Smoothie Smackdown: Homemade vs. Fast Food

Summer is here, and with the hot weather comes everyone’s cravings for a sweet treat! I enjoy fruit smoothies because they can be nutritious while also hitting the spot. Going to grab a smoothie at a fast food joint seems like the perfect idea for a hot day, but these smoothies can be pretty expensive… and high in sugar. Could making your own smoothies solve this issue?

This week, I tested out two smoothies: one that I made at home from scratch, and one from a popular smoothie franchise in Ames. Both of them were peanut butter, banana, and yogurt smoothies. I compared the taste, nutritional value, and simplicity of the two. Which one do I think is better? Let’s find out!

HomemadeFast Food
Amount16 oz.16 oz.
Time it took5 minutes20 minutes
Fat9 g11.5 g
Carbohydrate50 g70 g
Sugar34 g53 g
Protein16 g22 g

My thoughts:

Homemade: This smoothie was quick, easy, and DELICIOUS! All I did was throw the ingredients (which I already happened to have) in a blender. It had the perfect touch of sweetness along with a thick, creamy consistency. This smoothie provides a good amount of protein and has a reasonable amount of sugar and calories for me—and you can’t beat the price! Recipe from:

Fast Food: This smoothie was very tasty, but also really sweet. It tasted similar to my homemade one, but almost as if you had added ice cream to it! It provides a good amount of protein and kept me full, but also has a steep amount of sugar and calories especially when compared to the homemade version. Paying $6 for a smoothie that I could make at home doesn’t seem very practical to me, especially when I had to drive there and back to get it. (The whole container was 24 oz., but I only ate 16 oz. to stay consistent with the homemade one.)

The Verdict:

I prefer the homemade smoothie! It’s delicious, easy, and cost-friendly. Another perk of making your own smoothie is that you know exactly what’s going into it. Fast food or store-bought smoothies can be high in added sugar. The homemade smoothie I made contains mostly natural sugar (which comes from fruit and dairy), along with just a touch of added sugars which come from the flavored yogurt and peanut butter. Over time, making your own smoothies will be better for your bank account and your overall health, without sacrificing any of the yumminess.

Written by Maggie Moeller – Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Fast Food Restaurant vs Homemade Breakfast

Written by Kathryn Standing

Student Assistant, ISU Dietetics

It can be difficult to keep to a budget, keep yourself healthy and keep to your schedule. I have been trying to change my breakfast routine with the goal of reducing my stress and spending, all while being healthier. Easy right? If I pick up breakfast on the way to work from a drive-through, would it save me time and money? How healthy would it be? I tried a couple of fast food breakfasts near my home to see what I find and I’m sharing the low down with you.

Drive through breakfast


Time: 10 min — The fast food restaurant is about 6 min out of my way and the time through the drive-through was 4 min for a total of 10 min invested in my breakfast.

Cost: $ 2.59

Calories: 340

Fat: 15 g

Saturated fat: 5 g

Cholesterol: 175 mg

Sodium: 640 mg

Fiber: 1g

→ Comments: The sandwich was pretty good! I got crumbs all over my car, though. Plus, I couldn’t resist getting some breakfast potatoes, which I regretted later. If I had chosen this sandwich on a croissant instead it would have doubled my fat and added 160 calories!


Time: 12 min — The fast food restaurant is about 5 min out of my way and was very busy! The time through the drive-through was 7 min for a total of 12 min invested in my breakfast.

Cost: $ 4.19

Calories: 240                                   

Fiber: 3g

Fat: 2.5 g                                          

Sugar: 26 g, Added 18.95g

Cholesterol: 5 mg

Sodium: 125 mg

→ Comments: It was a good parfait, very sweet! It was also in a handy container. The fast-food restaurant I went to was very busy. I managed to get the last parfait, but I worry they would be out if I wanted to get one again.

At home breakfast


1 whole wheat English muffin – 1 egg – 1 slice reduced fat white American singles

Time: 7 min — It took me about 4 min to cook the egg and toast the bread, plus another 3 min for clean-up.

Cost: $ .56

Calories: 245

Fat: 8.5 g

Saturated fat: 3 g

Cholesterol: 196 mg

Sodium: 530 mg

Fiber: 3g

→ Comments: This sandwich was very similar to the one I had gotten at the drive-thru, except I used the whole wheat version of an English muffin. The sandwich I made at home had better nutrition for me with almost half the fat and triple the fiber. Though the cholesterol was higher, I assume that is only because of a difference in the type and size of eggs used. The sodium was a little lower in mine, but this experiment does show that sodium is hard to limit sometimes.


½ cup plain non-fat yogurt sweetened with 1 tsp honey – ½ cup berries (frozen, thawed) – 2 T granola

Time: 5 min — It took me about 3 min to make, plus another 2 min to clean up.

Cost: $1.16

Calories: 150

Fat: 2 g

Cholesterol: 5 mg

Sodium: 80 mg

Fiber: 6.9g

Sugar: 19.2 g,

Added sugars 6g

→ Comments: This was so easy to make. It has significantly less sugar and sodium, as well as more than double the fiber!

Verdict: Overall it was significantly cheaper to make the food at home. I saved $2.00+ on the sandwich and $3.00+ on the parfait, that’s over $5.00! $5.00+ per workday is equivalent to savings of over $100 per month! Both of my homemade items were a lot healthier for me too. The food from the fast food places was convenient, though I had to clean the crumbs out of my car later and it didn’t end up saving me any time. The largest downside for me was the temptation of all the other options available. Fried potatoes, whip cream coffee mocha-whatever-latte, and icing covered anything calling my name make it hard to stick to healthy eating. Overall the answer seems clear: skip the fast food breakfast and take the 5-7 min to make yourself something at home. Your wallet, your health, and your schedule will thank you.

