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A family of five will pay about $1.80 more per meal if they eat a bag of fries on sale ($1.99 per package) than they would if they eat a much better for you baked potato or oven fries!

(Be sure to read to the bottom for some home-made potato ideas!)

This might amaze you:  I bought a package of frozen French fries. Ore-Ida Crunchies. (Sorry I couldn’t find a “crunchies” photo.)  Why should this be amazing? Because they are not one of my normal “Frugal” items, although many Americans eat them regularly. I’ve never bought them before, primarily because I ate them when they came out way back when I was a child and they’re awful. Why then did I buy it? For you, dear reader! I took “one” for the team.

Cost: On sale with store coupon $1.99 for 24 to 32 ounces bags of Ore Ida frozen potatoes, different varieties. People were literally lined up to buy this product in a steady, brisk stream at the freezer door. Some varieties were gone. It must have been a good price – or at least a good value for those people. I thought it was crazy. Nuts. Looney. I had to wait a couple of minutes. For lousy fries.

I chose the Crunchy French Fries because they were in the 32 ounces in a bag, $1.00 a pound, and many of the other varieties were in 24 ounce bags, $1.33 a pound. Plus the math is harder. Now, most of us know that we’re paying a little more for the convenience, but people think these are cheap, too. I know, because I have friends who, concerned about prices and who try to keep their food budgets low, buy these things regularly.

The same day, a 10 pound bag of Russet potatoes was on sale for $1.99. Another store had a 10 pound bag of Russets on sale for $1.19. In equivalent amounts:

  • Russet: low sales price: 12 cents a pound, 10 pounds for $1.19.
  • Russet: higher sales price: 19 cents a pound, 10 pounds for $1.99.
  • Ore Ida, 32 ounce bag on sale for $1.99: $1.00 a pound, 10 pounds for $10.00.
  • Ore Ida, 24 ounce bag on sale for $1.99: $1.33 a pound, 10 pounds for $13.33.
  • Non Sale Price for the Ore Ida, $3.99. $1.50 per pound, 10 pounds for $15.00.

Let me put it this way: There was no line up at the Russets when they were on sale for $15.00 for 10 pounds. Oops, silly me, that’s the equivalent of the Ore Ida price. Now, if you are a really good couponer, you may be able to procure the frozen potatoes for less than the price of a real potato – then you might have a good deal, but look at the portioning and nutrition figures as well as the additives.

Russet Trimmed to 3 ounces the size of an Ore-Ida serving - note the size of the fork next to the potato! The banana is average sized, the orange rather small.

The amount of potato above, a trimmed down russet, 3 ounces, is the equivalent of an ore ida serving. The orange is a bit small, the banana average size, and look at the potato compared to the common fork!

Here’s what I found on the bag: 32 ounces for 11 servings, each 3 ounces or 11 fries. I measured and weighed, and an actual serving is 2.9 ounces, or about 7 to 8 fries, and some of these are a 1/2 inch or so long, some the full size of 4 inches. Ore Ida’s “serving size” is way off. I measured and weighed over and over, and the 11 Ore-Ida fries came up to 4 ounces and 2.9 ounces was 7 to 8. I measured servings, I weighed totals, I divided them up – I played for a couple of hours at the kitchen table and double checked my scale with various weights and still – Ore Ida gives nutritional figures for 2.9 ounces and the actual serving size is 4 ounces.

That of course, means we’re eating more than we think, and paying more than we thought. Hmmm…no wonder they sell a lot of fries. It certainly can’t be because of the taste, which is (awful) mediocre at best.

But regardless, I understand that’s a little nit-picky, because most of us will not measure by the ounce or by count. If we were watching calories/cost we might count, say our serving, and then feed the family the rest of the bag. If we diligently counted each serving, we’d probably just think we made a mistake by the time we got to the end of the bag and found out there was only 8 servings, not 11. Or maybe we might not keep the counting up to finish the bag, because, really, who HAS the time? I did.

How will we measure? We will dump the whole thing on a cookie sheet, and bake it up, or if our families are smaller, maybe pinch the bag and estimate half of it and shake it out. If you’re going for a single serving, you are certainly not going to count 7.5 fries and bake them, and if you did count, you’d count out 11 like they told you to. Worse, since some are so small, you might mentally piece the 1/2 inch or 1 inch fries in your head to make the equivalent of a four inch fry. So you might eat 15 or 25 instead of the seven. But in reality, you are probably going to grab a handful, maybe two and microwave them.

The chances that any excess are going to be thrown out are probably slim to none – partially because we know they are no good reheated, partially because they are there, and partially because the vast teams working for these companies have come up with formulas that make us want to eat more!  And more we’ll eat, never quite satisfied, waiting for the next bite to taste just a little bit better…the food scientists know exactly what they are doing in terms of manipulating our palettes.

The Lance Armstrong Live Strong site shows a study, as well, that french fries don’t rank as high in satiety as some other potatoes – we won’t feel as full for as long after we’ve eaten them, and we will want to eat more. Worse, because they’re rather mediocre, we feel a bit cheated. When we’re cheated, we have a tendency to want to make up for it.

