Guest post from Alexa of Single Moms Income
It pains to me admit this, but June was the first time I haven’t eaten out for an entire month in years.
You see, over the past year I had developed a really bad habit: I started eating out all the time. To be honest, I was going through a drive thru about five times a week.
Something had to change.
In May of this year, I started cutting way back on our eating out; and in June, I stopped completely — cold turkey. I can proudly say that we didn’t eat at a restaurant one. single. time!
And it felt good.
I know there are many others out there, like me, who may be embarrassed to admit they have this same problem. So I want to offer you a solution. Here are a few suggestions to help you stop eating out, even if you hate to cook:
1.Get a Dishwasher
I’ve never had a dishwasher. My parents have never had a dishwasher.
After meals were cooked and the mess was made it was then time to roll up my sleeves and hand wash the dishes the old fashioned way. And between working and picking up after two young kids, cleaning up a big kitchen mess was the last thing I wanted to do.
That changed this year when I finally had access to a dishwasher. I cannot even begin to explain what a huge help this has been to me.
I discovered that I really didn’t hate cooking. I hated cleaning up the mess. The dishwasher I have is pretty old and could probably be found on Craigslist for $50 or less. But it gets the job done!
2. Stock Up at the Grocery Store
This might seem a little ironic but I’m actually pretty cheap. Yes, I would go through the drive thru five times a week but when it came to grocery shopping I wanted to spend as little money as possible.
I would buy the bare minimum.
At the beginning of June I decided I’d have to change my ways. Instead of buying the bare minimums I started stocking up on the things that I needed. This included buying several bags of chicken breasts when Kroger recently had a sale and also stocking up on flour, sugar, and other staples.
I also have a garden, so we’ve been using the produce from that for side dishes.
3. Keep Dinners Simple
Simple dinners work for me. I’m also incredibly lucky that my girls LOVE vegetables.
A dinner for us would be some type of meat (chicken several times per week) either cooked on the grill, crockpot, or baked and cut up vegetables on the side.
We’ve also made several batches of the best zucchini bread ever and froze a few loaves. I’ll often thaw some out and add it as a side.
4. Have Crockpot Dinners Handy
After seeing the 40 crockpot meals in 4 hours post I decided I’d do something similar. Instead of cooking 40 meals though, I keep about five in my freezer.
A family friend recently gave me a ton of roast they had from one of their cows and I’ve put several small roasts into freezer bags along with other ingredients.
Now on those busy days when I know I’m not going to cook I can just empty my freezer bag meals into the crockpot and come home to a nice, hot meal.
And the cleanup is a breeze.
My month-long experiment has taught me several things — one of the most important is that home cooked meals are so much better than anything you can get from a dollar menu.
I feel like I’ve turned a new leaf. Not only am I feeding me and my children healthier, more nutritious food, but I’m also saving hundreds of dollars a month!
Alexa is a work-from-home-mom who loves online business. When she’s not playing with her kids you can find her glued to her computer. She chronicles her journey as a single mother trying to make it big at Single Moms Income.
Viviane Feeney says
Love this! I was thinking about how handy a dishwasher would be. when I attempt meal prep i’m left with pots and pans and piles of this-and-that, meaning it takes double the proposed time once you factor in the dishes!
You’re also right about maximising your grocery list. I’ve been listing the minimum amount of staples I would need to survive the week, but during busy days I’d swipe my card for ’emergency’ meals and snacks, and think of how every dollar spent on convenience foods could be better spent optimising my grocery haul, if that makes sense.
Where can I find your best zucchini bread ever recipe?? I’ve been looking for an amazing one!
I was thinking the same thing. What is your zucchini bread recipe?
Instead of buying a dishwasher have your kids do the dishes?. Teaches them responsibility and cleanliness. We never had a dishwasher growing up with six kids. It wasn’t until mom was down to two kids at home that she finally broke! Good thoughts.
Viviane Feeney says
Love that idea!
#2 is huge for me! I don’t want to spend $5 for meat for a meal the whole family will enjoy, so when we get tired of rice and beans, etc, we spend $20+ eating out.
We’ve gotten a lot better the last couple weeks. One reason is because I’m really trying to lose weight, so chicken, veggies and salad is most of what I’m eating.
We’re not particularly fond of crock pot meat, so I only do beef meals in it, that I brown the meat first, and stock/soup. That said, you can still knock out a bunch of meals in one go! I have a fairly restricted diet due to intolerances, so I make everything from scratch. On weekends I like to roast a chicken with root veggies, and pull the meat off for salads or wraps. The frame goes in the slow cooker to make stock.
