. This article is fine for people with the time and motivation to cook, and who want to save money while doing it. However, I don’t think that’s on the minds of most people when they eat fast food, and especially not the folks who are struggling to afford food at all.

    “If you are food insecure…your major concern is getting something to eat. The hungrier you are, the more you go (or want to go) for high-calorie food—food that quickly fills you up.” (Excerpted from an article I received within minutes of this blog post, at http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/fmf/fmf-99-nutr-judo.php)

  10. Lisa (and friends), I just want to say “I get you”, because I can always tell by the comments that many people don’t. It is not that you don’t understand that there are all types of people living out in our society, it is just that you choose to address “the middle ground”: Those of us who are fortunate enough by life circumstance to live in a house with a functional kitchen and have some money each month to spend on food…but who might not be making the best choices nutritionally and could be encouraged to do better. Sure, there are people out there that aren’t as fortunate, and there are also people out there that are so much more fortunate that they have their own chef on staff to worry about all this, but those people are not who you are talking to. So, to the readers, if you or someone you know is struggling right now with housing, income, transportation, skills, etc…know that no one is saying you aren’t doing enough or trying hard enough because you can’t follow these suggestions right now…you’re just in a different place in life than the intended audience of this blog.
    I enjoy your blog and am striving to do what I can, in my current circumstances, to work toward taking the best care of my family that I can. Keep up the good work!

  11. This is great! I know this but sometimes get lazy and can always use a reminder. My family consists of just my husband and me, so we are able to make meals at these prices (and often less!), and it will get us one dinner and a couple of lunches. I’ve recently started experimenting with the slow cooker, so dinner is ready when I get home. No excuses there!

    1. This is a really good point. Also, responding to a couple comments about not having the facilities to cook, we had some friends who had to live in a weekly rent hotel for awhile. We bought them a slow cooker. The wife was able to use that, even in the hotel room!

  12. Even if you can’t easily access, or afford, organic and non-GMO, just getting whole foods onto your family’s plates is a huge step forward. I am a full-time office worker and single mom. I freezer-cook on Sundays so my son and I can eat healthy (or healthier) all week. I buy several pounds of hamburger, a chicken (I am meatless but my son eats meat), a whole chicken, a pork chop, sometimes frozen fish, rice, potatoes, pasta, quinoa, bulgur wheat. Everything is cooked on Sunday and then combined during the week. We never do fast food. It can be done if you make a commitment to healthy eating!

  13. Agree with other comments about needing proper facilities and equipement, the inclination/motivation and ability, plus the time to plan, shop, prep and cook. Never easy if you have long hours and little cash on hand. There have been quite a few articles out about just how big a challenge this is for families who work long hours for low pay and may not live in places suitable to cooking (likely weekly motel rentals).
    Good to prove tho that the bottom line is: if you have the time and the place, home cooking is cheaper and better, without a doubt!

  14. The first thing I thought of when I saw this is you can get a jar of ORGANIC sauce for $1.95 at Walmart?! I don’t shop there (and don’t plan to), but that’s a great deal (unless it’s filled with sugar…maybe that’s why it’s so cheap?) If it’s not filled with sugar, people should just stock up on that. You can do a lot with a jar of pasta sauce!

  15. I’m all for making healthy eating affordable and accessible, but I have to point out, when I am eating fast food or junk food and looking to do it cheaply, I am picking from the dollar menu, not the main meal menu. Cheeseburger and a small soda? $2 plus tax. And nothing is cheaper than ramen noodles, calorie to cost.

    Plus you have to factor in that many urban areas are food deserts with poor access to fresh, affordable groceries. The produce and meat at the bodega on the corner is expensive and of questionable freshness.

    So the answer needs to be not only in inspiration and education on affordable and healthy meal options, but also in improving access to healthy food. Some organizations are starting to address this with programs that subsidize CSAs in underserved urban areas and provide accessible pick up locations.

    1. I live in the SF Bay Area and used to live in Oakland. Like you mention, in West Oakland there are no grocery stores, only liquor stores! Nowhere for the residents to get good, healthy, fresh food at a decent price. The thing I miss most about living in Oakland is being a CSA customer of People’s Grocery. For $24/week (affordable for me) I would receive an astounding amount of beautiful fruits and vegetables (many that didn’t require cooking) AND provide the same box for a family in need. We need more of these programs!

      1. It’s really common in inner cities. “Food Desert” isn’t my term: if you google it there’s a ton of info on the problem and how it impacts health in poor communities.