So we are going to glance at the calories per serving, 150, and even though we know fries aren’t that good for us, the calorie amount sounds like about the same for a baked potato. And we know we’re baking the fries, not frying them, and maybe we even think it through, and think if we had a baked potato, we’d put butter and maybe even sour cream on it, and it would be really bad for us. So we might even grab as a serving what we equate to be about the size of a potato, thinking the that’s what 150 calories are, and we might even think we made a good choice.

Remember, though, the 150 calories is for seven fries, ranging from 1/2 inch to 4 inches, and the serving is 11 fries ranging from 1/2 inches to 4 inches. 11 fries are 236 calories. And if we eat the equivalent of what we think 11 whole fries are, we’re eating a serving of about 500 calories. And if we decide, 150 calories, that’s not bad, and take two handfuls of what we think is a serving, thinking it’s 300 calories, we just downed around 1,000 calories.

This kind of stuff is why Americans, even though they think they’re being smart, are getting fat.

And we are going to wonder why we are so fat when we only had a handful or two of fries, when in reality we are eating several of “their” servings of potatoes, which should be, ounce for ounce,  ½ of an averaged size baked potato. If we did take the time to count it out, we’ll count out 11 fries and still eating 40 percent more than their 3 ounce serving.

Note also that the package says 0 cholesterol, but contains saturated fat. I’m no dietician, but I believe saturated fat always contains cholesterol. Correct me if I’m wrong here. But it does.

By doing their figures on a very small amount, 2.9 ounces, they can round the cholesterol down to zero. Don’t be fooled. It’s just like your income tax. If it’s 50 cents or over you round up, if it’s 49 cents or less you round down to zero. If the serving size reflected a larger amount, perhaps the amount most of us eat, the cholesterol would have to be shown. It’s probably not that big of a deal when you eat, say 7.5 fries, but if you are eating several servings, glancing at the bag and seeing it contains no cholesterol, you’ve made a bigger mistake than you think.

  • If you’re a heart patient, this stuff is important.
  • If you are a diabetic and using their counts to watch your carbs and figuring your insulin on their amounts, you are going to be off on the amount of insulin you need to use to prevent a blood sugar spike.
  • If you need to watch sodium intake, the same thing applies – the counts are way off.

Even if we don’t have any particular health issues, we’re going to sit down with our bills in our tight pants and scratch our head and wonder why our dollar doesn’t stretch as far, or maybe wonder why when we’re trying to be diligent about portion control or diet, the weight just doesn’t come off  like we expect.

As far as cost, let’s say that a family of five baked up a bag of fries for dinner. They would have spent $.40 per serving as opposed to the 4 cents for a five ounce potato. If they each had a baked potato, they’d pay 19 cents, and if they ate a bag of fries, they’d pay $2.00 on sale.

Here are the nutritional figures, assuming an equal division among the family members:

Svg Size: abt 6.2 oz,  Cal: 390, Cal fr Fat: 156, % of Cal: fr fat: **, Tot Fat: 19 g, Sat Fat: 3 g, Chol: Unknown, Sodium: 606 mg, Carb: 54 g, Prot: 5 g ** Ore Ida did not put percentage of calories from fat on their package, but it’s 40%. Sodium: Hope you didn’t add salt.

For the extra money, by the way, you do get a bonus that you don’t get with a baked potato:  Corn starch, tapioca dextrin, modified cornstarch, guar gum, arabic gum, xantham gum, annatto, isodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate.  (disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate is listed on Wikpedia as ‘GRAS’ which is ‘generally recognized as safe,’ although the MSDS sheet says to “minimize exposure” to the chemical.

Final Frugal Judgement:  I’ll be having “No – Idas” from now on.

What do we eat instead?

Strangely enough, all of the recipes below, done with moderation, have about the same calorie count per serving as Ore Ida, and are much more satisfying. Potatoes, though, at our house are something of a treat – we’re always watching the “fast” carbohydrates and try to get our count from a variety of different vegetables. But here are our favorites:

My Bomb Baked Potato Wedges with Variations My son really like oven fries, by the way.

I would find no shame in bringing these to the table right on the tray

I would find no shame in bringing these to the table right on the tray

We also pull Twiced Baked Potatoes out of the freezer; I’ll make a bunch up each fall and package them so they’re ready at a moments notice.

Twiced Baked Potatoes for the Freezer

Twiced Baked Potatoes for the Freezer

Quite often we’ll have baked potatoes, especially if I’m cooking something else that takes time in the oven, and I bake off extras:  I’ll throw them in the fridge, and then cut them in half and scoop out the flesh.  I’ll heat up a bit of oil in a pan and fry them up for some of the best home fries ever.  A few chives and a dollop of yogurt, sour cream or cream cheese and they’re amazing.

Hash Browns made from Left Over Baked Potatoes

Hash Browns made from Left Over Baked Potatoes

The skins I’ll save, and bake off Potato Skins with a bit of cheese, maybe for a movie night snack, that’s yogurt for the dipping sauce, by the way.

Potato Skins from Left Over Baked Potatoes

Potato Skins from Left Over Baked Potatoes

Just a Note:

One convenience item I do use now and then is frozen Hash Browns – the ‘off’ brand in our area goes on sale for about 62 cents a pound in their two-pound packages, which is pretty reasonable, and they have very few additives, and I use them in several dishes, which is a real time saver.

Rants: The Cost of Convenience

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