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Discussion - Which is actually cheaper? Eating healthy or eating less healthy?

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So, for those of you who don't frequent the Daily Chats, cmillington asked a simple question: Which is cheaper? To eat healthy (if not organic) or to eat less healthy?

On the surface, it seems obvious that it's more cost effective to eat less healthy. Meals like Mac and Cheese are extremely cheap, but then so is rice. And rice can be used to make more than Mac and Cheese

But then, a Box of Mac and Cheese isn't complete. You need butter and water to finish it, and rice, I'd argue Rice isn't a full meal either (too dry and dull), but fresh vegetables ARE relatively cheap.

So.. what are your thoughts and your experiences? Which is more cost-effective?

Obviously, this will differ depending on your ability to cook. No time to cook will probably result in different answers from those who do have time.

But, please.. I'm curious what your thinking/logic is. :)
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I think it depends
Eg. You can have 2 min ramen noodles for dinner. Thats like 50c. It fills some people up. But its no good for you. A buger at maccas here is like $3.50. And if you tried to make your own at home, by yourself (like I do, I live in a dorm) it can get expensive.
Unless you're smart about it. Buying fruit in season, and stocking up on the basics and making your own can be a helluva lot cheaper, especially than eating out. People dont udnerstnad how I eat so well but spend so little.

All I have is a microwave and a toaster. I provide my own brekkie, and have about 2 dinners per week that I cook myself. On weekends, usually thats another two. I spend less money than those who eat out twice a week. its all about what you spend it on. I buy oats, rather than cereal, as its cheaper, but also healthier.

Depends how you are brought up too. My friend will nto touch no name bread. Or anything other than white and thick. As thats her family's staple. She has brand milk. My family always went no name and hunted for 'cheapies'. So now we live away from home she seems to have a much bigger bill. And thats not even adding in unhealthy food.

What costs more? A banana or a mars bar? Both fill you up about the same. One is healthier AND cheaper.

When a bag of potato chips costs nearly $3 and a bag of apples is the same, it's easy to see which one is better.  When a pound of organic, extra lean ground beef costs $6, and a pound of regular ground beef costs $2, it's not so easy to see the savings.

I figure that I might pay a lot more for organic meats, but I'm also saving because I'm not buying those chips and cookies every week.  Factor in those restaurant meals I'm not having any more, and I'm saving big time!

There are a few strategies, left over from my poverty stricken years, that keep my grocery bill under control

1.  Eat beans!  A pound of dry lentils can cost as little as .49!  For convenience, canned beans are a good buy too.  I found Whole Foods Market brand, organic, no salt added beans for .69 a can.

2.  Buy in bulk.  You can get organic brown rice, oats, and other grains for less than regular packaged products.

3.  Buy the least processed form of any food.  You pay for packaging, processing, and strange ingredients (what is guar gum anyway?).  Hamburger Helper is NOT a bargain - noodles are cheap and so are seasonings.

4.  Buy produce in season whenever possible.  Buy from local sources when you can.  The quality is always higher and the prices will be lower too.

5.  Eat less meat.  Meat is the most expensive part of the grocery bill.  Get used to having smaller portions.  A pound of ground beef or turkey can be stretched to 8 servings.  Think of meat as a condiment rather than the whole meal.  If you do this, you'll be able to pay more for better quality and not increase your overall bill.  The expense all balances out.

6.  Cook from scratch.  Learning basic cooking techniques, like making your own soup stock, dressings and sauces, can save you money.  A good cookbook with easy to follow instructions is a must.  It's also much healthier because you control what goes into the dish.  Homemade low fat oatmeal cookies are only pennies each.  Store bought oatmeal cookies, loaded with trans fats and artificial ingredients, are $4 a package!

7.  Plan!  Plan your menus and organize your shopping list to maximize savings and avoid waste.

8.  Waste nothing!  Those ends of carrots, onions and celery you throw away can be used in your homemade soup stock.  So can the bones from that chicken. 
There's a discussion on the Weight Loss forum that's pertinant to this discussion

The Cost of Obesity
My bi-weekly grocery bill has gone up about 25$.... but my fast food budget has probably dropped 30-40$ (bi-weekly) so I guess healthy eating costs less for me :)
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We were actually talking about something like this at lunch today when someone commented on my home-made lunch and how they should do the same but it was quicker to buy something.

