The new year often brings about a commitment to change. If one of your goals is to save money, you're probably taking a good look at your food bill. Buying takeout food is a bad habit you might rely on when you're busy or too tired to cook, but it can kill your budget. Even busy cooks can curb their takeout spending.
Here are a few suggestions:
Eliminate or set a limit on unhealthy and processed foods. This will make most takeout meals unappealing. One reader, Arlene from New York, shares: "The 'Fast Food Nation' and 'Supersize Me' documentaries had a tremendous impact on my family. I have not used any of my money to purchase fast food since. Menu planning and having a couple of quick and easy things in the freezer to pull out when you absolutely do not want to cook have been the two most important things for me. It's much easier once you get into the habit of not eating out." For example, a buffet of cheese, crackers, fruits and raw veggies offers a quick and healthy alternative to takeout.
Another fun boundary to set is to never eat out for meals that can be made at home easily and cheaply. For example, don't order costly pasta dishes when it's so cheap, quick and easy to make them at home.
There's no shortage of recipes online that offer photos and step-by-step tutorials. Or borrow or buy a new cookbook and add new meals to your regular meal rotation. Another reader, Tina from Ohio, shares: "Break the routine. Pick up a new cookbook and start making mealtime fun instead of a chore. I also invested in new kitchen tools. I'm having a lot of fun using new spices, ingredients and trying new recipes and tools. I don't dread cooking anymore. I consider it a wise investment."
Look for discounts:
Decide to eat out only if you have a coupon or order the special of the day. Or opt to eat out for breakfast or lunch, rather than dinner. Check www.restaurant.com for deals, or splurge on an Entertainment Book (www.entertainment.com). Visit your favorite restaurant's website and sign up for their newsletters to receive upcoming promotions, special coupons or discounts. Don't forget to dine at restaurants that offer discounts for celebrating a birthday or being a AAA member, student, senior, etc. For your birthday or Christmas, let people know you'd love restaurant gift cards, too.
On days when you know you're going to be busy, do what you can to prep beforehand. For example, make the salad or chop vegetables. Cooking sides can be time consuming, so let appliances like a rice cooker or slow cooker give you a helping hand. Baked potatoes are easy to make in a slow cooker, and they taste better than microwaved potatoes. Simply wash and dry the potatoes, prick them with a fork and wrap them in foil. Cook in your slow cooker on low for six to eight hours or on high for three to four hours.
Another reader, Cheryl from North Carolina, shares: "If I don't have anything started or in mind by dinner time, it is easy for me to call my husband and tell him to bring something home or to go out to eat. My Crock-Pot saves me almost every time! I make a variety of meals in it, such as lasagna, soup, chili, meatloaf, chicken and dumplings, etc. I also use my bread machine to make pizza dough. I set it up in the morning so it's ready when my husband gets home."
A small cooler or snack box in the car can help you avoid impulse takeout decisions, too. Keep drinks, fruit, string cheese, etc. in the cooler or peanut butter and crackers, granola bars, dried fruit, nuts and seeds in the snack box. You'll have snacks available if you get hungry or thirsty while you're out, eliminating the need to stop at a drive-thru or convenience store. Works well for emergencies, too.
To take the 2012 No Eating Out Challenge and get support from others interested in kicking the takeout habit, join the Frugal Village forums and visit frugalvillage.com/forums/food-challenges/144703-2012-no-eating-out-challenge.html.
photo by erix!