Is Junk Food REALLY Cheaper Than Healthy Food???

I enjoy learning about health and nutrition and read lots of books and articles on the subject. It seems I keep coming across this particular comment – “Junk food is cheaper than healthy food…” I just read an article about the latest obesity rankings for different states and this comment was made in the article. So, my question is, is junk REALLY CHEAPER than healthy stuff??? I keep hearing and reading that statement, but who decided it was true?? Has it been researched? I completely disagree with it.

For instance, the cheapest food at McDonald’s is probably the dollar menu. You can get a small fry for a dollar (yes, I know this because I partake on a rare occasion). I just bought fresh fruit & veggies the other day and paid 98 cents for a whole cantaloupe, 98 cents for 3 fuji apples, $1 for 4 ears of corn, and $2.48 for a whole, huge watermelon. How is the junk cheaper?? I admit some fruits and veggies can be outrageously priced. Asparagus, for example, is often $4.99 per pound! But, I never buy it until it goes on sale – in fact, I only buy whatever produce happens to be on sale.

Also, every family dinner I make can be done for under $10 – some as cheap as $5 (except the occasional steak dinner, but when ribeye goes under $4 a pound, we get steak!). If a 4 person family ate out at about $5 per fast food meal, it’d cost $20. How is that cheaper? Is my math wrong…?

Maybe I’m missing something here. I just don’t get it. I concede that it takes a little effort to buy what’s on sale and know what a good price is. I just don’t understand who decided junk is cheaper. Someone, please enlighten me! It’s driving me CRAZY!!

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I agree with you. I think they say this just so that can tax junk food... would it work in reducing us eating it? I don't know. It could be that they are going by figures such as how many pounds of sugar a person eats in a year, etc., as you are more likely to eat multiple servings of sugary foods than you are healthy ones.

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It's true in a way, but also not, depending on how you look at things. Fast food ends up being cheap if it is only for one person, if you have more to feed you're better off cooking it. Grocery stores will have a lot of cheap, sugary things and over processed items that need to have nutrients added, but if you really look you can get some healthy things cheap... beans, rice, oatmeal, chicken, frozen steamer veggies ($1 a bag!), sunflower seeds... I can eat pretty well on $25 a week.

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Maybe they are comparing fast food restaurants to sit-down restaurants? A $2 box of gummi fruits with 12 servings would be cheaper per serving than 6 fuji apples I guess. I know a loaf of white bread is cheaper than the really good whole grain stuff. I'm stretching here, because really I agree with you. If you plan your week's menu for dinner, keep and use a grocery list, and watch the sales you can eat cheaper than buying processed instant crap every night when you don't know what's for dinner.

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Totally agree with you! This particular piece of "common knowledge" has had me scratching my head for years; particularly the part about it being even harder for single people to eat healthy inexpensively.

My own math works like this. I spend roughly $120 a week on groceries. I eat 21 meals a week and 21 snacks a week....3 of each everyday. $120 divided by 42 "eating events" averages $2.85 per event.

How, exactly, is that more expensive than going to a burger joint and paying $5-7 per meal?

I could eat a lot more cheaply. I'm willing and able to pay for salmon and steak, so I do. But, when money gets tight I can cut my bill down to $70 or so and still eat healthy.

And that's not even considering the long-term costs of being unhealthy. IMHO, this "it's too expensive to eat healthy" myth is just another convenient excuse not to take responsibility for your own health.

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I don't think eating out is cheaper than eating at home. I know where I live fruit is extremely expensive all year so you really have to watch for sales. My sister and I did a comparison I have a family of 4 and she has one of 3. she eats a lot of junk and does get more food. one time it was buy a bag of chips get a bag free while the 1 bag of chips was $3.50 and one was free. however I paid 3.98 for 2lbs of red grapes.
she got a big box of cheez it's for $3.00 I got 3 apples.
she was laughing at me that she was getting more for her buck which she was but I was getting better quality food. I was paying 2.99 per lb for chicken breast so my package was something like $11.00 she paid 6 for a big frozen pizza. If they would raise the prices of junk food and lowered more healthy food it would be easier. Her thought was why not buy the white bread instead of the whole wheat or whole grain bread which is twice as much I told her it's better for us. Next time you are shopping see what you pay for something fresh and then go to the "crap isle" as I like to call it and the frozen dinners/pizza they are cheaper. sorry to be long! :)

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I am not here to say junkfood is cheaper persay but go buy and apple, verses the dollar menu.

What IS going to satisfy the public generally in the moment?

I'd say that the dollar menu would.

I am big on dollar menu, deli picks etc.

It is the filler effect, I think. The easy, quick fuel, oral gratification thing . Satisfy that craving fast mentality working here .

I try to shop . eat well. And overall it works.

But, IF I had a food budget of lets say $50 bucks, as I have had so many times in my life.

We are not going to starve (far from it) BUT the selections are not going to be the best either.

LOTS and LOTS of highfat, low quality processed foods, canned goods opposed to fresh or frozen.

