Healthy Food vs Junk Food: Which Costs More?

This is an interesting debate that talks about the price of "healthy food" and the price of "junk food". There are supporters on both sides. But I think it is critical to understand where each side is coming from. I believe that both sides are actually true and honest, but it is a matter of perspective that sets different conclusions.

People Who Believe That Junk Food Is Cheaper

People Who Believe That Healthy Food Is Cheaper

First, I am going to look in the weekly ads/circulars to check out what's currently being promoted in my local grocery stores. I do this, because I am lazy and don't want to drive to the stores. Looking up online is actually more convenient and less time-consuming. The downside is that some stores do not have an online weekly ad, and that some things are not promoted in the ads at this moment.

Kroger (9/14/2016 - 9/20/2016)

Tomatoes on the Vine - $0.99 per pound

The largest tomato I know is the beefsteak tomato, and I know just one fits under a pound or slightly greater than a pound, depending on how big the tomato is. Tomatoes on the Vine are likely smaller tomatoes, so I estimate the package is going to cost somewhere between $2-3.

Red, White, or Black Seedless Grapes - $0.99 per pound

If these grapes are sold in one-pound or two-pound packages, then you are probably going to pay $1-2 for the package.

Private Selection Bread, 24 oz, 8 count, Select Varieties - $0.99 per item

This is a part of the "Buy 4, Save $4" deal. You can buy any of the participating items and mix and match the items. As long as you have four participating items, you will just have to pay about a dollar per item. Personally, I think the bread and the cheese slices are good deals, because bread and cheese tend to be relatively high in calories in carbs and fat. But I hold reservations for some bread and cheese variants, because they may have too many weird food additives.

Kroger Natural Cheese Slices, 6 oz, Select Varieties - $0.99 per item

Same as above

Fall Hard Squash, Select Varieties - $0.69 per pound

The picture shows green squash, yellow squash, and butternut squash. A large butternut squash may be 3-4 pounds; a small butternut squash may be half the size and weight of the large one. The entire squash, flesh and seeds, is edible. So, you are paying at most $2-3 for the entire butternut squash that can be served at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack for one person.

Eggplant - $0.99 per item

The price is a better deal than the $0.99-per-pound eggplant at Andersons. The reason is that the Western eggplant can grow to be very big and heavy. If the Western eggplant at Andersons weighs at 2-3 pounds, then you have to pay $2-3 for the whole eggplant. At Kroger, you can just select a big eggplant and pay a dollar.

Green Bell Peppers - $0.69 per item

For one green bell pepper, that is kind of pricey. I imagine that the whole bell pepper can be eaten during one meal.

Jumbo Sweet Onions - $0.88 per pound

An onion is one of those heavy produce items. One dollar can probably cover just one onion. Given that onions are flavor enhancers to food, I presume that one onion may be used during two mealtimes.

Navel Oranges, Medium Size - 2 for $1 ($0.50 each)

This orange can easily be one's 50-cent snack or dessert. Compared to the sweet pastries at the bakery in most stores, a 50-cent dessert is considered cheap. Compared to the snacks at vending machines, a 50-cent snack may or may not be a bargain. However, considering the nutritional value in an orange and that of a candy bar or bag of chips, the orange is a much healthier choice.

Apples (Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Red or Golden Delicious), Lunchbox Size - 3 for $0.99

Woohoo! These apples are cheaper than the oranges! For 99 cents, you get 3 apples! Nothing beats a 33-cent snack or dessert! I am aware of a local fruit farm that allows people to pick their own fruits (including apples). Currently, apples are in season (September and October). I do not live near the farm, so making the trip there to buy the expensive big bag of apples is not more economical than shopping for apples at this local grocery store.

Private Selection Frozen Vegetables, 12-16 oz, Select Varieties - $0.99 per item

This is a part of the "Buy 4, Save $4" deal. For one dollar, you can buy a pound of frozen vegetables. For variety in your meals, you may choose one of each type of vegetable or container.

Simple Truth Organic Milk, Half Gallon, Select Varieties - $2.99 per item

I do not promote buying organic products. I just want to include this item in the list to compare the price between a half-gallon of organic milk ($2.99) and a half-gallon of the vegan-friendly organic Almond/Cashew/Coconut/Soy milk ($2.99) at Fresh Thyme. Apparently, they cost the same.

