First. Let me be clear. I am not opposed to eating out sometimes. I am not opposed to the dollar menu. I am not opposed to being tired and wanting a break from cooking or cleaning up. I'm not even opposed to being completely unprepared for dinner some nights and being completely starved at dinner time and just going out.
What I am opposed to is the idea that eating out is cheaper than eating in. It's not. It makes me crazy crazy obscenely crazy to hear and/or read articles/people talk about how cheap fast food is. It is not cheap. It is easy. It is fast (sometimes). It is a source of pleasure for some. It is tasty for some. It is convenient for many. But it is not cheap. Also, the people who work there always look at me like they would personally be much happier if I were dead and I don't care for that much, but that's beside the point.
We're not even going to talk about the combo meals because when I see a $6-8 (per person) "meal" with a sandwich, fries and soda, I see what could have been a small roast in the crock pot with some ranch powder, potatoes and carrots. People, it's not even any more work than standing in line while your kids whine and the hollow-eyed workers give you death stares. So, no, we're not going to talk about combo meals.
We're going to talk about the dollar menu. If each member of my family orders two items from the dollar menu, we pay $12 plus tax. This is not, by any means, terrible. But it is also not particularly cheap (especially if you consider that little roast up above that could be a big roast for $10). Also, two items is filling enough for the me and the kids, but not really for Kip.
Again, let me reiterate that this isn't about taste or convenience or funness. It's about cost (though I personally believe homemade meals kick butt in the taste department too; they just don't always taste the same as beloved fast food staples). If you love Rally's fries (because I know I do--oh, yes, I do), then so be it. I just don't want to hear that they're any cheaper than my home fries, which are about 25 cents a serving.
Homemade Hamburgers and Fries to serve 6
1.5 lb hamburger: $6.00 (not a sale price there either)
Potatoes for fries: 1.50
I realize that you have to make this food, then clean it up. I get that. But you're looking at much higher quality food too. $4/pound is how much our humanely raised (though not grass fed) beef costs. And the home fries are a whole food made with just potatoes and oil and salt. Also you can go nuts with the condiments if you want (my family always does). Also, there are no plastic chairs. Or scary employees (that is, unless you've had a very bad day and are giving the kids some good death stares of your own).
Next we'll compare some good old fashioned subway style sandwiches and fruit to the old dollar menu. This is not an apples to apples comparison because this is obviously not a burger type meal, but it is one that takes virtually no effort, so in that way I thought it a good comparison as well. You just put the stuff on the table and people make the sandwiches they want. You can have this meal on the table in less time you wait in line at McDonald's for lunch. We had it for dinner the other night and it was so good and satisfying and filling and EASY that it's what got me thinking about the whole dollar menu thing.
6-inch subs with fruit for 6
Meat (deli chicken): 4.00
toppings (tomatoes, lettuce, mayo, ketchup, mustard): .75
Again this isn't even the cheapest of the cheap. These were delicious, fully loaded sandwiches. And everyone got 1/2 serving of fruit (which could have been doubled with another dollar). As an aside, my kids couldn't eat a full sandwich so we had leftovers the next day.
So go ahead and eat out. Have fun with it for Pete's sake. Or do it when you're out and haven't prepared anything and people in your car are melting down like a square of American cheese on a cheeseburger. This isn't about fast food guilt. But please please please spare me those droning arguments about how cheap fast food is and that that's why people have to eat it and that there's no possible way they could ever eat anything else more filling or more healthy. Cause, yeah, you might get a hollow-eyed death stare from me.
P.S. As a follow up, I'll soon be doing a post on faster-than-fast food meals you can make and enjoy.