Person 1: wrap from cafe ($6.50), mars bar ($1.60), water (tap) Person 2: bowl of noodles ($2), apple (~$1), milkshake ($4.50) Person 3: roll from bakery (60c) with slice of cheese (20c) and ham ($1), apple juice ($3) And me: banana (~60c), pear (~80c), sandwich: loaf of bread ($3 with ~24 slices, so 25c for the two slices in a sandwich), head of lettuce ($1.60, so 20c per sandwich), egg ($2.50/dozen, so just over 20c each) = 65c! Haha, you can get egg and lettuce sandwiches at the cafe for $4. Talk about a profit :p

The wrap may have been 'healthy', but it was also pretty big - something that's clearly two servings pretending to be one.
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Going week by week- eating healthier has been more expensive for me because I buy the "healthy" foods that I want to eat, whether or not they are on sale, so some things can be quite pricy.

In the long run though, I would have to say eating less healthy is more expensive for the following reasons because they fill you up with lots of fats and calories and little nutrition which can lead to various diseases along with a lowered immunity system which can make you more susceptible to everyday illnesses such as colds, and therefore people miss more work.

Health food might cost more money but my happy life is worth every extra penny I spend on over priced asparagus.

I am a pseudo-vegetarian (no dairy, no beef/pork, will eat chicken and eggs if organic and free range)...I think eating healthier is WAY WAY WAY cheaper. I can go to the farmer's market and buy a week's worth of vegetables for under $10, most of it organic, all of it grown locally. The last time I ate fast food (chicken sandwich), it was over $7 for the sandwich and a salad, no drink or fries. However, in my town soy milk is about $2 more than organic milk. I don't buy meat very often, and I've never purchased beef or other kinds of meat, but organic free-range chicken is about $7/lb at the market. If I bought chicken on a regular basis, it would be fairly expensive...but that's because of the kind of chicken it is.

If eating healthy were the cheaper option, obesity wouldn't be an epidemic in this country.
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Original Post by voodoolily:

If eating healthy were the cheaper option, obesity wouldn't be an epidemic in this country.

Absolutely untrue.

Eating heathy is cheaper provided you make your own food. But it's a lot easier to eat take out every night, and that's why obesity is becoming more rampant.

I usually keep the cost of my meals at less than $3 each. Even McDonald's costs more than that. 

I think you can eat healthily for very little money. When I was small the only income my mother had was Income Support and she managed to cook something healthy and balanced every day. But she knew how and enjoyed to cook, was a vegetarian (can be a lot cheaper, in my opinion!), knew about nutrition, had a lot of time, had only one child and herself to feed, only had to live like that for about five yrs etc. ... and still found it a huge challenge.

I reckon it's a lot easier to eat healthily when you have money. I had no money a few weeks ago and all I ate was porridge (bag@49p), apples (9@54p), bread (loaf@30p) and biscuits (pack@13p). Cheap, but by no means healthy! Not a long-term diet, ya know? And let's face it, if you're working a 12-hour day it's obviously easier to come in and heat up a load of oven chips and cheap burgers rather than, as my mum did, be making your own yoghurt or soaking some beans.

Saying that, I think that if you have money then it's cheaper to eat healthily. I can't really be bothered to explain that, but it makes sense, doesn't it?

I don't think fast food should come into it. That's eating out (sort of ...), and however healthy/unhealthy it is it's still surely gonna be more expensive than doing your own cooking??

Maybe it depends. Respect to anyone who manages to make the right choices with no money! LOL.

Every time I go grocery shopping and I see the total, I always end up cringing and muttering "fsck me" under my breath ... over and over again ... "fsck me". Despite this 'ritual' of mine however, I always manage to remind myself to take a step back from the inflated bill and look at it in a different light. 

