8 Ways to Avoid Eating Out

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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.

8 Ways to Avoid Eating Out

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.

How do YOU avoid eating out?

About Jessica Fisher

I believe great meals don't have to be complicated or expensive. There's a better way, and it won't take all afternoon.

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  1. Jane says

    Where are the panda recipes? My family loves them and I am always trying to find a cheaper alternative!

    • Sheila says

      @Jane, I think she said that ‘if’ she learned to do make those dishes, they could have Chinese more often rather than she has recipes.

    • Erin says

      @Jane, I got the cookbook “Easy Chinese Recipes” by Bee Yinn Low from my library. I tried the Hot&Sour soup and potsticker recipes, and I think they actually tasted better than what’s available from the restaurants around me. There are also some recipes on their website. Of course, if you have to buy a lot of ingredients to make the dishes, maybe it would be cheaper to get take out once in a while and not feel so bad…

      • KimH says

        @Erin, Thanks for the book recommendation. I have a hold on it now!

      • Jessica says

        @Erin, were the potstickers time consuming? They seem like they would be.

        • Erin says

          @Jessica, I sure wouldn’t do it as a last minute dinner idea! I felt like giving it a try to make them myself from scratch, even the wrapper part. I did it as a Sunday afternoon project to make a couple dishes all at once, so it’s a bit hard to say exactly how long each dish took. You could save a lot of time by using store bought wrappers and they would probably still taste great. Also, one of those dumpling presses might speed up the process. Or a lot of helpers. I cooked all mine right away, but it might be something that you could spend an afternoon making a bunch and freezing. I made a couple dozen homemade sauerkraut and mushroom pierogi once, and they are my freezer go-to when nothing else magically shows up for dinner…where did I get that idea?

        • Maria says

          They sell frozen ones that are very good.

    • Jessica says

      @Jane, yes, what Sheila said. We learned to make egg rolls at new year’s and I’ve dabbled in some Asian dishes. I just need to figure out Orange Chicken and Chow Mein.

  2. Janet says

    Love your attitude towards paper products. Sometimes I am just not up to another round of dirty dishes.

    One of the things I try to do on the weekends (when I have more time) is replicate the restaurant feel.
    For my kids there are two things that seem to make eating out special for them. First, it is all the little extras restaurants put on your plate. Most of these items can be replicated at home. For example, if I serve chili I make sure I have oyster crackers, shredded cheese, and chopped scallions. If I serve hamburgers I will set out a toppings tray so everyone can customize their burger. If we have pizza night with garlic sticks I will try to have 2 or 3 dipping sauces. Second it is the crayons and activity sheet accompanied by the “fancy” kid cup with silly straw. These are also relatively easy items to replicate at home.

    • Jessica says

      @Janet, great ideas to make it more like a “restaurant experience”.

  3. In-N-Out? Really?!?! I’m a Southern California native transplanted to Nebraska and would give my right arm for an In-N-Out burger!

    Anyways, we’ve whittled the dining out budget to $75/month which includes one restaurant meal and one or two drive-thru/pizza dinners. So, out of 30 or 31 days in a month, three are budgeted to eat out. That’s how I avoid it 🙂

    • Jessica says

      @STACEY, food is like our family hobby. We don’t have a lot of expenses, so eating out tends to be one. But, this month we’re doing well. Tonight will be our first meal out as a family in the month.

  4. Harriet says

    We avoid dining out by me putting things in the crock pot before work, or laying it out with instructions for someone else to do. If we all come home and the food is hot and ready, then there is no need to eat out. Also I cook extra on the weekends so there are things in the fridge to heat and eat.
    I have already set out the roast to thaw for tomorrow night. YUMMY!

  5. Brighid says

    We avoid it by living in a tiny town. There is a restaurant but people say it’s not too good and really, it’s essentially around the block, about 2 miles away. Other than that, we’re driving at least 25 to 30 minutes to get to a pizza place. McDonald’s is farther. There’s no delivered food in our town.

    I have to plan not to stop at the grocery store on the way home on a long day and pick up frozen pizza or something like that though. I solid plan helps tons.

  6. My grown kids like In n Out better but we prefer Farmer Boys. We call it our $8 dollar date (use a coupon for a free burger and share the fries).

    Like you, I set a goal. Plus I’m trying to get rid of the extra holiday pounds and well, eating out doesn’t help that one bit. The AH basket was awesome this week so I’m really utilizing it. I’ve had to switch days on some of the meals I had planned but by and large I’m cooking all of the dinners, just maybe on a different day. DH and I have a good system in the kitchen. I plan, prepare and cook, he cleans up. Sometimes paper products just fit the bill (especially for lunches or quick meals).

    • Jessica says

      @Laurie, “unfortunately”, when we started trying to lose weight last summer, we found several restaurant meals that were healthy and filling and helped us lose weight. But it does limit our options.

  7. #5 is key, I think. I keep some things on hand that are easy to do. They’re not fancy, but they’re always available(because they’re frozen mostly) and they work in a pinch.

  8. C-Joy says

    We like to go out to eat for lunch! The prices are cheaper, but you still get huge portions. We only eat half the meal, so we have leftovers for lunch the next day 🙂

    • Jessica says

      @C-Joy, our family eats every little bite. We probably aren’t going to the same restaurants. Ours are faster food. Or I’m underbuying. But, my kids are ravenous 24-7. No matter what I feed them.

  9. Lizzy says

    I need to remember the tip about paper products! My wonderful husband cleans up, but he doesn’t always have time to finish everything. That makes him feel overwhelmed and defeated (who wouldn’t feel that way?!), and then I feel frustrated by a messy kitchen when I have to cook again. He would love to have a day off from so much washing. I’m going to see if I have the plates to do this tonight! With a sick toddler in the house right now, we could use the breather, however small.

    • Jessica says

      @Lizzy, back in my early days of motherhood, paper plates were the norm just to survive. Nowadays they are the exception, but I realize how easy they make things.

  10. KimH says

    For me, the biggest thing that will prompt me to order out is if I am out doing loads of errands and dont have a plan. It just plain ol wears me out & the last thing in the world I want to do is cook when Im exhausted.

    When Im working, I often have crock pot meals going, I’ll make a pressure cooker meal, or I’ll leave my frozen meat in the skin to thaw in the morning. Having no plan at all invites me to fail.. not only with home cooked meals but with meals that work well for the way I eat.. (gluten free, whole real foods, & Weight Watchers-).

  11. Molly says

    Our first year out of college, there was no way we could afford to eat out, but I missed pizza (a twice-weekly occurrence in college, courtesy of the pep band). So I learned to make it! I’m quite proud of the two kinds I can make – a nice fluffy crust, and a nice thin crust.
    We avoid eating out by cooking on the weekends. If we have food ready to go in the fridge, it’s much easier to just grab and heat than go out, wait in line, pay for food, wait some more… And we almost always have something like veggie burgers (boca burgers go on sale about twice a year, we stock up) or burritos or soup in the freezer.
    And we figured out which peanut sauce from Trader Joes is the good one so we can make pad thai-ish at home.
    I’m still trying to figure out the best pancake mix for us – homemade, of course. Darn, we’ll have to experiment and eat lots of pancakes!


  1. […] I believe that eating at home is key to improving your family’s diet. Despite the claims of the science teacher losing weight at McDonalds, I just don’t believe that a regular diet restaurant fare is going to make you healthy. I think it’s in our best interests (for health as well as our wallets) to avoid eating out. […]

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