Grilled Chicken Dinner: Take out or Homemade

chicken sandwichFor our series comparing homemade to quick serve restaurant food I decided to compare a grilled chicken meal from Wendy’s with my own version at home. When I’m deciding on food I take time, money and nutrition into consideration. Check out the sections below to see my comparison.


My grilled chicken meal has 200 fewer calories, less fat and less sodium than the Wendy’s meals. I added milk to my meal which we would drink at home, but probably wouldn’t get at the drive through.

Both of the Wendy’s sandwiches and meals have similar calories but the source of the calories is different.  The Crispy (code word for fried) sandwich has about half the protein (less meat) but 100 more calories from fat than the grilled sandwich.  The larger portion of chicken and bigger bun in the Grilled Chicken meal is reflected in the price. The Crispy Chicken Sandwich costs $1.49 while the Ultimate Chicken Grilled Costs $4.59.


My homemade meal included:

  • Grilled Chicken on a whole grain bun with lettuce and onion
  • A romaine lettuce salad with added green pepper,  radishes and Italian dressing
  • non-fat milk
  • a chocolate ice cream bar

It costs $2.56 per person or $10.24 for 4 people. I used frozen chicken breasts because they cost $6.99 for a 3 pound bag and the butcher case breasts were $3.69 per pound. I could have saved a dollar by buying ‘wheat’ buns instead of whole wheat but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the nutrition. By cleaning and cutting the romaine I got two meals of lettuce for the same price as the 12 ounce bag of pre-washed and chopped lettuce.

The grilled chicken meal with a side salad and junior frosty would cost $6.59 each or $25.96 for 4.

The crispy chicken sandwich with a side salad and junior frosty would be $3.50 for 1 for $14 for 4.


The time to drive to Wendy’s from my house during 5:30 traffic, wait in the drive up and drive home is 31 minutes.

I figure it took about 35 minutes at home. The day before our meal, I put the frozen chicken breasts a in a plastic bag to thaw in the refrigerator. (2 minutes)

grilled chicken chart

When I got home I started the grill to heat, then pounded the chicken breasts so they were about the same thickness and added bottled Italian dressing for a marinade. While the grill finished heating I set the table and prepared the salad. (10 minutes)

Cooking the chicken took about 8 minutes, cooking on both sides to get it to 160 degrees (my digital thermometer is one of my best purchases). Cooking time will vary by the grill temperature and breast thickness. I took the chicken breast off the grill and covered it while I got people to the table and poured the milk. The temperature rose to 165 and the meat was still juicy. Ice Cream bars for dessert took no time at all. (10 minutes)

Clean-up was simple, five minutes and I was done!

Drive Thru vs. Homemade Breakfast: Time, Cost and Nutrition

It’s 7:00 on Tuesday and I have about ten minutes to make breakfast, eat and get out the door. I’m tired and rushed, but I know I feel much better when I eat breakfast. Cooking in the morning when I’m in a hurry can be a real pain. It is tempting to just head out the door and swing past the drive thru for a breakfast sandwich on my way to work, but I wonder if that would really save me time. It is certainly convenient to have someone else make my breakfast, but I decided to do a little experiment. I wanted to learn if I could make something that was inexpensive, fast and healthy that also tasted just as good as the drive thru breakfast (or maybe even better!).

Here is what I found…



The Verdict

  • I learned that I can make a comparable breakfast in the same amount of time as the drive thru for less money. If I had this sandwich once per week for a year, I would save over $75 by making my sandwiches at home. This makes the drive thru seem a little less attractive.
  • I enjoyed my breakfast much more eating at home and I was able to customize my sandwich to my tastes. For example, I chose a whole wheat English muffin and cheddar cheese instead of American cheese. In the future, I will try this sandwich with sliced tomatoes and peppers. I think that would be really good and add very few calories and no fat. I could also make the egg part of my sandwich ahead by using our recipe for Scrambled Egg Muffins. All I would need to do in the morning is reheat the Scrambled Egg Muffin and pop it on toast or an English muffin.
  • This experiment really shows how difficult it can be to limit sodium in your diet. My homemade sandwich had more sodium than I would like and I did not add any salt. This is not something I can eat every day and perhaps in the future I will choose either Canadian bacon or cheese, but not both because they are high in sodium.

Our blogs for the next few weeks will be about fast food make-overs. Share your ideas for restaurant remakes in the comments or on Spend Smart. Eat Smart’s. Facebook page!

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Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Eating Smart on the Run

Here’s a great video to watch with your whole family! The Fast Food Experiment takes a look at the ever-increasing size of food portions offered by fast food restaurantsa trend that’s continued over the last two decades. Some of the worst cases of portion distortion are triple burgers, foot-long sandwiches, full-pound burgers, huge orders of fries, oversized burritos, and super-large soft drinks.

This raises the question, “So, what is the proper serving size for me and my family?”  To determine the amount of food in a given serving, it is important to learn how to estimate the proper portion size.

Last, but not least…to cut down on large portions, try ordering from the kid’s menu, order an appetizer with a side salad, split a meal with a friend or family member, or take leftovers home.

– pointers by Peggy

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