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Reader Tip: Make restaurant foods at home–for much less!

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Pictured: Lynn's Panera-Style Broccoli Cheese Soup and No-Knead Bread

Lynn from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures wrote me with this great tip recently:

I am always amazed at the amount of money people spend eating out and how often they eat out. And I have to wonder if they have any idea how much they are really spending on all that restaurant food? If they would add up what they spend on lunches out, drive-thru dinners, and gourmet coffees, they would likely be surprised.

Eating at home is so much less expensive than eating out. You can make at least twice the food, usually more than that, for the same price. Many times when I have eaten out, I look at the food and think "what a waste of money this was!" I could have made a whole pan of lasagna and a loaf of bread for the same cost as my meal. If I eat out at a deli or sandwich place, I end up thinking how many sandwiches I could have made for the cost of the one that I just ate.

My family can easily spend $20 ordering pizza, but how many pizzas can I make at home for $20?  Quite a few. Maybe I think this way because I love to cook. I love to create meals and try new recipes and I like the challenge of trying to recreate a restaurant meal or dish. Yes, cooking at home takes time, but there are many meals that you can make in 30 minutes or less.

One of my favorite places to eat at is Panera Bread. I love their soups and loaves of crusty artisan style bread. But I don’t love spending $5 or more a person to eat there. So, I make several versions of their soups at home. I have a broccoli cheese and also a potato soup that taste pretty close to Panera’s versions. In fact, I think I like my versions better!

I have also learned some of the tricks to making artisan-style bread at home. Martha Stewart’s website has a great recipe for no knead bread. I also love the book “Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day”. I still have a lot to learn about bread making, but I can now make a pretty good loaf of bread, and it does not cost me $3-$5 a loaf like it would at a bakery or restaurant.

You can also find many "copy-cat" restaurant recipes online. I recently searched for how Jamba Juice made their smoothies, and I was amazed at how many recipes I found. I have tried the strawberry version and also the orange version. You can also find recipes for Olive Garden’s salad dressing, Red Lobsters cheese biscuits, IHOP pancakes, and more. One of the best sites for finding "copy-cat" recipes is Recipezar.

With a little time in the kitchen, you can whip up some of your favorite restaurant meals at home–and save yourself a lot of money in the process!

Have you made any restaurant meals or recipes at home before? If so, I'd love to hear about it!

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42 Comments

  • Mikki says:

    I’m a regular contributor to eHow.com and most of my articles are recipes for restaurant foods. Here are some links to recipes that I have!
    How to make Candy Corn
    http://www.ehow.com/how_4962041_make-candy-corn.html
    How to Make Cadbury Creme Eggs
    http://www.ehow.com/how_4962033_cadbury-creme-eggs.html
    How to Make Applebee’s Baby Back Ribs
    http://www.ehow.com/how_4907270_applebees-baby-back-ribs.html

    Here is the link to my profile there so you can find the other recipes I have. I write new articles everyday on making restaurant foods at home. http://www.ehow.com/members/moneymakinmama8.html?view=3rd

  • Denise says:

    My husband and I have made P.F. Changs, Changs Spicy Chicken before. Out of the 6 or so times we’ve made it, sometimes it turns out, other times it’s a big gummy mess! YUCK!
    The times that it DID turn out- it ROCKED!!! We’re still trying to tweak the recipe to get it “just right”!
    I am going to have to try the Broccoli Cheese soup, it sounds DIVINE! 🙂
    Happy Cooking!

  • Chicken strips for a family of five for less than $5 total.http://athriftymom.com/2009/04/thrifty-chicken-strips/

  • Rebecca says:

    I actually made a “copy-cat” recipe this weekend! My husband loved Red Lobsters Cajun Shrimp Alfredo, but they don’t serve it in the restaurant here anymore. So I did some digging and found a recipe online. I think it tasted ok. He hadn’t had the “real” recipe for a couple years anyways!

  • DebtGoal says:

    Skipping restaurants is one of the most effective ways of making an immediate and huge impact through discretionary cost reduction.

  • Jennifer says:

    My husband and I have really improved our cooking skills over the past several years. And you know what? I’ve found I don’t have the DESIRE to eat out as much! And when we do go out on occasion, I find myself scanning the menu thinking, “I can make that at home… I can make that at home…”

  • Erin says:

    I’m excited to try that bread recipe!

    We do restaurant copycats ALL the time! Our favorites are Red Lobster’s cheddar buscuits, Old Chicago’s pepperoni rolls, PF Chang’s Mongolian beef, and the macadamia nut crusted mahi & gnger tomato bisque at Mama’s Fish House.

  • Stephanie says:

    Print the ‘featured’ recipes as they usually will not be seen again unless you pay for a subscription. They have lots of items from some of the most popular menus.

    http://www.topsecretrecipes.com

  • Jennifer says:

    I love this post, it’s so true! When I started adding up how much I spent eating out for lunch or dinner, it’s amazing how much it adds up to in a year (can be thousands!). My husband and I started doing exactly what you’re talking about – finding copy cat recipes, and then on top of it, finding lots of substitutions to cut out much of the fat and oils and stuff. So much better!!

