Sub sandwiches are a favorite during football season (who doesn’t love a sub when tailgating?) and an easy meal option when time is of the essence. They’re also a crowd-pleaser when you’re feeding a group of teens, a book club or a large family with diverse palates.
But what’s more economical, making them at home or stopping by a sub shop?
Off the bat, I knew variety was going to be a big factor in this challenge. Let’s face it: It’s tough to get the fixings for four different kinds of subs, let alone 12 (or more) different types of veggies, six different types of bread and numerous sauces, oils, spices and other condiments that many sub shops offer for a mere $3 or less per sub (depending on the special of the day or month).
On the surface, I assumed that making subs at home would be far more pricey than their sub shop-produced siblings. But what I discovered along the way in this challenge was surprising.
The meal: Ham and Swiss subs for four with an assortment of chopped, fresh vegetables as garnish.
My make-at-home ingredients: Because they have wide appeal, I opted for freshly baked crusty baguettes. To ensure everyone had enough to eat and would have the sub of their choice, I purchased two 2-foot-long baguettes from my grocer’s bakery. I also purchased: 1 ½ pounds of rosemary baked ham, a half-pound of Swiss cheese, one beefsteak tomato, a bunch fresh spinach, a green pepper and a small red onion. I had mayo and mustard on hand at home, so I didn’t factor them into the price.
The cost of ingredients (including tax): $18.79.
The variables: Because I didn’t have to cook (making this meal a mom’s best friend), I didn’t have to heat of the stove or oven, turn on the mixer or use the microwave. That means I didn’t have any incidental utilities or other amounts to add in to the cost of making this meal at home.
We also typically grab individual-size bags of chips when picking up subs at our local sandwich shop, but in the name of health, I opted to serve these subs with a side salad and roasted asparagus. I didn’t include the cost of the sides in the ingredients (and won’t factor in chips in the takeout price, either).
The total make-at-home price: $18.79.
The takeout price: When our family heads to the sub shop, we typically don’t all order subs made with the same type of meat. But to keep things simple and fair, I opted to compare the price for four 12-inch ham and cheese subs (even though the men in my family might have had subs that were an inch or two longer at home).
The takeout cost (including tax): $22.68.
The bottom line: This is the first time making the meal at home won the challenge. Previously, eating out cost less, even when takeout or delivery food only slightly edged out make-at-home meals. But making subs at home was the clear victor in this challenge.
While we had to sacrifice flexibility of meat choices to make this meal affordable, what I learned at the deli (when I took a long hard look at prices) was that we could have infused some variety in the meat and cheese options for virtually the same price.
And because my family doesn’t indulge in many of the vegetable and other topping options (such as banana peppers or olives), we also didn’t miss the wider variety of sub shop fixings.
Making subs at home didn’t cost me any time, either. In the time it would have taken to stand in line and have the subs made to order, I was able to put together the meal at home. And as a bonus, we had enough ingredients left over for two small sandwiches the next day.
Next month, I’m going to test out a holiday favorite: Pumpkin pie. It’s synonymous with October and Thanksgiving, but is it cheaper to make at home or to pick up at the grocer on the way to Grandma’s house?
What’s your family’s favorite meal or main course entrée to eat out, grab at a drive-thru or take out? Wondering if you can make it cheaper at home? Drop me a line and suggest a make-at-home price test. You just might be surprised to learn which option truly costs less.
Photo credit: Getty Creative