How to Stop Eating Out (And What I Learned Cooking at Home for 30 Days)

Eating out has been a bad habit of mine since I left college: I eat out more than I should. But, according to recent statistics on household spending, I’m not the only one.

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I’ve been thinking about how to stop eating out for years now. It’s been a bad habit of mine since I left college: I eat out more than I should – for both my health and my budget. But, according to recent statistics on household spending, I’m not the only one.

 

 

Guilty as charged. I would say in the last year or so with our wedding, buying a home, and changing jobs my husband and I ate out far more than 5x a week.

 

With Zagat putting the average cost of a restaurant meal out at $36.40 a pop, I knew I needed to cut back.

 

But how? How does one go from a scatter-brained, grocery store avoider to savvy chef?

 

Well, it’s a process. In my attempt to learn how to stop eating out nearly every meal, I tried three different methods once I vowed to only eat at home for 30 days. My results are below.


How to Stop Eating Out – 3 Methods to Try

 

Meal Planning

Whether you’re trying to stop eating out for health reasons or for financial ones, meal planning is key to tackling both. Not only does it keep your grocery costs low, but you can plan healthy meals around what you (and your family) like to eat.

 

Personally, I hate meal planning. It just seems like a lot of stress and I already work a full time job plus my blog side hustle. Remember, how I said I calculated up the value of one hour of my time? Well, using a paid meal planning service is much cheaper than an hour of my time. So, I outsource.  I like the $5 Dollar Meal Plan service.  Bonus points because it also doesn’t break the bank.

 

Additional Resources

 

For those who are like me and either don’t know how to meal plan or would like to do it better, there are resources to make this much easier.

 

  1. The Kitchn Guide to Meal Planning [Kitchn.com]
  2. 11 Meal Planning Apps [DevelopGoodHabits.com]
  3. Simple Meal Planning for Beginners – Step by Step Instructions [The Busy Budgeter]
  4. How to Make a Money Saving Meal Plan You’ll Actually Stick To [The Penny Hoarder]
  5. Meal Planning 101 – [Food and Wine]

 

Basically, you just have to figure out a handful of meals to keep on rotation and make sure you stock up on those ingredients each week. Doing a “big cook” at the beginning or end of the week so you don't have to stress about preparing food during work hours is also a big help. Here's my favorite tutorial post on how to do that.

 

There are also meal planning services who will plan out your meals for you, including:

 

  • The $5 Meal Plan
  • Emeals (perfect because you can send the ingredient list of your dinner picks to Instacart or Shipt!)
  • PlateJoy (Use code GET10 for $10 off at checkout!)

 

 

But what if you hate to go grocery shopping?

 

 

 

Meal Delivery

 

In 2019, there is no end to the options people have for getting meals delivered directly to their door. Whether they’re pre-made meals or just the kits with the ingredients to assemble yourself, there are dozens (dozens!) from which to choose.

 

While the options may seem overwhelming, I really enjoy our meal kit delivery with HelloFresh. I use HelloFresh because after doing an extensive taste test of different options, I found these were the tastiest ones to make, with the most variety, and with the least complex instructions.

 

Other options were either easier or not as tasty or absolutely delicious but had me in the kitchen for over an hour each night.

 

Many of my millennial friends complain about the chopping and assembly involved, but I like putting the meals together because it’s practice.

 

Cooking 3-4 nights each week helped me practice and I could feel myself becoming a better, more mindful cook each week.

 

My favorite part about the meal kit delivery is how seamless it is because you don’t have to think about the meals or going to the grocery store and there isn’t any food waste or ingredient left over. When we were moving into our new house, I could “pause” the deliveries.

 

My only gripe is that you have to cook the ingredients in that week. They don’t seem to stay as fresh as things bought at the grocery store, but this adds additional incentive in case you want to try a 30-Day “Eat at Home” Challenge.

