Is Eating Healthy Expensive?

eating healthy - junk food - expensive - diet

Is Junk Food Cheaper?

I have had my fair share of discussions (ok arguments) about the cost of eating healthy.  I find it utterly ridiculous and absurd when people tell me they cannot afford to eat healthy.  I would break down the cost of eating in SERVING SIZES and show them that it is not expensive.  The problem with that theory was that people would have had to read the side of a box or can to understand serving sizes.  In today’s bigger is better world people feel ripped off if they don’t get a 16oz steak for $4.99.  I mean really, what kind of quality are you getting for such a large portion at such a low price anyway?

I tried reasoning and rationalizing with them but to no avail.  I showed them that a pepper cost $.99 or that you could shop the sale items only and walk away with a meal for the same cost as the Value Menu at McDonald’s but with twice the nutritional value.  Today my response to the notion that it is too expensive to eat healthy is to go to the ridiculous since that seems to be the only way to resonate with some people.  I simply ask them what it costs for open heart surgery.  When they look at me dumbfounded I simply and calmly tell them that open heart surgery is the byproduct of poor eating habits.  Now this may not be a direct correlation but it does ring a bell in their heads.  It does say to them that if they don’t change how they go about their eating that they COULD end up in the hospital getting surgery.  So at that point in time the question about eating healthy takes a turn.

Time away from work.  Time away from family and friends.  Rehab and having to change your diet anyway.  And the real kicker, without having to say it out loud, is death.  Please don’t get me wrong and post ridiculous comments about how if you eat in moderation these things may not happen.  Or how you have a great great great uncle who all he ate was deep-fried pork rinds every day and washed it down with a coke and  a dessert of one pint of ice cream.  I get it, not EVERYBODY has these types of scenarios fall upon them.  The issue is that the small percentage of people who can get away with a horrible diet like that is exactly that:  SMALL.  The majority of people, if they were to eat highly processed foods, would wind up with a health problem that is related to their diet.

I was reading an article in the online version of the New York Times (do they have a paper version anymore?) that was titled Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?  It was an op-ed piece but it made so much sense.  It was within the first few paragraphs that I was enthralled with what the author was saying because it made sense that eating healthy was not as expensive than people thought.

This is just plain wrong. In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food: a typical order for a family of four — for example, two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas — costs, at the McDonald’s a hundred steps from where I write, about $28. (Judicious ordering of “Happy Meals” can reduce that to about $23 — and you get a few apple slices in addition to the fries!)

In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9. (Omitting the bacon, using dried beans, which are also lower in sodium, or substituting carrots for the peppers reduces the price further, of course.)

I have been preaching this argument for a long time.  Eating at the dollar menu can be expensive because most people don’t have any self-control when it comes to the fact that these foods are high in sodium or sugar and essentially force you to order more to feel satisfied.  This occurs because there is next to no nutritional value in these foods.  Eating healthy means you get healthy fat and fiber into your diet which makes you feel full and those control your consumption.

The discussion then turns to organic or grass-fed.  I get the fact that these are more expensive than the junk food.  I am not ignorant to that fact, but I don’t believe I have ever said that you have to eat organic only.  If you comb through this site or spoken to me I have always preached moderation and healthy eating.  Never has healthy eating equaled eating organic only.  I have also never said that everybody has to be a vegetarian but have asked that we all eat in serving sizes.  It takes nothing more than reading a box or can to find this information.  Eating a vegetable then use that magical power called Google and see how much of a pepper is a serving size.  The author makes this point very effectively:

The alternative to soda is water, and the alternative to junk food is not grass-fed beef and greens from a trendy farmers’ market, but anything other than junk food: rice, grains, pasta, beans, fresh vegetables, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, bread, peanut butter, a thousand other things cooked at home — in almost every case a far superior alternative.

eating healthy - hamburger - salmon - comparison - cost

Are all calories equal?

When the argument turns to cooking I get truly enraged on the inside.  It doesn’t take HOURS and HOURS to create a healthy meal.  Guess what I had for breakfast this morning.  It was an egg sandwich that consisted of 1 egg, 2 slices of Ezekiel Sprouted Bread and a Asian Chili Garlic Paste.  Breakfast was cooked in about 5 minutes.  Crazy concept but while the bread toasted I made the egg.  The nutritional value of my breakfast was 239 calories, 7.5g Fat, 30g Carbs, 7g Fiber, 14g Protein.  I was full for hours and did not have any hunger pains for over 3 hours at which time I ate a banana with 1 tbsp of peanut butter.  See so eating healthy can be simple, easy and cheap.

