By George Zeliff

Rucker Reeves can’t cook. The second-year business management student at the University of Georgia said he spends at least $400 a month on food, and he buys bread, milk and cereal from the grocery store.

Reeves said he eats fast food once a day. Even though he said it’s out of convivence, Reeves would rather get it himself than order delivery.

Forbes analyzed data in 2018 from Wellio, a platform that measures the cost from millions of recipes. On average it is five times more expensive to order delivery than cook from home.

The specifics come down to where you shop and what you buy, but Forbes also found premade meal kits to be three times more expensive than cooking from scratch.

Reeves has spent hours in the drive-through lanes since the COVID-19 pandemic began. He was on meal plan as a freshman, but now rarely goes to campus since he takes all his classes online.

“It’s always drive-through,” Reeves said. “I never go in, unless I’m just eating dinner with my friends, which is a very rare occasion that we’ll go out to eat. I haven’t been to the Tate Center Chick-fil-A since last year when I lived on campus.”

Jennifer Mauldin didn’t want her children to be in Reeves’ position when they went to college. Mauldin ran a bed and breakfast in Ghana for six years and sent all four of her children to the University of Alabama.

Two of her kids modeled Mauldin’s weekly meal prep routine, but the other two were less interested in cooking and decided to eat at their fraternity and sorority houses. Mauldin gave her sorority daughter the book, Where’s Mom Now That I Need Her?: Surviving Away from Home, when she left for college.

“It started out of necessity because I was working full time and my husband was working full time,” Mauldin said. “When we got home, we were just really tired, so it was very easy just to say, ‘let’s just go out to dinner’…But then we began to see how those, that cost added up. I began early in our marriage making a weekly meal plan so when I came home after work, I didn’t have to think ‘what am I going to cook,’ because there was this list on the refrigerator. I would know that I had bought all the ingredients and so it was something that I could actually make.”

Mauldin shopped once a week and adhered to a $100 grocery budget. When she shopped for a family of six, Mauldin looked for food that expanded easily like soup, and would buy in-season vegetables because those tend to be cheaper.

After six years in Ghana, Mauldin went back to the country in a family position for the Department of State. In over 15 years in Ghana, India and Morocco, Mauldin noticed her shopping habits worked anywhere.

“When we were in Ghana, there was a flight that would come in from France and they would bring beautiful strawberries and raspberries,” Mauldin said. “But they were crazy expensive, so we ate a whole lot of local mangoes and bananas and pineapple and oranges.”

Mauldin learned to be flexible overseas. She always shops for the deals, but foreign countries don’t usually have sales. She also realized that lunch was a cheaper meal than dinner and would take her family out once a week.

Cooking takes time and practice to master. No one can deny the appeal of fast-food, but there are healthier and more cost-effective ways to feed yourself as Mauldin said she tried to impress upon her children.

George Zeliff is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.