Top 7 Calorie-Rich Foods for the Dollar


Eating well on the cheap can be tricky in America, especially when the chain restaurant definition of a "value menu" differs from a nutritionist's definition of value.

Add on the special offers, seasonal treats or the new twists on old menu items and the best buy for a buck can get very confusing.

Burger King franchisees voted twice last week on whether restaurants should lower the price on Burger King's double cheeseburger to $1, according to J.J. McNelis of Burger King Franchisee Mirabile Investment Corporation in Memphis, Tenn.

The proposal would mean a person could buy a quarter of the recommended 2,000 calorie daily diet for $1. A Burger King spokesman declined to confirm the vote, but wrote "many product and menu options are always in development and under consideration."

"We will certainly let you and our restaurant guests know when any menu or value decisions are made," Burger King spokesman Lauren Kuzniar wrote in an e-mail to

Nutritionists say calculating the true nutritional value per dollar of a value menu item would likely be difficult.

"What you want to avoid is the trap of getting more food for your money, because that's nutritional quicksand," said Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.

"More for less may not be best," he said.

But to see what your dollar buys you in sheer calories (not vitamins, fat or salt), has compiled a list of some of the most calorie-cheap and calorie-expensive menu items in popular chain restaurants.

The prices were all gathered in New York City, where chain restaurants must post calories by law. People are likely to get more calories per dollar in less expensive cities.

Cheap Per Calorie: Chili Chips and Cheese at Wendy's

If you're pulling into a burger joint drive-through on a diet, avoiding the chili side dish isn't likely the first thought. Indeed, a small side of chili at Wendy's is only 180 calories and can offer some protein to boot.

But Wendy's chili chips and cheese option can deliver a surprising amount of calories per dollar, more than a cheeseburger, and more than a Big Mac at McDonalds.

The chili chips and cheese at Wendy's in New York packed in 380 calories per dollar.

Cheap Per Calorie: McDonald's Cheeseburger

Courtesy of Center for Science in the Public Interest

A simple cheeseburger at McDonald's contains far fewer calories than many of the specialty sandwiches on the menu, even far fewer than the shakes.

The McDonald's cheeseburger usually runs 330 calories, while a quarter pounder with cheese is 1,130 calories and the large chocolate shake runs at 1,160.

"You could go into a [McDonald's] and if it's a plain cheeseburger, you're doing OK," said Dr. Keith Ayoob, director of the Nutrition Clinic and assistant professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

"The truth is, are you going to order one or are you going to order two or three? Or are you going to order it with the soda, and the fries?" he asked.

Despite being relatively low in calories, the McDonald's cheeseburger's low price moves it up the list of most calories per dollar. Prices often change from restaurant to restaurant, but in New York City, the approximately $1 cheeseburger will buy 350 calories.

Add in one order of small fries and a small soda, and Ayoob said a person can easily reach his 800 calorie per meal recommendation.

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