10 Reasons Why Eating Fast Food Is Not Cheap

For working moms who are too tired to answer the question “What’s for dinner?”, the most convenient answer would be to grab some fast food meals. They’re satisfying, quick, convenient – although not necessarily cheap and healthy.

If you’re one of those who have the misconception that subsisting on fast food on an almost daily basis is actually doing your budget favors, think again. Not only is fast food unhealthy, but it also burns a hole in your pocket if you’re not careful. Here, we will take a look at the reasons why eating fast food is not at all cheap.

Quick Stats About Fast Food Restaurants

Before counting down the reasons why fast food eating is not cheap at all, here are a few quick statistics about fast food restaurants from Statista.com:

  • In spring 2014, there were 635,494 restaurants in the US.
  • From October to November of 2013, about 1,380 US chief household shoppers or 34.9% of consumers said that they never eat at fast food restaurants.
  • Burger King, one of the most popular fast food restaurants in the US, scored a median National Profile Index score of 68 out of 100 for the nutritional quality of all beverage items on their menus.
  • For Taco Bell, the median number of calories in all menu items for 2013 was 310. For the same year, the median sodium content of all menu items was 355 milligrams.
  • In autumn 2009, the number of people who visited fast food restaurants for dinner within a period of 30 days amounted to 143.46 million.
  • Here’s the consumer opinion on the value for money of fast food and fast casual restaurants as of June 2014:

45% – Fast food restaurants offer better value for money than fast casual restaurants
34% – Fast food and fast casual restaurants offer equally good value for money
21% – Fast casual restaurants offer better value for money than fast food restaurants

Another interesting statistic is the reason why people eat fast food meals in the first place.

92.3% – It’s quick.
80.1% – Fast food is easy to get to.
69.2% – I like the taste of fast food.
63.6% – It’s inexpensive.
53.2% – I’m too busy to cook.
50.1% – It’s a ‘treat’ to myself.
44.3% – I don’t like preparing food myself.
41.8% – My friends/family like fast food.
33.1% – It’s a way of socializing with friends and family.
20.6% – They have many nutritious food items to offer.
11.7% – They’re fun and entertaining.

Cooking Your Own Meals Is Healthier and a Lot Cheaper on the Long Term!

Perhaps accessibility is also another reason why fast food restaurants are so popular. According to food industry research firm Technomic, the biggest fast food brands in America according to 2011 sales are as follows:

  1. McDonalds – 14,098 locations
  2. Subway – 24, 722 locations
  3. Starbucks – 10,787 locations
  4. Wendy’s – 5,876 locations
  5. Burger King – 7,231 locations
  6. Taco Bell – 5,674 locations
  7. Dunkin’ Donuts – 7,015 locations
  8. Pizza Hut – 7,595 locations
  9. KFC – 4,793 locations
  10. Chick-Fil-A – 1,600 locations

These are defined as LSRs or limited service restaurants which include burger joints, sandwich shops, coffee shops, cafes, pizza places and more. For 2011, McDonalds earned $34.2 billion in US sales while Subway earned $11.4 billion for the same year.

Top 10 Reasons Why Eating Fast Food Is NOT Cheap

Now, here are the top ten reasons why eating fast food is not necessarily cheap:

1. The average cost of convenient food is more than twice that of healthy food.

In a 2010 study published by the Society of Teachers of Family medicine, the average total cost for the healthy food diet model was $5,019 per year. This is more than twice the price of the convenient food diet model which amounts to $10,298 per year.

In another experiment conducted by the Oakton Community College, when three meals per day was purchased by a person from a fast food restaurant, the total cost was $87 per week. When you buy all the ingredients from grocery stores, the average cost of the same number of meals when cooked at home was only $45 per week.

2. Fast food is more expensive because you are paying for convenience.

One of the biggest misconceptions that people have in relation to fast food is that they are cheaper. You might think that paying a few dollars for a burger, soda and French Fries is not that much – but try getting all your meals from the same restaurant for just three days. Every day, you will be tempted to get new, probably more expensive items off the menu.

Again, as compared to eating home cooked meals, fast food is way more expensive because you are paying for accessibility and convenience. If Subway and McDonalds have more than 24,000 and 14,000 restaurants, respectively, just imagine how much their overhead expenses are to maintain these dining establishments. In the end, such costs will be passed on to you as a consumer, so you are actually paying more.

3. Fast food leads to being overweight or even obesity.

In a 15-year study of over 3,000 people, it was found that eating fast food is linked to weight gain or obesity and insulin resistance. You’re even increasing your risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes because of all the sugar and caloric content of the fast food meals you’re consuming.

4. Fast food has a negative effect to your kids.

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has an advocacy against fast food after having found out that as compared to less than 2% 100 years ago, Americans eat more than 50% of their meals outside their homes. If you’re taking your entire family with you to eat fast food, you are not doing your kids any favors.

According to studies, childhood obesity has more than doubled in kids and tripled in adolescents over the past three decades. Kids and teenagers are actually the target market of fast food ads, and whatever health consequence eating too much fast food would have on your kids, they will appear as chronic illnesses once they grow into adults.

5. Fast food is low in nutrients and fiber.

Most of the items on fast food menus are processed, and processed foods are low in nutrients and fiber. Although there are instances when synthetic vitamins and minerals are added to the recipe to what was lost during processing, these are not good replacements at all for all-natural ingredients. Processed foods are also very low in fiber because they are intentionally removed or are lost during processing.

How About a Healthy Snack or a Picnic?

6. Fast food sodas are loaded with sugar.

For desserts, sodas, shakes and similar menu items, fast food restaurants use HFCS or High Fructose Corn Syrup. This is a sweetener which, according to Princeton University researchers, is linked to obesity. Rodents which were given HFCS gained more weight and body fat than the ones given plain table sugar.