The point of this is to say that you don’t have to create a 5 star meal and spend all day in the kitchen to make a healthy meal.  If you have 5 minutes to get in your car, drive, order, wait, drive home and eat then you can cook a meal.  Heat up a sweet potato in the microwave for 5 minutes and it will be soft.  Add some chili garlic paste to it along with raw veggies and you will have a meal in the same amount of time it took you to drive and order that fast food.

I am passionate about eating healthy which means a clean and nutritious meal.  This is not to say that I don’t have treats such as chocolate, but I eat it in the serving size and typically it is dark chocolate.  It is also served with 1/2 a serving size of peanut or almond butter (1 tbsp if you need to know) and that takes care of my sweet tooth and fills me so that I don’t craze that sugar over and over.

It is the simple things that we need to do to change the way people view healthy eating.  Next time somebody tells you that eating healthy foods is more expensive than eating junk food just ask them if they saved enough to pay for the surgery they will inevitably need.  Might make the conversation a short one but it will also allow them to think twice about their choices which is all I can ask for.

What Do You Say When People Tell You It’s Too Expensive To Start Eating Healthy?

Do You Think It’s Too Expensive To Eat Healthy?



If you want to help change the culture and educate people on diet and exercise please donate to Shape Up America!.  I am currently raising funds for this organization and to date have raised nearly $1,000.  Thank you for your donation.



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  1. Christie says:

    Honestly, I find it discouraging to constantly try to ‘prove my point’ to people so I have just stopped. Great post though… I agree with you 100%
    Christie recently posted..St. George MarathonMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      It is discouraging but please do not give up and do not ‘prove your point’ but just point out the facts. The more we repeat this the more it will sink in. It just takes time but if we stay the course we shall succeed.

  2. My neighbor across the street is CEO of Checkers (Rally’s). We have had discussions about this as he runs a company that promotes junk food consumption and I asked about having more healthy choices on his menu. The simple answer is, healthy food does cost more to produce. Or at least in the quantities that would be in demand by his target market. He says the average yearly income of his customers is around $30K per year which is well below the national average.

    The irony? His son is a pretty good half Ironman and his wife and he have recently lost 80 or so pounds between them… Wanna bet it wasn’t eating a Checkers Double Double???
    OneHourIronman recently posted..RYAN BARNETTMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      Is the reason it is cheaper to buy that garbage because it is of the waste? People are not walking in and asking for sprout sandwiches so that would go in the garbage with limited sales? As opposed to buying that ‘meat’ and knowing that it will sell?

      I just wonder how true it is that it ‘costs’ more. I would think it is not from the purchase but from the spoilage effect and throwing out the food and not selling it.

  3. BDD says:

    Society is lazy and the marketers at fast food resturants are not dumb, they are banking on the fact the society is lazy. We are now programmed to have everything now and not work for it. I dont see this trend getting any better either. You want to see a raise in healthy eating, ban drive thru windows at fast food places, I bet anything people are too lazy to get out of their car and walk into it and order and walk out
    BDD recently posted..Deer Creek Challenge Olympic Triathlon Race ReportMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      Lazy is the exact term for it. I blame the industry that I am in somewhat but I wonder what came first. The laziness or the technology to push that laziness. Thoughts?

  4. Kovas says:

    Bittman’s article was spot on, especially the notion that junk food is addictive. Healthy eating needs to start in the schools for many people (since they don’t get it at home), but most school lunches are subsidized by unhealthy industries, unfortunately.
    Kovas recently posted..Lake Michigan Wine Shore Trail – Day 2My Profile

    • CTER says:

      I find it crazy that the government can spend millions of dollars on creating a healthy plate so that people can understand what to eat and yet they end up subsidizing these poor foods in schools. It is just backwards.

