Dinnertime: Which Meals Offers The Most Nutrition Per Dollar?


Here’s another interesting Priceonomics study, this time analyzing the cost and nutritional content of common American meals.

For each meal, we then derived a health score based on domain experts and the the nutrient-rich foods index (NRF9.3), which encapsulates a food’s nutritional density (i.e., the extent to which it provides a balance of essential nutrients like protein, fiber, and vitamins).

As you might expect, on average the more nutrition, the more it costs. A corn dog is cheap but unhealthy. A chicken salad costs more, but is also healthier. However, there were outliers in the nutrition per dollar metric, as shown in the chart above.

Meals above the line, like Falafel and Chinese Chicken Salad, are healthier than one would predict given their cost. Nutritionally speaking, they’re bargains: you get more nutrients per dollar when you choose these options. Conversely, meals below the line, like Cheeseburgers and Shrimp & Grits, have lower health scores than expected based on cost; they’re nutritional rip-offs.

This analysis was done for a new food prep company called Wellio. An important missing factor is the time and energy needed to prepare these meals. Even if a kale salad is a good nutritional value, I’m less likely to make it if it takes a lot of effort to prep and the ingredients will spoil within a couple days.

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  1. Nice study, but nutrition is not the only reason we eat food 🙂 ! What about taste !!

  2. My first thought is “15 bucks per serving for a kale salad!?”. Maybe these folks should check out Wal-mart or Aldi! 😀 It seems all the prices are high. You will never find me paying over $8 for a corndog. I didn’t read the whole story, but maybe these are NY restaurant prices.

    • Michelle says:

      That jambalaya cost seems awfully high as well. Premium sausage I guess?

    • Wellio claims they use their database to calculate the cost. Given that they are providing a food delivery service for individual meal preparation the prices are probably significantly higher than average food prices. But the conclusions should still be valid just not the exact dollar amount.

  3. Taquitos for the win!

  4. B Peters says:

    I would include the various beans on the frugal menu. They are nutritionally dense, but pretty inexpensive.

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