Silk, Almond Milk, or Cashew Milk, Half Gallon, Select Varieties - $1.77 per item

I add this item in the list to compare the price of a half-gallon of Almond/Cashew milk here and the price of a full gallon of cow's milk ($1.59). The regular cow's milk is considerably cheaper than the vegan-friendly counterpart.

Meijer (9/18/2016 - 9/24/2016)

There are many one-dollar items during this time at this store. Basically, each participating item costs $1. Customers can mix and match 10 items. They can also get the 11th item free while supplies last. No rainchecks or substitutions are allowed.

Meijer Split Top Bread, 20 oz, White or Wheat - $1.00 per loaf

I think some loaves are good to have in stock. Bread provides carbohydrates.

Barilla Pasta, 12-16 oz, Select Varieties - $1.00 per item

Same goes for pasta. The pasta and bread are very important staple food products.

Old Orchard Frozen Juice, 12 oz - $1.00 per item

This is just fruit juice. Compared with the other $1.00 juice item that is bigger in quantity, I think the other one can last longer in the refrigerator.

Green Giant Boxed Vegetables, 7-10 oz, Select Varieties - $1.00 per item

Paying $1.00 for only 10 oz of vegetables is not as economical as the Meijer-brand frozen vegetables.

Meijer Frozen Vegetables, 12-16 oz, Select Varieties - $1.00 per item

Same as above

Meijer Chunk White Chicken in Water, 5 oz - $1.00 per item

Finally, meat! Now, you don't have to be a vegetarian.

StarKist Chunk White Tuna in Water, 5 oz - $1.00 per item

Same as above

Del Monte Canned Fruit, 14.5-15.25 oz, Excludes Apricots - $1.00 per item

The picture only shows a can of Sliced Peaches in 100% Juice and a can of Mandarin Oranges in Light Syrup.

Old Orchard 100% Apple Juice or Healthy Balance, 64 oz, Select Varieties - $1.00 per item

If you are a juice drinker, then this is a good deal for you. But if you are not a juice drinker, then you can just buy some juicy apples.

Del Monte Canned Vegetables, 14.5-15.25 oz, Select Varieties - $1.00 per item

If you have to decide the 14.5-oz can and the 15.25-oz can, then you should choose the bigger can, because you may get more food for your money.

Bush's Variety Beans, original or organic, 15-16 oz - $1.00 per item

It's more economical to choose the can with the greater quantity and that is organic. Organic food is typically a luxury product, but when it is the same price as the regular food, then it's worth to have. At least you can brag to people that you are eating organic food, which is a status symbol. Hee-hee!

Hunt's Pasta Sauce, 24 oz - $1.00 per item

This pasta sauce goes well with the Barilla pasta. For some reason, pasta and pasta sauce tend to be promoted together.

Red, Orange, or Yellow Bell Peppers - $1.00 per item

This is not the best value, if you are just looking for bell peppers. However, the color of the vegetable is significant. If you have too many green vegetables, then you may skip the green bell pepper at Kroger and opt for the red/orange/yellow-colored pepper one at Meijer.

Mini Sweet Peppers, 8 oz - $1.00 per item

These mini sweet peppers are mini versions of the red/orange/yellow bell peppers. They are great, if you have a sweet tooth.

Baby-Cut Carrots, Regular or Organic, 1 lb - $1.00 per item

Given that the organic baby-cut carrots cost as much as the regular versions, it may be more economical to prefer the luxurious organic baby-cut carrots.

Broccoli Crowns - $1.00 per item

I think a broccoli crown is a head of broccoli. To get a good deal, it may be best to find a big broccoli head. You get more food for the same amount of money.

Aldi (9/18/2016 - 9/24/2016)

Little Salad Bar, Italian Salad Kit, 9 oz - $0.99 per bag

This little salad kit provides a near-instant salad meal for one person.

White Mushrooms, 8 oz - $0.79 per pack

This little pack may be enough to feed one person for two meals.

