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|On time - and Velveeta||11/30/22|
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|All Health and Nutrition Bites|
Get Started Cooking with Stews
One of the things we teach now across the country as part of Culinary Medicine classes in medical schools, nursing schools, and for practicing healthcare providers, is how to have a different conversation with patients about food. We help doctors and nurses understand that they can have meaningful, actionable discussions in a very short period of time.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Hamburger Helper. It is hard to overstate how disgusting I think that Hamburger Helper is. Quite simply it has no redeeming value at all - it tastes terrible, contributes to disease, is more expensive than making your own versions and, well, there isn't really anything else. It's just foul.
Busting the Myth: Eating Healthy is Cheaper and Doesn't Take Longer
Recently we offered another round of continuing medical education programs for physicians at the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine. The cost of eating healthy came up, as it does at almost every event I do these days. There is a tremendous misperception about what making fresh food costs and the time that it takes vs. processed, boxed foods. Most people believe that it is more expensive to make fresh, healthier food and that it takes more time.
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This week CNN reports that a woman in Florida is suing Kraft for $5 million dollars. Why? Because their microwaveable single-serving Velveeta Shells & Cheese takes longer to cook than is listed on the package.
The packaging states, "ready in 3 1/2 minutes" and we have to agree with the plaintiff - it's inaccurate. The process is actually adding water to the cup, microwaving the pasta and water for 3 1/2 minutes, and then adding the cheese from a pouch, stirring, and waiting for the sauce to thicken. So yes, all told it's probably 5 or 6 minutes. If we were reviewing this product (we won't) we'd certainly mention the inaccuracy in our review.
What caught our attention, however, is this paragraph in CNN's reporting:
[The plaintiff] "is like many consumers who seek to stretch their money as far as possible when buying groceries," the complaint states. But because of the time claim, she "paid more for the Product than she would have paid and would not have purchased it or paid less had she known the truth."
She's trying to "stretch [her] money... when buying groceries"?
We like to get the most for our grocery buck as possible, too, but the fact is that buying single-serving microwaveable mac and cheese is not the best use of your grocery money.
Let's look at the numbers.
NPR reports that the complaint states that "the Product is sold at a premium price, approximately no less than $10.99 for eight 2.39 oz cups." That's $1.37 per serving or $0.57 per ounce.
Here are the Nutrition Facts from the Velveeta website:
That's 220 calories, 590 milligrams of sodium, 7 grams of protein and 1 gram of fiber in what probably results in 3/4 of a cup (by volume) of food.
Compare this to our Creamy Mac & Cheese recipe.
Granted, you can't just walk into the store and buy a package of 8 servings, but if you bought the ingredients at your local grocery store (we checked our local Giant food), here's what you'd buy:
Pasta: Barilla whole grain rotini 16 oz. is $2.29/box (0.14/oz)
Eggs: $3.39/dozen ($0.28/egg)
2% Milk: $3.59/gallon ($0.03/ounce)
Sharp reduced fat cheese: $2.59/8oz ($0.32/ounce)
Salt: $0.89 for 26oz can ($0.03/ounce)
Black pepper: $4.59/6 ounces ($0.77/ounce)
Total: $17.34 (plus tax, of course)
A per-serving cost breakdown looks like this:
Pasta: 2 ounces is $0.28
Milk: 1/8 cup milk is 1 ounce or $0.03
Cheese: 1.25 ounce is $0.40
Salt: 1/16 tsp (roughly 0.01 ounce): $0.007
Black pepper: 1/4 tsp is 0.04 ounces: $0.03
Cost per serving: $0.75 (2 ounces pasta plus sauce)
And that's for a serving that's easily two to three times the volume of what you get in the plastic cup, with 350 calories, 5 grams of fiber, 25% less sodium (460mg) and over three times the protein (22g).
Our recipe states that it's ready in thirty minutes, but active cooking time is basically the time it takes to cook the pasta. With the groceries you purchased to make this dish, you could make a triple batch of the Creamy Mac & Cheese - 6 entree-size servings - that can each be reheated in the microwave in a minute or two.
It's a myth that eating healthier is more expensive, and the idea erases all of the other, even more significant barriers to eating healthy.
For example, this assumes that the purchaser has access to a grocery store, a refrigerator, two pots, basic cooking utensils, the means to boil water, and the time to cook, not to mention a microwave for the leftovers. These are real and significant barriers for some people.
Those who are lucky enough to have all those things, however, should be honest with themselves about why they're buying highly processed food - and it's not because they're trying to stretch their grocery dollar.
December 1, 2022