Monthly Challenge: Cut Down on Dining Out
When you dine out you lose out — but by just how much?
Well to give you an idea, we’re spending approximately 5% of our income on average on dining out, buying meal or snack from a restaurant 5.8 times a week and now even spending more in restaurants than in grocery stores.1 It’s time we take control of our spending on lunch breaks, lattes and dinner dates.
This month, as part of our Monthly Challenge Series, we challenge you to lower your spending on dining out!
The average American family spent $2,668 ($225 a month) eating away from home in 2014.1 That includes dinners eaten out, quick snacks grabbed and coffees ordered.
If you ate out half the time and saved that amount for 3 years you’d have saved around $4,000!
That’s 1 trip for two to the Amazon Rainforest, a 2-year streaming entertainment service subscription, 3 laptops, or an engagement ring!
However, as a culture that values social gatherings, home-cooked meals and convenience, it’s obvious we aren’t going to stop eating out all together. In fact, sales at restaurants and bars overtook spending at grocery stores in March for the first time ever.2
The Smart Way to Eat Out
Instead of completely eliminating dinner dates and going out with friends, let’s look at some ways to save while dining out:
Eat beforehand — chow down on a snack, maybe an apple or some crackers, before heading out. It’ll keep you from ordering more than you can eat!
Get drinks another time — wine, beer, cocktails and even soda drinks can increase your check by a lot. Content yourself with some water and a lemon wedge or two.
Stick to one dish — ordering an appetizer on top of a main dish can leave you stuck with a much larger bill. Stick to ordering just an entrée.
Split the food (and the bill) — if you’re not feeling too hungry, split a plate with someone. This works great as well if there are multiple things people want to try.
Deals, deals, deals! — you can find coupons and special discounts for plenty of restaurants on daily deal sites like Groupon, Amazon Local and Scoutmob.
It’s all about the likes — do you have a favorite restaurant or local bar? Follow them on facebook and twitter to receive regular deals and promos.
Find the best specials — schedule your meals around happy hours and promotions to save big! That might require you to eat before 5 PM, but the savings will be worth it. Also, look for places where kids eat free!
Doggy bags — make sure you take left overs home. Some restaurants will even give you an extra portion to take home with you.
Avoid fast food!
There are 5 fast-food establishments for every 1 supermarket in the U.S.3
MYTH: Eating fast food saves you money.
FACT: A homemade roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about four to six people costs around $14. Go to a typical fast-food restaurant, order 2 double burgers, a cheeseburger, six chicken nuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas, also feeding four to six people, costs about $28.
Chicken, fish, beef or other protein should be the size and width of your palm.
Pasta, potatoes and rice should be the size of your fist.
A serving of fat like peanut butter, olive oil or butter should be half a thumb.
Fruit should fit in the palm of one hand.
Vegetables should fit in the palm of two hands.
No More Lazy Lunches
From lunch meetings to on-the-go sandwiches, it’s far too easy to just eat lunch out instead of bringing a home-packed meal.
From a consumer behavior survey of 4,000 Americans, it was reported that the most popular restaurant meal is lunch, with 2.6 meals eaten on average each week.5 When you work a 9 – 5 job the easiest option is often to not worry about packing or preparing a lunch.
We’re usually running late for work anyhow, and we don’t want to worry about preparing and packing a lunch. Give bringing a lunch to work a try by making your lunch the night before! Preparing ahead of time means less time running frantically around the kitchen in the morning. Plus, these easy lunch ideas are quick to make, require little cleanup and most importantly, are good for you.
Carrot Pasta — shave 2 – 3 carrots, sauté with red peppers, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil.
Avocado Shell Salad — slice open an avocado, remove the pit and fill with chopped red onion, diced yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes and goat cheese.
Kale Ceasar Salad — a twist on the classic ceasar, swap out romaine lettuce for kale and add 4 oz. of grilled chicken for a protein boost.
Vegan Bean Salad — mix one can of black beans with diced mango, lime, lemon, and orange juice together with a dash of maple syrup and cilantro.
Rainbow Quinoa Salad — mix cooked quinoa with diced carrots, yellow and red peppers and red cabbage and dress with sesame oil and rice vinegar.
If you’re feeling ambitious, plan out the week—schedule all of your meals so you know exactly what you’re making with what ingredients. It will be one-stop grocery shopping and meal-making rolled into one!
Use what you have:
Look to the food you already have in your cupboard, rather then going out to buy more.
We throw out approximately 25% of the food and beverages we buy!
Since a big reason we love to dine out is getting to socialize with friends and family, it’s important to find a solution that still allows time for that. Why not host a potluck! Ask loved ones to bring their favorite dishes to cut down on costs.
Still craving that special meal from your favorite restaurant? We understand. To satisfy your craving and save your money, look to these copycat recipes!