The Cost of a Meal Across America

How much does a simple dinner vary in price across the US

The Cost of a Meal Across America
Ciaran Griffin/ThinkStock

The cost of rent differs from one U.S. city to the next, and so does the price for a decent restaurant meal or pint of beer. But do grocery prices differ as well? To find out the cost of a home-cooked meal across America, we looked at grocery costs in six major U.S. cities: New York City, Miami, Chicago, Minneapolis, Houston, and San Francisco. For these purposes, we looked at what it would cost to prepare a simple meal (a whole roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans) for a family of four with these ingredients: one whole 4-pound chicken, 1 pound of fresh green beans, 3 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes, a bulb of garlic, a half-gallon of milk, and butter.

These days, more and more grocery stores offer online shopping options and delivery, so we turned to these sites to do our research (excluding delivery charges). We looked at major supermarkets such as Kroger and Safeway, along with Internet grocers such as FreshDirect (New York) and Grocery Taxi (Miami). Practical realities were taken into consideration — for example, salt and pepper were considered pantry staples and not factored into overall cost, but we did factor in the cost of an entire pound of butter or half-gallon of milk, knowing that a person shopping for a meal cannot buy a single stick of butter or just one cup of milk. When choosing the brands of products, we focused on generic products local to the region.

This wasn’t a perfect scientific experiment. A more in-depth study, on the ground in suburbs, cities, and rural areas, is needed to uncover the disparities and complexities across regions. Additionally, supermarket prices are always in flux so these rankings could change depending on the season or if certain items are on sale. Nonetheless, our results revealed details both surprising and unsurprising about what it costs to cook a meal throughout the U.S. But one truth remained consistent regardless of location: It’s always cheaper to make dinner at home than to eat out in a restaurant. With costs averaging around $5 per person for this simple dinner, there’s an undeniable economic benefit to dusting off those pots and pans. 

Check out the Cost of a Meal Across America Slideshow.

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