Brown Bag Report: MainStreet's 'PBJ Index' Rates Cheap Lunch Choices

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When lunch hour strikes, finding affordable cuisine can be a challenge. Some turn to fast food value menus, and others pack a lunch.

A popular pick for those who prepare their food at home is the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or PBJ.  But how fattening is your PBJ? And how much does it really cost you to make? And is it actually better for you than a hamburger?

The PBJ Break Down.

A slice of whole wheat bread, commercially prepared, contains about 70 calories. (Assuming you use two slices that's 140 calories.) As for price, a loaf averages about $3.00 for 16 slices (that's 19 cents per slice or 38 cents per serving).

If you’re looking for a reasonably priced, healthy jar of peanut butter, Skippy Natural and Skippy Reduced Fat (creamy) should be considered. Both products are priced at approximately $3 for an 18 oz. jar, according to Walgreens.com. Two tablespoons of Skippy’s will add up to 190 calories and cost approximately 17 cents per serving. Smuckers’ Concord Grape jelly has a calorie count of 50 calories per tablespoon, (and costs between 10-21 cents per serving).

We’ll do the PBJ math: Depending on brands and how much of each ingredient you use, your PBJ will be around 380 to 430 calories and will cost between 46 to 76 cents.

In addition to the homemade “main course,” Cher Pastore, a New York-based dietician and nutritionist, suggests some nutritious sides, such as a red apple, (approximately 70 cents in price and 90 calories). As for a drink, let’s keep it simple and bring a $1 water bottle containing zero calories.

Now compare the value of your PBJ meal, to that of the products you can buy off of a value menu at various fast food stops. (Fast food meal prices include value-priced entrée, medium soda and a medium side dish.)


WENDY'S

First launched in 1989, Wendy’s value menu has proven itself a success among consumers, says Bob Bertini, a spokesperson from Wendy’s. “Our most popular items from the value menu are definitely the Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger, 99 cent chicken nuggets and Crispy Chicken Sandwich.”

Crispy Chicken Sandwich Meal Cost:
$4.67
Compared with PBJ: Wendy's costs up to 110% more!

Crispy Chicken Sandwich Meal Calorie Count: With lettuce, mayonnaise and a sandwich bun, the calorie count is 330. Add on that coke and fries and the calorie count is 960.
Compared with PBJ: Wendy's contains up to 153% more calories!

BURGER KING
For one dollar, customers can enjoy a minimized version of Burger King’s Whopper. Meet, the Whopper Jr.

Whopper Junior Meal Cost: $4.48.
Compared with PBJ: Burger King costs up to 102% more!

Whopper Junior Meal Calorie Count: With dill pickles, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes ketchup, onions, and a sesame seed bun, the Whopper Jr. turns out to be 370 calories. Fries and a soda bump the total to TK. 
Compared with PBJ: The Burger King meal contains up to 61% more calories!

McDONALDS

McDonald’s offers customers options such as French fries, four piece chicken nuggets, and cheeseburgers all for $1. Let’s look at the hamburger.

Hamburger Meal Cost: $ 4.48.
Compared with PBJ: McD's costs up to 102% more.
Hamburger Meal Calorie Count: For the total meal, the calorie count is 760 calories (300 for the sandwich alone).
Compared to the PBJ: McD's meal contains up to 61% more calories!

TACO BELL:
If you’re looking for an alternative to burgers and fries: Taco Bell's “Why Choose More” menu offers tacos, both soft and crunchy, bean burritos, and cheese roll ups for 99 cents or less. The cheapest item on the menu? The cheese roll up is only 79 cents.

Cheese Roll Up Meal Cost: $3.27.
Compared to the PBJ: Taco Bell costs up to 47% more!
Cheese Roll Up Meal Calorie Count: The regular style cheese roll up's three cheese blend contains 200 calories. As for a side of chips and dip, that’s 330 calories. And the medium coke is about 200. Total: 730.
Compared to the PBJ: Taco Bell's meal contains up to 55% more calories!


WHAT WE'VE LEARNED: FIND A BALANCE
When consumed in the correct proportions, fast food will not drain your wallet or leave you obese. Determining that balance is where most of us have issues.

“Most people have to find organization in their lives in order to eat successfully and maintain a decent weight,” says Andy Bellatti, who conducts research at New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health department. “Many run out of the house thinking that taking the time to make a sandwich is a big feat.”

The good news, say Pastore and Bellatti, who also writes a blog entitled “SmallBitesNutrition,” is that even if a person doesn’t bring a brown bag lunch to work, the big franchises now offer healthier alternatives to fries and chicken nuggets.

“It’s fine to get something from the value menu, but never supersize anything,” says Pastore. “Preparing food at home is the best way to eat healthier, but if you’re going to get something at a franchise, try to avoid anything crispy, fried, or battered. Get the side salad instead of fries.” 

Or you can just go ahead and pack a PBJ.


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