Eating out—whether it’s at nice sit-down restaurants or a drive-through window—is one of the biggest leaks in a lot of people’s budgets, including mine. It’s an, albeit tasty, money suck. And to make matters worse, eating out gets harder to stop doing the more you do it.
If you need a little help breaking the cycle, here are 10 tips to stop eating out that actually work.
Reasons to stop eating out (as often)
The biggest reason to stop getting takeout as often is saving money. Eating out is an expensive alternative to getting food at the grocery store (even if you don’t cook). A single person getting takeout for lunch or dinner five days a week might spend $100 without even realizing it while another person who ate at home would have spent a fraction of that.
Another reason is your health. Even if you feel like you’re making the healthiest choices possible when carrying out or dining out, restaurant meals are almost never as nutritious as your own food would be. And often, you don’t exactly know what’s in them.
So, how do you stop eating out?
1. Start small
As with any lifestyle change, the key to lasting success is to take baby steps. If you’re on a steady diet of Big Mac lunches and pizza dinners, try starting by trying to pack your lunch four days out of five. If you hit all five, great, but allow yourself some wiggle room.
The next week, cook dinner for yourself once (or at least avoid ordering or going out by getting some frozen pizzas at the store). Each week, do a little more. Pretty soon, you’ll find that eating out is the exception rather than the rule.
If you spend a lot of money going out to sit-down restaurants, your habit may be more social than gastronomical in nature. Are you eating out with friends or your significant other? If a group of friends is the culprit, suggest dinner parties as an alternative. Or, grab a quick bite at home and meet the group after their meal.
3. When you do eat out, choose wisely
Be strategic about how you spend money when you are going out. At sit-down restaurants, desserts and alcoholic drinks tend to have the highest markups, so order them sparingly. Then, try to choose foods that will give you leftovers you can take home so you get two meals for the price of one.
4. Pack your lunch, but don’t ditch your break
Just because you bring your lunch to work doesn’t mean you should eat at your desk. When I used to eat lunches out almost daily, I savored the 10-minute drive to my favorite sandwich shop as a much-needed chance to get out and see the sun. Eat with coworkers in a common space, go outside, or even take it in your car and eat somewhere quiet if you have to! If you do eat at your desk, take at least 20 minutes to walk outside and get some fresh air.
5. Love your slow cooker
For anyone who doesn’t actually like to cook or doesn’t have the time in their busy schedule to stand over a stove, the slow cooker saves the day. The humble crock pot is the secret not only to a quick dinner but also to making your whole house smell amazing for hours. If you don’t have one, there are many inexpensive brands and models. You can often find these for sale at secondhand and thrift stores too.
6. Shop more frequently
If you’re making food for one or two, you might find yourself wasting ingredients often, which doesn’t exactly make you enjoy cooking. It can be hard to use up things like fresh produce and perishables before they go bad, especially if you start out the week with good intentions and end up too busy or tired to cook. Going shopping more often and buying smaller quantities is the key to eating out less and eating at home more.
7. Meal prep
Meal prepping is the secret sauce. It can help you save time, eat healthier and achieve your fitness goals, and yes, stop eating out. Taking an hour or two one day a week to meal prep what you’re going to eat is worth it. Because later in the week when you don’t feel like cooking, you won’t have to. Even just prepping go-to ingredients like proteins, veggies, or side dishes is a game changer.
8. Try meal kits
If part of your problem with cooking at home is never knowing what to eat or not having time to think about it, the best meal delivery services can make your life easier. They come with pre-portioned ingredients so you don’t have to worry about wasting what you don’t finish, get shipped right to your door so you don’t have to go grocery shopping, and come with recipes and instructions for preparing impressive meals.
9. Freeze, freeze, freeze
Learn to freeze foods and do it whenever possible. Freeze what you can’t eat and freeze extra food when you have time to spare. Meats, bread, even milk and some fruits and veggies can be frozen just fine. You can also make freezer meals so you always have quick meals for those long days when cooking is the last thing you want to do.
10. Make copycat meals
Restaurant meals are a whole different level of deliciousness, especially at your favorite spots. But if you didn’t already know there’s a whole corner of the internet devoted to “copycat meals,” or recreations of restaurant dishes, now you do. You’d be surprised how spot-on some of these recipes are. Bonus, you’ll know every single ingredient.
11. Make it special
When you get into a habit of eating out every night of the week, it becomes a little less exciting each time. The less frequently you get takeout and restaurant food, the more fun it will be when you do. Reserve this treat for date nights, special occasions, and celebrations.
There’s nothing wrong with going out to restaurants once in a while or treating yourself to takeout. But eating out can quickly get expensive, and most restaurant meals aren’t known for being nutritious. Follow these tips for cooking at home more to avoid eating out as much and help yourself save money.