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?


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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Have you Fired your Grocery Store?

Consumer Reports says that one-third of their readers have switched grocery stores in the past year.  The main reason was to get better prices, but their readers also switched in search of better selection, shorter lines, or more courteous staff.

In an eight page report in the May issue, 52 grocery stores were ranked by Consumer Reports readers on service (which combines customer satisfaction with employee courtesy and checkout speed), perishables (quality of meat and produce), price and cleanliness. Of the stores operating in Iowa, Fareway ranked highest at #4, Costco at #5, and Hy-Vee at #9.  Aldi and Target were 20 and 22. Can you guess which store came in lowest?  Walmart Superstores ranked at the bottom (51 out of 52)

Fareway received the highest rating in all the categories.  Costco was rated lower in service,  HyVee was knocked  because of high prices.  Aldi got good ratings for price and Target rated high in cleanliness.  Walmart was rated low in service and cleanliness  but got a favorable rating in price.

Money Saving ideas mentioned in the article include:

  • Using store brands.  Seventy-two percent of those surveyed said they used store brands and 89% of those said store brands were as good as national brands.
  • Unit pricing.  It would be wonderful if more states required this, but only 9 states do and there is no standard formatting so it can be hard to compare.
  • Paying attention to the sale flyers.  Some items are priced below cost to get you to the store.  However not everything in the sale flyer costs less than the regular price.  (it’s the same as specials in a restaurant—specials are not necessarily cheaper or even something that is not on the menu all the time—they are just a shout out to a “special” meal.
  • Coupons.  The report mentions that more coupons now require you to buy multiples and the coupons expire quicker than they used to.
  • Loyalty cards or senior citizen savings.  I have used these in other parts of the county, but they are not being used much in Iowa.

If you would like more tips to reduce your spending on groceries check out our shopping tips at SpendSmart.Eat Smart.

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