 

 

 

Stop Avoiding the Grocery Store

 

 

 

 

For the longest time, the grocery store was my enemy. Even though I love to eat, going grocery shopping felt like the biggest chore. Between the coupons and the selection and checking melons and sell by dates and ugh…all the people.

 

Part of it is that I didn’t know how to grocery shop properly. (I’m almost 32 and just now feel I’m getting the hang of it.)

 

But in order to save money and eat better, I had to get better at it.

 

Here’s what I’ve learned to make grocery shopping more pleasant

 

  • Buy the snacks, and the special juice,and items to truly delight yourself. When your items at home are just as exciting as going to Chipotle, you’ll eat at home more. It may cost more in the store, but you’ll save money in the long run.

 

  • If you can swing it, go really early on the weekends (or on a weekday) to avoid the crowds at the grocery store. This makes it a much more pleasant experience than fighting over cheese at Trader Joe’s during peak hours.

 

  • Outsource if you can. While this may seem super decadent, I do both: one big grocery shop once a month for my basics and items we need and then deliveries on a weekly basis for perishables. Again, the cost of the monthly subscription is well worth it to me if it keeps me out of the store an hour each week!

 

  • Keep items on hand for super quick meals. There are so many days when I am too tired to really “cook.” Instead, I’ll whip up pasta noodles and sauce, make a quick chili, or roast sausage and broccoli on a baking sheet. When there is a debate over whether to go out or eat in, knowing I can cook something faster than we could go and order helps to settle the debate.

 

New to the life-changing magic of grocery delivery? Click here to try Instacart Express for FREE for 14 days.

 

 

Additional Resources

 

 

What Happened During My Own 30 Day “Eat at Home Challenge”

 

Photo c/o Finance Fun on Fridays

 

 

 

 

Looking at my budget you'd suppose I value three things: projects on my home, traveling to see my friends, and eating out. You know how in one episode of “Sex and the City” Carrie sits in a shoe store and wonders where all her money has gone? That’s me and my monthly take out budget?

 

I first attempted this “eat at home” challenge back in 2015. (I was on a kick doing a challenge every month back then.)

Now that I’m older, I feel like meal planning and going to the grocery store is easier because it’s for legit adults with houses and lawns and refrigerators to fill. I'm now in that category and now, magically, meal planning is easier and I don't (always) hate the grocery store.

 

But the takeaways from the challenge below are still relevant. For those who are looking to do a challenge of their own, I’ve included the post below.

 

What Happened When I Stopped Eating Out

 

There are health benefits and (obvious) money-saving advantages, but these weren't the real reasons for doing this. Mostly, I just wanted to see if I could implement a change in my life to both be healthier and spend more mindfully.

 

  • At first, it was tough to make a change. I had to plan more meals and be more consistent with my grocery runs.
  • I had to sit and think for a minute about how to use what I bought instead of just grabbing for the easiest thing in my fridge and pantry.
  • Here's one thing I did that I've never done in my entire LIFE: I saw bananas going really ripe and threw them together to make awesome muffins to eat for breakfast.
  • Socially this challenge was especially hard since I work from home and so much of my time is spent there.
  • As a solopreneur, eating out isn't so much a means to an end as a way to take a break for a little bit and see some folks. Get out of the damn house. But, my lovely friends were accepting of the challenge; we met for drinks or cooked at one another's houses instead of going out for fancy lunches and dinners. It was nice.
  • I didn’t lose any weight. Instead, I gained four pounds. If I wanted something or had a craving, I decided to make it myself…which led to lots of delicious experimentation and (I suspect) the extra pounds.
  • I saved about $225 off my monthly eating budget. I didn't get super frugal with my groceries since I knew I was cooking at home, but I allowed myself to try new things and buy upgraded products to try and make the transition easier.

 

 

 

 

How much should I budget on eating out?

 

I know there are many families who pretty much exclusively eat at their house, but for me and my lifestyle, not eating out just isn’t sustainable.

 

Instead, I think it’s good to practice moderation.

 

So, how much should people spend on eating out?

