Fast Food Pictures
Fast Food Pictures

It seems like the dollar menu at your local drive-through would be cheaper than shopping for groceries and cooking at home. But is it? See more fast food pictures.

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In 2004, documentarian Morgan Spurlock showed the world just how unhealthy an all-fast food diet can be in his film, "Super Size Me." After eating nothing except McDonald's food for 30 consecutive days, Spurlock's once-healthy liver began to the resemble one of an alcoholic. His doctor even implored him to stop the extreme diet experiment because he was so concerned for Spurlock's health.

So why would anyone eat a diet of fast food? For some it's a matter of convenience, for others it's budget -- and for many it's both. But is eating fast food really cheaper than eating a meal prepared at home? If you consider health in your definition of "cost," home-cooked meals are far better than fast food -- anyone would agree on that.

If you're more concerned about affording a meal than finding a healthy one, it seems logical that the dollar menu at your local drive-through would be cheaper than shopping for groceries and cooking at home. And sure, certain items will be cheaper, especially if you're only cooking for yourself. It's more cost effective to go to a fast food restaurant for one 99-cent cheeseburger than to buy the meat, cheese, buns and condiments, and take the time to cook one at home. But the math doesn't work out that way every time.

Mark Bittman, a writer for The New York Times, compared a meal for a family of four at McDonald's to a home-cooked meal of roast chicken, potatoes and a salad. Based on prices in a Brooklyn grocery store, the McDonald's meals were $14 more than the home-cooked meal. In addition to cost savings, the home-cooked meal is much healthier. He then compared the same meal to an even cheaper dinner of rice and beans with bacon, peppers and onions for an even greater savings of $18 [source: Bittman]. Clearly, you can save a lot by not eating fast food.

Read on to the next page to learn more about how to eat healthy foods on a budget.