Myth or Fact: It costs more to eat healthy

Dollar menus, kids’ meals and smiling actors create a visual image for all consumers of what is common or apparently enjoyed by all. Particularly fast-food restaurants use advertising to promote their food as fast, cheap and tasty. But in reality it is more expensive, less tasty than what you could make at home, and although it is prepared fast, the consumer will be hungrier soon after.

Eating in this manner has led to lower overall expectations of the foods we eat. It has also affected why we enjoy specific foods, whom we share it with and even our mental and physical performance.

And since our culture has created this fast-paced environment, it can be reversed. Consumers must begin to question what they are eating, how much their food is really worth nutritionally, and find time to prepare and value the significance of food for the joy it creates by bringing people together. And all this can be done cheaply.

I took it upon myself to compare one of my favorite, yet simple homemade pasta dishes with the pasta entrées sold at Fazoli’s, well known for its “Fast, Fresh, Italian” slogan. The pasta dish I chose to make serves four people and there is a variety of nutrients found in the combination of spinach, couscous, stir-fry vegetables, light Caesar dressing, feta cheese and garlic seasoning, with a refreshing dessert or side of red grapes (all of which can be made in a dorm room).

Each serving of this dish is about 400 calories and under five grams of fat, yet filling and nutritionally packed. The total cost of this meal for four people was a little under $15. Therefore an individual serving is a total of $3.75 (including tax).

On average a pasta dish from Fazoli’s may cost anywhere from $6 to $10 for an adult portion. The simple breakdown of the cost difference speaks for itself, but what the consumer is getting out of each dish is another factor. There is not a specific dish to which I can compare my recipe, but Fazoli’s most recent sales ploy is “dishes less than 400 calories,” yet these range from 12 to 19 grams of fat.

While I do not recommend being this attentive to nutritional information (and everything in moderation is not going to hurt you), it’s not a good idea to eat fast food more than four days out of the week. The variety of healthy options is limited, sodium levels are higher (you cannot control how much salt is put into the dish), and when you are being hounded by free, unlimited breadsticks it’s hard to say no.

So do not put yourself in this position, just in case the 400-calorie dish does not satisfy. The breadsticks that hide 7 grams of fat and 150 calories each should help, but, unfortunately, you won’t know until later. On average it takes 20 minutes to feel full or satisfied after eating, so eat slowly to avoid the Tums after dinner.

Additionally, if you get fast food, which most of us, including myself, still will, you should order water. It is both free of charge and calories.

You should cook at home more and eat fresher food, but when you do eat out, consider all your options and their portion sizes. How hungry are you, really?

A big part of the food culture (like the breadsticks example) is an obsession with getting more food for the money, but what about getting more nutrients? There are supersizes, “thickburgers” and endless refills, but the reason for food has been lost.

Food was created to supply needed energy to get through the day and maintain health. This does not mean food cannot be enjoyed, but eating more of something that has no nutritional value (empty calories) will provide less than eating a smaller amount of a nutrient-dense food. A smaller amount of nutrient-dense foods will actually allow you to feel fuller for a longer period of time; as a result, you will eat less and buy less.

This idea is helpful to keep in mind when shopping, but if you do shop for food and cook, even in your microwave, you will spend just as much or less money on food each month. Some people may argue that they do not have the time to cook, that they have never gotten out a recipe book or that they chose to make a meal from a Southern Living magazine that took days.

Cooking can take time, but not every meal has to be that way. The simple dish I made literally took 10 minutes, including setting the table and plating the food. Cooking can be done cheaply and in a timely manner; it just has to be attempted first.

Eating healthy is not easy, but neither is having a stroke from corroded arteries. Money is not an issue, because healthy food can be cheap. It just requires time, time that can lead to conversations, relationships and a meaning for life. Food provides both physical and mental nourishment, and if the time is taken to appreciate it, we might have just created fewer hospital bills and a new food culture.

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