 

Really, it depends on your budget. The average household spends around $3,000 a year on dining out, equivalent to around $250 per month. If you take home $25,000 a year after taxes, this is 12% percent of your monthly budget, which is high.

 

This article from Business Insider puts restaurant spending between 6-7% of income each month.

 

Your salary may be able to float this easily, but if you’re struggling to save try cutting this number in half and allocating the rest toward your goals.

 

It's crazy how much stuff adds up when you're not looking.

 

Failing to make a grocery run could lead to three additional meals out. Even if they're not expensive, that's $30-40 each week, or around $150 per month.

 

Perhaps the biggest shift of all during the 30 day “Eat at Home” challenge is how much I rather eat at home now. I see now eating out isn't a weeknight necessity, but rather a treat to be enjoyed.

 

For example: I just returned from 3 days at the beach with my family. I must've done a really bad job of ordering at every place we went, because for the exception of one restaurant, I hated every single meal we had out.

 

“I can make it better at home.” I found myself saying. And for the most part, I'm right.

 

**This post originally appeared in September 2015. It was lovingly updated on February 11th, 2019.

How to Stop Eating Out (And What I Learned Cooking at Home for 30 Days)
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  1. Reply

    I found it hard to stop eating out myself, and it was a gradual process. I do love saving all the $$ though! And it’s so true that the experience is better at the grocery store when you avoid the peak times. I usually go to the store on my walk once or twice a week (and load up my backpack). I’m usually there around 7 am and the shoppers are outnumbered by the stockers and employees at that time of day.

  2. Reply

    For long time i loved eating out but since I have a budget to respect I started to eat more at home, I re-discover my love for cooking (maybe because I don’t do it daily) and I still love eat with friends but restaurant few times, we prefer to eat at home cooking by ourself. I am in a spending review and i plan weekly grocery shopping and I’ve noticed some difference on money in the end of the month…, I’ve read all related post and I smiled, thanks for sharing!!!

    • DNN
    • February 12, 2019
    Reply

    I hafta admit I got addicted to hibachi restaurants but transforming to more cooking home meals. 🙂

    • Mill Street Times
    • September 4, 2015
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing! Traveling has thrown me off track. This gives me hope when braving frequent grocery store trips and facing the “what should I cook?” question. It’s like being afraid to walk into the gym after I haven’t been in…a while.

    • Kendal
    • September 3, 2015
    Reply

    Congrats on your one month of cooking at home! I think that’s huge — I’m not a confident cook at all so I understand how challenging this must have been. I married a great cook so we don’t eat out often, and he always says “I can make this better at home” when we do. I like dining out once in a while, though. There’s nothing worse than paying for a meal you don’t like, so I’m very picky about where I go. Yelp is my bestest friend and hasn’t led me astray yet. One of my biggest indulgences is meeting up with my best friend when she flies in from Vegas – I make reservations at a fine-dining establishment and we pig out on multiple courses and top it off with a coffee. I wouldn’t trade that for a million takeout meals!

    1. Reply

      Love that you tie in eating out with a fun memory-making experience. Girls nights are always worth the $$

    • Kim
    • September 2, 2015
    Reply

    I love to cook at home; most of the restaurants here are fried pub food – it can get old after a while. I’m going to be revamping my food and eating habits to be healthier and enjoy my food more – make all the foods I want to eat but can’t find around here. make me actually better my cooking skills.

    1. Reply

      I just signed up for a few Blue Apron meals (because I had a coupon.) I’m excited because the recipes are a bit outside of what I normally cook like Thai and vegetarian dishes. I’ll let you know how the experience turns out!

    • Kurt
    • September 2, 2015
    Reply

    I adopted for whole foods / plant-based diet 3 years ago, which pretty much means I eat only food prepared from scratch at home. I like eating out too, but I like feeling good and living long even better. 🙂

    1. Reply

      What’s your favorite thing to make?

