Eating out: our worst “frienemy”. Saving busy professionals and parents from slaving in the kitchen after a long day at work, and bringing friends together, eating out is a cornerstone of our North American culture. It is the first thing that many of us think of when we think of celebrating a milestone. It’s many families first response when asked “what do you want to do for dinner tonight?”.
However, it’s also a detriment to many of our wallets. Food from restaurants can cost significantly more than food cooked at home. A plate of pasta with red sauce can cost less than a dollar if made at home; at most restaurants it will cost you well over $10.
The cost of restaurant food isn’t the only cringe-worthy aspect of eating out; restaurant food has far more sodium, chemicals, fat, and other “mystery ingredients” than that of the “homemade” variety. The portion sizes are huge, which is bad for our waistlines (and most people eat the entire plate of food at the restaurant), and we can’t be entirely sure what it is we are putting in our bodies.
So why do we eat out so often?
As a culture, it seems that everything is celebrated with a meal to a restaurant. To prove my point, instead of having a romantic dinner at home on Valentine’s day, most couples go out to eat; so much so, that it’s nearly impossible to get a last-minute table on that day.
The same goes for New Years Eve. Birthdays are celebrated at restaurants, friends reunited at diners, hang-out spots established in coffee shops, entire shows filmed just in restaurants.
I’m not arguing that you should never eat out; I love the stress-free, mess-free meals that restaurants provide. I’m simply challenging you to reduce your restaurant spending.
A couple of months ago, I calculated my spending on food outside of the groceries that I buy on a weekly basis, and in two weeks I had eaten 17 meals out. Seventeen! That’s no joke. I’d rung up a grand total of over $170 in restaurant and fast-food spending in a matter of weeks and I decided that I needed a reality check. As a result, I challenged myself, and my partner, to refrain from eating out for the remainder of that month.
I learned a lot in that month and I did really well on the challenge. I calculated some totals and found that even if we just ate our habitual Friday-night takeout and Saturday afternoon drive-through session at home instead of forking over the cash for the convenience, we’d save over $200/month. So, we decided to continue the challenge. Here’s how we are successful in eating in:
I meal plan once per week. We also grocery shop once per week. So we buy ingredients for the entire week’s meal plan on that one shopping trip.
While you should never grocery shop hungry, I always try to meal plan when I’m hungry. I find a whole bunch of recipes that I’d love to make and eat, and get excited about making them because I’m hungry. If I meal plan on a full-stomach, I usually don’t do a very good job of it and we have to visit the grocery store again during the week (or – eat out).
Make sure that you plan for some quick recipes too. You don’t have to make elaborate dinners every night!
Buy “Easy” Foods
One of the reasons that most of us go out to eat so often is because it’s more convenient than having to cook and clean up the mess.
To avoid giving up and going out to eat, make sure you have the provisions for some easy meals in your cupboards. This way, if I’m not up to making something elaborate, I can just quickly throw the easy food in the oven.
I usually have the stuff for nachos, BLTs, or even just a frozen pizza in the freezer. These ingredients may not be the least expensive or the most healthy, but they will save you from eating out, which is always more expensive and less healthy.
My partner used to go through a drive-thru for something almost every day. Whether it was a coffee or a burger, the fast-food places around our apartment definitely profited off of him.
He would go through drive-thrus usually because he was hungry on his way home from work after working a job that is very physically challenging. When we started our challenge, I had him bring snacks, like granola bars, fruit, or even crackers to tide him over until he got home and could make himself something more substantial.
I always have a few snacks in my car just in case I forget and I get hungry. This saves me from making unhealthy choices at the drive-thru and saves my wallet from the damage.
One of the common complaints from people who are trying to eat out less, is that their friends eat out socially and they are missing out.
My suggestion for this, is to hold a potluck at your house instead of eating out. Just get everyone to bring an appetizer or a bottle of wine.
This makes more sense for a social setting anyway, because you don’t have wait staff hovering over you when trying to have a conversation, guests can easily move around, and if you are at somebody’s house, you can even have another glass of wine.
There are many ways to stop eating out but these are the four tips that I find the most helpful as I extend my eating out challenge.