      2. JA- look up “food deserts” and you will find a slew of articles. Los Angeles Times had a great one a few years ago. Food deserts are very common in urban centers where there are a lot of people living at or below the poverty line.

  16. You assume that people have a place to cook food, have the proper utensils and utilities, transportation to get to a store, and more importantly have the time to cook. If you are referring to a low income family in poverty, it is unlikely they have all of these options. I doubt a parent who works a double shift and takes public transportation would be able to consistently make a homemade meal. It is easier to stop by for fast food. And you can’t assume they have the “pantry essentials”. They don’t. I wouldn’t judge until you have a walked in another’s shoes. Your argument might hold for households that are middle class and up.

      1. Transportation to get to McDonald’s and transportation to bring home a load of groceries is two different things, I’m sure I don’t need to explain any further than that.

      2. I read your post below and you are right that this article isn’t judging people…that’s pretty obvious. As far as transportation there shouldn’t be a difference. I think that’s an excuse. 2 bags of groceries vs 2 bags of fast food plus drinks is far easier to carry. I guess you will have to explain it further to convince me otherwise.

      3. I carried my groceries in a backpack and handbags for months. And I used to ride the bus home. I am not saying it works for everyone, I am just saying that it can work.

      4. Well, first of all, you don’t have to carry any fast food home. You just have to sit down and enjoy and walk home with maybe an extra burger and a drink (everyone can carry their own drink easily for the most part and parents share with babies). Secondly, if you have a family of 5, like I did, it will not only be two bags of groceries (most of the time). And let’s just think about something that a household full of children always needs…milk and eggs. Little kids can’t carry this stuff, and it get’s pretty difficult, even for an adult (I’m only 5′ 1″ and very petite). I know this will not always be the case, but speaking from experience, it is so much easier when you have a car. Without a car, there are always things you just have to sacrifice because you can’t carry them. I can go on, but unless you have actually been in the situation, you really just don’t know how challenging it is. People are more capable of making home cooked meals than they realize, and some people are just making excuses. But you shouldn’t judge either. You have to take into consideration the fact that everyone doesn’t come from the same kind of home. My my cooked, praise God for that. But many people come from homes where the closest thing they had to potatoes in their entire life was french fries from McDonald’s. I’m not trying to be snippy with you, I’m just saying that grocery shopping for a big family without transportation is really hard and frustrating, and not everyone is making excuses. And that’s all I have to say about that. :) I’m up and out..I gotta go grocery shopping. :P

      5. My husband and I lived in Europe and had no car. We used to walk 20 minutes each way to the grocery store with our baby in the backpack (because we had no sitter, no money for a sitter and no family near-by). We loaded the groceries (including bulky milk and diapers) in our grocery carrier (a basket on wheels) with anything else we could possibly fit. We did this several times a week because we just couldn’t fit everything we needed in one trip. If budget and health are important to you, you will make it work. Fast food will drain you financially as well as your health.

      6. What you stated was exactly my first point (In another comment). Where there’s a will, there’s a way. In this comment (my original comment to Micheal), I was only making another point that it isn’t always about making excuses, but many times it’s more about not having the proper resources. Everyone can go on and on, but some people simply don’t have what they need. But that doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way. I always say, once you know, your responsible. Lisa is doing great giving people the information, and now it’s up to everyone to do what they will with it. I just don’t think it’s right to judge someone else’s situation. BTW: the carrier basket that Claire was talking about is only about $15.00 at the flea market. Great investment if you don’t have transportation for grocery shopping. Unfortunately I didn’t know about those back when I needed one. But they sure are handy even now at the farmer’s market. :)

    1. I was a single mother of four children. I had a minimum wage, full time job, and also attended college full time. I was very blessed to be able to receive help with daycare, because I had been on welfare at one time, so that I could work and go to school. Life was crazy, and sometimes I didn’t have the “pantry essentials”. But, sometimes I did, and I tried my best to get a home cooked meal for my babies whenever possible, which was usually at least 4 times a week. It was only by God’s grace, I know. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Oh yes, and I also took public transportation, and walked to pick up and drop off my kids at daycare. I also walked to get groceries. I was one of those people that had to walk down a busy street with a shopping cart and 4 children. Then I would stop in front of my apartment complex and take my bags of groceries in one by one, with the kids helping with what they could. I did what I had to do, and I would do it again. I honestly think what Lisa is saying is meant to be an encouragement, and not a judgment. I understand what you are saying, though. Your voice definitely brings perspective many people would know nothing about.

