9 More Ways to Break the Restaurant Habit

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Because you have better things to spend your time and money on.

Restaurants are wonderful spots to visit occasionally, but they are money pits if you go on a regular basis. For anyone trying to get ahead financially, getting a restaurant habit under wraps is key to keeping dollars in your wallet. The only problem is how? For many people, a restaurant serves a very real purpose that has little to do with entertainment or socializing. It exists to feed one’s self or family on busy weeknights when there’s no time to prepare anything else. For this reason, it can seem like a daunting habit to break. But fear not! Here are some ideas for striking out on your own. (Please note: This is a topic we've covered before on TreeHugger. You can read our first post: "How to avoid eating out at restaurants.")

1. Do the math.

Numbers speak volumes and can be a powerful motivator. Go back through your credit card statements and add up the money you’ve spent on meals out in recent months. You’ll likely be shocked at the total. Now compare that to the full cost of eating at home. Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar explains how:

“Let’s say I spent $180 at the grocery store for actual food items and those items represented breakfast for all five of us for seven days, lunch for me and Sarah for five days, lunch for all five of us for two days, and dinner for all five of us for six days. That’s 35 breakfasts, 20 lunches, and 30 dinners, or a total of 85 meals. $180 divided by 85 is a cost of about $2.12 per meal... If you start using that $2 per meal baseline to compare all of your restaurant meals, which is what I do, they all start looking overpriced really fast.”

2. Learn a few recipes.

You don’t have to be a chef to prepare dinner every night. All you need are some staples on rotation. Let’s say you learn to make 7 main-dish recipes and you eat one per week. If you make double or triple batches, you’ll go even longer between recipes. Over time your repertoire will expand and your dishes will become more interesting. Ask a foodie friend for lessons or cookbook recommendations and start practicing. Fake it till you make it.

3. Splurge on ingredients at home.

Without being extravagant, you can purchase nicer ingredients that will be an incentive to cook at home, not to mention resulting in a meal that’s as nice as one you’d have in a restaurant. For example, I keep real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, butter, and whipping cream in the fridge because it makes a wicked (and very fast) alfredo sauce. I buy tiny packages of pricey dried porcini mushrooms for baked risotto and pay a premium for local free-range eggs because I know I’ll eat them. The point is to love what you make, or else you won't want to eat it.

4. Do some food prep in the morning.

Getting some of the work out of the way first thing makes it less daunting to put dinner on the table at a reasonable hour. Even if it’s just soaking beans, trimming green beans, dicing onion, or peeling potatoes, a bit of effort can make a big difference.

5. Give yourself a restaurant challenge.

Make rules for yourself. Maybe you’ll eat out only once per month or for special occasions like someone’s birthday or when you're on vacation. Set a budget and do not exceed it when ordering food. You could also start a calendar chain (Trent Hamm’s suggestion) and mark an X on every day that you don’t eat out. As that chain grows, you’ll become proud of it and not want to break it.

6. Shop more often.

Shopping daily is usually more expensive than doing a single weekly shop, but it’s still better than eating out. By shopping more often, you’ll have lots of available options for eating at home and are less likely to feel like there’s nothing in the fridge.

7. Stock the pantry.

We’ve said it before and we’ll keep on saying it – having key ingredients in your pantry makes all the difference. For example, if I have a box of dried pasta and a can of tomatoes, I can make pasta with tomato sauce. Bread, cheese, a can of tomatoes, and cream? Grilled cheese sandwiches with cream of tomato soup. Lentils transform quickly into dal, served over rice. Eggs can be fried and eaten on top of crispy potatoes. These are simple, cheap, fast dinners.

8. Think of the leftovers.

Going to a restaurant for dinner might spare you from cooking that night, but chances are you won’t have much left over. My husband and I cook enough for both adults to have lunch the next day, which means that, when we eat out, I’m usually scrounging for food the following day. That thought is incentive enough to get cooking.

9. Consider your health.

You cannot put a price on good health, and it’s no secret that restaurants meals are hardly the pinnacle of nutrition with their added sodium, deep-frying, sugar, preservatives, and who knows what else. It depends where you’re eating, of course, but you have significantly less control over what you’re putting in your body than if you’re preparing it yourself.