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20 Home Cooked Meals Cheaper Than McDonald’s

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DISCLAIMER:  This article may contain affiliate links and we may earn a small commission if you purchase through one of our affiliate links.  We only recommend products we love.

Can you make a meal at home that is cheaper than McDonald’s? Of course you can, but can it also be healthy and taste good? YES! Yes, it can.

I’ve heard so many people say that it costs MORE to eat healthy. I get why they say that. You’ve probably seen the meme that shows a grilled chicken salad from a fast food joint at $4.50 and a burger at $1.29, right?  That meme seems to make a valid point.  It DOES often cost more to eat healthy at a fast food place than it does to eat the burger and fries.  This makes sense because fresh vegetables and healthy ingredients are harder to keep from spoiling and that costs money.

However, this mentality often just gets applied across the board to healthy eating with fresh, whole ingredients. People think that it’s more expensive to go to the store and make a healthy meal than it is to grab a value meal at McDonald’s.

But, is it really true?  Or, can you make a healthy meal at home that is cheaper than McDonald’s and doesn’t take forever?

Let’s find out!

With HUNDREDS of recipes in our database of healthy recipes, I figured I could find a bunch that could beat McDonald’s.  So, I hopped on the McDonald’s app (yes, I now have that app on my phone), made up a meal for 4, and then went to my local Safeway to check prices on ingredients.

Without even really trying very hard, I was able to find 20 recipes from our database that meet or beat the McDonald’s price.  In fact, I barely scratched the surface of our database.  I went mostly from memory of our most popular, simple recipes.  As one of our members put it, “I bet you could find more like 120…”.

Below, I go through the cost breakdown for each recipe and talk about prep time and more. In my opinion, this experiment proves that you CAN eat healthy at home for less than fast food without spending hours in the kitchen.

Use the comments section to let me know if you agree or disagree.

The McDonald's Meal For 4

I used the McDonald’s app to put together a reasonable meal for 4 (2 adults and 2 kids) and get a price for my area.  The app connects you to your closest store, so these prices may vary based on your area (as do the grocery prices).

I chose 2 very popular and common value meals for the adults:  A Big Mac Meal and a Quarter Pounder with Cheese.  I didn’t upgrade the size on anything.

For the 2 kids, I chose cheeseburger happy meals with no upgrades.

The total came to $21.86.  So, my goal for the meals in this blog will be to feed 4 people for less than that total and with reasonable cooking time.

cheaper than McDonald's

Assumptions, Disclaimers, Caveats and all that stuff

I realize it’s more than just the cost that drives (pun intended) someone to go to McDonald’s or any other fast food joint. I won’t pretend that it’s always, or even often, “easier” AND cheaper to cook at home.  I think we can all agree that it’s healthier to eat at home, and that is definitely worth something to most of us.

With that, here are some assumptions, disclaimers, and caveats to take into account when looking at these comparisons.

✔️ The McDonald’s meals all come with drinks (soda).  The recipes and calculations in this blog do NOT include drinks.  

✔️ I did NOT shop frugally during my cost analysis. I used a lot of organic products.  I did not include sale prices on anything even if it was on sale. I used fresh meats instead of frozen even when frozen could easily be used.  I did NOT use bulk pricing on anything. I did NOT use the generic brand of anything even when it was perfectly suitable. In other words, you could definitely save even more on many of these meals.

✔️ In most of the calculations, I add a nominal cost for items you likely have in your pantry already.  I did not want to calculate out the cost of 1/4 teaspoon of oregano.  Of course, if you don’t have one of the items, your up front cost to purchase a spice or condiment you don’t have will be more than what is calculated.

✔️ Some of the recipes actually make more than 4 servings.  In most, I left the calculation for the TOTAL recipe and assumed only 4 servings just to be conservative.  I only changed the final number on the Chili Mac recipe because it makes a lot more than 4 servings.