  17. great post! We have moved to using butter for everything, and though we try to buy grass-fed/organic, even the cheapest real butter (cream/salt) is getting expensive. Ironic that the items with the fewest ingredients are becoming the most expensive.

  18. This is so true. Another fact that is easy to overlook is the amount of food you get for the money. We recently dined at a national chain Italian food restaurant. It’s moderately priced, $10-$20 per entree. The pasta bowls were definitely full…of pasta. I would say 1 pound of ground beef probably makes at least 10 entrees of “meat” sauce at this particular restaurant. The salad is iceberg lettuce drowned in Italian dressing. Put that together with greasy bread sticks, and you leave very full. Full what, though? Nothing remotely nutritious. For 1/4 the cost, we can eat whole wheat pasta, meat sauce (with meat in it), whole wheat Italian bread, salad (with real greens and the dressing of our choice), and even dessert. As you pointed out in your article, all the items, except the salad, could have been made ahead of time, frozen, and reheated at the last minute.

  19. unfortunately many people do not know how to cook a nutritious meal which includes menu planning.
    I have a menu every week which I may change if our circumstances in the week require it. i have done this all my married life (40 years) and taught my kids to do it too. We use leftovers for lunch, the crockpot and freezer, I would not dream of eating at McDonalds, no nutrition whatsoever. Thanks for a great article.

  20. I think people often choose fast food restaurants because it’s more convenient, not because it’s cheaper. I know of households where no one takes time to plan dinners for the week or even for the next day. Those folks need something quick on their way from one place to another. If you’ve already had a long day at work and the kids have to get to practices/rehearsals/meetings/lessons and you don’t know what’s for dinner tonight, the drive-thru is an easier option.

    1. Please see my reply to “Donna” on the first page of replies. We have worked out a pretty great solution to the evening rush problem.

      1. That is a great solution, Dawn. It requires planning, though, and I think that, sadly, many people are either unable or unwilling to devote time to that kind of preparation.

  21. I love this list! Sometimes when I make spaghetti I use just half a pound of ground beef to stretch my budget even further, yet we still don’t feel like we are missing anything. As for fast food, I agree. Even though they are convenient, it is so much cheaper to just cook at home!

  22. I would feed food from McDonald’s to my family and guests LONG before I would feed them any food from Walmart. I’m no angel, but jeez, I’m not heinous either. That aside, I long ago gave up the notion that fast food was inexpensive. In recent years. fast food prices have increased to outrageous levels, mainly because we have even more lazy people than we do tightwads.

    1. OMG, Don. This is a funny post. I wonder about that too. I don’t shop at Walmart but if I did, I would not buy produce, dairy or meats from there (same goes for Target). Is a burger from McDonald’s really that much worse than the meat sold at Walmart? I suppose it’s how it’s cooked, but if people are adding a bunch of oil while they brown their meat, well then…

  23. I love the recipes given here and its definitely important to get people to see that real food can be less expensive than junk, but the apples to oranges comparisons really do muddy the waters.
    What does it cost to have 4 home-made beef burgers or fried chicken sandwiches on wheat buns with home-made fries?
    I’m guessing not THAT much more than McDonalds, but I’d love to see a comparison which addresses this kind of question.
    Thanks for the cool recipes!

  24. Your eggs are really expensive their. The cheapest white eggs in my Walmart are $2 usually. Occasionally they come on sale for $1/dozen. I like this, my parents definitely served us a version of all of these growing up. I would add a bottle of stirfry sauce or whip up a fast sauce (Chicken broth, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, sugar in some form, corn starch, sesame oil) instead of just soy sauce.

    1. You are right; I opted for the organic ones, but you can certainly get cheaper ones if you go non-organic, which is another way to save money.

  25. I would have liked to see the cost of making burgers and fries at home as well. Which is cheaper, and far better than fast food.

  26. This a great list of some simple meals you can make at home. Stir fry, meat sauce with veggies – both super simple and can be cooked quickly on a weeknight. Especially with pre-cut veggies. Lasagna is also a cheap meal that can feed many and you can use up all your extra veggies.

    Would love it if you also showed the cost of organic/grass fed versions. Honestly, it’s about $7 a pound for grass-fed beef at my co-op – not that much more expensive than the less healthy version and totally worth it for just a few dollars more.

  27. Very well put!! As a family of 8, we tend to eat home cooked meals because it really makes more financial sense, plus we can determine what we are actually eating instead of guessing. Thank YOU for the time and effort you put into preparing this post. What a pleasant reminder of how a bit of work will result in great benefits!!