7. Fast food is addictive so the more you consume, the more you spend.

If you go out to eat fast food more than once a week, you are most probably addicted to eat. The more that you eat fast food, the more you crave it. In turn, the more money you would have to spend because as mentioned earlier, fast food is more expensive than home cooked meals.

8. Fast food requires less energy and time to digest.

The goal of fast food restaurants is to serve food fast, so their stock should have a long shelf life. This means that most of the items they have are processed foods, which require less energy and time to digest. The consequence of this to your body is that you also burn less energy. The result? Being overweight or obese.

9. When you eat unhealthy fast food meals, you are actually increasing your health care expenditures.

Fast food menu items are loaded with sugar, calories, carbohydrates and other unhealthy content. When you subsist on fast food, you are increasing the possibility of paying the hospital a visit because you need prescription medications, consultations and maybe even minor or major operations like liposuction or gastric bypass surgery. All simply because eating fast food is unhealthy.

10. Some fast food staples have weird ingredients.

Finally, most fast food staples have ingredients which are very difficult to pronounce, much less decipher what they’re actually made from! Chicken nuggets are said to be mechanically separated, burger patties are not made from pure beef, there are plenty of chemical preservatives and artificial coloring – the list is practically endless.

To sum it all up, the reason why eating fast food is not at all cheap is because of the consequences to your health. There is absolutely nothing wrong in indulging in greasy fries and thick burger patties once in a while. But relying on fast food for your daily meals is a big no-no. Not only will it burn a whole in your pocket, but it has huge consequences to your overall health as well.

Oana Schneider: Oana Schneider is a published author located in Chicago, Illinois, who currently works for DontPayFull.com as a communication specialist and blog editor. She writes about lifestyle, family budget, has a degree in Communications and advocates for women’s rights. Her future plans include getting a Labrador and losing a few pounds.

View Comments

  • Fast food is convenient, that's about it. It's neither cheap nor healthy. I don't want to get into the habit of eating fast food, so I cook whenever I can spare the time, for me and my family. I think wholesome, healthy meals are the most important thing or at least one of the most important things in this world for my family. It's a necessity.

    • From a calorie standpoint, fast food is quite cheap, which is the main problem. That's not going to change anytime soon. Certain forms of fast food are healthy, so it's erroneous to say that. I don't like to defend fast food, but it's not AS villainous as everyone says, and it's important to keep that in mind.

  • Food industry and Food and Drug Association (FDA) have done consumers great disservice with health and safety. It's not a wonder why obesity among children and adults has rapidly increased in the last 70 years. If only people would educate themselves into taking full responsibility for our family's health.

    There's nothing like palatable and nutritious traditional home cooked delicious meals, ever! Investment on food rich in nutrients, like our great grandmothers cooked in their home busy kitchen, buzzing with food: lots of butter and "politically incorrect" saturated fat, and meat. 70 years ago, there weren't cooking oils mixed in the home kitchen. Lard were the call of the day as part of our grandmothers' traditional cooking.

    I wonder why there has been great statistics of illnesses, obesity and diabetes when food dictators have included Low-fat diets, mass production of processed "junk", and fast-foods?

  • Fast foods contain several times more sodium than cooked food at home. Sodium makes you thirsty and makes you go for a sweetened beverage. The net result is a double whammy! An overload of calories. Yes, it's never cheap. You pay for the convenience. Working couples can share household chores, just so they don't get too stressed after a tiring day's work.

    • When it comes to fast food, you really wind up paying with your long-term health. Sometimes it's cheaper than home-prepped food and other times it tastes better than something you can make. However, you can't escape how much such foods will affect your health. Healthy options are available, but that's the exception rather than the norm.

  • I’ve actually found that the more expensive items on fast food menus, while some may appear to be slightly more healthful than the typical dollar menu fare, are as pricey as some dishes at locally owned restaurants. Sometimes the fast food is even pricier. Not to mention, the local restaurants always make better food, and it's often more nutritious. I suppose that’s a matter of knowing where to look and what to look for.

    I rarely eat fast food if I can help it. There are plenty of cheap, relatively quick meals I can make at home that are much healthier, plus cooking them with my own two hands is so rewarding. Sure, there’s a little effort involved, but if it saves me doctor visits later on I think it’s worth it.

  • I don't eat fast food very often but we do have it as a family sometimes. Mostly when we are busy and aren't able to cook. I think that the convenience is the biggest thing which your statistics also show. Other than the convenience I assume that it is taste, I'm not a huge fan of it but I've seen people that are. Also I suppose that cooking in the younger generation isn't such a huge priority with more of them focusing on their studies/careers, they are putting their health on the line.

    These days we aren't prioritising our health enough, not only concerning nutrition but exercise too and it's already starting to show in the health system with obesity rates soaring. I can only hope that this article and the many others like it can help people become more aware. Thank you!

  • Well, the fast food industry is moving toward more healthy options thanks to competition from fast casual restaurants. It's not true that all fast food is unhealthy, and the industry slowly continues to improve. I eat tons of fast food, but I lean on the healthier side, so this isn't much of an issue for me. I keep the sugar and salt counts down whenever possible.

  • We have tried to cut down to fast food only once a month or so to steer from it. It is way to expensive. I know we've gone through before just to get a couple cheeseburgers and we could of made our own and had extra ingredients. There really is nothing good about it other then the quick factor.

  • Hello,

    Just to let you know, in point 8, you have what I believe is a mistake, it can be confusing :

    "which require less energy and time to suggest."

    Shouldn't it be "digest" instead of "suggest" ?

    • Hi Philippe,

      Thank you for letting us know about the mistake. We corrected it.

      Have a nice day!