On Friday, I asked you all to spend this week tabulating, at least loosely, what $2.50 will buy you in terms of “real food.”  Some of you have already responded; some will probably respond later in the week; and I’m jumping in today to get the ball rolling a bit with a look at the RRG family table.

Here’s our Sunday dinner from this week:

Apple-Cornbread Stuffing, Sunday Roast Chicken, and Sauteed Spinach with Garlic and Lemon

It was by no means an extravagantly expensive meal, but if I look at it from the perspective of $2.50, it’s actually pretty encouraging to see how much of the food that’s pictured here could end up on the menu.

A third of the chicken that’s on that platter would be available to you for $2.50 — enough for two good portions.  You’d be able to have the whole bowl of spinach, and since I made it from fresh organic baby spinach leaves, I should also point out that $2.50 would buy DOUBLE that volume of frozen chopped spinach at most grocery stores.  As to the stuffing, I made the cornbread myself at a cost of about $1 for the pan; adding in the cost of one apple and the few other miscellaneous ingredients that made up this dish, it’s actually possible that you could have almost the entire bowl of cornbread stuffing for $2.50.

When I do the math on this meal, accounting for all the ingredients that were used — yes, including the olive oil, garlic, herbs, etc. — I figure it comes out to about $14-$15 for all the food you see here.  And in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll point out that almost everything we used in this meal was organic.  Hm.  At about 8 servings of the stuffing, at least 6 of the chicken, and (sadly, only) 4 of the spinach, I can’t help thinking that this was a pretty good “real food” value.

What would $14 have gotten me at a fast-food place (since that’s the impetus for the $2.50 challenge — the startling statistic showing that Nevadans spend an average of $2.50 per capita every day on fast food)?  Hard to say, since I’m not intimately familiar with fast food menus, and the online information for the value menus I did look at generally says “pricing may vary.”  However, let’s assume that we’re working off a dollar menu; I know you can get, for example, a double burger with cheese at Burger King for $1.  I’m also aware that most fast food joints offer a chicken nugget-esque option (even, possibly, crown-shaped!  O joy of joys!) for $1.  And there have gotta be fries available for $1, probably in a monstrous portion.  So…at $14, you’d be able to feed seven people their choice of a double burger or chicken nuggets with fries.  No drinks, but hey, I didn’t include drinks either (though, since we often drink water with dinner, ours would be free).

Seven people eating double burgers and fries….vs. six people eating roast chicken with cornbread stuffing and spinach — I’m rounding things out a bit here, figuring that the money spent on the extra couple of portions of stuffing could have gone to buy more spinach, but I don’t think I’m stretching too greatly.  That’s the $14 comparison.

I have to confess to being really surprised, because food, real food, is darned expensive.  We all know that.  And when I look at the price of a pound of this or that fresh produce item, this or that fresh meat item, I do sometimes cringe.  It’s easy, on the surface, to see why somebody on a limited income, with limited resources and possibly limited access to a kitchen, or the right equipment, or the right knowledge, would say “I can get a burger and fries and a drink for $2.50; what’s your pound of organic broccoli going to do for me?”

But this match-up proves, at least superficially, that it can be done — real food can be purchased and prepared and served to a family for roughly the same amount of money as fast food.  And one thing we need to think about, in equating prices of real food vs. fast food, is the economy of scale.  That burger will always cost $1 at the drive-thru, but at the grocery store, I have the option of watching for sales and buying in larger volumes, which means that the price of my burger is actually (somewhat) negotiable.

I know it won’t always come out this way.  I confess that I was expecting to write a very different post today; I didn’t think I’d get so lucky as to discover that my real food Sunday dinner could stand up economically to the fast-food value menu.  But on the other hand, as much as this may have been a fluke (and believe me…I’ll keep testing, because now I’m REALLY curious),  I think we real-food advocates have to take the victories where we can get them.  What can you get for $2.50, these days?  The answer for this morning, at least, is more than I thought.