The convenience of eating out

Not only is eating out a convenient way to nourish your body on a hectic day, eating out is an opportunity to enjoy the company of friends and family without the stress of trying to come up with a dish everybody can agree on and without adding a new pile of dirty dishes to your sink. And, it is an opportunity to experience new foods you otherwise would have never known. A well-timed meal out can even help you control grocery store impulse buys.

So what’s the harm in eating out?

Despite all the wonderfully delicious reasons to eat out, there are three big reasons not to.

1) Eating out can be bad for your finances. 

I used to put $20 in my pocket every payday for life’s little extras. What wasn’t spent on eating out and craft supplies went into a jar for bigger events. Back then, my eating out budget was about $6 per week. But there comes an age when a little girl wants her own chicken sandwich.

In an attempt to balance the joy of eating out with my rather small budget, I decided on a routine of taking my daughter out twice a week. Tuesday morning breakfast at the cafe on our way to school and Saturday afternoon lunch before our weekly shopping trip. On their own these meals aren’t much. We can split a hearty breakfast and each get our own drink for $15, including tip. Lunch at the buffet is about $24 including tip.

$39 per week times 52 weeks equals … $2028 per year! Wow, I had no idea I was setting myself up to spend so much! This doesn’t even include the 5 times a year we go out for special occasions.

2) Eating out can be bad for your health.

Most restaurants do have a nice selection of healthy options. But healthy meals made with fresh ingredients tend to cost more money.

The local burger joint charges $3.50 for a 600 calorie hamburger dripping with grease, or $8 for a 400 calorie apple, cranberry, grilled chicken salad. … Now I am glad that I tried their chicken salad. I never would have dared to top my lettuce and spinach with cranberries if it weren’t for them. But it is very tempting for me to order from the cheaper end of the menu in an attempt to limit the financial impact.

3) Eating out too often sets a bad example for the kids and anyone else who may look up to you.

This is a big one. My family eats out way more often than we should. I worry about the example I am setting for my daughter every time I say yes to convenience. The crazy thing is, we don’t even enjoy it that much. Eating out has become just another part of our routine. So why is it so hard to break the habit?

How Did It Start?

We ordered a lot of takeout when I was a kid. For me, fast food is comfort food. But eating out didn’t become a way of life until I got my first job. For 5 months I did a lot of traveling with little access to prepare a proper meal. For 5 months, the majority of my and my co-workers’ meals came from gas stations, restaurants, and concession stands.

Fixing fresh meals was a luxury that I truly enjoyed when I settled down. But it is still easy to slip into that old habit of grabbing what is convenient when I am out of the house.

Special Occasions And Accomplishments Only

I used to say that we could only eat out on special occasions or after accomplishing a specific task. Ice cream if we walked to the park, a chicken sandwich from our favorite sandwich shop when family came to visit. This worked wonderfully for over a year. But over time I found more reasons to celebrate … a soda any day I worked X hours, mother-daughter dates every payday, and a meal with relatives every weekend.

Life is full of special things. Food rewards are not the best option.

What About Cold Turkey?

The recent realization of how much I spend eating out just twice a week, along with an extra boost of inspiration from FrugalWoods, has me seriously considering going cold-turkey.

My little family actually enjoys preparing and eating meals at home, where we can adjust recipes to meet our tastes.

Tomorrow is Tuesday morning. While my daughter and I enjoy our usual breakfast at the local cafe, I will prompt her to think of ways we can improve the atmosphere of our kitchen and dining room to entice us to want to stay home. I think two of our biggest problems are 1) we don’t like doing dishes after cooking a nice meal and 2) we don’t have a comfortable dining table and chairs to enjoy our meals at.

I have been hesitant to buy my own nice table and chairs because my grandmother said we could have hers.  But looking at the above numbers … A used set would quickly pay for itself if it helped us avoid eating out so often!

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