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Exploring the real cost of food: processed versus home-prepared

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Home cooking: Martha’s simple example shows how preparing a meal at home can be less expensive than buying a frozen, processed version of the same meal (Photograph courtesy of pixabay.com)

Does living simply mean frugality or life energy freedom? Once a month in Moneywise, we will explore the cost of everyday living in an inflationary world.

Food! One of the four basic psychological elements of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Life Needs along with water, shelter, and rest.

Farm to table, what is the real cost of food? A few weeks ago, we featured the cost attachment and embellishment of a lettuce head in each step of the food-supply chain to end point – the retail store.

Now, what is the real cost, post purchase as food is brought home for consumption? Read on and you may be surprised.

When we think of food, generally, taste comes first, then likes, then possibly health nutritional elements, then affordability. My first focus, being finance obsessed, is on the hidden costs of food, because food budgets can be more within our control, unlike fixed items such as rent, mortgages, utilities, gas, etc.

A recent shopping trip down the pasta and grain aisle in a supermarket, one enormous trend simply jumped out at me. I was looking for a box of your basic macaroni to prepare Bermuda mac ‘n’ cheese for the holidays. At first, it appeared that the store was simply out of product, but after skimming yards and yards of prepackaged pasta, rice and other grain offerings, all proclaiming simply add hamburger, chicken, ham, or tuna, etc, the real truth was entirely different. A quick math reckoning indicated that more than 80 per cent of pasta was processed, reprocessed and packaged into artfully photographed and temptingly titled single-dinner meals.

Lets do a basic cost comparison about raw rice versus a packaged “rice meal”. These costs are taken directly from a local grocery store advert. Readers, check my maths – I do make mistakes.

• 5 pounds (80 ounces) hulled, semi-processed rice packaged in a see-through plain plastic bag at $11.99, so cost per ounce = 15 cents an ounce and 8.5 ounces = $1.28

• 8.5 ounces of “cheddar-broccoli” flavoured rice packaged in attractive cardboard outer shell with plastic pouch within at $3.99, so cost per ounce = 47 cents and 8.5 ounces = $3.99

Food: a foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The packaged product cost more than three times as much on the face; however, the rice itself is even more costly because packaging processing costs (estimated at 20 per cent of total end product) are also included.

Your answer may be: so what?

Home-made is comparable. Add oil, salt, pepper, a tiny bit of broccoli and some cheese (say 1 ounce) the cost is about the same.

Or is it?

Next equation = add these ingredients to 8.5 ounces of raw rice.

40 cents = 2 tablespoons of oil

55 cents = 1 broccoli stalk

50 cents = 1 ounce (plain orange) rat cheese (that we all love)

Cooking cost for the home-prepared dish cost more in time and a little more in utility. Preparing the packaged pouch rice is faster and cheaper using the microwave.

The comparison end result:

$2.73 estimated total cost of raw rice ingredients meal prepared at home

$3.99 estimated total cost of packaged broccoli/cheese flavoured rice meal

Is there any point to this exercise?


Final analysis

Four servings of total $2.73 broccoli cheese raw rice prepared at home = 70 cents per serving

One serving of $3.99 packaged broccoli cheese rice = $3.99 per serving, the cost does not change

Cost comparison is even more significant when raw rice is purchased in even larger quantities.

Some facts in the sophisticated packaging process, that we are paying for:

• The endlessly irritatingly loud advertising chants about convenience (processed) food that arrives in happy-looking packages, presented as new adventures in taste, togetherness, love, you name it! Certainly, talking about a boring chunk of ham, compared to a rice ‘n’ ham already seasoned dinner is like night and day

• The passed-on processing waste in food, significantly larger in one pouch compared to five raw rice pounds

•The 25 to 30 “other” multiple additives to the rice pouch – what is that stuff?

• Afterwards, to have the packaging picked up and trucked to a landfill, incinerator, etc, in household assessed surcharges (or our government implicit taxes)

•Then, paying again for the throwaway leftovers, because no one wants them after a couple of days.

In the meantime, meals almost always have leftovers.

Was it different in the old days? In our family household growing up years ago, leftovers really did not exist. We had our own disposal methods.

First, the good leftovers disappeared expeditiously, divided among numerous siblings, or ended up in next-day school lunches.

Dashy, our dog, the most efficient clean-up member of the family team – got what little was left on an individual plates, usually snuck under the table those highly disliked items like canned peas.

He was a non-discriminating gourmet; never even asked for specialised pet food.

Years later, Dashy having long departed to doggy heaven, we had another dog. Much bigger, even less discriminating, he was known to sweep food right off the table.

When half a birthday cake surreptitiously disappeared, he was banished from meal times, only allotted his share after table cleared.

Readers, every household in Bermuda these days has to be food-inflation challenged.

You’ve spent considerable time shopping, grading, inspecting, assessing family likes and dislikes, comparing nutritional value to cost per gram/pound, shaking your head at the ever-rising costs as you attempt to stay within a food budget.

What are your tips on food cost saving while still generating nutritious meals?

Let’s hear from you.

How do you manage to control food waste in your household? What do you do with your leftovers?

Write to me martha.myron@gmail.com and please allow me to publish your no-waste meal strategies.

Next: recycling food – more on this in February in our monthly series.


“Food Packaging Waste Statistics: Understanding the Rise of Food Packaging Waste”, Jane Marsh, May 3, 2021

“Reduce food waste”, University of Georgia

Growing veggies from kitchen scraps, YouTube

There are many, many videos on this economic recycling movement.

Martha Harris Myron, a native Bermudian with US connections, is a retired qualified international financial planner, a Google News Contributor since 2016, author of The Dawn of New Beginnings: Bermuda’s First Financial Literacy Primer. All proceeds from her work are donated to the Bermuda Sloop Foundation for 2022-23

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Published January 14, 2023 at 8:04 am (Updated January 14, 2023 at 8:04 am)

Exploring the real cost of food: processed versus home-prepared

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