  • Michele says:

    I love the idea behind this post. I wrote a similar post on my blog about saving money making copycat recipes such as Auntie Anne’s pretzels. It’s amazing what the markup is at a restaurant – I know they have to pay rent, staff, insurance, etc. but still it’s hard to pay up to 4 tmes as much for something that is just as simple to make.

  • julie says:

    I agree that it’s much more economical to make a restaurant version of something at home. And if you’ve got little ones, it’s often easier to eat at home than trying to keep everyone entertained in a restaurant.
    Sometimes, though, I just like the experience of having someone else make my meal and serve it to me and then clean up everything while I go on my merry way. Since I don’t have a really fussy palate, the restaurant experience is the treat, not necessarily the food.

  • alyssa L says:

    I make Ihops Harvest grain and nut pancakes and they’re just as good as in the restaraunt…..and a lot cheaper!

  • Love this idea.
    Totally true about saving $, especially with a BIG family.
    I like the Red Lobster biscuits Lynn mentions-we’ve made them and OH yummy!
    We’ve always tried to make our “Take Out” at home.
    Here’s our Mexican feast we did today:
    http://allthingsfrugal4-u.blogspot.com/2009/05/cinco-de-mayo-feast-o-yumm.html

    my Olive Garden, Pizza Hut, Mickey D’s, and Subway versions;) are here
    http://allthingsfrugal4-u.blogspot.com/2009/04/eating-out-by-staying-home.html

    Haven’t nailed down the Chinese food yet though.
    Would love for someone to please give me direction on that!

  • Meg says:

    Thanks for the tips, I am really trying to cook. I am trying to like it…maybe these tips will help. 🙂

  • Beth says:

    I love to try to Copy recipes:
    http://www.copykat.com is a favortie restaurant recipe site
    http://www.topsecretrecipes.com/

  • Kate says:

    I make “Marie Callender’s Cheesy Potato Soup” all the time and my husband loves it (I happen to think my version of their soup is better because I add carrots and bacon to it). I have also made “Red Lobster Biscuits” and “Ruth’s Chris Sweet Potato Casserole” with great success! I think I found most of these recipes from recipezaar.com

  • Robyn says:

    It helps to be in the food industry! If you have any friends who work at or own restaurants, don’t be shy about asking for a recipe; the worst they can say is “no”, but I find most people are more than happy to share a recipe. You probably will not find that with a chain (which I avoid like the plague, anyway), but a small independent restaurant may be likely to share, if you are a good customer. I work at a giant gourmet food market who shall remain nameless but has the initials D & D; I have copied most of their recipes and scaled them for home use.

  • Honey says:

    Something similar to Olive Garden’s Toscana soup (my friend gave me the recipe I think from Eating Light Magazine-Portugese Kale Soup)
    and Chicken Gnochi soup (oh, yummy!!!)
    (made even better because I found gnochi at the grocery outlet for $1!
    And even if I don’t have a recipe, I try to decipher the recipe and recreate it at home.

  • Kristi says:

    We started restaurant night awhile back. One person gets to pick ‘where we eat’ and ‘what we order’ …. so far we have ‘been’ to …
    Olive Garden
    Panda Express
    Applebees
    Chick-fil-A
    Chilis

    Been to most of these more then once. We have a recipe book that we use or google for the recipe. Most recently we had Chili’s chicken crispers and a chocolate molten. It is really a fun change.

  • I saw an ad the other day for a restaurant that said it had dinner for $6.99 a person–and that you can’t buy groceries for less than that. I started laughing. I regularly feed my family of 7 for $2 for the entire meal (sometimes we spend up to $5, but our current goal is $2 or less per meal).

    We don’t go out to eat as a family. Once or twice a year, my parents give us money for our anniversary or a birthday and watch the children for us while we have dinner out on them. That’s it!

  • Megan says:

    We make that no-knead bread recipe all the time (we call it the NYT bread since the recipe was printed in the New York Times) and it’s great! Mark Bitman’s food column in the NYT is a great resource, as is his blog, “Bitten,” for simple – and sometimes fancy – food.

    Applebees, et al make their money on people who have never thought to put pecans or cranberries on a salad before. I love this post because you’re right – with a little creativity and dedication we can make food that’s just as good (and better for us). Thanks!

  • Holle says:

    I agree with a previous poster. We have truly curtalied out eating out when we realized how expensive it really is. However, one of my favorite treats is to go out to a nice restaurant with some really good friends I haven’t seen in a while. We get to eat, catch-up with one another, all without the planning that goes with entertaining in my home, and without the clean-up. This only happens about 4 times a year, but on those nights, I don’t think about what I could make at home for the same cost. I’m too busy enjoying myself!

