1 family. friendly food. » Bite size: How much does junk food really cost?


We spent 2 days in Seattle during Memorial Day weekend and got to eat out 4 times. Back home, I went grocery shopping for ingredients to make dinner. Then, later I went through the receipts from grocery store and the restaurants where we ate. Then I had a little math exercise going in my mind… A few thoughts and questions and equations… The findings were mind boggling.

What triggered this math exercise was the pricy steak I bought at the store as well as the junk food we had for lunch a few hours earlier.

The junk food lunch was pretty gross but we had no other choices because this was the kind of food that was available where we were + there was a festival in the area and all the vendors provided that sort of low quality food; loaded with sugar, salt, and grease, or highly-processed.

So, doing the calculations of the recent 3 meals we had (All serve a family of 4), this is what I found:

Place Junk food in the food court Organic, sustainable, seasonal food in a beautiful restaurant Whole Foods (dinner at home)
Food 1 cheese pizza
1 corn dog
2 hot dogs
1 fries
1 potato salad
1 frittata with eggs, mushrooms, potatoes, fresh herbs
1 organic beef hamburger + real potato fries + restaurant-made ketchup
1 Mac & cheese
1 organic hot dog + real potato fries
1 lb. organic, grass-fed, boneless rib eye steak
1/2 box spaghetti
1/2 cup heavy cream
Fresh vegetables salad (lettuce, basil, tomato, feta)
Cost $24 $34 $25

The details:

The junk food meal was very unsatisfying. The food was bland, greasy, salty, tasted artificial, and highly-processed “cuisine” so typical to junk fast food. The place (the food court) was chaotic and noisy, and a bit dirty.

junk food

The previous day we had lunch at Taste, the restaurant attached to the Seattle Art Museum. Taste provides “a welcoming and modern urban gathering space… minimizing (their) carbon footprint through purchasing local, seasonal, organic and wild ingredients… an array of small and large plates from our sustainable-focused menu…”
TASTE Restaurant on Urbanspoon
burger and fries at Taste

hot dog and fries at Taste

Fritata at Taste

That meal was delicious. Also the kids’ food; I always taste the kids’ food to make sure it’s well prepared. (OK, I’ll admit it. I like fries and hot dogs too… OK, OK, and Mac and cheese too…) The restaurant is beautiful and has a contemporary design, the ambience is pleasant, quiet but still vibrant. It is sophisticated for adults and at the same time kid-friendly.

The food at Taste cost $10 more than the junk food. That’s the bottom line.

When I break down the details, I think we got way more in quality and quantity in the food at Taste compared to the food court (I know some people care about the quantity to test the value, so this is for you). So, I’d say, the difference is closer to $0 between the two meals!


Back at home we made a quick dinner of steak and pasta in a light cream sauce, and a fresh veg salad.

I assume most people will be shocked at the price of $18.99-$21.99/pound of the organic, grass-fed beef steak. BUT, the bottom line? Compared to food court junk, the cost is the same! The quality is better. And, yes… you have to cook, but it only takes 10 minutes.

And why am I telling you this?

I’ve been thinking about it for a long long time. Ever since we spent $100 on – cheap? – junk food during a 1-day visit to Disneyland months ago. Ever since I paid about $15 on a lunch for two at the same dirty mall last summer!

It just bugs me.

And last night, I couldn’t help but wonder about this again… People believe that junk food is cheap.

I was astonished to realize that sometimes (like the examples I just gave) the price is the the same (or the difference is tiny).

Now what if we add health, satisfaction, and pleasure to the equation?


OK, another story.

Last summer we went to dinner in a typical steakhouse. I ordered a (6 oz.) steak with mashed potatoes and grilled vegetables. It cost $25 +/-

The mashed potatoes were bland and tasted old, the vegetables weren’t undercooked, and the steak… the steak… tasted like – don’t make me say that word – cardboard. A friend I talked to about this called it a “clunker” steak. It was a total disappointment; I didn’t enjoy it at all, and I felt like I threw my money down the trash. Such a waste of money. And no pleasure, to say the least.

The next evening, we went to another restaurant. The kind of place where people stop outside and read at the menu, and then turn away because they think it’s too expensive or high-end for them.

I ordered (4 oz.) steak fillet (a more tender and expansive cut which was organic and locally raised), with mashed potatoes and vegetables. I don’t recall all the details about that dish but I am able to report that the mashed potatoes were silky and creamy, and the vegetables (maybe mushrooms and others?) were perfectly cooked, and their was a wonderfully rich jus/sauce floating around all of it and it was DIVINE!

The cost? The same as the clunker!!!

Was I hungry because the steak was smaller (4 oz. instead of 6 oz.)? No.

Was it more heavenly? Yes!

Was I happier? Most certainly yes!

Was my head spinning in the clouds with joy? Yes!

The moral of the story? Don’t be a snob when you spot a classy restaurant.


So now what?

So now you are aware that sometimes, adding all sorts of factors into the equation, the bottom line dollar value is the same,

1) $$ Junk food meal = $$ Whole Foods meal

2) $$ Clunker steak at an average steakhouse = $$ fillet of steak in a high-end restaurant

3) Food portions in a good restaurant might be > or = to those of a unclean food court

So, is it a myth that you get more when you buy junk food, supposedly for less money?

Because sometimes organic, fresh, seasonal ingredients offer better quality (not to forget satisfaction and pleasure) and can cost the same as the highly-processed ones.

And sometimes it means that the expensive restaurant you thought you cannot afford… You can actually afford it.

Sometimes it means that a good quality of a 4 oz. steak is way better and more filling than a crappy 6 oz. steak.

And besides, shouldn’t be a question of quantity or quality anyway?

You do the math…


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Categories : Bite size, Restaurant reviews, Seattle/Pacific NW

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