  28. A couple things you forgot to factor into the cost for home cooking, though. First is the cost of energy, whether gas or electricity, This may seem negligible per meal, but it will add up. The second is time. You talk about cooking for families, this would likely include children. These days the average family has both parents working just to keep the bills paid, kids have after school activities and/or sports. Its just a juggling match to make sure everyone gets dropped off/picked up on time, who has time to preheat an oven, let alone prepare a full meal? Thus, a quick trip through the drive through at some point and everyone can hopefully sit down around a table full of take-out, its better than nothing.

    1. Sorry but hurting kids with fast food all the time just so they can do all the after school activities is no excuse. We have 4 kids and have had to keep activities to a minimum to function at a slower pace and eat at home. This has made our life less stressful and our kids happier and healthier. They can ride bikes, play ball in the yard, and run and walk on a nearby trail. We decided to put the money for all the activities into a swimming pool and our kids had a blast last summer swimming and having friends over. They do not miss all the craziness that used to be and I know my husband and I REALLY don’t miss running all the time. Sometimes you just have to change things up from the “normal” that everyone thinks needs to be. I would rather cook with my kids in the kitchen and yak about our days together. We can then ALL sit down for a delicious meal and talk some more. They grow up fast and life is to short to be running around at a crazy pace at all times.

    2. We have 5 very active children. Multiple sports, music, church, etc. I agree with you! Getting it together to eat homemade meals is tricky. The portable cooler is our best friend. If we have a really busy next day, the night previous I spring into action. I’ll throw the ingredients into the bread machine for whole wheat sandwich bread, on this blog, by morning we have whole wheat bread that can stand up to meat, cheese, mayo, avocados, or whatever all day. In the morning, I make sandwiches for lunch and dinner. I usually make different kinds of sandwiches to avoid complaining. A bag or 2 of precut vegetables, cheese sticks, sometimes a premade or homemade salad, a bottle or jar of dressing, a prepackaged or homemade protein bar for each person for between practices, a bowl of homemade or premade hummus, corn or veggie chips, and a water cooler full of water all go in the car. Stuff that has to stay cold goes in the cooler. Everyone is responsible for making sure they have a full water bottle before they get into the car in the morning. I use reusable ice packs for the cooler. There are also many recipes on the internet for picnic recipes that work great, if you have time to make them. We usually eat at a park when the weather’s good, or in the car in bad weather. It’s way faster and more peaceful than waiting in the drive through line. I’ve also, in a last minute frantic run out the door, just thrown all the above stuff, unassembled, into the cooler. I make sandwiches as we go on those days. I always keep plates, napkins, silverware, an old tablecloth, and cups in a bag in the car. It works for us. Maybe worth a try?

      1. I think perhaps families need to rethink all the activities their kids are in, if they are overwhelmed. It’s great to be involved in a few things, but honestly do those activities make the life of that family better? Wouldn’t it perhaps be more beneficial to a child to have family time (and a sane parent, and healthy food)? I am so tired of hearing “I’m too busy”. At some point, it’s a choice. I did all sort of activities as a kid…many of which I didn’t really like. Now, I wish I’d learned to cook better, fix a car, fix up the house, etc., all of which I could have learned from my parents. My knowledge of volleyball, soccer, basketball, and softball are all pretty useless.

    3. Including the cost of heat/gas; etc for cooking meals seems petty to me. For that matter, did you expect Kiran to figure out the cost of the set of pots and pans she used? Maybe she got them as a wedding gift. We should also include the price of the table you sit at for your meals? Or, to save money, should you sit at the carpet instead?

      Reading your comment made me really wonder why you even (or if you even) bothered to read the article.

      What I can agree with, though, is that “time is money” That is true. So, as many people have suggested- prioritize activities & food/health choices. The cooler suggestion was awesome- and not something I would have ever thought about. There are also many shortcuts around the time issue- from slow cookers to leftovers.

      I agree it can be a struggle to make changes to any diet. For any reason. It may take time to get on board; however defending fast food on a blog about healthy eating isn’t the way to do that.

      Seems like a waste of time…. and time is money.

  29. Chik-Fil-A has a nutrition calculator on their website, and I used it today. It is amazing how quickly the calories/ carbs add up. I was able to keep my lunch to 500 calories and 33 carbs, which isn’t all that impressive, but the worst part was that it wasn’t a lunch that kept me going all afternoon either. I make more filling lunches with less calories/ carbs when I brown bag it.

