Is Fast Food Really Cheaper Than Homemade Food?

We have all heard and read about how fast food is much cheaper than homemade food. But is that really true? There are many answers to this question and we’ll look at the average prices to determine if it really is cheaper or if it’s just a marketing gimmick that fast food companies want us to believe.

In this article, we’ll also examine the reasoning behind our findings and how we as consumers can make better financial decisions when it comes to purchasing food.

Fast Food Prices

Average Fast Food MealFast food prices have always varied depending on where you live, but in most places, it is very affordable. Other than being fairly inexpensive, fast food restaurants are known for serving, well, fast food. It’s the type of service that doesn’t require a lot of time from consumers.

If you go into a popular traditional dine-in restaurant, you will usually wait at least 15 minutes before you are even seated. When you factor in the time to order your food and wait for it to be cooked, you are looking at waiting at least 30 minutes before eating your food. In many cases, it could be up to an hour or longer.

So while fast food restaurants are known for having cheaper food, they also offer the convenience of time. The waiting process from ordering your food to eating it is usually very fast.

By now you might be thinking how much is fast food really cheaper than homemade food. The answer varies highly based on what types of food we are comparing.  For example, if you’re comparing a food item on the McDonalds dollar menu to cooking a fancy meal at home, the difference could be more than $50 for a family of 4.

There are also many fast food-type restaurants, which are on the more expensive side, such as Panera Bread. In that case, the difference wouldn’t be as much, but it would still be considerable.

Why Is Fast Food Cheaper?

So why is fast food generally cheaper than homemade food? The answer is actually quite simple. Fast food is kind of how Henry Ford thought about cars. The more cars you could create and the more you streamlined your process, the cheaper each car would cost. That’s the same idea behind fast food.

Fast food restaurants utilize a very effective production strategy that allows them to create and sell food at a very low cost. They buy food in large quantities, which lowers the price, and then when it comes time to sell and create your burgers and fries, the separation of duties is implemented very effectively. The person that takes your order is not the same person that creates you food. Literally seconds after you place your order, another employee starts working on your food.

Imagine if everyone did everything at once. A person would take your order and payment, then that same person would have to wash their hands and put on the gloves, then walk over to the kitchen, and then proceed to create your food, and then finally they’d have to go back to give you the food. It would be a very long and unsuccessful process.

Some restaurants such as McDonalds have 2 drive-thru windows, the first one is the payment window, and the second one is where you are handed the food. This enables the drive-thru line to keep moving quickly.

Lower Price vs. Quality of Food

Now that we know fast food is cheaper than homemade food, we should also take quality into consideration. Obviously the more processed the foods are, the higher risk you take of eating unhealthy food. But just because it’s fast food, doesn’t mean it is unhealthy.

For example, let’s look at restaurants like Subway and Panera Bread. Most of the meals they offer are low in fats and sugars. A lot of their bread is also cooked fresh everyday so it’s not weeks old and hasn’t been transported in a muggy truck half way across country.

Is it fair to only mention those two restaurants? Of course not! Since we mentioned McDonalds earlier, let’s talk about their healthy food options. McDonalds has several healthy choices that are low in fat. One of those is their Classic Grilled Chicken sandwich. The chicken breast in that sandwich is one you would expect from an expensive dine-in restaurant. It is very tender, gristle-free, and absolutely delicious.

Some other healthy options at McDonalds include salads and various chicken wraps. And although most of us already know this, the most fattening things at fast food restaurants are burgers (beef patties), French fries, and condiments and dressings such as mayo and ranch. But you could always tell them to go easy on dressing or mayo and you’ll be in a much better position no matter what restaurant you are at.

Overall, while the quality of fast food is usually a little lower than homemade foods, in many cases it is on par with more expensive dine-in restaurants. The healthy food craze that has gotten popular in recent years has forced most fast food restaurants to start offering healthier meal choices.


Although we could name a few scenarios where fast food prices end up being high or homemade meals very low, it is safe to assume that in most cases, fast food prices will end up being cheaper. In addition, they will also save you lots of time because there is no preparation needed.

Do you agree or disagree with us and why? We’d love to hear what you think about this article so post your thoughts in the comments.

As always, choose foods that are low in fats and sugars and high in protein and fiber. And remember, portion control works and moderation is a beautiful thing.

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