Zucchini, 3-pack - $0.79 per pack

It is possible to eat a raw zucchini, but I think zucchinis taste much better when cooked and seasoned. This 3-pack may be used for 3 meals.

Green Grapes, $1.58 per 2-lb pack - $0.79 per pound

If you have some money to spare, then you may buy a 2-pound pack of grapes. But fruits like these tend to be too low in calories, so it's not economical to consider grapes for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Instead, a few grapes may be eaten for dessert or as a snack. When you have a low-calorie dessert/snack, you need something energy-dense for your main meals.

Sweet Onions, 2 lbs - $0.69 per bag

Sweet onions may be used in cooking. Many recipes involve a colorful mixture of carrots, celery, and onions.

Roma Tomatoes, 16 oz - $0.79 per pack

A roma tomato may weigh about 2 oz. So, I think you are buying about 8 roma tomatoes in the pack. Roma tomatoes can be eaten raw, thrown in a salad, or cooked.

Fresh Family Pack Chicken Drumsticks, 5 lbs average - $0.49 per pound

A 5-pound package is probably priced at $2.50 per pack. If you are wondering whether you should buy the $2-3 worth of butternut squash or this pack of chicken drumstick, then I'd recommend that you buy this pack of meat. Meat is very calorie-dense, thanks to all the fat content in the flesh and bones. Besides, you can get the cheaper red/orange/yellow bell peppers or sweet peppers at Meijer, so you are not missing out on red/orange/yellow vegetables.


I am going to stop here. Hopefully, I have listed enough food items that are cheap and healthy. Generally, regular food is cheaper than organic food. Local food is cheaper than foreign imports. Seasonal food is cheaper than non-seasonal food.

The study that one video mentions is located here. Although on average healthy food tends to be more expensive than unhealthy food, it is possible to buy healthy food cheaply in a strategic manner. The biggest strategy to acquire cheap healthy food is to study the weekly ads at several different grocery stores regularly, compute and compare the unit prices, and take frugality to the extreme (i.e. dumpster diving behind high-end restaurants and supermarkets). The video below shows just how much food waste America produces.

It is true that some urban dwellers are stranded in food deserts. These people do not have a personal car, and there is only one grocery store in the neighborhood. The sole grocery store forces people to buy items there, and if the healthy food items are more expensive than unhealthy food items, then, well, tough luck.

For people who do have cars, they should try their best to locate several grocery stores and look for healthy food products that are currently being promoted in the ads. They should make a meal plan based on what's on sale right now rather than based on what they want right now. That is the only way to find healthy food and to live below one's means.

People eat junk food, not really because it's cheap, but because junk food is addictive. People are attracted to the monosodium glutamate, the flavors, the sugar rush, and the experience of dining in. It's no surprise that processed food manufacturers and fast food manufacturers spend billions of dollars to make their names known to almost everyone in the population. As individuals, people need to resist the influence of these advertisements. When the junk food manufacturers find a decrease in profits, they will change or go out of business.

Personally, I don't think it's possible to preserve food indefinitely on the shelf and call it "healthy". It is against nature to defy the mortality of things, so why should we do this to food? If something can't be broken down by earthworms (yes, even earthworms can't process junk food), then why would people expect that their own bodies would process junk food and break the "food" down into usable nutrients? And why is a candy bar recognized as "food" in the first place (i.e. the so-called breakfast protein bars)?

The video below shows the dangers of fast food.

In summary, I can definitely see both sides of the debate. I believe that buying cheap healthy food is possible. The most important thing is education. People must be educated about "healthy food". What makes healthy food healthy? How can people access healthy food despite a tough situation? If people know what healthy food looks like and how to access it, then people would prefer eating healthy food over junk food.

In addition, I believe food addiction is a real, serious problem. It is as bad as cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking. Some people say, "Well, you just have to control yourself. Everything in moderation." No, I don't think that's how addictions work. People have physical withdrawal symptoms when they don't have the addictive substance. Why should food addiction be any different? Instead of blaming the people for lacking self-control, we should help the people overcome the food addictions.


Join the discussion



What Guys Said 5

  • 1mo

    Eating like crap is vastly more expensive if you count the cost impact it has on the entire country's medical infrastructure, which is just shy of collapsing under the weight - pun intended - of people who choose not to care for themselves.