  • Evelyn says:

    I get recipes all the time from http://topsecretrecipes.com
    The ones that I really love are Boston Markets meatloaf

    IHOP pancakes (I haven’t bought a box pancake mix since finding this)

    Red lobster cheddar bay biscuits

    Olive Garden’s sicilian scampi and stuffed mushrooms

    They are sooo close to the real thing and definitly much much cheaper than going out.

    We go out to dinner about 4 times ayear so this is a great way for us to eat some of our favorite Restaurant meals.

  • Jan says:

    Here’s the recipe for Houlihan’s Baked Potato Soup. It tastes AMAZING! Our Houlihan’s closed and we always ate the Baked Potato Soup, so to have the recipe is just great for us. Here it is: http://www.three14creations.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/bakedpotatosoup.pdf

  • kelly says:

    great guest post-i’m a big fan of Lynne’s site too!

  • I have to second that book “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day”. It is SO easy, so quick, not messy like regular bread baking, and if you have a large family like I do, you can make enough for 8 loaves of bread with very little effort or time on your part. I can’t say enough great things about this book, and the breads I’ve made from their recipes are delicious!

  • I’ve made copy cat recipes from the Top Secret Recipes book. My favorites that I’ve made are Cheesecake Factory’s Avocado Eggrolls and Key Lime cheesecake. Oh, and Cinnabon cinnamon rolls- mmm!

  • Jenn says:

    For those that love iced coffee:

    Fill a 2 qt pitcher halfway w/ hot coffee(er…1 qt!).
    Add 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup cream while it’s still hot.
    Stir until sugar is dissolved.
    Add ice to fill pitcher.

    Tastes just like the gourmet iced coffee!

  • I make Penne Rustica from Macaroni Grill. It’s wonderful.
    Here is a link to the recipe i have on my website!
    http://itsthestringers.com/2009/02/23/yum-o/

  • Sadie says:

    Oh yes, all the time! I make tom kha gai (thai chicken coconut soup), tom yum (thai shrimp & mushroom hot & sour soup), lentil soup, honey walnut shrimp, the Red Lobster biscuits, yummy homemade alfredo, etc. My only problem with learning how to recreate restaurant meals at home is that it means more cooking and less going out!

  • I’m so excited to try some of these recipes you linked up. THANK YOU!!!

  • Mindy M. says:

    My husband’s all-time favorite dessert is sharkfin pie from The Fish Market… http://www.mitchellsfishmarket.com/recipes.cfm
    He insists my version is even better than theirs 🙂
    WARNING: It is definitely not low-calorie, but boy is it yummy!

  • rachel says:

    For me, food is not the issue when it comes to eating out. Yes, I can make pretty much anything at home. But not having to cook or wash dishes afterwards is so incredibly priceless that I don’t really care what I eat at the restaurant. Happens only a couple times a year, though!

  • Stephanie says:

    Whenever I find something at a restaurant that I LOVE I try to find the recipe for it and copy it at home. I love the Broccoli cheese soup and have made that often. I am working on a copy cat Paneras Mediterranean (sp?)Veggie Sandwich now!

    But even though eating out is expensive, you can do it cheaply and it is fun to have night from cooking off every once in a while!

  • Jennifer says:

    I prefer the NYTimes / Mark Bittman version of No-Knead Bread. It’s uses a lower oven temperature (450 vs. 500 degrees). I don’t have a cast iron pan, but I do have anodized aluminum pots that are safe up to 450 degrees.

  • I’m going to have to try that bread. Yum!

    Ever since I learned how to make the Red Lobster cheese biscuits, I lost the desire to go there – LOL! That was my main reason for going. Now when I want some, I just whip them up and those are sooo easy to make.

  • Anne says:

    I’ve had fun working on copycat recipes myself and have a bunch here:

    http://annestrawberry.blogspot.com/search/label/Copycat

    But I have to admit, sometimes it’s nice to have someone else serve and clean up! For the most part, though, we just laugh and I tell my husband it’s “Anne Strawberry Catering” again for dinner. 🙂

  • Kristine says:

    My kids got so excited when I found a good recipe for Macaroni Grill’s Rosemary Bread, that they serve at the table. My youngest loves it when I put olive oil on a saucer with cracked pepper. I serve Olive Garden’s Pasta Fagoli with it.

  • Mona says:

    I love to cook too and try to make homemade meals as much as possible. Once in while when I’ve had a long day at work and all the make ahead frozen meals are eaten up I just don’t feel like cooking. For $20 my family is fed, the kitchen is clean and I can put my feet up for little while.

  • Becky says:

    I make IHOP pancakes at home – it costs just pennies to make 20 compared to $3.99 for only 3!
    Here’s the recipe:
    http://storemadetohomemade.blogspot.com/2009/05/ihop-pancakes.html

  • Margaret says:

    I have done Macaroni Grill’s Penne Rustica and their bread. It was very complicated and as expensive to make as to purchase. The bread (having now tried a couple of recipes) is good but not as exceptional as at the restaurant. Will keep on with other recipes though.

    Still trying to find a recipe for a salad that Cheesecake factory used to make but stopped carrying. Yum!

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