Many people believe that “eating healthy” is more expensive than eating out. In most cases, eating healthy translates to cooking your own food and taking it with you to work or school. But after a simple analysis, it becomes obvious that eating out is more costly than eating healthy. Aside from the additional cost, eating out on a regular basis also offers little benefit for your overall health other than convenience.
It is significantly cheaper to buy fresh, whole foods than it is to pay to have each meal to be prepared by someone else. Over the last four years, I have spent about $70 per week on groceries. My staples include predominantly vegetables (some organic) in addition to high-quality meat, eggs, cheese, fruit, nuts, and legumes or grains. Contrarily, the cost of eating two prepared meals per day is around $20, considering that the low average for one prepared meal, excluding fast food/pizza, is about $10. Eating two prepared meals per day results in a weekly expense of $140. If you combine that with the amount that you’re spending on groceries each week, then you’re spending upwards of $200 per week to feed yourself.
The benefits of buying and preparing your own food extend beyond financial savings. The foremost being that you are in control of each ingredient that is put into the meal, allowing you to perfectly suit your dietary preferences every time. This level of precision allows for quicker identification and removal of foods that cause more harm than good, helping to smoothen and soothe your digestive processes before they develop into disease. Many prepared meals are heavily salted, soaked in low-quality oil, or packed with some form of sugar, all of which mask the true flavor of the food you’re eating and contribute to elevated blood pressure, imbalanced lipids, or unhealthy cravings etc. I also find that many restaurants tend to overcook their meals, which results in an overall decline in the nutrition profile of the food, particularly vegetables, not to mention the loss of flavor and texture which come secondary to overcooking—it just ruins the meal. Many restaurants also include imbalanced portions of each food, exposing your palate to higher levels of cheap carbohydrates or other cheap foods—have you ever ordered a meal such as rice with meat and vegetables only to find that your meal consists of 80% rice? Taking control of each meal also allows you to customize the portion of each ingredient and the overall size of the meal, which discourages overeating.
A Little Work Goes a Long Way
The most common objection to eating healthy is no doubt the time lost to cooking and cleaning, which is an inconvenience for the hurried American lifestyle. Although it is more burdensome to shop, cook, and clean after each meal, it is definitely worth it because the time you spend cooking is actually an investment into your health. Investing time into each meal ensures that each meal is nourishing, agreeable, timely, and appropriate for the activities its supporting, e.g. exercise, work, play etc. Disagreeable foods and inappropriate eating routines stress the GI system, opening the gateway for myriad disease, which is why healthy eating is a pillar of Naturopathic philosophy and is the reason why many Naturopaths often start by treating the gut—although the health of the gut contributes broadly toward systemic function, effects of poor eating are often evidenced in the skin via acne or other unpleasant and frustrating skin changes. If you’re one of the people with persistent skin issues despite trying every skincare product, there’s a good chance your diet needs to be adjusted.
Spending more time in the kitchen also means spending more time away from the TV, computer, and cell phone—a necessary relief from the burden and, perhaps for some, perceived duty to tend to these stimulating devices, in turn providing opportunity to slow down and be still. It is also good practice to get others involved in cooking a meal together with you. Although our society’s customs seem to be shifting away from family meals, it is in our nature to hunt, gather, and prepare our food, and I think we should all be in touch with those instincts because it renews our appreciation for nature. If cooking is not your thing or you have difficulty using a knife, there are plenty of household solutions and other resources which can make cooking easier and more convenient for you.
There is nothing wrong with eating out, but always endeavor to follow the 90% rule, as discussed in my other article: Which diet should you follow? Personally, I don’t always want to eat my own meals, or I simply get bored with my own flavors. When that happens, I order something or go to a restaurant—usually once or twice per week. I also find benefit in avoiding a set routine in regards to when I eat out because it allows more fluidity according to what I am feeling or doing on a particular day and how that affects my eating habits. This runs in contrast to the other strategy which is to choose specific days that you’ll eat out. Pick whichever strategy works for you, so long as the result is not feelings of shame, guilt, or regret after eating.
Two additional strategies for reducing the time spent on cooking and cleaning include preparing large amounts of your staple foods ahead of time and cleaning as you cook. I find that preparing ahead goes a long way toward reducing the overall amount of time I spend in the kitchen. While you’re in the kitchen cooking, use the time to your advantage by doing more than one activity at a time. For example, I’m usually cooking and storing multiple meals at once, often chopping, sautéing, baking, jarring, and cleaning all at the same time. If you get the timing right on your meal preparation process, you’ll become efficient, spend less time cleaning, and cooking will become much easier and more natural.
It’s Worth It
After reviewing the facts and putting into practice some of these simple strategies, the fallacy that it is more expensive to eat healthy than to eat out can finally be put to rest. We also see that, aside from saving money, cooking our own food is an investment into our health that protects the gut and pays off as we age, saving us the time, energy, and frustration which are often secondary to frequent doctor visits for solutions that provide temporary relief but mask underlying issues, literally feeding into disease processes. Naturopathy in some regards is principled by a tenet of conservation for the means in which we live—to live conservatively. To eat conservatively means to avoid overindulgence and to embrace what nature has made available to us. In this practice, we respect our bodies, develop positive relationships with food, and live in harmony with nature.