Nutrition:The price of convenience

Today I stopped into a Pilot gas station/convenience store to fill up. I decided to take a mosey inside and see what was going on, as the place on I-5 Southbound in the Willamette Valley is always hoppin’. If you don’t know, Pilot “travel centers” offer gas, convenience stores, and usually a restaurant, such as Subway and Taco Bell in this instance.

Here is what I saw: When you walk in, one of the first things you see is a cooler with mixed green salads, sandwiches and dessert parfaits for 2/$5. Then its the coffee bar/soda bar, which takes up approximately 20-25% of the total store space. There is even a fruit stand where apples, oranges and bananas are 2/$1 – not too shabby.

However, its easy to miss these healthy options because 75% of the store is dedicated to utter garbage. Just look at the monthly specials for Pilot LLC, and you can clearly see the focus is on garbage eating. Most of the people in line with me either had candy bars + soda or the 2 chili-dog special, or a 44 oz soda. Most of the people were 20 – 200 lbs overweight. I felt like an oddball being regular sized.

But, let’s break it down a little. I know that junk food, especially “value priced” appeals to the traveller in need of a little grub and little time. But is it really that inexpensive?
For instance, the king sized candybars (Kit kat, Snickers, etc) were 2/$2. What do you get for that $2, when compared to the salad at $2.50/piece.

Calorically: $2 gets you the caloric value of 2 king-sized candy bars. There are 440 Kcal in the 1.94 oz, which equals (for two): 880 kcal for $2 and 4oz of “food”. That is 220 Kcal/oz of “food”, and 440 Kcal/$1 of “food”.

By contrast, the salad, I’d guestimate at about 100 Kcal without dressing, and 250 with dressing. The size is likely 6-8 oz, possibly more. Let’s say 7 oz/ to be moderate.
Therefore, you get 250 Kcal for $2.50, which is 100 Kcal/dollar. You also get only about 38 Kcal/oz of food.
To compare, the better financial “value” is in the candy bar, at 440 Kcal/$1, versus 100 Kcal/$1 with the salad.

Comparing cost per ounce yields a different result. The candy bar is $.50/oz, whereas, the salad is about $.38/oz, which is a better deal.

Let’s look at the health of it: Do we even need to do any math? The salad will yield much better health and in all likelyhood help keep you “fuller” longer because it is real food being digested by your organs, versus sugary junk food that sends a message to your brain for more, more, more!

Yet, in the line I saw, not one person had a salad, despite the better deal in both the health and the cost per oz perspective. We are all trying to save money and improve our health, right? So why do candy bars and chili dogs win out?

Maybe this will help clear things up: Check out this monthly pilot ad: Notice a theme with what is on sale?


Because marketing shows us that “snickers really satisfies” and “gimme a break” from my hard day with a Kit Kat bar. Sexy models chow down and our subconscious mind can’t turn it off. We want a bite of what they are selling. We all feel like we deserve a ‘treat’ for simply living life. I totally fall prey to that. I’ll think about my hard day and how “good” I was, and suddenly I’m pulling up to those same convenience stores or to a cafe for my liquid pleasure: junky hot chocolate. No joking: one of the apects that keeps me coming back to the black juice is the cost value (ust $.89 – $.99 at a convenience store) and the fact that I can get more volume out of my sugary treat with a liquid than with a solid. I get 12-16 oz for the caloric “price” of a regular sized candy bar (esp since I cut the hot chocolate with decaf coffee or water to cut down on sugar). But somewhere in my subconscious mind the trick that working hard = needing sugar certainly stuck. For me its hot chocolate, maybe for you its chips or nachos or soda, or whatever. Notice that fruits and veggies do not have a marketing campaign? The “5 a day” campaign to eat more fruits/veggies has a budget of 5 million/year nationally, whereas the pepsi corporation alone spends $2 billion/year on marketing……gee, I wonder why we pass up the fruit stand at Pilot and head for the soda fountain. And did you check out the specials this month at Pilot? Buy a gigantic soda and get a Kit kat for only $.24…..what a deal, that is added value – even though to our body less is better. We seem to shop and eat from our pocketbook over our stomach and digestion. More food for less simply = unhealthy people, the body does not celebrate the cost savings like the mind does.

Here’s my suggestion when you travel: pack your own snacks/lunch or find a grocery store with a deli and produce section when you are passing through a town. The food is fresher, cheaper, and offers more variety than a gas station anyway. Seriously, if we want for change on a cultural level, we must be willing to go the extra mile (literally, in this case) to get our health needs met and express them as a priority.

That’s what I think today…but maybe I’m just cranky – I am on day 6 of a liver/colon detox…. 🙂

5 thoughts on “Nutrition:The price of convenience

  1. JimG April 15, 2008 / 1:13 pm

    Good analysis. Bad food is cheap and easy, but you will pay later. :+(

    I think if you find yourself eating at a Pilot gas station more than…say…once a year then you have deeper dietary issues.

    When traveling I like to stop into a grocery store salad bar instead of a fast food place. It is nearly just as fast, still packaged to eat on the road (blush) and a lot more healthy.

  2. offwhiteliving April 15, 2008 / 5:09 pm

    Yep, if Gas station food is your mainstay, there is a problem. Unfortunately, there are those who eat like that, even folks who aren’t truck drivers, etc. That makes me sad. We have such an abundance of food, yet the junk somehow wins over. Our bodies are addicted (I know mine is, which is why I have to STAY AWAY!!)

  3. Jeff M April 15, 2008 / 7:30 pm

    The average long haul truck driver leads a sedentary life and stops at travel centers 5 times each day. Their diet is heavy on snacks and all-you-can-eat buffets. It should come as no surprise that 73% of professional truck drivers are overweight or obese, more than twice the national percentage. Truck drivers may “celebrate the cost savings” but their bodies are clearly paying a greater price.

  4. Nutritional Information Candy April 16, 2008 / 9:37 am

    I gained more knowledge about nutritional diet from your article. Thank you giving this wonderful message.

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