Prior to my change in eating habits, I was spending approximately $200 - $300 a month on [fast-] food -- $10 here, $7 there, etc., etc. My total grocery bill each month ranges anywhere from $150 - $250, depending on how empty my cupboard shelves / refrigerator are. For me, I am actually spending less (on average) for food now than I was before.

The difference is that I don't see the money flying as quickly out the window at $8 a pop as I do at the grocery store at $175 a pop. Personally, it is more of a mind trip for me, since a $175 grocery receipt looks a hell of a lot scarier than an $8 McDonald's receipt (despite the fact that all of those $8 receipts ended up costing me more in the long run).       

I think it can be cheaper to eat healthy IF you put the time and effort into it, which a lot of people don't/can't because of their circumstances. Of course its much easier to spend $4 at Wendy's and get a few items of unhealthy crap that fill you up rather than to buy say a few healthy items at the store and make a decent dinner for a night. Honestly, which would most people do? People who DON'T frequent websites like this one that is. Most would say, lets go to Wendy's!
I think it depends where you live. Living in the city having to go to Whole Foods or Trader Joes is obviously going to be more expensive than someone [like me ;)] who lives out in the sticks and has a farmer's market 6 blocks away... Know what I mean?
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Original Post by primadonna9396:

I think it depends where you live. Living in the city having to go to Whole Foods or Trader Joes is obviously going to be more expensive than someone [like me ;)] who lives out in the sticks and has a farmer's market 6 blocks away... Know what I mean?

 I live in Boston. I steer clear of Trader Joes and Whole Foods and do all my shopping at Stop and Shop. It's definitely more expensive than if I lived in the middle of nowhere, but I've spent my entire life living in major cities, so I'm used to paying inflated prices for everything.

That being said, most of the foods I buy are relatively inexpensive no matter where you are. You just need to avoid going to specialty stores to buy it. 

Eating out healthy is more expensive; Eating at home ends up about the same, on average.  Lean meats/fish are more expensive than more fatty cuts, but buy on sale in bulk (use the sealer and freeze) and it is more cost friendly over long run.  Beans, veggies, and rice are cheap than most other side items/desserts.  For every cheap Ramon dish there is a cheap bean dish or soup and is way better for you.
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Original Post by leiann:

Eating out healthy is more expensive; Eating at home ends up about the same, on average.  Lean meats/fish are more expensive than more fatty cuts, but buy on sale in bulk (use the sealer and freeze) and it is more cost friendly over long run.  Beans, veggies, and rice are cheap than most other side items/desserts.  For every cheap Ramon dish there is a cheap bean dish or soup and is way better for you.

 QFT. It's all about learning how to shop. Unfortunately most people don't know how to.

Mentions of Trader Joes and Whole Foods:  Whole Foods is definitely too pricey, but I've discovered that Trader Joes has more reasonable prices than the run of the mill supermarket by my house.  It probably depends on where you live.

And I agree with DM - it's all about learning how to shop.  There are simple things to do just by adjusting when you shop (ie during discount produce days, taking advantage of sales and coupons, etc.), and getting the most economical food for the volume.  Name brands rarely offer something more than the generic version, and the more you prepare food yourself ahead of time and freeze, instead of a bunch of premade stuff, the better it is.   Certainly convenience is a factor, and I have the occasional frozen dinner when time is tight, but 1) food containers and 2) setting aside time to cook are real money savers. 

You'll be interested in this article - it's shocking, actually: gh-price-for-healthy-food/

"Energy-dense munchies cost on average $1.76 per 1,000 calories, compared with $18.16 per 1,000 calories for low-energy but nutritious foods.

The survey also showed that low-calorie foods were more likely to increase in price, surging 19.5 percent over the two-year study period. High-calorie foods remained a relative bargain, dropping in price by 1.8 percent."

But the way I look at it is:

1) Having a heart attack, high blood pressure, cancer, stroke, diabetes or other diet-related illness is quite costly.

