by Joshua M. Neuman

On April 15, 1955, Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald’s franchise in Des Plaines, Illinois. Kroc had purchased the chain from Richard and Maurice McDonald, who had opened their first McDonald’s in 1940. Kroc’s vision was to offer hamburgers, cheeseburgers, fries, drinks and milkshakes to customers across the United States at a fast pace and at an affordable price. On the very first day of opening, Ray Kroc’s McDonald’s sold $366.12 of fast food items, a large sum when charging 15 cents for a hamburger. More success followed, and the franchise began to expand. By 1958, there were 34 McDonald’s restaurants across the country, and in 1959, there were 102. Fast-forward to present day, and McDonald’s operates and franchises a total of 38,695 restaurants worldwide and has a 2019 gross sales/revenue of $21.08 billion.

McDonald’s is not the only fast-food joint to offer cheap— and mostly unhealthy—food to customers. In 2019, Burger King operated and franchised a total of 18,838 restaurants and generated $1.78 billion. Wendy’s operated and franchised a total of 5,852 stores and made $1.70 billion in sales. Subway, a somewhat healthier fast-food option, is the largest fast-food chain globally, operating and franchising approximately 41,600 stores. Pizza Hut, the world’s largest pizza chain, operated and franchised 18,703 stores as of December 31, 2019. Its parent company, Yum! Brands, Inc., also owns KFC and Taco Bell and has an estimated net revenue of $5.6 billion. These incomprehensibly high numbers all point to one key conclusion: Fast food chains dominant the global food market because they offer cheap food.

Unfortunately for consumers, fast food, especially in large quantities, is bad for your health. However, there are still ways for consumers on a budget to avoid these fast food restaurants and eat healthily.

The easiest way to eat healthy on a budget is to meal prep. Meal prepping allows you to purchase healthy food in bulk and prepare it for the week or month. Kale, spinach and vegetables are pocket-book friendly ways to eat healthily. All you need is to purchase the ingredients for a salad, prepare them and package into separate containers for the week. This will also help minimize other costly and unhealthy snack cravings.

Another important measure to take to eat healthy on a budget is to cook at home. Cooking at home eliminates the cost of eating at a restaurant, which generally incorporates higher-priced food and the need for tax and tip. For the health-conscious eaters, cooking at home also allows you to control the exact ingredients of your diet. When you dine out, it is impossible to know how the chef is preparing your food, what oils they are using, how much salt, etc. Additionally, cooking in large portions will allow for healthy leftovers and minimize the cost of extraneous snack or meal purchases. In the end, eating healthy on a budget is about being able to control the food you eat for a reasonable price.

Nonetheless, it is incredibly important to treat yourself too. If you want an unhealthy snack or an expensive meal now and again, go for it. The key is moderation, and if “cheating” for a snack or a meal will help keep you on a “healthy” budget, then by all means, order that Big Mac combo meal.