$20 Food Showdown: Fast Food vs. Healthy Food


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  741 comments   :  2,093,088 Views

See our updated $20 Food Showdown for 2016!

Budget constraints prevent many people from eating right.

"I can't afford to buy healthy food."
"Fruits and vegetables are too expensive."
"Grocery store prices are astronomical."
"It's cheaper to eat fast food."

We hear these "excuses" every day--and they're good ones. But we don't give up that easily and believe any excuse can be overcome. Today we're setting out to prove that healthy eating is possible on any budget.

We compared the cost of unhealthy foods from the drive-thru, freezer section and snack foods aisle to the cost of healthy foods. By making even one of these swaps, you can make room in your grocery budget for a few new healthy foods.

The photos below aim to show the diversity in healthy foods available. Prices may vary in your area (some items were on sale when we shopped), but we think you'll be shocked at how far you can stretch a buck at the supermarket when you buy healthy foods!

If you bought all that junk food in one month, you would spend $115.64. The healthy food would cost $111.83 but feed you and your family for far more meals.

It might take a bit more time and planning to put these foods on the dinner table each night, but at least now you know you can afford to try!

Foods are store brand unless noted.

(Grocery prices from Wal-Mart and Meijer in Noblesville, Indiana, and Cincinnati, Ohio; fast food prices from the greater Indianapolis and Cincinnati areas, 2010)

Research: Beth Donovan and Stepfanie Romine

Photography and Design: Elliott Giles

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    Thankfully in my country healthy food and vegetable are lot cheaper than fast food/unhealthy food. Check it out at www.alexteslacodesecrets.com / - 12/26/2017   12:22:11 AM
    This supermarket is too much expensive.
    www.thetotalmoneymagnetism.com - 9/30/2017   2:20:42 PM
    We can buy food mostly form online.
    www.capturehisheartprogram.com - 9/28/2017   11:51:25 PM
  • 738
    The prices on this should be updated, but otherwise it is a good way to let people know about the comparisons between stuff peiople buy that they want and comparing some health meal options - 7/15/2017   1:14:41 PM
    Yes in $20 we can have whole month grocery. www.getbiggerpenisnaturally.com / - 6/7/2017   1:49:46 AM
    You are right we can have lot of healthy food in $20. www.getbiggerdicknaturally.com / - 6/6/2017   1:53:12 AM
    Sometime time also matters. www.penisenlargementbiblebook.com / - 6/5/2017   3:31:02 AM
    This article is so misleading. A pound of boneless chicken is $0.98? Really?! More like $3.20 on average. - 5/9/2017   1:41:44 PM
  • 733
    prices are way outdated! - 5/8/2017   10:06:29 PM
  • 732
    I'm in agreement withBTRFLYDOG. I've never seen chicken breasts for 98cents. As a matter of fact, they're currently over $10 for the store brand. Which is why I'm buying more produce and less meat. (also, there was a mistake on the picture with the cereal, frozen vegetable, and the ground turkey. - 5/8/2017   8:38:35 PM
  • 731
    It would be great if you could update this article. Still it is a good point. If you shop sales you will always get better healthier foods at the grocery store. I get the weekly sale ads in the mail from several stores on Wednesdays. Go through and see what is on sale and on the weekend you will have a shopping list and a meal plan for the week or at least a few days in advance. - 5/8/2017   4:03:20 PM
    List prices look outdated. I wish I could find chicken for 2$ a lb. Being a diabetic I see lots of carbs. Need more veggies and proteins - 5/8/2017   3:10:38 PM
    Great article ! - 5/8/2017   3:08:35 PM
    Great article @ - 5/8/2017   3:07:54 PM
  • 727
    I would love to see an updated version of this with Canadian grocery prices. And the items that you are buying should make a meal IMO, not just be random grocery items. What are you going to do with potatoes, spaghetti, frozen veggies and bananas? That doesn't even make sense! - 5/8/2017   12:45:35 PM
  • 726
    The healthy foods don't seem to actually add up to a meal though... you may be getting more, but you might just be eating grapes and cukes for dinner... - 5/8/2017   10:15:30 AM
  • 725
    I agree that you can shop reasonably, but not cheaply. Also, what is wrong
    wrong with steakums? I use them occasionally with green peppers and onions for a high protein meal. - 5/8/2017   5:04:08 AM
    Eating the unhealthy foods can cost thousands in Healthcare cost. I Know, it happened to me. - 5/8/2017   12:48:22 AM
    We will try to solve this problem. http://growpenisbigger.com / - 5/6/2017   12:03:14 AM
    Fast food is cheaper than normal food. http://tomcandowpenisremedy.com / - 5/5/2017   1:04:04 AM
    How often you will visit the Supermarket. http://collinspenisbible.com / - 5/4/2017   1:28:16 AM
  • 720
    While the prices in the article are outdate (and way off since I live in Canada), look at the amount of real food you get vs processed and junk food. Also, you are better off buying your own ingredients because you gain control of additives and fillers that are often added to fast and processed food.