  5. adena says:

    I am eating healthier 90% of the time and feel so much better for it. The worst part is after eating a junk food meal you are hungry within an hour, how does that happen anyway? After a healthy meal I am full for hours. SOLD
    adena recently posted..that’s creepyMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      The issue is the the processed foods have tons of sodium and/or sugar and other ‘products’ which up the calories but they are empty calories (devoid of nutrition) and so your body essentially rejects them b/c it doesn’t know what to do with them and thus you become hungry again in no time b/c the body was nutrition.

  6. Christina says:

    Reminds me of a TV show I caught one day (I’m sure you know it “Food Revolution” with Jamie Oliver). The episode I saw was about a single dad with two sons. The guy said he didn’t know how to really cook so they ate out almost every meal. The boys were talking about how they were sick of eating out and didn’t like how it made their bodies feel when they were trying to be engaged in sports. The dad also indicated it would be “too expensive” to cook at home. So one evening, he sent the dad out to buy what would be typically for dinner while he stayed home with the two boys and directed them through cooking a healthy dinner (I think it was chicken, veggies and maybe a pasta type dish plus a salad). The boys had it all prepared and were outside tossing a football around when dad returned. They then compared the cost (dad’s was more) and the time (dad’s was more) and the nutritional value (no comparison – sons’ won out) and what they really wanted to eat (sons’). Such a great way to break down those misconceptions.

    We actually started cutting out eating out for financial reasons and I’m still working on building my stash of healthy recipes. I really don’t enjoy trying to figure out what to make. And I struggled with getting enough veggies into my kiddos (and myself for that matter). But we’re making improvements slowly but surely. I’d love for you to add more info about what you and other “good examples” eat every day (with recipes for anything that might need it).

    • CTER says:

      Food Revolution is a terrific show and Jaime Oliver does a great job in showing alternatives. There was a big to do over his monetarily benefiting over this, but I don’t care. I would rather pay somebody to show the benefits of healthy eating as opposed to paying high health care costs for people who are making poor food decisions.

      Christina – I run a segment called Athlete’s Plate. It’s at the top. There have been two versions of it. One where I created a menu with recipes and now where athlete’s are taking pictures of their daily intake and sending it to me so I can post and generate discussion of what is good and not so good.

      Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have at: cooktraineatrace [at] gmail [dot] com

  7. GREAT post!! I’ve had the “money” talk with so many people, and basically what I’ve found it comes down to is the fact that they just don’t really care. Most people just want something that’s fast and easy, so they hit up the drive through on the way home from work. Even if I made a strong argument, they just don’t “listen.” It drives me crazy! I had a good friend come stay with us and we had the same discussion. I made dinner for her and my family every night and she was amazed at how easy the meals were. BUT, she wasn’t convinced they were cheaper. So, I actually got out my receipt and broke it down for her. She was shocked! Honestly, it’s just an unwillingness to step out of their comfort zone and try new things.
    Aimee (I Tri To Be Me) recently posted..Should I pop it??My Profile

    • CTER says:

      I always wonder why people enjoy the status quo? Is it just because they don’t like change or get comfortable? I for one enjoy change as it reinvigorates my life. Why be afraid? What’s the worst that can happen?

  8. Natasha says:

    I believe that if it is cheaper to eat the unhealthy choices right now it is because there aren’t more of us demanding the healthier choices. I’ve noticed the cost of soy/almond milk going down now that it is gaining in popularity. I think the documentary Food Inc. touched on this a little. As far as more time to cook than eat out please!! Maybe a little extra clean up but if you plan things right it can be just as efficient and you can involve everyone in the process which makes it funner and the food taste better! The worst is when I travel say to a theme park where I’m stuck all day and the only option for me was an apple which is fine but it would take several apples to fill me up enough to count as a meal.. I end up taking a Clif bar where ever I travel cause I don’t want to be left without options. Ok I’ll stop now I think this is a case of preaching to the choir…
    Natasha recently posted..Disney Wine & Dine 1/2 MarathonMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      Natasha –

      Preach away. I love hearing stories about how others cope and it helps me. I for one pack everything when I go away on a trip. I just about bring my kitchen with me including my blender. I am not going to get stuck.

      Here is a great idea for you. Get the apple but before you head to the park get yourself some of those individual peanut butter containers or better yet make your own peanut butter then dip the apple into the peanut butter and eat it together. The peanut butter will give you that full feeling (plus calories and good fats) and help to fight the sugar in the apple so you don’t feel hungry as fast.

