By Emily Garcia

This year I moved out of my parent’s house. For the first time in my life, I am financially independent from my family and as part of my financial independence I decide how I feed myself roughly three times a day.

The dilemma that plagues me now is one that hearkens back to my days as a pre-teen on a school field trip. I have x amount of money in my possession and I am the only person entrusted with deciding how and where to spend this money.

As a pre-teen, I was usually so drunk with the power of wielding $20 in a mall food court that I spent every cent on a smorgasbord of junk food. As a 20-something, with a rent to pay and growing intolerance for lactose, I no longer have the option to allocate all of my financial resources to chicken nuggets and milkshakes.

And even though chicken nuggets are seemingly dirt cheap, in my experience taking the time to grocery shop and prepare meals saves hundreds of dollars of dollars in the long run. To break this down: My meal-of-choice at Chick-fil-A is an eight-count nugget meal with waffle fries and a Coke, which totals $7.33. However, if I were to prep my meal of choice at home, which is smoked salmon pasta with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, it equals about $5 for one serving.

As time passes, the amount of money saved adds up to roughly $24 in one month and $312 in one year.

Moving away from the hypothetical of eating the same meal three times a week, a more realistic picture of my grocery shopping habits would also argue the financial benefits of eating at home.

Each time I go to the grocery store I am looking to fill my cart with one of three categories: ingredients, snacks and a few treats. In total, I usually spend $55-$60 dollars each time I go to the grocery store, which is typically every 10 days or so. Ten days on a $54.21 grocery trip means that I am eating three meals a day, plus some snacks and drinks for $5.42 per day.

In comparison to fast food, there is no deal that will offer the same quantity of food at a price of $5.41 per day. McDonald’s, a restaurant known for its arches and unwaveringly cheap prices, comes closest with its dollar menu. But even the dollar menu becomes costly to eat from since all items come without the addition of a side or a drink.

The quality of food on the McDonald’s dollar menu is also lesser than the quality of food from the grocery store. The only vegetables found on the dollar menu are the pickles and onions on the cheeseburger. With a budget of $5.41, it is impossible to eat the two to three cups of vegetables daily as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

A study published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, show that people who eat unhealthy fast and processed foods end up having seven times the risk of early-life stroke (before age 45).

I still indulge in fast food every now and then, but I keep in mind the financial and nutritional consequences of my actions and remember that there is food at home.

Emily Garcia is studying journalism at the University of Georgia. She is a 2020 Cox-SABEW Fellow, a training program in partnership with UGA’s Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management & Leadership.