BREAD, rice, potatoes, lots of them to fill in the cracks.

On the other hand, give me $150. And we are going to eat like royality!

That is FACT!

Still this is the path I choose because it is better for yuo.

I have learned to make it work for the most part. Special buy meats, cereral, bananas, tomatos in season. Lettuce on Sale. Citrus in season. Grapes when they are on sale. Asparagas when I can get it for $1.99 a lb.

I also buy alot of frozen veggies on a regular basis.

And i like easier opposed to starting from scratch. MY BADDDD but I have found some pretty convenient /healthy alternatives.

But eating healthier CAN BE DONE.

My mom is totally in the Atkin's mindset because she thinks that my WW way IS hard on her budget!

Dunno, guess it is a matter of choice and how much thought you are willing to put into this food shopping/cooking detail thing!

This was an interesting thread. Thanks! :D

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We are a family of 10 - my Dh and I, our 19 yr old son and his girlfriend, 11 yrold DS, 8 yr old DD, 7 yr old DS, 5 yr old DD, and 4 yr old twin boys. I try to buy healthy foods. But it does get expensive. So when mac & cheese is BOGO my guys will have that and a piece of fruit for lunch and maybe dinner. A box of corndogs is about $7.00, I can get a couple of meals out of that. Grilled cheese, eggs, cereal when it's BOGO. I try to buy the stuff that will fill their bellies. I'm sorry that I can't buy ALL healthy or organic. It's more important that they are not hungry. When you don't have the money to buy the 'good' stuff, you have to get what you can afford. We don't eat out - ever. Not as a family. And my DH and I only go out if our favorite place is having a special. I buy the store brand of a healthy, multigrain bread (yes, I've read the label) almost all the time, I buy yogurt, and I buy the cereal that my kids will eat. Yes, that's the sugary kind - it doesn't do anyone any good to buy the healthy stuff when it just sits in my cabinet. So when you see me in the store with my cart full of BOGO junk, judge me if you feel like you should. But know that my kids will go to bed and not be hungry.
Sorry this is so long - I guess you struck a nerve!
Trust me, when we win the lottery it will be more of the same just with alot more fruit!


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I think that people who say that it's cheaper to buy the junk food are looking for an easy way out to fill up and fulfill their cravings. It does take effort to plan meals and cook, but that's part of the process of a healthy lifesyle. It certainly can be done economically and especially when you figure in the health costs of diabetes, heart disease, etc. it is cheaper to eat healthy.

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Technically, junk food is cheaper, but it depends. It's cheaper because a lot of junk foods are made with processed ingredients such as HFCS. A lot of what we eat contains soy and corn products (in many, many shapes and sizes) because it's cheap. Yes, fruits and veggies can be cheap depending upon where you live which is really great, but have you compared the prices between organic and non-organic foods? Talk about a price difference! Sure, you can get the cheap tomatoes dowsed in pesticides, but when you go for the real deal, it's considerable more expensive. Same goes for grass-fed beef. Grass-fed beef is much more expensive than factory farmed beef because their costs are higher. Factory farmed beef eat CORN (and in some cases chicken entails and chicken excrement, too but I digress) because it's CHEAPER and thus, the 'savings' are passed onto the consumer.

Every time you go to the store and buy organic, it's like you're voting for organic. Wal-Mart has started to carry a lot more organic foods because it's what the consumer wants. I'm not a big Wally World fan, but I think it's great.

I guess it all depends on where you live (you will find that food is more expensive the further it has to travel) and what quality you're getting.

If you want to get REAL technical, then yes... junk food is MORE expensive when you factor in health care costs related to obesity, etc. ;)

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I think your response was really great and I am glad you've shared this with us. :) I feel like we tend to err on the side of preconceived notions or best-case scenarios in our minds when really, they don't hold much water when you try to apply them globally (as a sweeping generalization). Having a big family makes a huge difference.

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I know that when I go to mcdies with the kids I get me a salad which costs a whopping $5.39 not including a diet coke and I can get my kids a meal with burger frys and a drink for around $3-5 dollars, a peice. At the store chips are cheaper than nuts. I think it depends on how and what your comparing. I low carb so in the stores I have to buy a fairly expensive bread for me, $2.28 a loaf and my kids bread is $1.13 a loaf.

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Junk food is definitely cheaper. Spaghetti, boxed mac n cheese, ramin noodles. Non-perishable starches are cheap. Fruits and veggies are not only more expensive, but have a short shelf life.

I have completely changed how I live and healthy foods are a big part of it. I have to make an effort to weekly shop and process my fruits and veggies for the week and not over buy. I have found it's more work and more expensive. On the upside....I love it. I feel great. I've lost weight. My tastes have completely changed and I am happy to spend a little more because I know it's worth it.

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melissa - I do understand dear, TRUST ME!

My kids are no longer at home BUT I remember.

Also have 2 13/yo Jack Russells and 2 cats who are quite the particular.

As you know we are going thru a rough time and it is hard!!!! NO HARD HARD!

