As a follow up case-study to "Why Do People Eat Out?", I am going to now look at "Why do People Eat Processed Food?"
I'm going to simplify the question by reviewing a couple of different types of food.
Case Study #1: Hummus
Hummus is delicious, and healthy, and relatively easy to make but even easier to buy. I try to make hummus weekly, but I bought it weekly for YEARS. So let's look at this, shall we?
7 ounces of store bought hummus: $3.00
(It's probably cheaper at Costco, but even my family cannot eat that much)
To make your own:
1. Soak and cook 1 pound of dried chickpeas: $1.00 (makes 6 cups cooked) - this is a super deal that I cannot always find.
2. Use your food processor
2 cups of cooked chickpeas: 0.33
2 Tbsp of olive oil: 0.18
2 Tbsp of tahini: 0.38
1 clove garlic: 0.05
salt, cumin, cayenne: 0.10
juice of 1 lemon: 0.25
Total cost: $1.29 for approximately 2 cups (16 oz). So 7 ounces would be $0.56
Total active time: 20 minutes to rinse and put beans on to soak, drain, cover, and cook in the pressure cooker. 20 minutes to make in the food processor and to wash the darned thing when you are done.
So that saves about $2.44, with 40 minutes of work. But we'd probably go through 2 a week, so that means it's $4.88 for 50 minutes of work. That's $7.32 an hour. Not much, eh? But if you cook a pound of chickpeas, that's enough to make the hummus for 3 weeks, so there is that.
Case Study #2: Breaded Chicken Tenders
Kids love these and they are easy. 28 ounces can be had at Trader Joe's for $7.99, which comes out to $4.57 a pound. They bake in the toaster oven in 20 minutes!! Perfect with some steamed broccoli on a weeknight. The key here is to not go too crazy. If we all eat them for dinner, that's 1/2 bag. So, we do eat these, and generally it's just the kids. The parents eat something else.
You can make your own fairly easily with plain raw chicken breast and a batter of some sort. It really depends on the kind of batter. I'm just not in a place in my life where I can do the flour then egg then flour batter. I've done skillet chicken with flour/ cornmeal mixture. There's always a corn flake coating too. I have a tendency to buy chicken in large portions these days though, so it's simply easier for me to throw it in the crockpot.
However, let's assume you get chicken breasts on sale at $2 a pound, and feel up to a cornmeal or flour-type crust. For only $2.50 a pound you can save a ton of money over the store version. Active work time: probably 30 minutes. This lets you save $2.07 in 30 minutes, or $4.14 an hour. Needless to say, I don't make my own here.
Case Study #3: Frozen Pizza
I LOVE making my own pizza. But I'm going to fess up, it's a rare thing these days. My desire to eat less bread, plus the effort involved in making my own dough and sauce...well, it just doesn't happen.
A totally processed, completely unhealthy frozen pepperoni pizza from Costco is $3.50. This is a full meal for our family, maybe with leftovers.
A homemade, healthier pizza would be:
1. Homemade pizza crust with half whole wheat: 10 min to put together in the bread machine, 45 min to run, 30 minutes to shape and rest, 20 minutes to par-bake (can be frozen now, and the recipe makes 2x) then top, then 10 minutes to bake. Needless to say, this is NOT a weeknight meal, unless we already made the crust.
2. Sauce: The easiest sauce is marinara (runny), or tomato paste with herbs (not runny) or homemade pesto from the freezer
3. Cheese: gotta shred it so you aren't using cheese with wood pulp: 5 minutes
4. Vegetables: I prefer my onions and peppers sauteed to remove the liquid: to chop and cook: 20 minutes
Cooking everything from scratch simply takes a lot of time, compared to processed food.
Case Study #4: Soup
We get a lot of vegetables from the farm, and some of them are of the "what do I do with this?" variety. Which means soup. Even though it's hot here, and we almost didn't have a winter. I'm impressed with The Prudent Homemaker and her ability to eat soup year round in Las Vegas.
A 32-ounce carton of carrot ginger soup from Trader Joe's is something like $3-$4 (I don't remember exactly). Other stores may carry it for more. So let's call it $3.50.
I have a great recipe for carrot ginger soup, and I use it to use up turnips (as much as half turnips). So here's the work involved in a double batch:
1. Chop an onion
2. Wash, peel, chop 10 small turnips
3. Wash, peel, chop 10 medium carrots
4. Press 4 garlic cloves
5. Grate 2 Tbsp fresh ginger.
6. Saute onion, garlic, ginger in olive oil until onions are soft
7. Add turnips, carrots, and 6 cups water or stock
8. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer until carrots and turnips are soft
9. Let cool on the stove 15 minutes
10. Put in fridge for several hours
11. Grate 2 more Tbsp ginger.
12. Puree in batches in blender (5 batches). This requires a second big pot. One for the start, one for the finish. Forget to salt and pepper, so do that at the end.
13. Wash two big pots, the grater, and the blender
14. Freeze for later
This probably takes 1 hour, and it makes two 32-ounce containers. I think it probably costs about $2 - depends on whether you use water or stock, and if you make your own (I was out of chicken stock most recently, so used water).
That's $1 a container, or a savings of $2.50 per container, or $5 an hour.
It's actually a little depressing how little you get from this recipe. On the other hand, it makes 8 cups, and there are a ton of veggies in each serving. So it's healthy!