  9. B.o.B. says:

    i think people are just lazy and all about convenience. i have succombed to it before so i am not looking down my nose here. there are days when i just want to eat something quick and unfortunately we’ve gotten to a point where everything is quick and unhealthy.
    B.o.B. recently posted..So it begins…My Profile

    • CTER says:

      Beth –

      We all want quick as we are running from meeting to meeting, etc. What is easier than making a smoothie? Pack a small foldable cooler with fruit and an ice pack so it stays fresh. Get yourself a bullet and plug it in and make a smoothie to take with you on the way to the next meeting.

      Throw in nut butter or spinach and get those fats and healthy foods in you.

  10. lindsay says:

    josh’s dad’s company owns some BK’s. i’ve brought up numerous times that they should sell healthier stuff, better foods. he says they’ve tried (i’ve never frequented any fast food place consistently enough to know their various menu trials) but that the fact of the matter is people buy the crap. the healthy stuff doesn’t sell. so there’s that, on top of the fact you already mentioned about how it’s more expensive.

    my response to people is something along the lines of “and is cancer cheap”? -along the lines of your open heart surgery.

    as a vegetarian who can’t eat soy/nuts/beans, i also get asked where i get my protein. umm vegetables have protein… “yeah but not enough”. and i don’t feel like explaining that you don’t need nearly as much protein as “they say” you need, not to mention that not-eating animal protein resulted in people’s health improving in some heart studies and cancer studies…

    food is the one place i don’t gawk at the bill. i want to eat healthy. period. shoes, i don’t care about ;) $0.50.

    • CTER says:

      I am with you on the not gawking at the bill when it comes to food. I would rather eat my discretionary income and pass on a movie then eat garbage, go to the movie and die sooner. I can’t draw a simpler equation than that.

  11. caroline says:

    I agree with you 100%
    I do not eat junk food. ever.
    I used to. I would never go back to eating crap.
    I think it is lazyness. I volunteer at my kids school and I get sad and also furious when I see what their friends have in their lunch box. Cheetos for morning scack? really?
    I was talking to my son’s teacher and she said ” you are one in a million because your son never brings crap in his lunch box” I know she meant it as a compliment but the truth is it made me so sad to hear that.
    Do I let my kids eat McDonalds? Candy on Halloween? yes I do. ONCE IN A WHILE. And their Halloween pail is still full from last year’s collect! My kids dont have a DS but they eat well and they are in good health. Someone asked me how did my 7 yrs old son get perfect attendance last year and not get sick. I said “He eats well and by that I dont mean a lot”. I am still not sure they got it.
    caroline recently posted..GIVEAWAY!!!My Profile

  12. Mike Ransick says:

    Great post!

    I love to cook, and love to eat, and love both food that is good for you and junk food, so I’m qualified to comment :-). For me, moderation of the junk food is key.

    Regarding eating healthy costing more, I have a personal example to add to your examples. I recently bought a couple beef tenderloins on sale at a great price ($6.50/lb) and feed four families bacon wrapped fillets for less than McDonald’s meals, then took all the trimmings and made enough beef stew for two families for $8.50 total on top of what I spent for the beef and bacon. Not only was it cheaper, I received comments that it tasted better than any stew they ever had and looked better than any stew they had seen (it was beef tenderloin trimmings instead of a rump roast). I spent about an hour going to the store, buying the ingredients, dicing them and throwing them in the crock pot.
    Mike Ransick recently posted..Private HIM is in the booksMy Profile

  13. Christie says:

    I think I have mentioned this on your blog before; but I have always wanted to try opening up a healthy, fast-food restaurant. I may have the opportunity to look at trying to establish this idea over the next year. I have been exploring through your blog posts on the topics of healthy eating/shape up America/and most recently, your frugal grocer really has given me hope that there is a cost effective way to implement my idea. I was just wondering your thoughts on the idea… Whenever you get a sec if you wouldn’t mind emailing me I’d appreciate it! Thanks :)
    Christie recently posted..SLC 26.2 No Director??? & BrooksMy Profile

  14. monti says:

    i agree with you ONE HUNDRED and TEN %


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