Take-out vs. Homemade Lunch: Time, Cost and Nutrition

Fast food is expensive and most options are not as healthy as homemade meals. As a recent college graduate entering the workforce I’m learning there is a “life” aspect that can’t be ignored. I, like you, value my time, health and money so I wondered – is take-out lunch really more expensive, less nutritious and quicker than a homemade version? The Spend Smart Eat Smart Team sent me on a mission and here is what I found:

lunch blog chart 2

It was really easy to locate nutrition and serving size information on my favorite burrito shop’s website. I was able to easily recreate a burrito with the exact same flavors at home.

There are two different ways I’m excited to customize my homemade burritos in the future.

The first is the ingredients. When getting take-out there is only one kind of rice, flavor of chicken and limited vegetables to choose from. When I make the burritos at home I’m able to add more or less lettuce and tomato or season my rice with chili powder and cumin rather than eat it plain. When I made my homemade burritos I used brown rice and added chili powder, onion, green chilies and tomato sauce to make a Spanish rice. I am also looking forward to customizing the size of my homemade burritos. I’m not sure what your experience is, but I can never finish an entire take-out burrito in one sitting. The leftovers either end up in the trash or I save it for a second meal (but by then the lettuce is slimy – boo). When making burritos at home, I’m able to make a burrito of an appropriate size for my appetite.

Although it took me longer to prepare the homemade burrito compared to take-out, I ended up with six burritos with rice, beans, cheese and chicken in them. I wrapped each burrito in plastic wrap, put them in a freezer bag and stored them in the freezer. In the future for an easy (and cheap) lunch from the freezer, I’ll just thaw, reheat, throw some lettuce, sour cream and tomato on it and enjoy a burrito in less than 10 minutes.

If I were to get take-out once a week for the next month I would have to commit to:

$27.44 | 1 hour and 15 minutes of time | Four DAYS worth of sodium in only four MEALS.

If I were to make my burritos at home and eat them once a week I would commit to:

$8.04 | 35 minutes of time | 4,900 fewer milligrams of sodium.

burrito blog

I was really surprised by how easy it was to make my own tasty burritos at home. Although it took more time and planning on the front end, homemade burritos on average took 6 minutes of time per burrito compared to the 19 minutes take-out took. My perception of how “fast” fast food really is has changed.

I wonder what results I would get if I compared a take-out sub sandwich to a homemade one. I’m definitely rethinking and re-planning the time and money I have spent on fast food that is actually easy to make at home, what about you?

-Liz

2014 ISU Dietetics Graduate

Christine Hradek

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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Homemade Salad Dressing … Easy as 1, 2, 3

salad bowlHomemade salad dressing adds wonderful flavor to salads of all kinds – lettuce, fruit, and pasta salads. You can even add dressing to roasted veggies to add extra flavor. The thing I like best about homemade salad dressing is that it can be made quickly and easily by keeping some basic ingredients in your pantry – vinegar and oil plus whatever add-ins taste great to you, such as herbs, spices, mustard, fruit juice, sugar, salt, pepper.

Here are three easy steps to making a homemade salad dressing:

1.  Measure your ingredients. Measure into a screw top container or a mixing bowl. Start with three parts oil to one part acid (vinegar or citrus juice) and a small amount of seasoning – you can always add more acid and seasoning later.

  • If you are interested in some homemade salad dressing recipes, check out our homemade salad dressing video, our salad dressing handout, and this newsletter that has a helpful salad dressing chart.

2. Mix your ingredients. If using a screw top container, secure the lid tightly and shake until combined. If using a mixing bowl, mix ingredients together vigorously using a fork or whisk.

3. Eat your salad. Pour your dressing onto your salad and eat it up. Homemade salad dressing will make your vegetables, fruits, and whole grains taste great.

In addition to the ease of making homemade salad dressing, I like the cost. I use canola oil in my salad dressings, which makes the cost about half of a store-bought salad dressing.  Since citrus fruit has been cheap this winter, I have been saving even more money by using the juice from an orange in place of some of the vinegar. When I make my own dressing, I can try new things like this in small amounts without buying a whole bottle of premade dressing.

Look through your pantry and see what you have to make a homemade salad dressing today!

Justine

Christine Hradek

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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Get Creative, Use What You Have on Hand

soupI know it’s time to make soup when my refrigerator, pantry and freezer are getting full of small bags of rice, pasta, meat, beans, and vegetables. I make soup using the ingredients I have on hand without a specific recipe.

This weekend I made ham soup. Saturday I simmered a ham bone with a chopped onion and some celery. I covered the bone and veggies with water, put a lid on the pot and it cooked away for a few hours. Then I removed the bone and vegetables and let the broth cool in the fridge overnight.

On Sunday I spooned off the hardened fat from the top of the broth and started reheating the broth. Then I pulled together a lot of odds and ends to give the soup great flavor and texture:

  • A cup of leftover cooked kidney beans
  • A cup of leftover ham
  • A cup of chopped chicken from the freezer
  • Some chopped vegetables (one onion, a cup of baby carrots and 3 small potatoes)
  • For seasoning I used one of the spice packets that come with Ramen noodles (leftover from coleslaw when I used the noodles but not the spice).

The friend I had over for dinner loved the soup. She wanted the recipe. Uh-oh. Should I admit she was eating leftovers? Instead I told her I created the soup. I found a great handout from Utah State University Food Sense, Create a Soup which shows how you can make soup from what you have on hand.

Utah also has similar cheat sheets for making casseroles, pizza and fruity desserts from what you have on hand.  To see a list of what’s available and links check out the Spend Smart. Eat Smart web page.  

Healthy Homemade Gift

Are you searching for a healthy gift for a senior, camper, traveler, college student? Consider Crispy Granola, our featured recipe this month. It’s a good snack or breakfast cereal, and makes a great topping for fruit, yogurt, or  ice cream.

Unlike most granolas, this one has no added fat and only about 1 tablespoon of honey per serving. Oatmeal is a whole grain and provides soluble fiber (helpful in lowering blood cholesterol levels). The dried cranberries and nuts add fruit and flavor.

I use old fashioned oats when I make this granola, but any oatmeal will work. I often double or triple the recipe and freeze some of it in freezer containers. If you are making gifts, be sure to package granola in a plastic bag or something airtight before you put it inside a holiday tin or box.

Crispy Granola

Ingredients

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Dash salt
  • 3 cups uncooked rolled oats
  • Optional: 1/2 cup chopped pecans or other nuts 1/2 cup raisins, dried cranberries, or other dried fruit.
    *Either old fashioned or quick cooking oats work – both are whole grains.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Spray a large shallow baking pan with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.
  2. Put egg whites in large bowl and use a whisk or fork to mix until frothy. Stir in honey, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt.
  3. Add oats plus nuts and/or dried fruit, if desired. Stir until oats are coated with egg mixture. Spread oat mixture evenly on prepared baking sheet.
  4. Bake about 25 to 30 minutes until golden borwn; stir mixture carefully every 5 or 6 minutes to prevent overbrowning.
  5. Remove pan to wire rack and cool completely until crispy and crunchy. Store in airtight container. Freezes well.

Snack Idea: Crispy granola, Yogurt, Sliced fruit or berries

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