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Save Money with Fast Food Value Menus

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Fast Food Value Menu

Fast Food Value Menu

I have to admit it... I eat at fast food restaurants. I've tried to avoid them in an attempt to be more healthy, but time and again I find myself gravitating towards food that is fast, cheap, and tastes good. (My taste buds are not the most refined.) As one might expect some of the better values at fast food places are on the value menu. That's almost always where I get my food. For a dollar or two you can get a full meal. That's not always true, sometimes you have to be a little careful, value menu items vary vastly. For instance McDonald's Dollar Menu features a 390 calorie McDouble and a 160 calorie Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfait. Your dollar goes more than twice as far (in terms of calories) by opting for the McDouble.

I thought about writing about maximizing the calories per dollar. However, I couldn't, in good conscience, completely ignore the health aspect. Lazy Man and Health is already unhappy with me with it's hiatus. So I make a point to offer a "more healthy" option... not necessarily actually healthy. Call it a bit of a compromise.

That said, here are six fast food restaurants and my selections for the best value menu options:

McDonald's Dollar Menu

The Value: McDouble - This burger had 390 calories - enough to be a meal in itself for a lot of people. While it does have 19 grams of fat, it does have 22 grams of protein and 33 grams of carbs. That sounds pretty close to the Zone diet for me.
The Healthy Option: McDouble - I couldn't find a good healthy option on McDonald's value menu. It might be a surprise with the Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfait sitting there, but I'm a protein-focused guy and the parfait is pretty much empty there. It also has nearly as many carbs as the McDouble. I'd nominate the McChicken as a runner up. It has more carbs and less protein and fat than the McDouble, but it seems like a decent option. Then again it made the top 5 worst foods according to The Cancer Project.
Watch Out For... the Double Cheeseburger - McDonald's used to have the double cheeseburger on the dollar menu. Near me they moved that to their regular menu and raised the price to $1.29. In it's place, they've added the aforementioned McDouble. It's the same burger with one slice of cheese instead of the double cheeseburger's two. So an extra slice of cheese raises the price by 29%... Hmmm, I think the McDouble works for me. And while I think McDonald's is sneaky here, they talk about the McDouble vs. the double cheeseburger very openly.

Burger King's Value Menu

The Value: Whopper Jr. - At 370 calories, it can substitute as a meal itself as well.
The Healthy Option: Whopper Jr. - The 21 grams of fat, 16 grams of protein, 40 grams of carbs doesn't stand up to the McDouble. It's really not that healthy of an option. You'll note that I left off the side salad.
Watch Out For... The Side Salad - The side salad seems to have 40 calories... While it may have been a better option for the healthy choice, I'd need to eat 8 salads before I get close to approaching a meal. There's not a lot of value in an $8 dollar fast food salad.

Random useless fact: Did you know that Burger King is called Hungry Jacks in Australia? I thought there was some massive trademark infridgement involved when I went "down under."

Wendy's Super Value Menu

The Value: Grilled Chicken Go Wrap - Though the Double Stack's 360 calories is probably more for you money, I'm going with the 260 calorie Grilled Chicken Go Wrap. The reason is that it has 17 grams of protein to 11 grams of fat. If you opt for two of them, you have a 34 gram protein meal with 22 grams of fat. It's just a better ratio than the Double Stack's 23 protein to 18 fat ratio.
The Healthy Option: Grilled Chicken Go Wrap - All in all, it's very close, but I'm going with the Grilled Chicken Go Wrap. It was healthy enough to get the value call above despite being a 100 fewer calories than the Double Stack.
Watch Out For... Mayonnaise and Honey Mustard Sauce - If you take the Honey Mustard Sauce out of the Grilled Chicken Go Wrap, you can get it to 220 calories, 17 grams of protein and 8 grams of fat. It will take you $2 to get up to a meal, but it will be amongst the healthier value meal options.

Taco Bell's "Why Pay More?"

The Value: Cheesy Double Beef Burrito - Taco Bell has quite a few options that would qualify, but there's no mistaking the value of the Cheesy Double Beef Burrito. It's a whopping 460 calories for 89 cents (in most locations). While the protein and fat are both around 20 grams doesn't make it the healthiest meal, it's not horrible. At least that's my opinion, but the The Cancer Project also had this on their unhealthy menu.
The Healthy Option: Taco Bell Fresco Menu - The whole Taco Bell Fresco Menu scored major points from me in the past by offering a whole menu of items. My pick is the Fresco Bean Burrito. It has a 330 calories, 11 grams of protein, with 9 grams of fat and fiber.
Watch Out For... Triple Layer Nachos - With 18 grams of fat and 7 grams of protein, it's a tough pick. It does have some guacamole which will have good fat from avocados, but I still don't think that saves it.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