    - 5/1/2017   2:01:57 PM
  • 719
    These prices are way out of date. Please do a new one with updated prices!! I could do it for you if need be! - 1/6/2017   1:00:10 PM
  • 718
    Please update this article - 1.96 for 2 pounds of chicken breast - try 4.99 per pound. I pound lean grounc turkey for 1.98 - um try - 5.99. I pound of cashews is not 4.98 - it's $9 - 11/15/2016   1:05:33 PM
    Thanks for share valuable information. Fast food is very harmful for health. That's why we should be avoid fast food. We are all should be eat healthy food on breakfast, lunch and dinner. What you think? As well, if anyone need affordable healthy foods info or ideas so visit here... affordablehealthyeating dot com - 10/25/2016   4:29:48 AM
  • 716
    I have to agree with those who think it may be time to retire this article. Between oil prices rising and the bird flu so much has changed. Even when issues are resolved, it takes a lot longer or prices to drop than it took for them to rise. It's almost like seeing what my parents paid for a loaf and comparing it to what we pay today. - 7/3/2016   2:03:45 AM
  • 715
    This blog is spot on! Great food choice recommendations. - 6/23/2016   9:50:22 AM
  • 714
    It would be much more helpful to see the cost analysis of processed foods compared to making it at home and how many servings can be made or how many meals can be made from the same basic items. In an age where we are pushed to buy convenience foods, a focus on the benefit of non-convenient foods and how to prepare them is much more useful. - 2/18/2016   10:38:32 AM
    I don't live in the USA, so I have no idea how accurate these numbers are, but the cost of living has gone up all around the world in the last few years (I have family who live in Australia, various parts of Asia and I live in Europe). Inflation does hit hard.

