On-the-Go and On a Budget

Many of us turn to fast food when we’re on-the-go. It’s convenient and often appears to be a cheap option… or is it?

We were able to put together a one-day meal plan for just seven dollars this month. You could easily spend half or even all of that on just one meal at a fast food restaurant.

Statistics show that the average American eats one out of every four meals away from home. We also tend to eat more calories and fat when we eat out, so it is best to cook healthy at home as much as possible.

If you have a busy week coming up and will need to grab food on the run, plan for it. We checked the dollar menus at some of the most common fast food restaurants and healthy choices were sparse. Healthier menu items tend to cost a bit more than the less nutritious foods. Keep this in mind when you budget and set aside enough money so you can choose those healthier options.

Below is a list of better-for-you options to consider:

McDonalds – The Fruit and Yogurt Parfait actually made the dollar menu at this fast food restaurant. Pick up a parfait for a snack or small meal. It’s made with low-fat yogurt and real fruit and has just 160 calories. Be sure that the 31 grams of carbohydrate in it will fit with your meal plan. It has much less sodium in it than most other McDonald’s menu items as well. To lower the amount of carbs in it, skip the granola.

Dunkin Donuts – A whole wheat bagel with low-fat cream cheese will cost you $2.29. Save half of it for later, and this breakfast meal will cost you just $1.15 per serving.

Taco Bell – The Fresco-Style Soft Grilled Chicken Taco ($1.49) and the Fresco-Style Soft Grilled Steak Taco ($1.99) are some of the better choices on the menu. Beware of fried taco shells, large amounts of cheese, and sour cream when making choices at this popular fast food joint. The calories and saturated fat can add up quickly.

Subway – One of your best bets is to order a 12-inch Veggie Delite on whole wheat bread. You’ll get more for your money when you order the 12-inch size, which cost $5.00 at the subway we visited. The best part is that a 12-inch sub is easily enough for two meals. Ordering meat on your sub will often increase the price. Load your sub with all of your favorite veggies. Some good condiment choices are yellow mustard, fat-free honey mustard, light mayonnaise, or oil and vinegar. You can also add pepper and oregano for extra flavor.

Wendy’s – Try a small order of Wendy’s Chili ($1.59). If you want more food, pair it with a small Garden Salad ($1.69) or add a Baked Potato, which made the dollar menu at this restaurant. If you choose the potato, split it with a friend or save part for later to make it fit with your meal plan. Wendy’s also offers apple slices as a side, which add just 40 calories and 9 grams of carbohydrate to your meal.

Other on-the-go tips that can save money:

Go with tap water. There’s no need to order a soda or juice, it will just cost you extra. Go with water from the tap – almost always a free option!

Resist the option to supersize. There’s no need to purchase more food than your meal plan calls for.

Instead of stopping for fast food, stop at a grocery store. Browse through the fresh produce and pick up a piece of fresh-fruit that’s on sale for a snack. Then, breeze through the self-checkout line – it may be as fast as the drive-thru.

Keep low-cost snacks on-hand. There’s nothing wrong with having a stash in your car, your purse, or at your desk. As we’ve found, eating foods from home is more economical than eating out. Some good ideas that cost less than a dollar per serving include: a handful of nuts, one tablespoon of peanut butter on a slice of bread, 2 rice cakes, a low-fat cheese stick, a fruit cup, or small piece of seasonal whole fruit (right now, look for apples, bananas, and oranges).

A Low-Cost Meal Plan

See how you can eat healthfully for less than $7 a day!

See Meal Plan

Browse All of Our Recipes

See all of our featured recipes from this month and past months.


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