Meal Deals -­ More Isn’t Necessarily Better

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A Meal Deal is no bargain if you’re just buying extra fat, sugar and calories.

There’s an old joke that goes something like this: Two women are having lunch in a restaurant they haven’t been to before. As they’re finishing up their meal, one says to the other, “You know, the food here is really terrible!” To which her companion snaps back, “I’ll say! And such small portions, too!” It’s so true, isn’t it? No matter what we’re buying, we’re always looking for a good value—even if it’s food that isn’t very good, or very good for you.

When Less Is More

Getting more for your money is generally a good thing, and we’ve been conditioned to look for the best value in everything we buy—from laptops to laundry soap. But if getting more for your money means getting more fat, more sugar and more calories, that can spell trouble for your waistline.

How often have you felt prodded to overeat, swayed by sales pitches that encourage you to buy more and consume more in the name of saving more money? Order the bigger burger and there’s a good chance you’ll be offered a meal deal for a discount on your soda and fries. After all, you’ll need more liquid to wash it all down. Order a large pizza and you also get a sack of free breadsticks delivered to your door (just what you need for dinner, bread with a side of bread).

Too bad the same doesn’t seem to hold true for healthy food. Most of the time when you buy fresh fruits and vegetables, you buy them by the pound. It doesn’t get any cheaper the more you buy. I’ve been to movie theaters where I’ve been charged for a cup of water. Just the cup, mind you—I had to fill it myself with water from the water fountain. That’s because the cup probably costs the theater a lot more than the soda does. They could practically give it away if they didn’t have to pay for those darn cups.

How can you keep yourself from giving in when you’re feeling outside pressure to overeat?

Focus on nutritional value, not huge amounts of food

Is your goal really to buy “more food for less money”? What you should be thinking about is how to buy the most nutrition you can with your money. Spend $3 on a fast food meal and you’ll get about 40 grams of fat and a quarter-cup of sugar. For the same three bucks, you could buy a carrot (all your vitamin A for the day), an orange (all your vitamin C for the day), a banana (a hefty dose of potassium), a bunch of broccoli (nearly all your folic acid for the day), and a can of black beans (22 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber).

Practice saying “No, thanks.”

A few weeks ago, my local supermarket was giving away a one-liter bottle of soda with every purchase of $25 or more. The checker just couldn’t believe that I didn’t want it. “But it’s free!”

So, practice saying “No, thank you.”

You determine how much you should be eating

Remember who’s in charge. Just because a restaurant is willing to throw in an extra helping of food and call it “dinner,” doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate amount of food for you. You know how much you should be eating. Keep a mental image of your portion sizes, and do your best to stick to them.

Don’t buy it if you don’t want it

Sure, it sounds like a deal if you “Buy one and get one free.” And if you’re good at taking home the extra for another meal, this might work. But if you don’t want it and you know you’ll be tempted to eat it, don’t buy it. A good deal isn’t so good if you’re getting something you really don’t want.

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