    Reading all these comments by other SparkPeople members makes me quite sad though. This article itself makes it obvious that in America, the environment already stacks healthy living NOT in people's favour. If people have to pay the real cost of food production, there's no logical way fresh fruits and vegetables should cost more than highly processed frozen junk, or takeaway food sold in fast food restaurants. People aren't paid fair wages, the whole system is broken, our societies are getting sicker, and someone out there is benefiting from it all... - 2/5/2016   1:02:31 PM
  • 712
    This post is REALLY outdated. I live where food is relatively inexpensive and yet, when my family started eating healthy, our food budget went up 150%! I don't make fancy meals and we don't eat much meat (and the meat we do eat is usually on sale). - 2/2/2016   9:59:42 AM
  • 711
    Bulk. We keep a 25 pound bag of rice, when pasta is on sale, we buy that. If fruit is going to go bad, I cut it up and lay it out on a sheet pan and freeze it, then bag it in the freezer for smoothies. If vegetables are starting to turn, they go in our next meal. We have a Asian Market which receives fresh produce everyday besides Sunday. Best way to shop local, get fresh, and in season produce. Also, if they have items going bad, they cut out the bad part and reduce the price for instant sale. When we buy meat, we buy big, or buy one get one half price and use our freezer storage bags. There are a lot of ways to keep prices low and still eat healthy. In Winn Dixie, occasionally they reduce fish and meat, because it is better to get a little than throw it out. I have bout a pound of cooked shrimp for next to nothing, Tuna steak for $3.00. got to look and know what needs to be cooked and eaten right away.
    - 1/21/2016   9:21:45 AM
  • 710
    It's time to "retire" this article. It defeats people rather than encourages--absurd, outdated pricing, fast food "meals" compared to random healthy food, labor intensive or cooking techniques beyond the absolute basics. SparkPeople! Time to turn some of your crack writers loose on an updated article with links to fast, easy, cheap recipies. Come on, we know you can do it! - 1/20/2016   11:33:42 AM
  • SHAHAI16
    Other than the prices being very outdated, anyone else think those healthy food combos are a bit weird? Also, my problem is I'm not the only one in my house that shops for food, and dealing with picky eaters. My brother and his wife would rather order a pizza or burgers, real food is "too much work" :( - 1/7/2016   9:18:36 PM
  • 708
    I see this is a story originally posted 2 years ago so the prices are a bit off for both the fast food and the healthy food. I think the point is more that people do tend to want to rationalize why they aren't eating healthy. In the US we are bombarded with convenient choices constantly. Many of us grow up eating fast food and convenience foods without any regard to their nutrition or lack thereof. The reality is that it takes more effort and time (and sometimes money, but not always) to learn healthy eating habits. Saying I can't afford to eat healthy is just another excuse not to put the effort in. I say this from experience. I've personally used that excuse in the past too. The truth is that we will invest our time and money in whatever is important and a priority in our lives. - 1/7/2016   11:42:00 AM
  • 707
    Do you notice how most of us are complaining about the prices used for the healthy food but no one is shocked by the low prices of the junk food as well. I think we are all rationalizing our bad habits a bit too much. Chicken isn't $.99 a pound any more but Twizzlers aren't $1.69 per pound anymore either.
    - 1/7/2016   11:09:16 AM
  • 706
    I think the REAL problem is that people arn't talking about is the TIME and Knowledge needed to prepare food....so many people including me only learned how to heat up vegetables from a can or learned how to make hamburger helper....unless i have a recipe in hand i would have no idea what to do with those healthy foods once i had them in the house. - 1/7/2016   9:47:22 AM
  • 705
    These must be prices from the US because there's no way some of those prices for the amounts would be in Canada. I get what you are saying but it's not those prices here.. - 1/7/2016   3:11:06 AM
  • 704
    Where do you shop!?! A gallon of orange juice for $2.89? I buy 59 0z (they don't even make gallons any more- downsized for more money) on sale for more than that! As for the rest, are these prices from the early 2000's? Please! If you are going to do "examples" like this, please use real world prices. - 1/7/2016   2:57:09 AM
  • 703
    Not only are those prices grossly outdated, but healthy food also costs TIME. It takes TIME to prepare food from scratch and when you're working 2 jobs and maybe even taking public transport to & from, that time gets really expensive. - 1/6/2016   9:03:42 PM
  • KELLY48647
    Who can afford to buy a Big Mac these days? I could buy 8 burgers from the dollar menu of McDonald's for a $8 plus tax here in Michigan, or I could buy the cheapest hamburger available,73% lean I believe for $5.19 per pound on sale, along with package of the cheapest hamburger buns available on sale for $1.69 cents per 8-pack if I hit it on the right week, and hopefully I just happen to already have things like cheese, ketchup, mustard, pickles and onions on hand.

    If I happen to have all the extras on hand it will cost me $6.88 for 8 burgers if I make them 1/8 pound each, which is pretty tiny when you consider how much the cheapest burger shrinks when cooked. Most likely I won't have the cheese on hand, so I would probably spend about $2 for 8 slices of the cheapest cheese slices to go on the burgers, and these cheap cheese slices are not even real cheese since imitation cheese is about half the price of real cheese.

    So even if I happened to have the onions, ketchup, mustard and pickles on hand, these 8 little burgers would cost me nearly $9 instead of the $8 I would have spent at McDonald's.

    I don't go there often, but this is a more realistic comparison...