  30. I just wanted to say thank you for your sensitivity and inclusivity in this post. When people are on small budgets and with limited resources, it’s overwhelming and disheartening to try to change your diet to an all whole foods, organic, non-GMO diet after years of ingrained habits and patterns. The only large grocery store I have in a 20 mile radius is, in fact, Walmart (which I loathe, but I live in a rural area so sometimes it is just unavoidable). I think that a lot of families rely on fast food (we used to be one of them!) because meal planning and grocery shopping require quite a lot of planning and when you fail to plan- you plan to fail, and all of the sudden you realize, “oh no! It’s 5 o’clock and we have nothing to cook!” And so goes the cycle. I’m learning how to do better at all of this, and although we aren’t a 100% organic, non-GMO family (yet?), I still feel like any apple is better than no apples, and home-cooked meals trump fast-food every time. :)

    1. Becky, that’s so true– when you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I think the tough part about meal planning (and cooking, for that matter) is that it’s a necessary life skill that a lot of us aren’t taught how to do as children. Of course, we can teach ourselves how to plan and cook, but it can be a barrier for some. Awesome on you for making changes and putting in the work!

    2. And meal planning gets easier, wouldn’t you agree? It’s overwhelming at first, but if you stick with it, you get better at it!

      1. Right. I’m just starting to learn meal planning as an adult. It’s a bit overwhelming right now so I’m going slow. Only planning a couple of days out at a time. But I’ve learned to keep my eyes peeled for recipe and dinner ideas Kay like this for inspiration. I’ve already added ingredients for these meals to my grocery list and plan to try them next week. Especially the black bean soup! Yum. And I love slow cooker recipes so it’s even better. :)

  31. Christine White

    Fresh Market. If you have one near you go on Tuesdays. $2.99 ground chuck and $2.99 antibiotic and hormone free chicken breasts. Both proteins are delicious, not fatty and have saved us so much money. We buy our produce and met from Fresh Market now. I grow tomatoes in Earthboxes year round (in SW, FL). You can even grow them inside from what I’ve been told. Processed and fast food is killing us. I have 2 autoimmune diseases and both are very dangerous, there are no cures, and I’m on toxic medications that will most likely kill me if the diseases don’t. Soooo, treat your body and your children’s bodies well. MAKE YOUR OWN FOOD. MAKE YOUR OWN SNACKS, DESSERTS, ETC. Make bulk and freeze. That’s what a disabled teacher and her elderly mom do now :) We love it.

  32. I love this post! My teenage athlete eats more than most adults, my youngest is not filled up by the portions in a kids meal. I have ALWAYS wondered why people thought fast food was so cheap? Yes, it’s cheaper than eating at a high quality restaurant, but honestly on the rare occasions we treat ourselves to fast food $20 is not even close to what it costs to actually fill my kids up! $30 to $40 is a minimum when we go out to eat. As a single mother, this is truly a very occasional trear. By watching sales, shopping smart, and keeping a well stocked pantry I could easily make 3 -5 decent healthy meals for the price of eating out. Thank you for putting numbers to what I already knew, and debunking the myth that crappie food is cheaper than cooking at home!

  33. Thanks for this! I think most people save money when they start cooking at home, even with some organic ingredients. People spend so much money eating out and don’t even realize just how much they are spending. It always makes me sad when people use the excuse of how healthy food is expensive to justify not cooking at home.

  34. This is a great comparison. These might not necessarily be meals that any and all families would eat, but it’s good to get people thinking about the dietary choices they are making and how much it is costing them; financially and in regards to health.

    1. Thanks Stephanie. That was the goal … to get people thinking. It really was an eye-opening post for me to write, too! I’m glad to know the truth!

  35. Thank you for posting this! I am always amazed that people claim to be able to eat cheaper at fast food. It costs my family 40-50 dollars for our family of 8 to eat out at fast food! That is not even getting adult meals yet! We would be broke if we ate out at fast food all the time. We don’t eat out at all because we prefer healthier options at home. These are great examples to get started transitioning over to home cooked meals.

    1. Fast food is a meal of last resort to us, but it’s something we do on occasion. We have a family of 6, and it costs us around $14 to eat. Everyone eats $1 hamburgers, shares fries, and drinks water. For us, while it is much, much healthier and tastier to eat at home, calorie for calorie, it’s probably cheaper to eat McD’s.

  36. This is great, especially in the wake of the whole Gwyneth Paltrow/SNAP Twitter explosion that’s going around. Eating home cooked meals does not have to be expensive and can taste just as good (usually better) than fast food!