        • Kurt
        • September 4, 2015
        Reply

        I have several different chili recipes, all of which are very good, centered variously on lentils, sweet potatoes, quinoa, or beans. I also make a vegan mushroom stroganoff that my (meat-eating) wife loves! I’ve accumulated ~100 recipes–most people are shocked at how tasty and satisfying vegan dishes are. I eat A LOT of food, yet my BMI is between 20 and 21. Amazing how much you can eat and not gain weight when you cut out most vegetable oil and other rich sources of saturated fat and animal protein. 🙂

  3. Reply

    You started your challenge on my birthday LOL! I love, love, love eating out….but I don’t do it that often because I really love to cook and I’m really good at it. When I do go out it’s such an awesome treat and I enjoy it so much. Now I make coffee dates instead of dinner/happy hour. It’s very European.

    1. Reply

      Coffee is a great alternative! Oddly though, I have a lot of folks in my life who don’t drink it, so we usually end up out for a cocktail…or four 😉

  4. Reply

    Awesome job! I always feel that it is empowering when you can make a choice NOT to do something. It’s like the difficult choice you have to make to put off immediate gratification feels really good after the choice is made because you know it will result in something bigger in the future. Savings compound! Plus, we just like to cook and eat at home.
    -DP

    1. Reply

      I’ve had a crazy schedule this week and have eaten out a fair amount. Definitely feeling the change in my body. I’m going to be riding the “Everyone eat at home” train for awhile!

    • Giulia Lombardo
    • September 2, 2015
    Reply

    This choiche about make meals by yourself is good, savvy and healty option, someyears ago I was eating out with collegues a ot and my stomach wasn’t so happy about it, then I decided that was time to have a budget and I decided to have one real meeting with friends once per week, eating at home or using leftovers more often is possible keeping a meal put once-twice per month…meal planning is good and cooking daily means exercise brain to use fantasy and creativity there is inside of us! Good job!!!

    1. Reply

      Thanks Giulia! I’m not opposed to like a fancy night out but it’s the little takeout dinners here and lunches there that truly add up.

    • Leigh
    • September 1, 2015
    Reply

    Yup! I have been bringing my lunch to work most days since mid-June and it’s reinforced the fact that I’m more okay with paying for incredibly delicious food than I am with paying for mediocre food. Paying for the cafeteria food is not worth it! I also very, very rarely eat out by myself. I spend on average $8/month eating out by myself and about $60/month with friends. My boyfriend pays when we go out together and we usually eat out about once a month or so for a really nice dinner/brunch.

    We don’t try to optimize our grocery spending too much, so long as it’s cheaper than eating out. That means that we buy amazingly delicious things like fresh pasta, lots of fresh fruit, and eat as much meat as we want…so long as we cook it at home! I’ve tried to take a delicious restaurant meal and figure out how to cook it at home. If I can’t cook it better at home, THEN and only then will I eat out!

    1. Reply

      I think buying premium (and splurging on new ingredients) has made all the difference in how I feel when I cook at home. You want to get excited about things, ya know?

  5. Reply

    What we used to spend each month at restaurants was just crazy! We stopped cold turkey earlier this year, saved a ton of $ and lost some weight in the process–we had no idea how much good would come of such a simple change.

    1. Reply

      Glad it worked out for you! I’ll probably do another spending freeze before the year is out.

    • Lisa
    • September 1, 2015
    Reply

    I have a kid with a ton of food allergies, so we never eat out as a family. I make nearly all of his food, and we eat at home every meal. I meal plan like a fiend. But I hate cooking. I’m good at it, but and I prefer eating homemade food to mediocre chain restaurant food, but I really don’t enjoy the act of cooking. I budget one fancy meal and one inexpensive meal out a month for me and the husband (usually Ruth’s Chris for the fancy expensive meal, and one taco trucks or burger place around the corner for the inexpensive meal–I like to eat out at places that cook foods that I’m not very good at). The one item that really busts our food budget is that we live within walking distance of a Sees Chocolates. I’m embarrassed to admit what I spend there.

