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

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

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 agood 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 #RealFoodItems 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.

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

  • 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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