Think about my brats FIRST. Am I going to have enough for a big bag of Meow mix? Or are they going to be mad all week because I bought the Hanneford brand? And trust me, they are when I do and DRIVE us NUTS!

It's the same thing, for me anyway!

Ya gotta eat! And I know it is hard. And there are fewer of us. I for one am not judging you.

Hard to feed a large family. Heck it is HARD to feed just us!

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Thanks bodybypizza and junesgroomsmom,

Yeah, I forgot about our pets! We've got a chihuahua, cat and three rats. I've heard about so many people having to get rid of their pets because they can't afford to feed them. I can't imagine having to do that.
I know groceries are going up all the time. Even when I'm really careful I can't get out of there for under $100.00 And that's not getting any meat.
But we'll make it through this. We all will!

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I agree with everybody. Junk food and healthy food can be equally as cheap or expensive depending on what items you are buying. But there is always healthier choice at the same price or less(except Ramen noodles), it just might not be what you are wanting at the moment. For example, someone said they buy the boxed brand of mac and chesse (not downing you for doing it, I do it too) to feed their children for a quick meal. For the same price per serving you can buy instant brown rice and frozen peas. It takes about the same amount of time to cook and the rice and peas are healthier, but my kid is going to pick the mac and cheese...If I could get my kid to eat the rice and peas, I would buy that instead. So it is a matter of choice and taste more than price.

By the way, next to the fries on the dollar menu at Mc Donald's there is the parfait. Low fat yogurt, berries and granola all for a buck, it does have quite a bit of sugar but unquestionably it is better than the fries. It is always my choice.

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I do agree that junk food or bulk food is cheaper. I have a very large family to feed and when my kids can eat a pound of grapes and a whole bunch of bananas in ONE day, trust me, buying healthy CAN be much more expensive. I have literally had to threaten to stop buying fresh fruit if they don't eat it sensibly. Two teenage boys and a 10 yr old will eat you out of house and home. So if they like the 33 cent a box mac n cheese then they will get it. I can take the mac n cheese and throw in some hamburger meat or turkey and make a meal for them. For 2.33 that feeds all 3. OR I can buy apples, grapes, chicken breasts, broccoli, etc I mean you do the math. We are down to ONE income and it is very hard with grocery shopping and trying to provide them with everything else they need. I spent 150 dollars on school supplies this year! We have to do what we can. When I was single I ate MUCH healthier BUT I had no one to feed but myself. Try feeding a family of 5 and trying to keep the dog alive! We do have fresh fruits and veggies but I buy what I can each week and after that........ it is the pantry. I am not knocking anyone, if you can eat healthy every day then GREAT but, a budget is a budget. Good luck to everyone on your weight loss journeys!

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I WISH i could get my kids to eat brown rice. It is gummy and I won't even eat it. I am not going to make them go hungry because they won't eat things like that. We as adults aren't forced to eat things we don't like, but I do understand your point! I wish 20 years ago I had made them eat things like that but then 20 years ago it wasn't such a big deal and we didn't have quite the obesity rate we have now! Ahhhh hindsight is 20/20!

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Believe me, I understand! Buying healthy is a bit more, but yeah, I feel better and I can see the difference in all of us. Mac'n'cheese is a cheap item...and mixed with ground meat(beef or turkey or chicken) is a cheap meal, even when you add a veggie in.

However...going healthy has gotten 10 pounds off me, 20 pounds off my step son(he's a teen and when he came to live with us was bordering on pudgy, wouldn't go without a shirt and now he will...yaaay!) and my husband eats more(he's a stay at home dad/husband with his own business).

That's not to say we eat that way always..yes, we have our Hamburger Helper some nights, tacos and other 'unhealthies', but our 'snacks' have become fresh fruits instead of chips, cookies and other unmentionables. We eat more full salads now instead of simply iceberg lettuce with a bit of tomato and carrot...and we've found the spray dressings that we love.

It's better, but far from perfect...and we've found a balance that works for our budget that is better than it was. Yes, it costs more...but we all feel better for it and that makes it worth it. And I still understand what it is to have to feed a family on very few dollars...been there, done that and I'm incredibly thankful that we don't have to do that now...

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I have to agree on that cause I recently change my family's diet from junk to healthy food under the same budget, just like you said i buy whatever produce on sale

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Someone said rice, potatoes, and bread were unhealthy - not true. Not unless you are loading your potatoe with fat, eating white rice, and buying white bread.

I have a family of five to feed, plus animals. My three teenage boys eat A LOT! I've been buying organic apples because apples are supposed to have more pesticides than anything else. However, my husband taught me to take a knife and scrape all the wax and crap off the outside of an apple before I eat it. I think that must help a lot.

I have eaten a lot of junk food in my life. Mostly because it was easy. I could just grab and go. Eating healthy requires a lot more preparation and planning.

As far as our children not eating the healthy cereals - if that is all we buy, that is what they will have to eat. As the parent, we have that choice. It shouldn't be up to the kids. They can eat all the crap they want when they can pay for their own. Right now it is our job to teach them to eat better than that.

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