    1. Reply

      Mine is the wine store. And chic-fil-a.

  6. Reply

    BOOM! “Treat to be enjoyed” – yes, yes, yes.

    1. Reply

      Thanks for putting this up on Rockstar Finance!

      1. Reply

        it def. needed to be shared around 🙂

    • Ali
    • September 1, 2015
    Reply

    I try to limit my eating out at much as possible. In the past, I have tried to cut it out entirely, but that just isn’t sustainable for me. Now, I try to only eat out with friends (no drive through or take out to eat alone in front of the TV for me), always bring my lunch to work, and eat out only once per week. I cook a lot at home, and feeling like I can make my favorite “treat’ meals for myself really helps me not want to eat out as much. Tonight I know that I have some leftover lasagna in the fridge and I’m super excited to go home and eat my home-cooked meal!

    1. Reply

      I’d love to have a “no eating out” week…but in order to make that happen I’d have to start planning two weeks in advance. Modern life really isn’t conducive to eating at home all the time– I get it. Very frustrating. Hope the lasagna was good 🙂

    • Heather @ Simply Save
    • September 1, 2015
    Reply

    Thank you for sharing! This is an area in my budget that really needs some work!

    1. Reply

      Of course!

  7. Reply

    I love your last paragraph the best. I don’t mind going out and spending money on good food — it’s one of my favorite ways to socialize — but most places to eat are really *not* that good. In my city, there are only a couple of places that are worth the cost to me just for the food, though I’ll go to other places if my friends specifically ask me. Meanwhile, we have a wonderful farmer’s market and local produce. In that situation it just seems crazy to spend money on eating out when I could be cooking much better food myself, even if it would be more convenient. (I agree, too, that practice makes creativity much easier.)

    1. Reply

      Now I’m wondering what else I could get better at if I just sat down and practiced. 🙂

  8. Reply

    Thanks for sharing your experience! Eating out at restaurants is my one guilty pleasure. I love food and drinks and it’s my form of entertainment. In Portland there is so much good food, so it’s hard. I also hate cooking. It’s tough for me. I want to kill this last bit of debt and then save and invest. I don’t want to eat all my money!

    1. Reply

      When I went to Portland in early 2014 I noticed all the awesome places to try. I bet it is hard!

  9. Reply

    That’s a great outcome. You saved money AND learned new skills? Awesome. My husband and I are in the middle of a conscious scale-back of our eating out habits. We ate out a ton when we first moved to our new city, but it was getting ridiculous. Now we trying and limit it to drinks only or just an appetizer (by eating at home first) and it makes such a difference!

    1. Reply

      You guys have more discipline than I. I’m not sure if I could go out for apps and zerts and not get really, really hungry. Or blow $50 on glasses of wine 😉

    • Emily @ evolvingPF
    • September 1, 2015
    Reply

    Wow, that seems like the best possible outcome for an eating-out freeze! That is so great that you gained skills and confidence in cooking!

    I think we’ve had 1 or 2 months where we never ate out, but it was accidental – for a good bit of grad school we were only eating out 1-3 times per month, so if the average dropped a bit we wouldn’t really notice. I like keeping eating out at a level where it feels special. When we drove cross-country in July we ate out for nearly every meal and it did get tiring.

    1. Reply

      “Eating Out Fatigue” —> This is what I am calling it. It’s so real. I feel it when I come back from vacation, and definitely when I got back from NYC. Mostly I just feel like I’m really bloated and full of salt 🙁

    • Melissa
    • September 1, 2015
    Reply

    We’ve started to eat a lot more at home too and, while I didn’t think this could be true, we really do make a lot of things better than they do at restaurants! I still like eating out with coworkers once a week (or so), but eating at home has saved us money and we’ve lost weight. Win-win! 🙂

    1. Reply

      I mentioned in the comment above I got a coupon for Blue Apron meals and I’m excited to see if this helps facilitate eating at home more. I’m excited to learn a new meal or two and switch things up!

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