Bridging The Gap From Dining Out To Eating In
Reading Anthony’s post about frugal roadblocks (Budget Busters) reminded me of my cooking/dining struggles when I was first starting out. Though I never had any problem skimping on housing and transportation, my line was drawn on nourishment. Reading his post made me realize that there is a huge leap from eating out many meals as a busy professional to cooking nearly every meal in an established household.
Here are my strategies for bridging that gap:
- Eat lunch out with these caveats: get a vegetable plate or something reasonably healthful (entrée with 2 veggies); don’t get something that you can fix easily at home such as pizza or spaghetti.
- Have a light dinner (salad, soup, and/or sandwich) on the days you eat your lunches out. Those are inexpensive to prepare at home and very easy to make. You’ll save on your energy bill by cooking and washing dishes less.
- Eat at home even if you don’t cook at home. You’ll develop the habit of taking the time to sit down sometime before 8 p.m. (hopefully) to enjoy a meal. And it’s easier to split a large restaurant meal or Chinese take-out at home.
- Snack before dinner – the snack won’t ruin your dinner and it will help you have the energy to cook.
- Buy high quality prepared foods from retail caterers; you’ll get a home-cooked meal at less than restaurant prices and reinforce the fun of eating at home.
- Take a cooking class. I took classes at my community college and learned how to wash spinach and cook a roast. My instructor was the expert who could diagnose reasons for cooking failures and offer reasonably priced substitutions for unusual, budget-busting ingredients.
- Try new recipes on the weekends or days you get home early. If a recipe takes a while (the prep time in cookbooks underestimate active time by at least 50%), then you won’t be starved come dinnertime; start around 4 p.m. and you should be fine. At some point, you’ll learn that spaghetti with meat sauce and a roast (buy an eye-of-round roast, put it in the crock pot with cream of mushroom soup and/or dried onion soup mix, cook on low for 4-6 hours) takes far less than time than stuffed mushrooms.
- Rename your creations: at my house, a burned entree might become blackened chicken.
It seems that Anthony has made major progress in his quest to reduce food costs but if you are looking for ideas to bridge the chasm from restaurant meals to daily home-cooking, I hope these tips help.