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Doughnuts vs. breakfast: Which costs less? September 29, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I love the music of Bill Miller, award-winning Native American flute-player, guitarist, and songwriter. I was listening to one of my favorites, a poignant song called “Faith of a Child” (the version I have is on his CD “The Red Road”). It’s about a very poor young woman with a menial job and a one-room apartment in a paper mill town. To bring home just how poor she is, he sings “Her brown hands are folded as she bows her head to pray/Over doughnuts and some coffee she made up yesterday.”

The picture of this girl in her single room expressing gratitude for some stale coffee and doughnuts is very powerful, and it and the song are lodged in my memory. So I guess it wasn’t that surprising that it came to mind as our friend Ben and I were splurging on a diner breakfast this morning after a rather harrowing doctor’s appointment, and I was looking at all the coffee and doughnuts going by.

“Ben, which do you think are more expensive, doughnuts or eggs?”

OFB tore his eyes away from his two-plate breakfast long enough to say, “Why doughnuts, of course. A dozen doughnuts must cost at least $4, maybe even $6.”

Hmmm. Refraining from asking how OFB, not the world’s most fervent grocery shopper, happened to know so much about the price of doughnuts, I instead announced, “Ben, let’s stop at the grocery on our way home!”

OFB’s eyes practically stood out on stalks as he stared from me to the (extremely scanty) remains of his breakfast. That look said louder than words that anyone who could even bear to think about food after a breakfast like this must be insane at best.

But by now I was on a mission from God, so I again refrained from pointing out that not everyone at the table had managed to consume two fried eggs, two pieces of bacon, two sausage links, a slice of pork roll, a fat slice of French toast, a giant pancake, a mountain of hash browns, plus half my Swiss cheese-mushroom omelette and both my pieces of rye toast. (My hash browns went home for the chickens.) Plus four cups of coffee. I even refrained from calling for a stretcher, but just barely.

Bearing in mind that we were discussing a girl who was living on coffee and doughnuts, I headed to the lowest-priced of the groceries in this area to do my comparison shopping. (No doubt the prices would be even lower at a discount grocery.) Shock surprise, OFB elected to remain in the car while I conducted my research. but in fairness, I have to say that he at least appeared to still be conscious.

First, those doughnuts. A dozen doughnuts cost between $3 and $4.50. Obviously, this girl would have gone for the $3 box. Bill Miller says she was eating “doughnuts” plural, so let’s assume she had two for her breakfast. If you math geniuses out there are following along, this will tell you that, not counting the stale coffee, her breakfast cost her 50 cents.

I next proceeded to the dairy aisle to price eggs. A dozen medium eggs cost 99 cents. That works out to 8.25 cents an egg. So if she ate two eggs instead of two doughnuts, it would cost her 16.5 cents.

But, though it packs a lot of protein and nutrients, that’s not a very tasty breakfast, is it? So I looked to my left at the cheeses, and saw that I could buy an 8-ounce block of cheese—Cheddar, Swiss, pepper Jack, muenster, you name it—for $1.67. Grating an ounce of cheese on those eggs would add 21 cents to the total.

What about some toast to balance out those eggs? Not just any toast, either—it couldn’t be a fancy brand, but it ought to be whole wheat or multigrain for maximum nutrition. I found big loaves of both 100% whole wheat and 12-grain for, again, $1.67 a loaf. I don’t know how many slices are in a loaf—it looked like a hundred—but to be safe, let’s say 50. If our poor girl had two slices with her eggs, it would cost her an additional 14 cents, and would really help fill her up plus add lots of good fiber.

Okay, that adds up to 51.5 cents, a little over our total. But what if, instead of the cheese, our girl decided to saute some veggies and then break her eggs into the pan on top of them? Heading to the produce section, I carefully weighed, then priced, a small onion (18 cents), medium-large red-skinned potato (40 cents), and a small red bell pepper (74 cents). Actually, the better buy on red peppers was a really big package of pre-sliced peppers for $1.45, three times as much by weight as the single pepper but with no waste in the form of core and stem, so at least as four-five times as much usable pepper for twice the price. We’ll take that one, thanks. And let’s add an 8-ounce box of button mushrooms for $1.67. (This store appears to love 3 for 5 sales.) 