✔️ I did not specifically shop for Organic and Non GMO items.  I followed our normal 90/10 guidelines (see our Academy HERE).  As I said above, I didn’t purchase the cheapest option of everything, but I also didn’t stick to Organic only.

✔️ On sandwich recipes, I often added sweet potato fries (RECIPE HERE) or carrot fries (RECIPE HERE). You could switch these out for a steamed veggie or a salad or various other healthy items.  Also, for the sweet potato fries, I used pre-cut fries from the produce section which adds significant cost over cutting them yourself.

1. Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos

These slow cooker chicken tacos come out cheaper than McDonald’s and they taste far better.

The prep time on this dish is really under 10 minutes and you can even freeze it before cooking and make it when you are ready.  The cook time is long (slow cooker) but the active time is super short.  So, just throw it all in the crockpot in the morning and you’ll have tacos for less than a stop at the drive-thru.

To make this dish even better, lightly crisp the tortillas in pan with a little olive oil on both sides.

Also, in my experience with this dish, it serves more like 6-8 people.

slow cooker chicken tacos
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

2. Pizza Grilled Cheese

Pizza Grilled Cheese is a favorite amongst our members. It’s so simple, so easy, and so tasty.  The kids love it and the adults love it.

It’s incredible to find a meal that everyone loves, that is cheaper than McDonald’s and other fast food, that takes just a few minutes to make, and is also unique.

Feel free to switch up the “toppings” for this recipe as well to make it different every time you have it.

healthy pizza grilled cheese
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

3. Slow Cooker Chicken Gyros

This is another slow cooker meal that can be frozen and has minimal prep time.  Just throw everything in the slow cooker in the morning and you have your meal ready later in the day.

In the cost analysis, I used store bought pitas, but the recipe also has a section for making your own if you prefer.  Either way, it comes out cheaper than McDonald’s.

Also, the store bought Tzatziki sauce is usually not too hard to find without sugar and junk ingredients but make sure you watch the ingredients closely.

Slow Cooker Chicken Gyros
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

4. Pineapple Salsa Chicken over Rice

Dump 3 items in the slow cooker, microwave some brown rice, and dinner is served!  It doesn’t get easier than this.

I even used microwaveable brown rice packets in the cost analysis.  You could save significantly by making your rice in a rice cooker, Instant Pot, or on the stove (RECIPE HERE).

Simple Pineapple Salsa Chicken
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

5. Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

This simple recipe for a grilled chicken sandwich is easy to make and comes out quite a bit cheaper than McDonald’s.

Once again, we paired this with super convenient sweet potato fries that are pre-cut.  You could do this with any healthy side you choose.

Also, if you are trying to cut carbs (which we aren’t), you can use the keto hamburger buns.

Healthy Grilled Chicken Sandwiches
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

6. Lasagna Casserole

You don’t even have to cook the pasta before baking this lasagna casserole.  Just brown the meat and throw it together per the instructions and the pasta cooks in the oven!

Our crockpot lasagna is another favorite that would probably come out cheaper than McDonald’s as well!

Also, this dish is set to serve 8 people!  So, it’s probably more like half the price shown here.

Clean Eating Lasagna Casserole
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

7. Creamy Ranch Pork Chops over Rice

This recipe is a bit of legend amongst our members.  Everyone absolutely loves this recipe.  The ranch flavor is amazing but without the maltodextrin and other junk you would get from a ranch seasoning packet.

As with other recipes, I used microwaveable brown rice packets in the cost analysis.  You could save significantly by making your rice in a rice cooker, Instant Pot, or on the stove (RECIPE HERE).

Slow Cooker Creamy Ranch Pork Chops
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

8. Frozen Pizza

This one might push the 20 minute prep time limit, but not by much.  Plus, if you make several at a time, you can have them ready in the freezer to grab any time and that makes them super easy for replacing fast food. This recipe also makes 2 pizzas, so it probably feeds more like 6-8 people.

Our normal (non frozen) pizza recipe is great too.

