Which is cheaper: Fast food or cooking at home?

KPRC anchors Lauren Freeman, Owen Conflenti take a week-long food test

Published On: Feb 08 2013 11:04:22 AM CST   Updated On: Feb 11 2013 07:41:24 AM CST
Lauren and Owen meal challenge
HOUSTON -

We know what's healthier, but what's cheaper -- going through a drive thru or cooking your meals?

We sent KPRC Local 2 anchors Lauren Freeman and Owen Conflenti out to do their own meal challenge. She cooked and he ate fast food for one week. The results and the numbers may surprise you.

Lauren spent about 20 minutes making a menu for the week and a grocery list and then headed out shopping. She bought a good variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy grains, dairy and quality protein. She spent $123 for a family of four. Admittedly she spent more time in the kitchen, anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes a night preparing meals. Every night, she sat down with her family. Lauren said her kids eat healthy because they don't have a choice! She cooked dishes like Chicken Piccata with mushrooms and pasta, quesadillas and asparagus bread pudding.

Meanwhile, Owen spent the week ordering by number. There's nothing like starting the day with a Jack-in-the-Box bacon croissant sandwich, classic Chick-Fil A chicken biscuit, or the McDonalds pancake sandwich known as the McGriddle. Full disclosure -- Owen did not do "dollar menu" dining and gave no regard to healthy options.

The goal was big-named brands, popular items that were quick and easy and on the way home. He worked in places like Taco Bell and KFC for other meals. For the week, three square meals a day cost Owen about $125 and he ate mostly carbs and protein.

Lauren kids eat dinner

Lauren spent $123 for the week for a family of four and ate a variety of healthy dishes.

"You are what you eat," nutritionist Catherine Kruppa said.

She said it's a myth that fast food is cheap.

"When you add it all up throughout a day, eating whole fresh (food) is less expensive. What you're not getting in the fast food are the fruits and vegetables or very little, you may get a leaf of lettuce. You're getting higher saturated fat food that also can cause disease," Kruppa said.

She said the old pay now or pay later approach to food is true.

"Over the long run, people who eat more fast food and packaged food are more at risk for things like heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, which all cost money in doctor's visits, in medication," she said.

Meal Planning Websites and Recipes Lauren Used: