Nutrition-wise blog

Home economics — Fast food vs. homemade

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. February 20, 2009

As the economy slows and we adjust our budgets and lifestyles to make ends meet, a few common themes emerge in our dining practices. We're eating more meals at home and when we do eat out, we're choosing less expensive restaurants and ordering cheaper items.

Fast food restaurants — with their "value menus" — seem to be benefiting from these trends. But is fast food a better deal than homemade? Let's look at a typically American fast food — the hamburger.


Fast Food Burger: Ground beef on white bun, with ketchup, mustard, pickles and onion.

Serving size: 3.5-ounce sandwich

71 calories per ounce 2.6 grams per ounce $0.29 per ounce

Homemade Burger: Lean ground beef on wheat bun, with your choice of condiments.*

Serving size: 4.5-ounce sandwich

67 calories per ounce 2.8 grams per ounce $0.25 per ounce

*Condiments not factored into price of homemade burger.

Data from: USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference; McDonald's Web Site; Bureau of Labor Consumer Price Index. Accessed Jan. 8, 2009.

Considering the cost of seasonings, condiments and your gas/electricity to cook your burger, it's fair to say that per ounce the cost is nearly the same for the homemade burger and the fast food one.

Of course, cost is only one element that goes into our decisions about food. Others include:

  • Time: Finding/taking the time to shop and prepare meals
  • Family values: Time with family preparing and sharing meals
  • Education: Teaching yourself and your family the skill of cooking
  • Fuel costs: Frequent trips to restaurant versus a weekly trip to grocery store
  • Local production versus having your food transported from many miles away
  • Quality: Taste, freshness and nutritional value of ingredients
  • Local or global: Supporting your local farmer/processor versus the global market

How do you choose whether to eat out or stay in? How are the tough economic times affecting your eating habits and food shopping? What value do you place on food?

Do you have thoughts, ideas or tips to share on how you budget for what your value?

If so, please share.

Feb. 20, 2009