Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tips for Eating Out Less

Many of us are trying to cut our food budgets during this challenging economic time. I mentioned some ideas for cutting your food budgets in a previous post. Obviously, one of the best ways to cut your food budget is to cook more home meals and eat out less. Not only are there economic benefits to eating out less, there are health benefits as well. I am a strong supporter of eating healthy family meals together at home around the dinner table. In addition to health benefits, I believe that eating together as a family is an important part of building strong family relationships. I talked about this earlier in a previous post.

In our family we have really tried to cut back on eating out. It was hard at first and I want to share a few ideas for how we were able to make the transition for those of you who might be struggling with this as well:
  • Change Eating Traditions - If you take a look at your past eating schedule, you'll probably find, like we did, that there is a definite pattern for the days/nights you eat out. For us the temptation was greatest on weekend evenings, times of travel, and busy times. Next we had to ask ourselves the question why we were eating out during those meals and and then implement new eating traditions that would satisfy the needs that our family had. For example, we discovered that we ate out on the weekends for a "treat" and a break from our regular routine. Now we try to cook meals on the weekends that satisfy that need. Friday night is our family's pizza night and we all look forward to homemade pizza every Friday night. For us, it's a "treat" that takes the place for the need to eat out. We've tried to have faster, easier meals to cook on Saturday night and busy nights to encourage us to eat at home. We have tried to plan ahead to bring plenty of food when we travel -including "splurge" food (extra special food that we don't have everyday) - to make it easier not to eat out.
  • Consistently Eat Healthier Food - We've found that as we have tried to include healthy food into every meal, our tastes have changed and we've lost a lot of the desire to eat unhealthy food. As our cravings have changed, we no longer have the same desire to eat at the restaurants we used to. Fast food, along with being (for the most part) unhealthy, is also highly addictive. You can break the addiction by forcing yourself to eat healthy food (even though it may not "taste good" to you). Start out by just including something healthy into every meal and gradually increase the healthy and decrease the unhealthy. Shoot for the goal of eating 80% healthy and 20% unhealthy (see the 80-20 principle post). Over time your tastes will change and healthy food will start to taste good and you will enjoy it! This same process works to decrease the amount of processed foods your family is eating, but I'll save that for another post...
  • Eat a Variety of Foods - Convenience and comfort are two main reasons that many people eat out rather than cook at home. Both of these can be achieved with home cooked meals with a little planning. As you incorporate a variety of foods into your diet, home-cooked meals will become exciting to you and your family. Eating the same thing over and over leads to what is sometimes called "appetite fatigue" and can result in wanting to splurge and eat out more often.
  • Freeze Meals - this is actually something that I want to do a little more when we get a larger freezer. For the busy nights when you need something quick, it's nice to have something healthy that you've already cooked waiting to be reheated in the freezer.
  • Experiment with Recipes - If you have a dish that you really enjoy from a restaurant, experiment with recipes until you come up with something that is similar. You can find a lot of these "mock" recipes by searching online. I really enjoy getting Chicken Parmesan at a local Italian restaurant and my husband was able to come up with a recipe that he makes for me that we think is even tastier than the restaurant's!
Well, there are some ideas. I hope they are helpful! I'd love to hear your comments or any more ideas that you've thought of!

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