Today’s busy families often need a quick meal that can fit into their schedule away from home. That often means stopping for a fast food option.
By definition, fast food is a mass-produced food item that can be prepared, and then served, very quickly. It is often sold in quick-service restaurants where sit-down, takeout, and drive-thru options are available. They are a cheap alternative to a home-cooked meal, though they also tend to have questionable nutritional content contained within most menu items.
Sandwiches, burgers, fries, soft drinks, and milkshakes are common items found on fast food menus. For around $6 per person, it is an easy way to fit a meal into a busy schedule for sure.
There are numerous advantages and disadvantages of fast food that must be considered, especially if fast foods are a regular part of someone’s eating habits.
Biggest Advantages of Fast Food
1. It is possible to eat healthy at a quick-service restaurant.
There are several fast food menu items that are under 500 calories. You may need to look deeper into the menu or take some condiments off during your order, but it can happen. The Shake Shack single burger, for example, is just 360 calories. You can get a cheeseburger at In-N-Out, without spread, for 480 calories. At Wendy’s you can order a full-size Mediterranean Chicken Salad for 480 calories. Even an Egg McMuffin at McDonald’s is 300 calories.
2. It saves time when a meal is required.
Even fast home cooking requires 15-30 minutes of time for the average family in preparation and cooking. Then you have another 15-30 minutes of eating time. Visiting a fast food restaurant can cut those time requirements in half. With fast food, you can also eat in the vehicle (though some jurisdictions may not allow drivers to eat) or take the food to your next destination. Fast food makes it possible for people to find time to eat together, even during busy days.
3. It makes food affordable for some families.
As of September 2017, there are several food items available on fast food menus that make eating at a quick-service restaurant cheaper than buying groceries at a local supermarket. The Whopper Jr. at Burger King, for example, is just $1.29 and contains 340 calories. At Checkers, you can order two spicy chicken sandwiches for $3.00. Jack in the Box offers two tacos for $0.99 and a Junior Jack is $1.29. At Taco Bell, a basic taco runs about $1 per taco. Ask for water instead of a soda and you’ve got a meal.
4. It supports local business owners.
Quick-service restaurants are often independently owned and operated franchises which are run by local entrepreneurs. There are brand-owned restaurants within most fast food chains, including McDonald’s, which owns and operates 18% of all their locations. Each location employs an average of 14 people with a pay level that can range from minimum wage to upwards of $15 for some entry-level management positions. Eating at these establishments is a way to support local jobs and businesses.
5. It lets you know what to expect from the food.
Let’s say you’re on vacation and want something to eat. You spot a Burger King. You know what to expect from that menu, even if there are some local items that are there as well. You know that you can get a Whopper and that it will be made in the same way as it is at the Burger King in your hometown. That’s one of the biggest advantages that fast food restaurants offer. They eliminate the uncertainty of the dining experience when you’re away from home.
6. It still puts eating choices in the hands of the consumers.
Since 2010, quick-service restaurants in the United States have been required to published nutritional information about their menu items on the actual menu. When you order an Egg McMuffin at McDonald’s, then you know for a fact that you’re getting 300 calories. That makes it easier to make informed decisions about your daily eating habits. You can also do a quick web search on a smartphone to find other nutritional facts about menu items, like it contains 18g of protein or 55% of your daily sodium intake.
7. It offers choices.
Quick-service restaurants have evolved beyond burgers and fries. At Arby’s, you can order a variety of traditional sandwiches, such as a Reuben. At Taco Bell, you can order rice bowls. If you visit Chick-Fil-A, you’re encouraged to have some lemonade with your waffle-cut fries. You’ll still find brands that compete over the biggest beef patties and the slices of bacon they can put onto a burger. You can also find a lot more than that too.
8. It can meet current dietary requirements.
There are 8 primary food allergies that are of concern in the human population. Fast food restaurants are like other establishments and publish allergen charts for their meals. That means people with specific dietary requirements can still be able to enjoy a quick meal when needed.
Biggest Disadvantages of Fast Food
1. It isn’t easy to find healthy items that are fresh at fast food restaurants.
Fresh food items are increasing in popularity at quick-service restaurants. They are not, however, always easy to find. You may need to ask for a custom order to be able to lower your calorie count as well, which is not always successful. Healthy items are typically older as well, since they are not ordered as often. It takes more effort to order healthy items than it does to order high-calorie, high fat content food items in the fast food industry.
