Grocery Budget Tips: Tip 5 – We Don’t Eat Out

Welcome to the grocery budget savings series!  Here is tip #5.  To learn why I am sharing our favorite ways of saving money in our grocery budget, read our introduction.

#5: We don’t eat out.  (regularly, anyway)  I know some families eat out weekly, sometimes more often than that.  If you are looking to cut down your budget and reduce spending, eating out is a great place to start.  I realize if you don’t have the time to cook, eating out can be a blessing, and if your budget can support that – awesome!  But for those who need to reduce their spending – why not start here?

We have two main go-to places that we order carry out from: A local pizza joint (once every few months) and a Mexican restaurant that we order affordable fajita dinners from (usually once a year).  That’s it.    We are feeding a small army though, so takeout, fast food and restaurant eating would get extremely expensive extremely fast if we did it regularly.

We make fajita’s a lot more often than we order them, we even bake our own pizzas and calzones.  We have other restaurant favorites that we make when we are looking to eat something “special.”  When our meal planning looks a little bland, I enjoy trying out copycat recipes for restaurant meals that we would enjoy if we were going to eat out. But there are those nights that are so crazy that I don’t have time for one of our homemade dinners, and sometimes after a busy day butchering chickens or turkeys, I’m just simply not in the mood to look at any food I have had any part in preparing.  I just want it made for me.  While these days that are “too crazy” come up somewhat regularly, our budget doesn’t allow to eat out on a whim.  I still have to find something quick and filling from food we already have.  But when we have room in the budget to order three large pizzas, or two-three family sized fajita dinners from the next town over – I really, really enjoy it.

Once this year we got stuck having to order fast food while we were away from the house unexpectedly during the lunch hour, not due to return for a few hours.  Not only did I not know how to work the automatic fountain drink machine to get waters for everyone (when in the world did they make these things computerized?!) but the person taking my order didn’t take me seriously and seemed to think we were about to scam them on a huge order.  The final amount was a bit shocking, but we had to eat something and we were in an unfamiliar area so they were our go-to.

Some Suggestions….

I try to plan trips carefully and if there is a chance we will be out during meal time, I plan food to either snack on or so we don’t need to eat out.  Ideally this food is something that can easily get put back on the shelf or not require refrigeration, so that if we don’t need it, it doesn’t risk going bad before we get home.

I keep a list of quick meals that are easy to prepare (so my older kids can cook if needed, too) so we can turn to a page and read a list of chicken recipes that we enjoy and can throw together quickly (or ground beef, or sausage, etc.) so we don’t loose precious time trying to think of meals on our own.

I cook a separate meal for my husband for work each day.  Due to the nature of his job, he is unable to leave work for his lunch and honestly his choices are very limited.  I pick a meal from our “quick and easy to prepare” meals for his lunch and he gets a freshly made meal on Mondays, and usually if I plan it right, he will take leftovers from the day before for his next days lunch so he isn’t eating the same meal twice in a row.  He has an insulated lunch bag he takes his lunch to work in.  At other places he has worked, he doesn’t always have a fridge available so he keeps his lunch cool with re-usable ice packs.   We have found that convenience foods that heat well from a can or a box are not that great tasting so he’d prefer to just have a home cooked meal and save money that way.

Plan the next days meals the night before, maybe even cook or prepare them, so the next morning you are ready to start your day.  If you normally eat out for breakfast, plan to have breakfast already made the night before so you don’t have to take time in the morning to prepare it.  There are many recipes for breakfasts prepared the night before, and many can be made mobile, too!

What are your go-to meals that are homemade for those crazy nights when you are too busy or don’t want to cook?  Do you have any suggestions for anyone looking to stop eating out?

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