Family of five pays $1.70 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 oven-fry instructions and 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. 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 (32 oz = 2 lbs) 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. I don’t usually buy them, just because I think $1.00 a pound sale price is too high for a simple potato. I bought the French fries because there were more ounces in the bag than, say the tater tots or home fry thingies they had. The 32 ounce was a better deal – the 24 oz variety worked out to $1.33 a pound (and the math is harder…). Now, most of us know that we’re paying a little more for the convenience, but we also think they’re cheap, right?
Let me put it this way, I didn’t see any line at the 10 lb bag of Russet potatoes in the produce section when they were $10.00 to $13.30 a bag! Ooops, silly me, that’s the equivalent of the Ore Ida SALE price. Russets were $1.99 for the 10 pound bag, 19 cents a pound, but still there was no line. Another grocery store had $10 pounds of Russets on sale for $1.19 in the same month I did this pricing. (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.)
Here’s what I found on the bag: “32 ounces for 11 servings, each 3 ounces, or 11 fries.” Do the math: 3 ounces multiplied times 11 is 33 ounces, not 32. They do say “about” on the package, don‘t know why, when I‘m sure they have the means to measure exactly. When I put the Russets on the produce scale, it came up to exactly 10 pounds. Don’t know how they do that!
So an actual serving then is 2.9 ounces, or about 7 to 8 fries, and some of these are an inch or so long, some the full size of 4 inches. This is a tiny amount. I bought farm fresh baby red potatoes last week and some of them weighed 2 ½ ounces, and they were not big, and they were actual baby potatoes, not the regular red potatoes. I measured this multiple times, by the way.
I measured over and over, and the 11 Ore-Ida fries came up to 4 ounces.So we know there are less servings than they told us on the package, and their servings weigh more than they told us. 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 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. Or maybe we might not keep the counting up to finish the bag, because, really, who HAS the time? Oh, maybe I did. Perhaps I could benefit from that part-time job.
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. No, 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.
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.
And we are going to wonder why we are so fat when we only had a handful 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. By doing their figures on a very small amount, 3 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 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.
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 6 cents for a larger potato, or $1.70 more that meal than had they eaten the baked potatoes. 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?
I generally make some kind of homemade oven fries, a recipe like Tammy’s Seasoned Baked Potato Wedges from Tammy’s blog.
I usually put a bit of oil on my baking and preheat it with the oven, then take it out and spread on my potatoes. (A hint I picked up from Tyler Florence, Food Network. I saw him do this for both his Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and his Ultimate Oven Fries.)
My son really like oven fries, by the way.
I also do several other variations:
- Toss potatoes in olive oil, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, crumble a bit of rosemary over (be careful, rosemary is strong) and bake as above.
- I’ll do the same and toss with Montreal Steak Seasoning, Rib Rub, seasoning salt, or even just plain old salt. The possibilities are as endless as you use imagination.
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.
Quite often we’ll have baked potatoes, especially if I’m cooking something else that takes time in the oven, and I always 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 sour cream or cream cheese and they’re amazing. The skins I’ll save, and bake off with a bit of cheese, maybe for a movie night snack.
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.