One of the challenges during a Pantry Challenge is the siren song of take-out and restaurant meals. It’s easy; it’s convenient, and there’s no mess to clean up.
That last one can break me. If it’s been a long day and the kitchen is finally clean after feeding my kids breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, etc, the last thing I want to do is mess up the kitchen. Again. A run for In-N-Out Burger sounds easy as well as tasty.
If there’s food at home that might otherwise go to waste, however, it’s a better financial choice to eat at home. Even if you’re going to go buy groceries to cook at home, those are usually less expensive than a restaurant meal.
So, how do you avoid eating out, tempting though it may be?
1. Have a plan.
If you’ve taken stock of what you have and made a meal plan for the day or week, you’re more likely to act on that plan than if you have no clue what to fix. Haphazard, spontaneous meals are great, but they often get trumped by haphazard, spontaneous take-out.
2. Just eat something.
Every meal does not have to be an event. I know. It’s ME saying that. But really, if it fills the tummy, does it matter if there were three courses?
Be sure to eat real food and then call it a meal. Try one of these 10 easy no-cook suppers. Chances are you’ve got some pantry staples to pull them off.
3. Count the cost.
A round of INO burgers and fries for my family costs us about $25, no drinks. It’s a great value and good, quality food. However, that same $25 could make about three meals at our house.
Three for the price of one? That makes a difference, especially if you’ve got some financial goal in mind. Every little bit counts toward reaching your goal. Be far-sighted.
4. Use disposables.
I know that is a despicable word to use in our culture, but the burger joint uses disposables, too. I’m not advocating their use for every meal, but if it makes the difference of eating a healthier, homecooked meal and eating expensive restaurant fare, I choose paper plates.
We can’t have things perfect. So, just shoot for 80%. Keep a stock of paper plates and napkins on hand for those desperate evenings.
5. Stock some easy meals
Likewise, consider stocking a few convenience items that come together for quick meals. While they may not be good as scratch meals, they’ll fill the gap when time or energy is tight.
6. Be a team.
Sometimes it’s a family member who wants to rock the boat, suggesting a weekend brunch out instead of eating at home. Have a private talk and discuss your motivations for each option. It may be that the other person wants to make it easier on the chief cook, maybe there are certain foods he or she really likes that you don’t make at home.
There could be a plethora of reasons why they’re pushing for the meal out. Find out what they are.
Likewise, be honest about your purposes for eating in. If it’s purely a power play, well, give that up. But if you have legitimate reasons that benefit your family and household, then make those clear. Reasonable minds will disagree, but they’ll be reasonable!
Discuss why you each want what you want and strive for cooperation.
6. Learn to make your take-out favorites.
My kids love Chinese food, especially when we get the Panda Feast. It runs us about $30 to feed the eight of us. One night I even asked for extra boxes. I’d always wanted to eat out of box. It was a hit all the way around, and our clean-up was a minimum.
But, by the same token, if I learned how to make Orange Chicken, Chow Mein, and Kung Pao Chicken, we could probably have Chinese food twice as often.
There are plenty of take-out favorites that you can recreate yourself. Consider reading Bake the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese. I don’t agree with every conclusion, but she gives a great cost and work analysis of your favorite take-out foods.
7. Take the meal out.
Sometimes, it’s merely the change of pace or atmosphere, not the food, that one craves in “eating out”. Consider packing a picnic and heading somewhere else to eat it.
8. Go for dessert.
One easy compromise is to eat dinner at home but to go out for dessert. We’ve often done this for special occasions when money was too tight to have a full restaurant meal. We ate a favorite at home meal and then went for dessert and coffee, often sharing the dessert.
There are also a number of ways to reduce to the cost of your meal out. Avoid drinks. Split plates. Don’t order extras. You don’t have to have everything every time. Really.
Be realistic. Be reasonable.
Above all, be realistic with yourself and with your family. If you can afford eating out, there’s no “rule” that says you can’t. Even in a Pantry Challenge. If you’re charging every meal on your credit card, well, then we need to talk.
But, don’t feel bad that you “failed the Pantry Challenge” by eating out. The goal is to be a good steward of your resources, that includes your time, your relationships, and your mental health. Be reasonable.
Eat home when you can. Cook the best that you can afford. And enjoy good food with the people you love.