The hypothesis is that it is more convenient and less expensive to eat processed, unhealthier food items bought at the grocery. Assuming one eats three meals a day six days a week, one has compared several eating styles that one has utilized in the past, and some hypothetical ones where all meals are prepared by a third party.
Typical [ideal] Eating: involves healthy, unprocessed food
Breakfast: Eggs, oatmeal
Lunch: Chicken & rice, salad
Dinner: Pork chops, roasted potatoes, and cruciferous vegetables
Cost of ingredients: $56
Estimated combined prep time required: estimated 9+ hours, and 2 grocery trips
Additional requirements: Refrigerator, stove, oven, pots and pans, rice cooker, spices and cooking oils, plates, utensils, storage containers, and some cooking skill
Expedited Eating: quick and relatively healthy, longer shelf-life
Breakfast: Banana Walnut Protein Shake
Lunch: Canned Albacore Tuna, kettle cooked potato chips, salad
Dinner: Rotisserie chicken, instant rice, microwave vegetables
Cost of ingredients: $65
Estimated combined prep time required: 2.5 hours, one or two grocery trips
Additional requirements: Refrigerator, blender, microwave, plates, utensils, spices
Dorm Room Eating: processed, cheap, calorie-dense, long shelf-life
Breakfast: Microwave breakfast sandwich
Lunch: Instant noodles/mac & cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwich
Dinner: Hungry Man microwave meal
Cost of ingredients: $55
Estimated combined prep time required: 2.5 hours, one grocery trip or fewer if bought in bulk
Additional requirements: Refrigerator, microwave, utensils
Chick-Fil-A: delicious, no prep time
Breakfast: Chicken biscuit combo
Lunch: Chicken sandwich combo
Dinner: Chicken strips combo
No prep time, only wait time, and three trips to and from every day
IHOP: fancy diner, wide array of options, discounts for 55+
Breakfast: Bacon, eggs, hash browns, toast
Lunch: Chicken tenders, fries
Dinner: Sirloin, broccoli, mashed potato
Cost: $180 (plus tips)
No prep time, longer wait time, and three trips to and from
Fuel Meals meal delivery service: selection of prepared, healthy meals
Breakfast: Pancakes and bacon
Lunch: Signature dish - Baja Fish Tacos
Dinner: Custom meal - Angus steak, sweet potatoes, asparagus
5-20 minute prep time per meal, delivered at home, requires refrigerator, microwave and/or oven, utensils, internet access, credit card
Overall, store-bought items appear to be modestly-priced for the most part, whether they be healthy or unhealthy, and the relative perception of “healthiness” of the overall meals in one’s experience appear to be related to the amount of time invested in preparing them (whether they be by the person or through a third party).
Personally I would like to cook most of my meals as much as possible. This requires many hours of preparation, even if meals are prepared in bulk at the beginning of the week. On a normal week I am able to at least make enough meals for lunch for the week and perhaps a few dinners, and store them in the fridge. Of course this is not always the case, and it pays off to have contingency plans in place, where being able to eat a relatively healthy meal that requires little preparation is an option rather than going for fast food. While this may not be as tasty as Chick-Fil-A or a home-cooked meal, it provides some nutritional value and keeps spending down. Overall, eating out may seem like a more convenient option, with promotions like the so-called “dollar menu” and “value meals” promoting connotations of affordability, but I believe this only works because most people merely look at the grocery bill without actually calculating how much they actually spend per meal and comparing it to their fast food bill.
There also seems to be something in the culture that makes us instinctively reach for processed carbs as snacks, and having French fries with virtually every meal. Rationally this does not make much sense because of its reportedly low effects on satiety and the low nutrient density--it seems to encourage a tendency to overconsume. However its biggest selling points (obvious brilliant and shameless advertising aside) seem to be the widespread availability, from vending machines to gas stations to waiting rooms, and the convenience. Many people in today’s society are forced to work long hours in order to barely survive, and time is the investment. In a competitive culture where everything is “go go go,” slowing down for a few hours to prepare a meal seems like a bad time investment at face value. More often than not, sleep, exercise, and nutrition are the first things to go when priorities become tight. There seems to be a focus on quantity of work rather than quality, and eventually people try to extend their lives but not improve their quality of living.
Overall, I believe that people must care about and take responsibility for their health and food consumption, making it a priority and an investment rather than just “something rich people have time for.” (Gwyneth Paltrow’s condescending “food stamp challenge” probably doesn’t help.) The USDA published food pyramids in 1992 and 2005, and My Plate in 2011. I am not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by saying that most people don’t know how to eat healthy; people probably don’t gain 50 lbs. from eating too many salads. Eating healthy takes effort, and I think diet programs are effective because they free up brainpower by providing specific instructions rather than having people become paralyzed from the infinite number of choices available. Bodybuilder and ex-convict Kali Muscle talks about building muscle in prison by consuming adequate amounts of calories and protein from canned tuna and instant noodles. He made the choice to prioritize his physique. Ultimately, prioritizing healthy eating is what it boils down to, and it is a choice. “The whole point of this country is if you want to eat garbage, balloon up to 600 pounds, and die of a heart attack at 43, you can. You are free to do so. To me, that’s beautiful.” (Ron Swanson) Perhaps subsidizing fruits and vegetables would incentivize more companies into selling them, like they have so successfully sold us sugar in the past decade. A mandatory wellness program in workplaces might also be beneficial, with access to gyms and cafeterias with healthy food options, and several exercise breaks; it might actually save insurance companies money in the long-term by paying for these. From my experience however, this might not be enough. In the Army we had mandatory physical exercise in the morning, three guaranteed meals at the mess hall with access to nearly unlimited salads and fruits (automatically taken out of our paychecks whether we ate or not), and in some bases a Wellness Center that performs metabolic testing through gas exchange, VO2max testing, and body composition through BodPod (among other things) for free. For some reason these opportunities were not taken advantage of by the majority, and did not deter unhealthy eating and behavior, even by individuals whose job required their bodies to be functioning optimally. Many soldiers still got kicked out for being too fat. Perhaps the only way is for us to go back to being hunter-gatherers, and let the weak ones starve to death or get eaten by predators.
Lunch break in Afghanistan.
I’m not saying I’m going to make it; that’s why I choose to live in civilization. There’s no Facebook in the wild.