Fast, Cheap, or Good?

I have some workdays that drag into the evening. Sometimes I don’t have a meal plan or the ingredients for supper.

In the past, I would start thinking about what restaurant I could go to. I do something better now.

Fast food, cheap food, and good food

Here’s a quote attributed to Jim Jarmusch: “Fast, cheap and good…pick two. If it’s fast and cheap, it won’t be good. If it’s cheap and good, it won’t be fast. If it’s fast and good, it won’t be cheap.”

Are these really the trade-offs? Let’s see how it works when I apply it to getting supper.

If I go to a fast food restaurant and order the cheapest thing (fast and cheap), it won’t be good. Actually it might be tasty and satisfying for the moment, but I’ll feel like crap later, and it won’t be good for my health in the long run. And I even would argue that it’s not actually cheap.

If I try to cook at home anyway, it will be cheap and good, but it won’t be fast, especially if I have to start by shopping for ingredients. And dinner will be later than I wanted.

If I go to a restaurant for a good quality, balanced meal, it won’t be cheap and it may be good. But it won’t be fast. If it’s a popular restaurant, it could be thirty minutes before my meal arrives. That’s time I could have spent making a meal. And if I had other things I wanted to do in the evening, I won’t have the time and energy to do them. For this option, I might get only “good”. Not cheap, not fast.

As you can see, fast-cheap-good is not actually an either/either/or. There is a degree of variation involved.

Here’s the fourth option I want to tell you about. It offers a better balance of fast-cheap-good than all the alternatives above. And it’s practiced by urban cultures around the world.

Buy the main dish to go, and make the side dishes yourself.

Take-out meal examples

Here are some examples involving some popular take-out items. You can make these sides in less than thirty minutes:

  • Buy the Chinese roast pork or duck, make the rice, and make a stir-fry of vegetables from your fridge (or thaw and saute some vegetables from your freezer).
  • Buy the fried or roast chicken, boil some potatoes, and make your own coleslaw.
  • Buy the pizza, but make it a smaller one, and make a salad to stretch out the meal.

The take-out component gets you a lot closer to fast. And because you make your side dishes with ingredients you have on hand, it’s going to be cheap.

Best of all, your side dishes are going to be much healthier choices and possibly tastier than any restaurant can provide. It’s definitely going to be good.