2) You need to consider food as a percentage of your overall budget. If you are middle- to upper-class, the chances are, food is a tiny fraction of your expenses. You likely spend a lot more on your car (gas, insurance, monthly payment) then you do on food. I enjoy an upper-middle-class income and I once ran the numbers: we spend only 1-2% of our income on food. If you are middle class, you may spend closer to 5% or 10% but even that is...  NOTHING. Historically, it's incredibly cheap. Historically, food used to be the number one biggest expense in most people's budgets!!! Nowadays, our mortgage is typically the number one expense.

Of course, if you are living on minimum wage, then the picture changes quite dramatically. :-(
It's cheaper to eat healthy if you can afford it.  If you've got fifty dollars, you can buy a lot of healthy fruits an vegetables, cereals, breads, and so on in bulk that will last you quite a while.  But that's if you've got fifty dollars.  If you don't, and you only have, say, two dollars, to buy dinner for a week, then you're stuck getting what's cheap.  Which is usually Ramen noodles, rice, generic macaroni and cheese, TV dinners, or bread and bologna.

This is an issue Alex and I have been dealing with since September.  We knew we were having a short month financially in October and cut back on our grocery shopping budget, and then I lost my job so our budget became non-existant, and is still pretty much that way today.  We buy food with his delivery tips after he puts gas in his car, and there's not much left to go around.  Now, we can either go hungry for a few days and hope he gets a few more deliveries so we can buy a few fresh produce items, or even boxed/canned goods that are decent for you which would cost us about ten dollars for two days worth of eating.  Or, we could take that delivery tip change and buy two Banquet brand pot pies, a bag of rice, and instant coffee for three dollars, which would equal, again, two days worth of eating for less than half of the price.  Not healthy by any means, surviving on bulked-up pot pies, rice, and coffee, but still our tummies are full.

However we run the risk of not getting any deliveries for two more days or so, meaning no grocery shopping for two more days or so, meaning we're relying on that coffee to keep our stomachs from screaming at us.  It's a huge gamble, and we have had to go about a week living off of coffee before we had the opportunity to buy something else (or rather, Mommie came to my rescue with a Big Mac) but it's a sacrafice we're willing to make to ensure our credit stays good, we don't wind up homeless, and our pets can eat.  We'll buy food for them before we buy food for us.

If I'm not making sense, I'm still drugged up on NyQuil and I'm blah blah blah.  When I had money to grocery shop, even though it was only twenty dollars a week or so, I knew I could buy enough healthy food with that twenty dollars to last both myself and Alex for the entire week, and manage to keep up on my weight loss.  And I thought I was cheap then.  But now that I have between zero and five dollars to buy food to last myself and Alex the entire week, we're getting what's on sale.  And it's usually Ramen, rice, and coffee.  We try to buy frozen vegetables (a dollar for a bag that lasts us six to eight meals pending portions) and save our loose change to buy the expensive things like milk or eggs, but it's more of a treat for us than a necessity.

I was fortunate to get a great holiday gift from my dad, and a little task from my uncle for which he paid me, and used some of that money to buy groceries.  We had a coupon that if we spent thirty dollars, we got five dollars off of our purchase, so I went to the store with thirty dollars in my pocket.  I bought six bags of frozen vegetables, four TV dinners, bread, peanut butter (which I hate, but it was on sale and lasts us quite a long time), a bag of potatoes and a bag of onions, eggs, butter, Ramen, oatmeal, and frozen fish sticks (again, on sale, giant bag, beggers can't be picky), along with a few other small things in my cabinets that I can't remember and don't want to get up to look.

Now when you look at it I did, for the most part, buy healthy foods but those TV dinners that everyone refers to as cardboard, the Ramen, and probably the fish sticks I'll get picked on for but they were cheap, they're filling, and they'll last us a while.

In short.  It is cheaper to buy healthy foods.  If you can afford it.
Original Post by dm84:

I usually keep the cost of my meals at less than $3 each. Even McDonald's costs more than that. 

Yeah, but you eat only like 1200 calories a day, right?

When I was a college student I could get a whole bag of groceries for $10, but I ate beans and rice (from the dry bulk bins) for every meal and had to dumpster dive once in awhile to supplement.

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