The Value: Buffalo Original Recipe Snacker - My research seems to show that their value menu was announced in February earlier this year. The KFC Snacker Sandwiches seems to be a bit of a disappointing deal for $1. It maxes out at 320 calories (the fish version - are you really going to eat fish at KFC?) and averages around 265 calories. You may need to order two.
The Healthy Option: Buffalo Original Recipe Snacker - At 240 calories it's a little light on value, but it does have 15 grams of protein and only 7 grams of fat. The sodium is the highest at 710mg, but let's gloss over that.
Watch Out For... The Prices - With no value item over the 320 calories (that I could find), you might have to augment it with two items. From a calorie per dollar perspective, I think you can do better at other places.

Special Note: Today you can stop in and can grab a piece of free Kentucky Grill Chicken.

Jack in the Box

(Note: I only added this regional chain because there are a ton near me.)

I'm not a fan of Jack in the Box's marketing campaign - they had their mascot hit by a bus during the Super Bowl. I wanted to boycott them for that kind of craziness, but there's a very, very convenient Jack in the Box on my way to work. They also offer their whole menu at any time.

The Value: The Big Cheeseburger - I get it without the mayo sauce. Even without it, the Big Cheeseburger is 550 calories - more than enough for a meal for me. It's not particularly healthy - the value here is a big meal for $1.29 (the price near me).
The Healthy Option: The Big Cheeseburger with no Bun or Sauce - I'm not happy with any of the Jack in the Box options... I found nothing that close to healthy on the value menu. They have options off the value menu, but that's off topic. I'm not even happy with this call as it has 25 grams of fat and only 15 grams of protein. At least it comes in at 309 calories and only 5 carbs for those Atkins followers.
Watch Out For... Your Heart - The prices are decent, but the nutrition is a little lacking. While fast food is almost a "sometimes food"... it seems that it's true for Jack in the Box even more than other fast food places.

Photo Credit: Blyzz

Last updated on October 26, 2012.

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21 Responses to “Save Money with Fast Food Value Menus”

  1. It’s not a buck, but I’m a fan of the potato bowl at KFC. Chicken, potatoes, and corn in one bowl.

    The only negative in that the nearest KFC has the absolute slowest works in the world. A 15 minute wait is no unusual, even if there are only a few people ahead of you.

    Sonic and Hardees don’t make your list?

  2. Lazy Man says:

    I’ve been to a Sonic once, and was about 3 hours away from home. I don’t know if I’ve seen a Hardees in person ever.

  3. Hardees (east coast) is pretty much the same as Carl’s Jr (west coast), I forget the exact details.

    You forgot In-N-Out and their willingness to construct pretty much anything for you (the secret menu).

  4. Lazy Man says:

    When I lived in Boston there was no Hardees. The closest one on a search is Shirley, NY. If you don’t have a presence in Boston or San Francisco, I left you out. I should have looked to see if Carl’s Jr. has a value menu. I haven’t been there in about three years.

    I purposely left out In-N-Out Burger… they have no value menu. I like the “secret menu”… I actually had a 3×3, protein style, ketchup/mustard instead of sauce while I was writing the article last night. It was my first In-N-Out in a couple of months (I’m not a total fast food junkie).

  5. Henry says:

    I dunno, I eat off the value menu and I’m still hungry. I’m not a huge person or anything, but value menu food seems sometimes like eating air. I think the food’s getting smaller and smaller.

  6. Henry – yepper. They try to keep prises stable by shrinking the portions. Even the girl scouts are pulling this trick :(

    http://www.observingcasually.com/give-me-back-my-food/

  7. Dee says:

    I’m bad about eating at McDonalds, but I make myself feel better by getting a mcchicken, no mayo.

  8. For Canadian residents out there, nothing beats McDonald’s $1.39 double cheeseburger. Cheap and gets the job done!

  9. Harrison says:

    I’m not trying to be offensive but I think that the point here is not about how much we can save from Fast food Value meals but about the side effect on our health. Can you imagine the medical costs in future that caused by those fast food? We are losing our greatest wealth/health every time we eat the fast food.

  10. Jon Anderson says:

    At Burger King you can order the Whopper Jr meal for under $4. Their small fries and drink are closer to a medium or large at other places. I never do it, but I think an upgrade to a medium still stays under $4.

  11. Lazy Man says:

    Harrison, I completely agree. Still, I think for once in awhile meal on the go fast food can be an option. It’s also why I included the healthy option from the value menu.

