Eating fast food has become a major epidemic in our country. Millions of Americans eat out every day, enjoying burgers, chicken sandwiches, burritos, Chinese food, fries, milkshakes and other goodies from their favorite fast food restaurants.
Why do so many people eat out? Because it’s convenient. Many of us work 40-hour weeks. We have children to take care of. Perhaps cooking isn’t our strong point.
Instead of shopping for food that we won’t eat anyway, we succumb to the flavors and variety of McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King and other fast food favorites. They’re quick, easy and relatively inexpensive.
But eating out so much adds up over time. If you spend $10 a day eating out, that’s $300. For a family of four, you may spend $30-$40 for a dinner. If you do that every day, that’s more than $1,000 a month. That’s a big chunk of change.
Not only can eating out be expensive, but is also unhealthy. Fast food is filled with grease, lard, trans fats, salt and cholesterol. Eating this stuff on a regular basis can lead to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other health ailments.
You don’t have to live like that. You can cut back on fast food. You can eat meals at home, which will allow you to eat healthier and save money. And if saving money is high on your list of priorities, your first step will be to cut back on eating out. Your wallet and waistline will thank you.
Need some help achieving this goal? It won’t be easy, but you can make more things manageable by following the 10 listed tips below.
Have a Plan
The main reason why people choose to eat out is because they don’t have a plan. They didn’t take anything out for dinner, so it’s easier for them to simply pick up takeout or take the family out to eat at a restaurant.
That’s why you need to have a plan for dinner every night of the week – or at least most nights. Make it a point to make a weekly trip to the grocery store. Plan your dinner for at least five nights a week. If you are used to eating out four or five nights a week, you can slowly cut back. Set a goal for eating out just twice a week, then once a week.
Once you achieve that goal, you can take it a step further and plan to eat out just one or twice a month. Take small steps.
Improve Your Food Prep Skills
One of the biggest hassles of cooking is the food prep. Reading the recipe, cutting up the vegetables, getting the oven ready – all of this takes time. And this is time we often don’t have at the end of a busy day. The trick is to do as much food prep as you can before heading off to work.
Some tips you can try include using a crock pot. Mix a bunch of ingredients into a crock pot and it’ll do all the cooking for you. When you come home, dinner will be ready.
Planning to grill? Get ready the night before by marinating the meat. Cooking a casserole? Put all the ingredients together the night before.
If you’re going to use ingredients multiple times in one week – such as grated cheese or onions – you can prepare these in one shot so you’re ready for dinner.
Use Convenience Food
Fresh food is better than frozen, but sometimes it’s helpful to have pre-packaged foods readily available to help you with cooking preparation. For example, you can use frozen vegetables for a stir-fry or shredded cheese for tacos. Having these readily available is convenient because it saves time, and you’ll be more likely to cook more often if you know you won’t have to spend an hour in the kitchen.
Stock Up on Ready-to-Eat Foods
Sometimes things change throughout the day. Maybe you’re working on a huge work project and had a to work overtime. Instead of cooking that chicken, you may just want to pick up a burger and head home. Resist that urge and head home. Keep some ready-to-eat foods readily available so you can simply heat and eat.
There are many options to choose from nowadays. There are frozen pizzas, pasta meals in a bag, Chinese food, enchiladas, lasagna, chicken strips and many other delicious options. You can also opt for Hamburger Helper, spaghetti and other quick dishes. While you shouldn’t rely on these for dinner every night, they can help in a pinch, and they are much better than eating out.
Make Your Lunch Every Day
Many people eat out during their lunch hour at work. It’s a convenient but costly option. Even eating off the dollar menu can add up over time. Make lunch time healthier by packing your lunch every day. You can bring sandwiches, salads or leftovers from the previous night. If your break room has a microwave, you can bring quick frozen foods such as burritos and pasta meals. There are many delicious and affordable options in the freezer aisle of your grocery store.
Use Paper Plates
Many people hate eating at home because of the cleanup required afterward. Having to do dishes can be a pain. If this rings true for you, simplify things by keeping paper plates handy. We should all be doing our part to save the environment, but if using paper plates once a week cuts back on your dish washing time and makes you feel less stressed, then by all means go for it.
Don’t Make Dinner a Huge Event
Many of us grew up with dinners that consisted of at least three or four courses. We often feel pressured to continue with this tradition, but the truth is that sometimes it’s just not possible. Americans are busier now than ever before and cooking multiple foods can be a huge hassle.
So don’t focus on dinner being a huge event. Heat up some chicken nuggets for the kids. Make a salad for yourself. Maybe you can make a quick batch of spaghetti. Dinner just needs to fill you up, so focus on quality and not quantity.
Spice Things Up
Dinners at end tend to get boring because your family may be eating the same meals over and over again. Make things a little different by incorporating some fun quirks into mealtime. One example is to have a DIY pizza night, which allows each family member to make their own pizza with the toppings of their choice. You can also have theme nights, use cookie cutters to cut food into fun shapes and serve fun drinks, like Kool-Aid or chocolate milk.
Go Out for Dessert Instead
You can compromise and go out for dessert instead. Eat dinner at home and then afterward, pick a place to have dessert. Go to an ice cream shop and share a banana split. Head to Starbucks for a coffee and scone. Check out the dessert menu at the local diner.
On the nights you go out for dessert, you can have a light dinner, which means less meal prep and cooking. This allows you to better enjoy your dessert out. Plus, celebrating with ice cream or cake is a great way to reward yourself for sticking to your in-home dinner plan and staying strong despite the many temptations to eat out.
Don’t Give in to Temptation
If you’re cooking dinner at home, but your spouse wants to go out, try to find out his or her reasons for doing so. Is it a desire to eat somewhere different? Is he or she craving a certain food?
If your family is simply tired of eating at home, change it up a bit. Eat outside on the backyard patio. Go to a local park and eat on a park bench. Bring dinner to a friend’s or neighbor’s house and eat there.
If your spouse is craving a certain food, learn to make it yourself so you can save money and enjoy it at home. You can find recipes for virtually any dish you or another family member is craving. It may be a good idea to learn new recipes for a variety of cuisines, such as Mexican, Italian, Thai and Chinese.
You Can Make Home-Cooked Meals More Fun
No matter your reasons for wanting to eat out all the time, you can develop the willpower to change you habits and eat healthier while saving money. We all lead busy lives, and while fast food is more convenient, the money you spend on it quickly adds up. You can eat at home for less.
Making the switch from fast food dinners to dinners served at home won’t be easy. You probably lack time and energy, but that’s OK. You don’t have to cook meals from scratch. Frozen meals, proper planning, food preparation and the other tips listed above can help you get on track so you can reduce your food expenditures while feeling better about yourself.