I’ve left some room in the cost calculation for any toppings you may want to add.

cheaper than McDonald's
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

9. Cheeseburgers and Carrot Fries

This one is DEFINITELY cheaper than McDonald’s, and don’t knock the carrot fries until you try them.  Even my kids LOVE these carrot fries.

I’ve never seen carrots cut into shoestring fries in the store, so there is a bit of prep time here. If you want to cut prep time, you can always go with a different veggie that you can find precut like squash or sweet potatoes.

cheeseburgers and carrot fries (1)
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

10. Beef Enchiladas

You could always pair this with a quick salad to get some more veggies if you would like.  Our McDonald’s example meal doesn’t have any real veggies either, but it wouldn’t take much to add a quick bag of salad to this.

This one has been a big hit with our membership lately.

healthy beef enchiladas
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

11. Gourmet Breakfast Sandwiches

Again, I did the prepackaged sweet potato fries for ease of calculation and for ease of preparation as a side for these.  However, you could also do this recipe with the Hotshot Hash that we originally made it with.

healthy Gourmet Breakfast Sandwich
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

12. Chili Mac

This recipe makes a LOT of food.  It has 2 lbs of meat.  So, I went ahead and calculated the cost for 4 servings assuming the recipe makes 6 servings (it probably makes more like 8 servings).

Chili Mac
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

13. Breakfast Burritos

I added the sweet potato fries on this for the pricing just in case the burrito by itself wasn’t enough.  You could probably do something more like hash browns with them if you wanted.  In most cases, I think a breakfast burrito holds its own as a meal.

Clean Eating Breakfast Burritos
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

14. Snappy Sloppy Joes

For pricing, I used the carrot fries as a pairing rather than the veggies shown in the picture.  You could definitely do either one and still come out cheaper than McDonald’s.

cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

15. Spicy Chicken Sandwiches

This one was actually originally inspired by a Chick-Fil-A sandwich, so it’s perfect for this blog!  Cheaper than McDonald’s AND Chick-Fil-A!

Spicy Chicken Sandwiches
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

16. English Muffin Pizzas with Salad

If you have kids, you can even involve them in the prep for this one.  These little pizzas are fun for the kids to make and they take very little time.

The salad pricing is based of of a prepackaged salad mix.  If you added tomatoes and other toppings, of course cost and prep time would go up slightly.

English Muffin Pizzas
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

17. Country Breakfast Bowls

OK, so the calculation came out 3 cents over the McDonald’s meal on this one.  I could have fixed that since there is plenty of wiggle room in the calculation, but I figured you would get the idea and not get too technical here.  You could easily find eggs for less, salsa for less, or not assume a full $2 for spices.

Breakfast is really one of those things that can be done for dinner anytime and is relatively inexpensive.  In fact we did a whole blog on that HERE.

Clean Eating Country Breakfast Bowls
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

18. Cheeseburger Wraps

These wraps are a fun and unique way to have burgers. They’re like burritos that taste like a cheeseburger.  The kids love them and they’re easy to make.

Oh, and they’re cheaper than McDonald’s if you hadn’t guessed.

Carrots added to pricing for carrot fries as a side.

healthy Cheeseburger Wraps
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

19. Denver Omelette Casserole

This one goes together quick and the cost comes out quite a bit cheaper than McDonald’s.

Breakfast for the win again!

Denver Omelette Casserole
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

20. Chicken Parmesan Casserole

If you are more interested in convenience than cost, you could use a roasted chicken for this recipe and it would go together even quicker.

Also, you could use your Instant Pot, if you have one, to cook the chicken.  Just 8 minutes with some broth or water in the Instant Pot and you’ll be ready to shred.

Chicken Parmesan Casserole
cheaper than McDonald's

(click table to enlarge)

Your Turn! Tell us what you think in the comments.


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. 90/10 has the best family-friendly recipes. The food tastes better and I we all feel better when we eat it. So thankful for this community!

  2. It’s all in the planning! (You know, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”.) Have the stuff in the house, KNOW what you are going to eat and skip the darn drive-thru!

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