LiveWell Northwest Colorado: Value your lunch

Barb Parnell/For the Steamboat Today

Does eating out cost too much? When answering that question, we typically think about the money it costs to eat out, yet nutritional value and time costs should also be considered. Let’s look at some lunch examples to help you understand the costs of eating out.

Lunch is the second most important meal of the day; breakfast is the first. Studies have shown that those who eat a well-balanced lunch perform better in school or at work, are more alert and less stressed. Eight out of ten Americans say they eat lunch at a fast food restaurant at least once a month.

Value menus offered at local fast food chains entice us to stop and pick up a quick lunch. Compare for yourself the nutritional and financial costs of a fast food restaurant value meal versus one prepared at home.

Fast food restaurant value meal: large hamburger, small fries and soda (16 oz.)

• Total calories: 900

• Total grams of fat: 38

• Total grams of sugar: 48

• Total cost: $6.50

Prepared at home value meal: turkey wrap, baked chips (1 oz.), fruit and 2-percent milk

• Total calories: 500

• Total grams of fat: 14

• Total grams of sugar: 28

• Total cost: $2.50

What if you made a “healthier” selection for your fast food value meal and chose a grilled chicken wrap rather than a big burger? There are about 500 calories in the fast food wrap, 18 grams of fat and 10 grams of sugar, while the fast food large hamburger has 530 calories, 27 grams of fat and 9 grams of sugar. Not much of a nutritional savings with your “healthier” selection.

Or how about the following scenario looking specifically at the food costs:

Large hamburger value meal: One person at a fast food restaurant

• Large hamburger, small fries and soda: $6.50

Breakfast, two snacks, lunch and dinner: One person prepared at home

• Oatmeal: $0.15

• Three pieces of fruit: $1.50

• Mozzarella stick: $0.30

• Turkey wrap with lettuce and tomato: $1.50

• Baked chips (1 oz.): $0.20

• Milk: $0.30

• Carrot sticks: $0.10

• Grilled chicken breast (4 oz.): $1.00

• 1/2 cup quinoa: $0.45

• One cup roasted vegetables: $1.00

• Total cost: $6.50

Considering the time it takes you to drive to the restaurant and wait in the drive-through line that fast food lunch might actually cost you more time than the five minutes it would have taken you to prepare the lunch at home.

5-2-1-0 reminds you to eat 5 servings (i.e., cups/handfuls) of fruit and vegetables each day. Another nutritional cost of eating a fast food value meal is that they usually do not come with a serving of fruit or vegetable, which is a critical component of a healthy meal.

So, whether you compare price, time or nutrition, preparing a healthy lunch at home wins hands down!

Barb Parnell is LiveWell Northwest Colorado coordinator.

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