    (Grocery prices and fast food prices from small town Michigan stores, 2015)
    - 10/22/2015   12:04:02 AM
  • 701
    I agree with others. This needs updated. Milk is closer to $4 now, I've never bought boneless skinless chicken breasts that cheap, and if/when I buy burgers and fries, it's off the dollar menu and we always get water. AND right now you can get a large Domino's 3 topping pizza for 7.99 here. Plus it should be a similar meal comparison... compare fresh apples to precut packaged apples because bananas grapes green beans, pasta and rice totally replaces a coke, not. Compare a take out burger meal with a homemade burger meal, a take out pizza meal with a homemade pizza meal, etc...

    Their argument is invalid. - 7/10/2015   3:35:34 PM
    The prices should be updated occasionally. Something else helpful would be to show the ingredients for a single meal vs fast food, or healthy snacks vs junk food snacks.

    Showing ice cream to Soy milk, rice & yogurt makes no sense, for instance. It would be more helpful to show the ingredients for a healthy dessert & compare it to the ice cream. Or, the ingredients for a home made pizza or Italian meal to the Pizza Hut takeout. - 7/10/2015   12:12:13 PM
  • 699
    96% lean ground beef for $2.98 a pound??? Walmart here now is around $5.98 a pound - but most places for 93% lean are not less than $7 or 8 dollars a pound - I don't think these are realistic at all - I live is south Florida and I don't remember anytime recently being able to find prices this cheap - even apples average about $3-4 a pound. - 7/10/2015   11:28:54 AM
  • 698
    Even going back to 2010, I couldn't get chicken that cheap. I can't remember the last time I saw it less than $1.99/lb. Also, the people I know who fast food as it being cheaper are not buying these big KFC meals or woopers. They are buying things off the $1 menu and calling a hamburger and small fries a meal. Or they get the 20 piece chicken nuggets and a large order of fries for the family to share for dinner. - 7/10/2015   5:07:44 AM
  • 697
    This needs a serious update on today's food prices. Additionally, consideration for food deserts needs to be given. People living in poor neighborhoods and conditions where there are no readily available grocery stores - or, worse, only one with limited stock - are not likely to get a good value on food. In today's strenuous economy, it would be kinder to consider that not everyone has a healthy middle-class budget to work with. - 7/3/2015   3:38:10 PM
  • 696
    I would love to see them update the article and show the same amount of food purchased in 2010 vs it's cost today. - 4/21/2015   11:20:58 AM
    The article states that these prices are from 2010. That's five(5) years ago. It is truly time to update. - 3/2/2015   1:13:51 AM
    Thank you for this post. While prices are a bit higher in the area I live in, this post does make me think. However, what would be even more helpful is a list of easy meals that I could make for my family with the foods I could buy for $10 or $20. Thank you! - 3/1/2015   2:08:58 PM
  • 693
    Interesting article, I think, as others have pointed out, that the pricing is a little off on the healthy foods, but moving past that....I think the real problem is...when you come home from a busy day and open a pizza box you are ready to eat...nothing to do or cook or think about. I take great pleasure in cooking, it is part of "winding down" from a busy day, but many view cooking as another "job" they have to do. I think it might have been a better article if the comparisons were made using healthy vs unhealthy takeout items. A roasted chicken (most supermarkets in my area have them hot and ready to go for about $6.00) a bag of frozen vegetables ($1.50-$2.50) and some mashed potato's ready for reheat "Simply Potato's" in the deli section of my supermarket ($3.49) vs Kentucky Fried Chicken 8 piece meal. The only thing you need to do is heat the potato's and veggies, and that can be done in the time it takes to set the table. I think that might have made the article more relevant to people. Just a thought. - 3/1/2015   8:23:20 AM
  • 692
    I don't know where these people are shopping, but boneless skinless chicken breast for .98/lb, try more like 3$ and higher, bananas are minimum .60/lb, grapes are 2.97 not .88- I am not saying it isn't doable, but lets not lie to ourselves here. The prices they quote for healthy grocery items averages on half of what they state. - 3/1/2015   12:14:25 AM

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