An economist's lunch: optimisation in the Union House food court

After the slog of exams and freezing holiday period, many of our diets have likely fallen prey to the mentality of: ‘whatever, I’ve got more important things to worry about’. If you are feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally depleted as you head back to Semester 2 in the cold ravages of a merciless Melbourne Winter, then perhaps the signs may be telling you to think more about what you eat. By varying your diet to achieve higher energy levels, you may help to lighten your load, or at the very least your attitude towards university life.
Often the foods that are the healthiest do not have as many kilojoules (energy) as ‘junk’ foods, and let’s face it, the price of healthier food can often be extreme. As a university student with a limited budget, eating more healthy food to achieve the same kilojoule intake that you would derive from junk food may be a physically sustainable option in the long run – but in the short term, finding a balance between health and financial priorities is of the utmost importance.
So as you head into Union House, which food should you buy to maximise your scholarly abilities throughout the semester without minimising your cash reserves? By gathering prices data and information regarding the most popular items purchased at food shops in Union House, the following price to kilojoule ratios were calculated. The price to kilojoule ratio operates as an input to output ratio, which you can use to determine the most productive eating choices when hunger and exhaustion strike.
*Note that while kilojoule content was explicitly stated on the menu for items with an asterisk, estimates based upon insights from online sources have been drawn upon to give an approximation as to the energy content of other items. This information may be marginally inaccurate.

Shop Food Price ($) Price (c) Kilojoules Price (c)/Kilojoule ratio
*Subway Foot-long meatball sub 7.95 795 3420 1:4.30
 
*Boost
 
Mango Magic
 
7.00
 
700
 
1820
 
1:2.60
 
*Vending Machine
 
Mother
 
3.50
 
350
 
975
 
1:2.78
 
*Zambrero
 
Vegetarian Quesadillas
 
5.90
 
590
 
1412
 
1:2.39
 
Zambrero
 
Chicken/Beef Burrito
 
11.90
 
1190
 
1850.02
 
1:1.55
 
Pizza Pronto
 
2 Pizza Slices (pepperoni) and 600ml Drink Combo
 
8.50
 
850
 
3464.35
 
1:4.08
 
Hoho’s canteen
 
Small Café Latte
 
3.50
 
350
 
422.58
 
1:1.21
 
Vegie Patch
 
Chicken Schnitzel (half) and avocado sandwich
 
6.00
 
600
 
1548.08
 
1:2.58
 
Express Kebabs
 
Doner Kebab (lamb)
 
8.00
 
800
 
2401.62
 
1:3.00
 
La Bonne Bouffe
 
Multigrain BBQ Pork Baguette (with carrot, cucumber, coriander, salad)
 
7.00
 
700
 
2552.24
 
1:3.65
 
Uni Curry
 
Butter chicken and lamb curry on rice
 
8.00
 
800
 
1643.27
 
1:2.05
 
Uni Catch
 
¼ Roast chicken with chips (cup) and salad (cucumber, lettuce, tomato, chicken, avocado, onion)
 
7.80
 
780
 
2734.24
 
1:3.51
 
Chill Out
 
Chocolate Muffin
 
3.00
 
300
 
2075.26
 
1:6.92
 
Plush Fish Café and Sushi Bar
 
Salmon Sushi roll
 
2.80
 
280
 
1271.94
 
1:4.54
 
Egg Sake Bistro
 
Japanese Chicken Katsu Curry Donburi
 
7.00
 
700
 
1987.40
 
1:2.84

 
After comparing the price to kilojoule ratio for the most popular products of each food shop, the chocolate muffin from Chill Out has come out on top, meaning that for each input (price) the most output (energy) is realised when choosing to consume the chocolate muffin. So does this mean that you should always consume chocolate muffins? Although the data suggests a high productivity energy burst from this option, it is likely that diminishing returns in terms of how energised you feel will set in rapidly if you choose to restrict your diet to mere muffin consumption. We need a balanced diet to function to our optimal level, and for this reason the salmon sushi roll, pork baguette, chicken, chips and salad, and subway may be more effective options long-term.
The least productive food/drink to consume energy wise was the Café Latte from Hoho’s Canteen. Although the caffeine in coffee can provide a quick energy boost, the total energy derived from coffee when compared to other foods is substantially lower. For the price of $3.50 (a common price for coffee in many places around Union House) drinking coffee is not a great way to maximise productivity. However, arguably the comfort derived from drinking coffee on cold winter mornings may be worth more emotionally than any number of kilojoules can physically provide.
For all foods, taste, quality, ingredients, and other factors influence how our bodies process them, and as such, the price to kilojoule ratio may not be the most effective measurement of how energised we become from consuming certain foods. However, if you are ever in a rut, need a rapid and effective energy boost, or just want to load up on calories, you may find this data useful in making informed decisions about what to buy from Union House.

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