Betty Says: Fast Food Isn’t About Price

Needless to say, I'm not eating all of this. *

Sometimes I get questions that are just so logical.

Hi Betty,

I read the article in the NY Times about how fast food isn’t really cheaper. So… if it’s not cheaper, and we know it’s no good for us, why does anyone eat it?

– Hungry in Houston

Hi Hungry,

I don’t think that the cost equation is as simple as people make it sound. I’ll use myself as an example. On Tuesday nights, I run with Team in Training at the local high school track. Before I head out the door, I make a full dinner for my husband and the Tiny Kitchen Assistant, just as I do every other night of the week. Of course, at the end of the night, I could come home and have leftovers for dinner, but I never do. Without fail, I go out for fast food (the local dive taco shop or In-N-Out Burger) for a cheap, easy meal. Why? Do I feel like the calorie consumption is justified because of the workout? Is it because I really want to go out with my Team friends and discuss running? No.

I do it because I can.

I work from home. I’m in my house about 22 hours a day. For the cost of approximately $6, I get an extra 45 minutes outside the house. I have no responsibilities. I don’t have to cook, clean up, do laundry, wash dishes, answer emails or any of a dozen other things that Mommy Needs To Do. It’s worth every single penny and calorie that it costs me. (And really, a vegetarian burrito or hamburger and unsweetened iced tea isn’t exactly setting me back a million calories.)

The price alone isn’t the consideration. I think that the price just removes the barrier to eating out. I think that there are a handful of more significant factors that come into play for people who eat out on a regular basis.

  1. “But I don’t know how to cook.” It’s a valid argument. Have you watched Food Network? Strange kitchen tools. Exotic ingredients. Competition shows where even experienced cooks are told that their meals are unpalatable crap. Honestly, I can see why they’re afraid. That’s a large part of why I post recipes on my blog, to show that a self-taught cook can muddle through and make edible meals with ordinary ingredients, even with a Tiny Kitchen Assistant “helping.”
  2. “By the time we get home, I don’t want to cook.” My friend — a working mom with three kids — spent nearly every afternoon and evening carting the kids between sporting events and activities. She did her best to make big meals over the weekend, things that could be easily reheated throughout the week when they rolled home at 8:00 PM, but by Thursday or Friday she’d be spent. To her, burrito bowls from Chipotle were a reasonable compromise between convenience, price and reasonably fresh ingredients.
  3. “I don’t want to cook for one.” A single friend tells me that he has no interest in cooking meals for himself. To him, it seems like a lot of work for just one person, and he’s right, particularly if he’s making something new each day. What he’s missing are the opportunities for repurposing leftovers. Tonight’s roast chicken becomes tomorrow’s burrito filling. Leftovers from Thursday’s steak become the meat in a sandwich or salad. Make a big batch of lasagna and freeze single servings for later use. Think less about single servings and more about multiple meals.

Do you eat fast food? Why do you think that so many people do?

* Photo courtesy of

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2 Responses

  1. I eat fast food because 1) I like it (Chipotle, I’m looking at you) and 2) when I forget or don’t have time to pack lunch, I have time to grab Chick Fil-A.

    It is very fortunate for me that the McDonalds I pass on my way home from the gym is on the wrong side of a large and busy road because I’m generally starving and craving SALT SALT SALT. I never do cross the road to go, but I have to say, it was a whole lot more tempting when I was single. Now there’s generally food (and a man) waiting at home for me.

  2. Alisa says:

    I do love Chipotle, too. And let’s face it, even though taco night/burrito night at home sounds like a quick and easy meal, by the time I’ve made the guacamole and rice and beans and some kind of meat and arranged it all on the table, it’s taken vastly longer to prepare than a “fancy” meal. There’s something to be said for someplace where we can all get what we want, and I don’t have to prepare it all!

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