The Cost of French Fries and Other Junk Food, for Wallet and Waistline

Libby Kane

The average American consumes 53 gallons of soda every year, which is about two bathtubs full…and nearly 30 pounds of French fries. In total, we eat almost 2,000 pounds of food, too (as seen by this awesome infographic from Visual Economics). What the infographic doesn’t tell us is exactly how many servings of French fries we have to eat to consume the 29 pounds that’s the national average.

So, we worked it out: 113 servings. That’s fries twice a week, every week—for a whole year.

Overindulging Leads to Overspending

Turns out that our sweet tooth is putting an $855 hole in our pocket every year, and that doesn’t even include chocolate, or pastries, or liquor! Nor does it include a gym membership to work off the extra calories, dentist visits to pry the sugar out of our teeth, or doctor appointments to keep us running smoothly. That’s easily an extra thousand dollars per year, just to offset the effects of our eating habits.

Saving Doesn’t Mean Eliminating

Even cutting back a little can make a big difference for our finances and our long-term health. Here’s what we calculated:


Little Changes, Big Savings

Now, we’re not saying that everyone eats like the average American (we probably eat way more cheese than the norm!), but this junk food profile does point to areas of our own lives we can seek to improve. ’Cause hey, we shouldn’t be stopping by Cold Stone on the way home, anyway.










What’s your go-to (healthier) snack when you’re craving junk food? Share with the community in the comments below!

  • Alexa

    I likely drink a diet coke 5-10 times a week for $1-2 dollars each…really, $15-20 a week on diet coke? YUCK. I have been filling in with crystal light….Thanks LearnVest!

  • Guest

    It's disgusting to think about junk food consumption on a large scale, but your analysis here is seriously flawed. You assume that all of these are consumed as “treats,” or in addition to a meal. In reality many of the cheapest (and definitely most convenient) food options are the least healthy. Eating fast food is actually a money saving measure as compared to the preparation and frequent (and potentially longer-distance) trips to grocery stores for healthier fare.

    Nice link to the infographic, but your post is a disappointing oversimplification.

    • Crbrownie

      You either pay now for healthy foods or you pay the drug companies to treat the diseases you get by your poor diet. Simply put or not, these foods are a waste financially and for your health.

      • YUMicecream

        Nice point, Crbrownie… I can't even imagine how you could put numbers to the unhealthiness caused by such large-scale consumption of foods that should be treats.

        And Guest: It's a sad truth that restricted financial resources lead people to fast food and the ensuing health problems. I doubt LV is trying to belittle people who eat fries by necessity.

        • Guest

          No, I don't think LV is trying to belittle people who eat fries by necessity, but I have several problems with this post.

          The author also directly equates lower calories with health (see chart of “savings in calories” below description of benefit for long term health). Yes, there is large proportion of Westerners who consume too many calories, but there are also a significant number of people, with or without eating disorders, for whom this correlation is a complete fallacy.

          No, your typical fast food meal will not be the healthiest option for a number of reasons, but total calories is hardly an accurate measure. Also remember that many people consume *more* calories eating at a “healthy” place (Subway) than an “unhealthy” one (McDonald's).

          Let's not further the damaging assumption that all people (or women, LV's target demo) need to eat less calories to be healthy.

          • Allison Kade

            Hi Guest,

            I understand what you're saying, certainly. It's definitely possible to consume more calories at Subway than at McDonald's… but, if you think about it, isn't that actually better? A serving of fries has roughly 290 calories, and a turkey breast Subway sandwich has about 280. You COULD consume more calories at Subway by, say, eating that sandwich and a drink, as opposed to just the fries at McDonald's. If you did, however, you'd almost certainly feel a whole lot more satiated after that sandwich and a drink than just a small serving of fries.

            LearnVest would never support an agenda that feeds into negative body image issues and encourages bad eating patterns for young women. That said, obesity IS a real problem in the U.S. The truth is that it is harmful to consume too many calories, and that French fries are–quite objectively–not good for you. Rather than telling our readers to eat fewer calories, we would want them to think about they're eating–and try to eat SMARTER calories. Like, for example, in the Subway vs. McDonald's example.