  • 1mo

    Why did you feel the need to write this take as an Anon? Is it a very sensitive topic for you?

  • 1mo

    You need to count the time it takes to prepare food as dthe healthy food are not edible until you cook them.

    If it takes you 3 hours to buy and cook the food then you need to add in those 3 hours equal to your wage (if you work $25/hr then it's $75). You also need to add in the costs of finding the food and gas as well as electricity costs.

    Also add in waste because you can't eat several pounds of food in one sitting. Your cooking and refrigeration will lead to waste. You need to add that in.

    • 1mo

      - You are assuming that it takes 3 hours to prepare food. In reality, you can make healthy food in 10-30 minutes. Sometimes, healthy food can be consumed on the go. A salad just involves buying the ingredients, washing, and consuming everything raw.
      - You are also assuming that everybody works by the hour. Some people are salaried. Salaried individuals may or may not have overtime pay.
      - The several pounds of food should be consumed not in one go. They can be divided up, so that one meal would be a fraction of the amount you paid for.

    • Show All
    • 1mo

      @myTakeOwner it seems like you shouldn't have to wait at all. On the other hand you complain about the time it takes to do anything and the cost

    • 1mo

      @MysteriousDarkness I am just contending that fast food is not as "fast" as people think it is. It's actually cheaper and faster to eat healthy food over "fast" food.

  • 1mo

    of course healthy food cost more (to the consumer in the short term). carrots aren't made by a big multimillion dollar corporation and can not be marketed to kids that don't know better!
    But what do I know, That is just my opinion.


What Girls Said 2

  • 23d

    oh man... i don't know where you live, but i would love it if healthy food was that cheap here. i'm a student and, since i can't eat my textbooks, i do what i can to stay healthy on my (very limited at the moment) budget. but i end up wasting so much that i feel guilty.

    compounding the issue is that my other half is a very picky eater~ fruits and veggies are expensive here and, if i buy them, they will go bad before i can eat them all because everything comes in family sizes and i'm the only one eating them. that, and i work on top of a full course load~ between my job and my studies, i'm lucky to have one day off a month; i simply don't have time to cook two meals every night, and it's not like i have days off to mass-prepare food for the week.

    if you have any advice for this specific situation, it would be much appreciated.

    • 23d

      Sure, I can help. The key to finding cheap food is to browse the weekly ads of your local supermarkets regularly. This may take some time, but the more time you put in, you will get faster and faster at mentally calculating the unit prices and comparing the product values to get high-quality goods for less money. Generally, seasonal, local, non-organic produce tend to be cheaper than non-seasonal, exotic, and organic produce.

      It's very important to buy frozen vegetables and fruits. They last longer in the freezer and are just as nutritious.

      For simple dishes, it's best to have a rice cooker. You can make almost anything in a rice cooker.
      If you don't have a rice cooker at home and don't have money to afford one, then you may look up recipes that just involve a microwave, toaster oven, or conventional oven. I know many homes in the developed world have conventional ovens, but student dorms may be lacking in that regard.

    • 23d

      I don't know where you live exactly, but that doesn't matter. I am going to show you the methodology that you can implement to your situation. Let's assume a person lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. In that location, I find lots of grocery stores. Here's one.
      7020 4th St NW, Calgary AB T2K 1C4
      Let's check out the flyer.
      Green cabbage - $0.38/lb
      Old Mill English Muffins - $0.88/pack

      1130-11th Ave SW, Calgary AB T2R 0G4
      Buddig Thin Sliced Cooked Meats - $0.99/pack
      Bananas - $0.79/lb (about 4 bananas)
      Ginger - $0.99/lb (whole ginger root)
      Royal Gala Apples - $0.99/lb (1-2 apples, depending on the size)

      There are also Dollar Tree stores in Calgary. I'm sure one of the Dollar Tree stores has freezers that contain frozen veggies. On the shelves, you can find dried beans, dried fruits, nuts, rice, and noodles. Everything's a dollar there. You may also stop by to get household cleaning supplies to help clean your house after cooking.

  • 25d

    People think short-term, that's why they see healthy food expensive.