Back in the apartment, let’s say she sautes a third of her onion (6 cents), saving the rest for more breakfasts and/or suppers. She dices half her potato (20 cents) and four strips of bell pepper from the big package (about 23 cents), then slices two mushrooms and tosses them in (again, about 23 cents).

Oops, we’ve done it again: Eggs, toast and veggies would come to $1.02, a bit over twice the cost of her doughnuts. But think what she’d be getting in exchange in terms of nutrition and flavor! And of course, if she just made her eggs with the sauteed onion and one veggie, say, mushrooms or bell pepper, she could drop that cost down to 59 cents for a yummy, nourishing breakfast.

Let’s take this a little further, and assume she’s bought all this stuff. If she sautees up a batch of veggies one evening—everything but the potato, and puts them in the fridge, she could have her 59-cent breakfast. Then for lunch, she could make two slices of toast, then add a topping of sauteed veggies and split that ounce of grated cheese over the two before running them under the broiler of her battered Goodwill-issue toaster oven. The total cost for a filling, flavorful lunch would come to about 87 cents. If she’d like to make a grilled cheese-and-veggie sandwich instead of the openfaced ones, she could add an extra ounce of cheese to bring the grand total to $1.08.

What about supper? She could boil, bake, mash, or roast her potato, and eat it topped with grated cheese and veggies for about $1.13. Or have it with grated cheese and a side of raw pepper strips for about 76 cents. If she had rice, she could make a big plate of fried rice with sauteed veggies and an egg stirred in at the end for between $1 and $1.50.

Boiled eggs and toast for another day’s breakfast? At last, 40.5 cents, less than the cost of two doughnuts! The extra 8.5 cents could pay for a teensy smear of butter for that toast.

Are these the healthiest meals you could possibly eat? Of course not. (Look ma, no salad, no fruit!) Would you find them boring? Probably. Would you have to restock, at least on the eggs, cheese, and veggies, before week’s end? Absolutely. The bread and rice would probably be the sole survivors. But given a choice between doughnuts and stale coffee and this menu, I’d go for this one in a heartbeat. Being poor needn’t mean eating poor!



1. Alan from Roberts Roost - September 30, 2011

You left out the price of the electric for cooking and keeping things cold, and for the apartment that would accomidate such gadgets, but you are spot on! cooking real food from scratch is almost always cheeper. Your $2 loaf of bread, I can make for just over $.60. That changes the math a bit. “Convienients” is expensive. If it is cheap then all you are getting is some form of processed crap, and that isn’t going to keep you alive for long.

Too true, Alan! And you’re right about the electrical cost of cooking, but she’d still need a fridge and apartment even if she didn’t cook. I’m assuming she doesn’t have an actual stove so no bread-baking for her, but again, if you do have an oven, it’s cheaper to make a loaf than buy one, and you can’t beat hot from the oven!

2. h.ibrahim - September 30, 2011

Please do not forget that the young girl could have also got stale donuts for half or less the price!

Ah, but then she’d have had to drive to one of those bakery discount places and would spend more in gas than she saved on doughnuts! Let’s at least give the poor soul some fresh doughnuts to go with her stale coffee!

3. pixilated2 - September 30, 2011

Semantics here: ““Her brown hands are folded as she bows her head to pray/Over doughnuts and some coffee she made up yesterday.”

Perhaps she made the donuts too? In which case we would need to know the recipe and cost of ingredients for the donuts to make a valid comparison…

That said, I LOVED the research you did on the alternatives to eating donuts for breakfast in the first place! Bravo!
~ Lynda
(new gravatar: my goose Polly)

Love Polly, Lynda! And thanks! I know there’s the semantics issue, but I think he was really saying she’d made the coffee, not the coffee and doughnuts. I picture her cooking setup in a one-room apartment as probably being one of those tiny dorm fridges (secondhand, no doubt), a plug-in electric burner, the Goodwill toaster oven, and a coffee maker. No stove at all, don’t you assume? More like a dorm room.

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