    Personally, I think the bean burrito from Taco Bell is a steal from a price/health/convenience perspective. It just depends on whether you like the taste.

    Jon Anderson, I try to avoid the whole value meals themselves. Value menu items plus tap water seem to be the cheapest way to me. I don’t need fries or soda a lot of the time.

  12. MoneyEnergy says:

    Interesting post…. I don’t think I’ve been inside a McDonald’s in over 4 years or so… (maybe to use their washrooms, though)…. just from the health perspective, I’m trying to be so careful. For me, “fast food” means eating at Subway (which is still not ideal!) and Sbarro. I used to try Taco Bell’s veggie stuff, but the quality wasn’t that good. Even pizza slices now are seeming too fattening – all that cheese.
    But if you can eat these burgers and it doesn’t cause weight gain, etc., go for it – you’re lucky!

  13. larzipanz says:

    when i found out mcdonalds started charging extra for a second piece of cheese on their double cheeseburger, i was ticked! two slices of cheese should be a default for two patties.

    maybe i’m too harsh. i’m just a cheap college student. hahaha

  14. Blusjen says:

    Just returned from St. Louis where I asked a Hardee’s employee about the Carl’s Jr affiliation. She said they are indeed related with Hardee’s being a smaller company owned by Carl’s.
    Next time I’m in the area I’m going to stop stop by Steak n Shake, they are everywhere.

  15. liz says:

    At times I do buy from fast food restaurants because sometimes its cheaper than trying to cook a full homecooked meal for my family of 8. However, there are some great fast food specials out there. For example, in my town and maybe elsewhere, Church’s Fried Chicken has a two piece special on Tuesdays for 99 cents. I order ten specials and get a 20 piece box for a little over $10.00. Also Wendy’s has a five for five special which is five double stackers or chicken sandwiches and two biggie fries for $5.00. I purchase two of these specials and pay a little over $10.00 to feed my family of 8. There’s also a pizza place called Pizza Patron and they sell an extra large pizza for $6.00, so I order two for a total that’s just over $12.00.

  16. Betty says:

    I think they may have taken off the other piece of cheese on the mcdouble. I just had one and it did not have cheese on it at all.

  17. rubeN says:

    I mostly always pick a combo meal at Mcdonalds and I find it very expensive. I spend around 6-7 dollars on it. I’m thinking I should now start to save some money by just ordering off the value menu and bring my own canned soda.

    I could probably order 2 cheeseburgers and small fries, and that will cut my expense in half.

  18. Lazy Man says:

    McDonalds’ McDouble would be a better financial choice than ordering 2 cheeseburgers.

  19. Invisible_Jester89 says:

    I find that a pretty good meal at McDonald’s is to get any of their dollar menu sandwiches or their snack wraps (Mac, BBQ/Chipotle/Honey Mustard Chicken, the Angus wraps), a side salad, and a soda. All those things are exactly or slightly more than a buck, and I can get out of the Golden Arches for around $3-4 American. They’ve started offering their Filet-O-Fish sandwich for $1.49 and their Big Mac for $1.99 too (at least in my neck of the woods).

    Wendy’s is a great option for their chicken and burger selection on their value menu. So is Burger King with their Whopper Jr. (It and the double cheeseburger, which is mysteriously more expensive than a signature item, is all I ever eat at BK), though they average pricier than McDonald’s. That’s all I’ll say about those.

    Taco Bell is definitely cheapest with its 79-89-99 menu, and now they have little value meals for about a buck-fifty where you get an entree (including the five-layer burrito!), a drink, and a small bag of Doritos. Holy crap, that’s more than a whole meal for a small gal like me, and it’s around $1.50? Score!

    Stay away from Arby’s, their value menu is barely enough to fill my stomach and I’m a small girl.

    KFC… I never head there if I don’t have at least $5 on my person, because their Snackers and value items just don’t fill me up. Huge fan of their potato bowl though (that’s a meal in and of itself, no sides necessary!), and I love their Doublicious (the bun-boasting, smaller cousin of the Double Down). And there’s also their Fill-Up Boxes for five bucks, which include a drink, a side, and some chicken, and usually live up to their name for me. Too bad I don’t end up at KFC more often when I eat out, because I absolutely love their sandwiches and boneless chicken – it seems a lot less greasy than the bone-in fried chicken.

    I usually end up eating at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, or Taco Bell (even though I’m no fan of it) since they’re cheapest. Occasionally if I have more cash, I can afford BK or Arby’s, and if I have cash to spare I’ll usually pick Subway (Which I LOVE), KFC, or a local place (because really, the locals always do food the best. Might not be fast, but Lord is it good).

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