Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Definitive Guide to Never Eating Out For Every Situation

Is one of your New Year's Resolutions to save money?  Are you looking to build up a savings account or get out of debt?

Have you decided to go on the never eat out plan as a way of saving money?

Well, we've pretty much been on the never eat out plan for the last several years, so I've learned a thing or two about never eating out. 

Although to be honest, when I say we never eat out, I mean we never eat out as a family. Or, more accurately, we never eat out as a family unless someone else is paying. I never turn down a free meal!  I also love to enjoy a mom's night out once in awhile...but eating out by myself is way cheaper than bringing the whole family out. And that's only a very occasional thing.

We've basically lived the last several years without take-out pizza or ice cream stores or fast food or coffee stops. No restaurants..not even Chick Fil A. 

So here is the Definitive Guide to Never Eating Out For Every Situation.

Situation 1: You're too tired or sick to cook.

Solution: Have a few super quick, super easy, ready, almost zero-prep time meals at the ready.  Keep a list of these meals handy and always keep those ingredients on hand.  Some of our ready-made meals include things like peanut butter sandwiches, smoothies, tossed salad with shredded cheese, nuts and olive oil, open-faced grilled cheese (in the oven so easier than standing over a stove), frozen veggies, healthy hot dogs, yogurt banana split (yogurt or cottage cheese between sliced banana with sunflower seeds, flax seeds, raisins, nuts or whatever other healthy toppings you like.)

Situation 2: You arrive home at 6:00 PM. 

Solution: Planning is key. Throw something in the crock pot in the morning. Or if you are only going to be gone for the 2-3 hours before dinner, throw a roast chicken in the oven.  Roast it low and slow and it will be hot and ready for you when you get home. Probably your house won't burn down.  At least mine never has.

However, sometimes we just forget to plan ahead.  So for those times..keep a list in your heady of quick and easy meals you can throw together in 20 minutes or less.  Things like pasta and sauce.  Mini-pizzas (made on English muffins).  Rice and beans.  Vegetables that are already washed/chopped and read to be quick roasted or sauteed. An omelet. Stuff that is quick and easy, yet still tasty and delicious. 

Again..always keep these ingredients on hand. The better you get at cooking, the easier it becomes to just "throw something together."

Situation 3: You aren't home during lunch or dinner or breakfast. 

Solution: Obviously the solution here is to bring food with you. And here's a secret...it's okay to eat "snacks" for a meal. Trail mix, cheese and an apple can make a perfectly acceptable meal. Or bring sandwiches. Bagels and cream cheese.  Hard boiled eggs.  Yogurt. Cheese. Fruit. Carrots. Peanut butter crackers. Peanut butter celery.  Peanut butter rice cake.   Again..you need to always keep these foods on hand so you can easily bring them with you. We've taken food to fairs, museums, zoos...all sorts of places.  It's always fine.

Situation 4: You're traveling.

This is probably the trickiest situation of all.   Because you're traveling.  And you want a break..and a warm meal. These are the times when you really have to plan ahead, bring some tasty snacks/meals with you and just keep driving. Unless you're too tired.  Then you probably should stop.  With travel, planning ahead really is key. But if you get in a pinch, you can always get off the interstate, find a grocery store and buy bread, peanut butter and jelly.  Still way cheaper than eating out.   You can usually even find things like gluten-free bread or other allergy-friendly items.

Situation 5: You want to celebrate. 

Instead of stopping at the ice cream store, go to a grocery story and buy a half gallon of ice cream.  Or even a couple half-gallons.  Way cheaper and just as good.  If you want to be really fancy, buy chocolate sauce, whopped cream and all the fixings for sundaes. Still way cheaper. 

Situation 6: You just want the relaxing experience of eating out. 

Solution: Have the relaxing experience of eating in.  Use paper plates (just occasionally...I can't condone killing trees like that you know).  Buy treat food like convenience food or frozen pizza...it's still usually cheaper than eating out.  If it's warm outside, have a picnic.  No mess to clean up and who cares if the kids are loud.  

How often do you eat out?  Do you eat at home for financial or health reasons? Do you have any other suggestions or tips to add?
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