One of the biggest ways our family started saving money to live on one income was to stop eating out. The more we ate at home, the more money we saved.
It was also much healthier. I knew exactly what was going into our meals each night.
However, it was a really big change for us! Before we decided to cut out fast food and restaurants, we had been eating out or getting to-go meals more than we ate at home!
So it took time to learn how to stop eating out even with the health and money saving benefits. Some nights I don’t have a lot of energy or simply lack the motivation to cook.
Personally, there were two hurdles that kept me from wanting to eat at home.
1) I didn’t know what to make.
I dreaded the question, “What’s for supper?” Most of the time I had no idea what to make, so I would look through the pantry and fridge for an idea.
That led me to the second hurdle…
2) Not having all of the ingredients to make a meal at home.
It seemed like I was always missing at least one ingredient. Maybe I had ground beef, taco shells, and taco seasoning, but no cheese. So we would end up going out to eat instead.
I had to figure this eating at home thing out so we could afford for me to stay at home with my baby.
I’ve shared before how I keep my meal planning simple by having a master list of meals that we rotate through and also by keeping the sides super simple.
However, there are a few other strategies that ensure we eat at home even on those crazy nights when we are tempted to go out instead.
How to Stop Eating Out
1. Take inventory of your pantry and freezer on a regular basis.
How many times have you gone to your pantry right before supper and realized you didn’t have an ingredient you needed?
Or on the flip side, how many times have you found something in your freezer and thought, “I didn’t know that was in there! We could have had that last night instead of going out for supper.”
One of the best ways to keep an organized pantry and freezer is to not stuff them too full. That way you can actually see what you have, and you’re more likely to use it. So take some time every so often to tidy them up.
I’m all about stocking up on items when they are on sale, but make sure you are only buying what you need until the next sale and are actually using the food up otherwise you will forget what you already have.
Knowing what you have in your pantry or freezer will help you use those items for meals at home instead of eating out.
2. Have a master list of meals your family eats regularly.
Does your mind go blank as soon as you try to come up with meals? I know mine does. It’s easier to default to going out to eat than coming up with an idea for dinner.
Unless, you use a master list of meals!
The best decision I ever made when it comes to meal planning, is having a master list of meals that my family enjoys.
I refer to my list whenever I plan out my meals for the month instead of spending a bunch of time looking through cookbooks or Pinterest.
Most months our meal plan is very similar. I basically rotate about 25 meals and throw in a new meal every once in awhile.
By making the same meals on a regular basis, I’ve mastered those recipes and it doesn’t take as much time to make them as it used to which means we are more likely to eat at home!
3. Keep back up meals on hand.
There are nights when you are exhausted from the day and just need a break from cooking. Or maybe you literally have 20 minutes to get supper ready and eaten before you have to head out the door.
Those are the nights when you need to keep easy meals on standby. Here are a few easy go-to meals we keep stocked in the freezer or pantry.
- Frozen pizza
- Grilled cheese sandwiches
- Frozen chicken tenders
- Mac n cheese
- Canned soup
- Rotisserie Chicken
- Pancakes or French Toast
Pair these with fresh fruit and veggies and you have a healthier meal than if you had gone through the drive through.
If you like to make meals ahead of time, you could also make freezer meals and stock your freezer with easy options.
4. Clean your kitchen every day.
But if your kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes and your countertops are messy, you will dread having to make supper. You’ll be more likely to grab the keys and hit the drive-thru!
Set yourself up for success. Clean your kitchen and wash your dishes every day. That way when dinner time comes around you’ll have a clean kitchen ready to cook in!
5. Plan the meals you will eat out.
There will be times you may still want to eat out. Maybe for a birthday or special occasion.
Personally, we decided to only eat out for 2 meals a week. We have a family tradition of eating out for breakfast on Saturday mornings and Sunday after church for lunch.
We know that those are the ONLY 2 meals we will eat out. That makes all the other meals non-negotiable. We know we will eat at home.
Of course we are flexible and will cancel Saturday breakfast or Sunday lunch if something else comes up. The key is knowing we will only go out for 2 meals and not end up eating out more than that.
If you love eating out, it may be hard to stop cold turkey. Instead, you could simply cut back and pick only 1 or 2 meals to eat out.
6. Cook simple meals.
One of the reasons you go out to eat is probably because it is easier. Making meals at home doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t have to compare yourself to meals you see on Pinterest or YouTube!
Stick to meals that you are good at making and don’t require a lot of supplies or preparation. Eventually, you’ll get better at cooking and be able to add more meals.
7. Eat leftovers.
Be honest. How many leftovers do you throw out each week? I used to throw out SO much.
But in our attempt to eat at home more, I make a habit of eating our leftovers for lunch. Sometimes we will eat leftovers for dinner the next night too.
Whenever we eat leftovers for dinner, it feels like a bonus meal that I didn’t have to plan for or prepare!
8. Pack lunches or snacks when you are gone at mealtimes.
We are most often tempted to eat out when we are gone at meal times. Our homeschool co-op ends at noon, and it’s super tempting to pick up lunch in the drive thru.
However, I plan ahead and bring a packed lunch for all of us to eat on the way home. I also bring snacks from home while we are running errands, so that we don’t buy snacks.
9. Prepare food ahead of time.
One reason, you eat out may be because of the time it takes to prepare meals. A way to combat this is to prepare as much as possible ahead of time.
It could be something like making sure your meat is defrosted, cutting up produce, or shredding cheese.
Every morning after breakfast, I quickly make sure I have everything I need for dinner that night. I defrost meat or set out ingredients from the pantry I know I will need.
This early preparation in the day helps make dinner time less complicated, and we are less likely to eat out.
10. Ask your friends for a different activity.
Do you often go out to eat with your friends? Ask them to do a different activity. Maybe you could invite them over for games and finger foods. Or a movie and popcorn.
Ask a mom friend to meet you at the park between meals.
11. Let your kids and husband get involved.
Sometimes making dinner can feel overwhelming. It feels like a constant pressure to always make sure your entire family eats 3 meals every day.
Instead of carrying all of that pressure, see if you can get some help from your family members. Could your husband grill one night? Maybe your kids can make their own sandwiches?
12. Prepare freezer meals.
I’ll be honest, I don’t make typical “freezer meals” because my family doesn’t particularly like the recipes I’ve found online.
However, we like burgers, so I make burger patties and freeze them. I also make Italian meatballs and freeze them. The meatballs are great for easy meals like spaghetti or meatball subs.
13. Organize your favorite recipes in a binder.
Keeping all your favorite recipes in one place makes dinner time easier. You don’t have to search through cookbooks or Pinterest.
Instead you can flip right to the recipe in no time.
14. Learn how to make copy cat recipes.
Besides convenience, we love eating out for the taste! One of my husband’s favorite meals is steak burritos from Chipotle. So I found a copycat recipe and make it at home.
I also love Chick-fil-a sauce for chicken tenders. It’s actually really easy to make at home and tastes so good!
15. Track your spending.
Do you know how much you are spending on going out to eat each week or each month? I bet it’s more than you think!
Before we cut back, we were actually spending more on going out to eat than we were on groceries! But I had no idea until I started tracking it.
When you track what you spend and realize how much you could save by simply making that food at home, you’ll be more likely to avoid going out.
Alright, those are all my tips. Let me know what else works for you!