            It's not healthy to eliminate needed calories or to obsess over body image, but it's also not healthy to be unaware about what you're putting in your own body.

        • Allison Kade

          Hi Guest, and Crbrownie, and YUMicecream,

          Absolutely. I totally understand what all of you are saying–as far as what we're trying to say here, we're not trying to say that someone who can only afford a McDonald's dinner should be expected to go to Whole Foods instead. That said, obesity is a real and true problem in America, and it takes a toll both physically and financially. I agree entirely with Crbrownie in that there IS a cost to eating French fries beyond the initial dollars saved. We're not trying to say that people who can only afford fast food should somehow come up with extra money, but I do think it would be fair to say that, even on a tight budget, it is simply not a viable option to eat fries every day.

          Also, please keep in mind that we're not telling people to cut consumption of these foods entirely, either. We're simply showing the health and monetary benefit of scaling back.

          Hope this helps clarify,

          Allison Kade
          Editor at LearnVest

  • tay

    Popcorn! Or kids' cereal (like Reese's Puffs) when I'm craving something sweet or chocolatey

  • Crbrownie

    Original Doritos and Virgil's Root Beer (or Virgil's Cream or Orange) soda

  • Erika

    I like to keep Hershey kisses around in a bowl. That way when I'm craving something sweet, I just pop one in my mouth. Even though it is really hard to just eat one!

  • Guest

    Bananas with fat free whipped cream and chocolate sauce — yum!

  • megan

    ranch rice cakes. nom nom nom.

  • Rebecca

    I love apple slices with Nutella or those chocolate covered frozen bananas from Trader Joes :-D !

  • Okiah

    I usually have sauteed veggies when I want something really yummy.

  • AB

    I grab some raisins and a glass of milk. It's amazing how satisfying they are together, and the raisins definitely ease my sweet cravings.

  • CI

    I prefer my french fries home-made, with real potatoes and the oil of my choice (I like corn or sunflower oil). It's still junk food I guess, but somehow seems healthier, and it's definitely cheaper!

  • Jojit

    Nice infographic, that's a big saving for a year. You can buy vegetables, fruits and supplements with that amount so why fall with those kind of foods, it's unhealthy and adds fat to your tummy. I've started reading blogs from PureandHealthy and saw this topic… what they have are informative articles.

  • LaurenandElissa

    Cashews. And watermelon.
    Excellent article!!

  • MidwestMom

    Popcorn or pretzels!

  • Aura

    I think the point of this article is not to tell people (or women) to consume less calories, but to not consume empty calories. Eating a meal that has a high calorie content is no problem when that comes along with a great nutrient pack (protein, good fats, vitamins and minerals), these foods don’t offer that. What matters is where you get your calories from.nnAlso as a low income stay at home mom that does grocery shopping and cooks for her family. The only fast food we eat is Subway, Taco Bell and pizza (less than once a week) because we don’t eat meat and the fish at fast food places is gross. The cost has never been less than cooking our own healthier meal. nn

  • Erminator

    I am not impressed with the 2 recent articles on food that you have posted. Ten Healthy foods for under $1 and 8 healthy fast food meals for $8 or less. Your fast food suggestions are terrible.  From what you are proposing it appears that people on a budget can’t eat real meat.  Eggs, Tofu and nuts are fine proteins but nowhere other than the fast food article you posted did I see meat. Meats are proteins. (Fish, fowl, Beef, nuts etc.) Proteins satisfy a person and that satisfaction stays in the body longer which reduces the craving to snack.  Snacking due to hunger can make a person gain weight. Snacking can blow your already tight food budget which conflicts with the philosophy of your website.  ”The cost of French fries and other junk food for wallet & waistline,” is the only one that touched on the cost to both budget and health that I saw.
    I buy simple whole foods at the grocery store and cook them.  There are plenty of good and inexpensive choices if someone takes the time to look for them.  People who want recipes can find them online in minutes –, the food network food tv etc..  I just googled “foods for under ten dollars” and came up with 5 sites that had good recipes.