Common wisdom suggests that it's cheaper to cook your own meals at home than it is to eat in a restaurant. But as the economy's slump continues, fast-food restaurants have been trumpeting the financial merits of their value menus, many of which offer filling food for a dollar or less.

With these companies' ability to buy food in mass quantities at much greater discounts than what you can get from even a discount grocer, can you really compete? Let's take a look the top five fast food values out there today.

Breaking It Down
To come up with per-serving prices for ingredients in these fast food items, we used their average or estimated retail costs. These will vary depending on where you live and where you shop. The cost of individual condiments was excluded for simplicity's sake.

No. 5 KFC: The "Snacker" Is Just That
KFC (NYSE:YUM) launched its 10-item value menu in February, but unlike some of the other chains on this list, only three of its value offerings fall under the $1 mark. The best value of the bunch is probably the Ultimate Cheese KFC Snacker, a 3-ounce breaded chicken strip covered in cheese sauce and lettuce on a dinner-roll sized bun.

At 115 grams, it's a considerable lightweight compared to the other value menu items on this list, which weigh in anywhere from 128 grams (Taco Bell) to 151 grams (McDonald's).

Per-Sandwich Cost at KFC: 99 cents
Per Sandwich Cost at Home:
-Chicken(prepared at home at $3/pound): 56 cents
-Dinner Roll: 15 cents
-Cheese Sauce: 4 cents
-Total: 75 cents + condiments and cooking time


Bottom Line: You can make this at home for less, but only if you can crack the Colonel's secret recipe.

No. 4 Burger King: Where's the Cheese?
There are more than a dozen value menu items at Burger King (NYSE:BKC). The Whopper Junior, a standard burger with 2.2 ounces of beef, is the most substantial item, but unlike the other burgers on this list it does not include cheese. According to BeefRetail.org, the average price of regular ground beef as of March 2009 was $2.44.

Per-Burger Cost at Burger King: 99 cents (depending on where you live)
Per-Burger Cost at Home:
-Meat: 33 cents
-Bun: 25 cents
-Total: 58 cents + condiments and cooking time

Bottom Line: If you make your own version of a Junior Whopper, you can add a slice of cheese and a little extra meat and still get more food for $1.

No. 3 Taco Bell: Why Pay More?
Taco Bell's (NYSE:YUM) ‘Why Pay More?' Value Menu has some of the lowest prices around, with 10 products priced at 79, 89 and 99 cents. This Mexican-inspired food goes for prices that you might see in, well, Mexico. The hot item on this menu is reportedly the Cheesy Double Beef Burrito, an eight-ounce giant with about 2.5 ounces of seasoned ground beef, cheese sauce, seasoned rice and red sauce.

Per-Burrito Cost at Taco Bell: 99 cents
Per Burrito Cost at Home:
-Meat: 38 cents
-Tortilla: 25 cents
-Cheese Sauce (prepared, 1/2 ounce): ~15 cents
-Rice (at a price of 4 cents per ounce and assuming two ounces): 8 cents
-Total: 86 cents + condiments and cooking time

Bottom Line: If you make a similar item at home, you might be cutting it close in terms of coming out ahead of this fast-food item, as tortillas can easily cost as much as 40 cents each, depending on where you shop. If you make your own tortillas, you could make a similar burrito for as little as 60 cents.

No.2 McDonald's: Budgets Are Lovin' It
The iconic Mcdonald's (NYSE:MCD) dollar menu has been around since 2002, and although it offers only a handful of items, they seem like a steal. A dollar-menu staple, something you could actually call "lunch", is the McDouble: two hamburger patties, one slice of cheese, condiments and a bun.

Per-Burger Cost at McDonalds: $1
Per-Burger Cost at Home:
-Meat: 49 cents
-Cheese: 20 cents
-Bun: 25 cents
-Total: 94 cents + condiments and the time it takes to cook it

Bottom Line: Assuming the cost of the condiments adds a few more cents, you can see that the McDouble is a tantalizingly good value. (Want to invest in McDonald's stock rather than eat there? Read Sinking Your Teeth Into Restaurant Stocks.)

No.1 Wendy's: It's Value
Wendy's (NYSE:WEN) doesn't have a signature sandwich but it does capitalize on its signature square burger patties. But does this chain offer a product that's "wayyyy better than fast food" in terms of value?

In a word: yes. Look at Wendy's Double Stack burger, one of the key items on its sizable Super Value Menu. It is advertised as a 99-cent item and consists of two 1.78 ounce hamburger patties, a cheese slice and condiments.

Per-Burger Cost at Wendy's: 99 cents
Per-Burger Cost at Home:
-Meat: 54 cents
-Bun: 25 cents
-Cheese: 20 cents
-Total: 99 cents +condiments and cooking time

Bottom Line: As it turns out, Wendy's really isn't cutting corners with its signature square burgers. If you can find a Wendy's location that's selling this item for 99 cents (some have bumped the price up to $1.49), you'll be sinking your teeth into the most beef you can get for less than a dollar.

Can I Take Your Order?
So, while in most cases you can't get better deal at the drive-through window than in the grocery aisle, if you stick to value menu items, the savings gleaned by flipping your own burgers are very small, particularly for top fast food restaurants like Wendy's and McDonalds.

It all depends on what you value most. If your top priorities are convenience and price, fast food chains may be the most budget-friendly way to fill your stomach. If you're worried about food quality - or your waistline - these cheap, filling fast food deals may not be your best bet. (For some money-saving shopping tips, see 22 Ways To Fight Rising Food Prices.)

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