The average American eats out 4.2 times a week, which, frankly, is a lot. Costs can add up quickly if you eat lunch at a restaurant or sandwich shop everyday, plus go out for dinner with your family a couple of times a week. Add in a Starbucks each morning, and suddenly a significant amount of your take home pay is going towards restaurant food.
Often this food is unhealthy (even if you think you are eating healthy) so it is very tough for people watching their weight or sodium intake to maintain a good diet if they eat out so much. There is a simple answer, and this is to cook at home where you can control the ingredients, portion size, and cost.
Typically we spend around $400 a month on groceries for our family of four. We don’t eat out more than once a week, and never stop at coffee bars despite their abundance in Portland. Our restaurant spend is typically under $200 a month. By going out infrequently, a trip to a restaurant becomes a treat for the family, even if it’s just a trip to the sandwich shop.
Cooking is also fun, particularly now that we have more time to prepare. We both very much enjoy cooking and trying new recipes, we are also teaching our children how to cook, as we both strongly believe that cooking is a life skill that all kids should know. I am constantly astonished at how few people are diverse in their cooking skill and prefer to eat out all the time. Cooking doesn’t have to be fancy either, anyone can bake a chicken breast and serve it with mashed potato and frozen peas & corn.
Since retiring we have adapted our shopping habits; we shopped weekly and bought things that were brought home, forgotten about in the fridge, and ultimately got thrown away. Once we retired and had the time we shop daily, only buying what we need for the day. This does mean we have to be flexible about dinner plans as often we will hit the discount meat bin and buy something with a 50% off sticker. There is nothing wrong with this meat, we just need to make sure that it is either eaten or frozen that day. Buying $2 ground beef, and making meatballs is very satisfying.
Some don’t have time to cook in which case cooking in bulk is key. Instead of making a pound of spaghetti sauce, make 5 pounds and freeze the rest in portions. For this purpose a chest freezer is a must.
In summary, have a budget and stick to out, cut out down on eating out, learn to cook (taking a night class is lots of fun and a great way to meet people!) and teach your kids to cook!
How much do you spend on eating out? I bet it’s more than you think.