When it comes to talking about healthy food, there is often a swift reaction to point out how difficult it is economically for many people to put good food on the table. But is eating healthfully really that much harder on the wallet than dining on fast food?
That Spanish tortilla pictured above? Yeah, that’s proof that good food doesn’t have to cost a ton. In fact, every Blue Apron meal adds up to no more than $9.99 a person. Affordable and healthful. One of the keys is getting into the kitchen–instead of driving over to a fast food restaurant.
First we have to remember that the word “cost” doesn’t just mean the number on the price tag. An average Big Mac may cost $4 out of pocket, but the health costs related to fast food consumption, as well as the environmental aren’t calculated in that number. The same goes for a bag of rice. While half a pound of rice grains run the average American around $0.75, that doesn’t account for the time and energy it takes to cook it and turn the staple into a meal, not to mention the price of having access to a kitchen that you can cook in.
It’s also important to keep in mind that when we are talking about “healthy food” this doesn’t necessarily mean kombucha and chia seeds. To cook whole, nutritious meals you need access to fresh produce and whole grains. And access to food is a serious problem when it comes to eating well. In fact, there are over 23 million Americans who don’t have a supermarket within one mile of their home; often the closest and easiest options are fast food joints. That means people spend less food money on buying groceries. But that puts us in a bad spot, both for our personal and communal health. What if a few more dollars a month went to real ingredients instead of processed foods?
Let’s look at the raw numbers. There, we find that junk food isn’t necessarily cheaper than whole food. That’s a good reminder that cooking healthfully can be done on a budget. A couple of years ago, food writer Mark Bittman once tackled this question by looking at a breakdown of meals for a family of four. These were simple meals—easy to put together, with not too many ingredients.
The result? Cooking real meals with whole foods doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag. Beyond that, cooking at home ensures that you eat nutritious meals with real ingredients: it’s highly unlikely that you’re putting in a dash of ammonium sulfate or ethoxylated monoglycerides like your Big Mac contains…
So what does it cost to put together a healthy meal? Here’s a breakdown of two very simple meals, enough to feed a family of four, with prices based off of averages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics from December 2013. In working with this price index, these meals are stripped down to their basics, without the addition of herbs and spices, but with a little olive oil, black pepper and salt, you can go a long way.
Potato Omelet with Roasted Broccoli and Salad
1 dozen eggs: $2.03
1 pound of potatoes: $0.67
1 pound of broccoli: $1.81
1 head of lettuce: $0.99
Roasted Chicken with Citrus Bean Salad
5 pound whole chicken (at $1.52 per pound): $7.60
1 pound oranges: $1.13
1 pound dried beans: $1.45
This post was written by Anna Brones, a food and travel writer based in Paris, France who has a love for bikes, coffee and all things organic.