2. It offers a lower average quality of food than other eating establishments.
Many quick-service restaurants use frozen foods that are prepared off-site to increase the speed of order delivery. Fruits and vegetables undergo long-term storage practices, which reduces the likelihood of having locally-sourced items included with menu items. Most brands that feature QSR service use bulk food production methods, so the quality of food is reduced to improve its storage capabilities.
3. It can be unhealthy to eat the healthy food options at some fast food restaurants.
There are some very unhealthy items that can be found on today’s fast food menus, even though they sound like they are a healthy alternative. The Spicy Chicken Caesar Salad at Wendy’s, for example, offers 720 calories, 43 grams of fat, and 1,760mg of sodium. The Bacon Cheddar Ranch Chicken Salad at Burger King has 720 calories, 50g of fat, and 1,960mg of sodium. Even the Fuji Apple Salad with chicken, found at Panera Bread, has 570 calories and 34g of fat.
4. It isn’t always cheaper to eat fast food.
The average price of a fast food meal is around $7 per person, assuming a side and a drink is ordered for each person. For a family of 4, that means, with tax, they’ll be spending $30 for that meal. Eating just one fast food meal per day, over the course of a week, means $210 will be spent on that meal. Smart shopping at a grocery store can be 75% less than the costs of an average fast food meal. Add in the potential medical costs of constantly eating fast food and it may not always be cheaper, even if it is easier, to use this option for when you’re on the go.
5. It offers menu items which contain unhealthy levels of fat, sugar, and salt.
If you visit Quiznos and order their meatball sub, then you’ll receive 3,580mg of sodium with your sandwich. That’s 150% of your recommended daily intake. You’ll also consume 1,530 calories, 81g of fat, and 28g of saturated fat with your sandwich. If you’re focused on healthy eating habits, this one sandwich would be the only thing you could eat that day.
This is only one example. The Monster Thickburger at Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. offers 95g of fat and 2,820mg of sodium. The Ultimate Breakfast at Burger King offers 1,190 calories, 32g of sugar, and 2,460mg of sodium. Even the Baconator at Wendy’s has 23g of saturated fat and 1,890mg of sodium.
6. It offers food products that offer addictive qualities.
Fast foods are created in a way that addictive attributes are part of the experience. People feel good when they eat fast food items, which makes them want to eat more of them. If eaten for a long enough time period, fast foods can even encourage dependence with some people. The dependence factor is increased with the added sugars that come when a fast food meal is paired with a sweetened drink, like a soda. This results in a cycle of need that creates higher risks of obesity and associated health conditions which come from being overweight.
7. It is not always easy to know what is actually in the foods you eat.
QSR locations may be required to publish data on the calories that are in the food items, but they are not always required to publish their ingredient list. You can ask for the ingredient list at the counter if you wish, or look them up online, which is not as convenient as seeing the ingredient list with the menu item.
For Chicken McNuggets, did you know that there are 13 ingredients in just the chicken? And that there are 20 additional ingredients in the batter and breading of the nuggets? Even their marketing materials say that their Chicken McNuggets are “made with,” not “made of,” 100% USDA Grade A chicken meat.
8. It encourages the busy lifestyle.
If you look closely at the signs posted at many quick-service restaurants, you’ll notice that most of them forbid lingering. Some may even require you to finish your meal in 30 minutes or less. They do this to encourage more customer turnover, which increases their profit margins. It also means that they are helping to propagate the busy lifestyles that encourage fast food consumption in the first place.
When you eat food quickly, it also encourages you to eat more than you should. It takes about 20 minutes to complete the dining process in the first place, allowing the brain to register that you are actually full. Eating too fast can lead to obesity. WebMD reports that eating more slowly results in feeling fuller sooner, resulting in fewer calories being consumed, even for people who are overweight or obese.
9. It can increase a family’s medical costs.
In 2004, a study conducted by Kenneth Thorpe examined health care spending attributed to obesity in the United States. Starting from 1987, Thorpe found that obesity prevalence, on its own, accounts for a 12% increase in health spending per person. In a 15-year study of 3,000 adults, people who visit a fast food establishment just twice per week gained about 10 pounds more than people who visited them fewer than one time per week.
I recommend that you read these 29 fast food consumption statistics in America that support some of these pros and cons.
The biggest advantages and disadvantages of fast food involve cost, convenience, and a person’s future health. Like anything, fast food should be enjoyed in moderation only. It may be necessary on a busy day, though it shouldn’t become the normal go-to requirement for a meal. Eat slower, plan some meals in advance, and look for ways to incorporate home meals into your busy routine. In doing so, it could become easier to eat healthier on a regular basis.