While it’s roasting I bake a few trays of meatballs or homemade breakfast sausage patties as well. While those are cooking I prep veggies -you can do your chopped onions, garlic, etc., carrots into sticks for easy snacks, I blitz cauliflower in the food processor to make “rice”.
Prep any meat you buy in bulk as well – I will buy chicken breasts on sale and slice up for stir fry and then freeze, or blitz in the food processor for chicken meatballs. Cut up beef for stews. Buy mince in bulk and then separate into smaller bags. It saves money and time during the week. 🙂
Sometimes when we’re tempted to go out to eat, we’ll go to Whole Foods or a specialty grocery and spend the $ that we would have at a restaurant. We’ll buy fancy cheeses , meats and other ‘treats’ that aren’t normally in the grocery budget and it lasts us days. It’s fun to see how far that $ goes and what delicious food we can get!
Just wanted to add a couple of things that I’ve “figured out or discovered” in the last few years.
Started doing these things because I have really bad health issues to the point I’m in the hospital every 3-8 weeks for at least a week normally 10-14 days. Before I say what I’ve been doing though want to clarify a few of things. It is just my husband and I (so this might not be applicable to everyone). I do try to cook at home, when I am up to it as much as possible. Be it with the crockpot, making homemade “fast foods” in batches and freezing. There are many times I can’t physically handle cooking so this doesn’t get done as much as I would like. I enjoy going out but mainly because I like being waited on.
1. If you absolutely have to eat out or would just enjoy it. However don’t want to spend a fortune consider looking at your grocery stores deli. One of my favorite “date nights” is to get a chicken deli meal. One of the stores, where I used to live, every other week or so would have either an 8 piece mixed/10 piece dark fried chicken meal for $7.99 it came with 4 rolls and a 1lb side you had several to choose from. We would get it, maybe rent a redbox with a free code or just take it the park to enjoy. The meal normally lasts us at least 2 dinners and we still have leftover chicken. I’ll throw it in the freezer then reheat if in the oven or use the rest to make chicken salad sandwich spread. Many grocery stores anymore have tables you can eat at. Are willing to give you stuff to be able eat it right there, if you ask including salt and pepper. There are many different types of meals/snacks you can get like this if your having to eat on the run. Often times people behind the deli know of hidden deals as well if you just ask. For example when I was younger Safeway used to have what they called the snack attack snack pack for $1.50 came with a corn dog, 1/2lb of jojo’s and a medium fountain drink. They rarely advertised it so you had to be in the know.
2.Be in the “know” about places. For example there is an ice cream shop/restaurant where my parents live that has an after school happy hour menu. Aimed more towards kids of course but anyone can order from it.
I do know this post was about getting away from eating out or at least not eating out as much. Thought I’d include them cause lets face it there are times eating out just can’t be avoided.
3.Make sure to have snacks and drinks with you that way. When you smell food cooking and it makes you think you are too hungry to wait until you get home. You can just grab a little something to munch on and take the edge off. Most people do it for there kids why not give ourselves the same courtesy.
4.This goes back to her tip on stocking up at the grocery store. If you absolutely don’t have: time to cook, don’t like to cook, or whatever. Try some of the frozen meals (they come in all kinds of sizes now) you can get
Sorry wasn’t done and accidentally hit submit mid thought…doing this one phone so its hard.
4.You can get all kinds of varieties and if you watch your sales makes them a pretty cheap meal.
5.Don’t be afraid to splurge at the grocery store once in a while. I find its alot cheaper for me to buy steak even at full price. Rather than going out to a steak dinner if my DH is craving one. Or if I am craving a particular food that I don’t know how to make and don’t want to buy special ingredients for I’ll try to find a version at the grocery store. It is more than just keeping all meals simple but it always feels like a special dinner to us when I do this. For a long time I was against this splurging and would get the cheapest stuff possible. Until a friend told me something that completely changed my perspective. She told me she had been the same way until she got to thinking about it. Realizing it was silly not to splurge on good quality food when she wanted, when she wouldn’t hesitate to buy a bag of chips. Of course all of this only if you have the money to spend.
I have this problem too.. I grew up eatting out everyday. My parents traveled for work so we didn’t have family meals at home. It’s a huge comfort to eat out for me. But since my mom died, 3 years ago, I’ve been teaching my self to cook and try to eat at home to save money and avoid so many preservatives. It’s been very rough, but my motivation is she died from breast cancer and I don’t want to so I really want to know what I’m putting in my body. I appricate the tips so much and to know I’m not alone in this. I want to try a whole month. The only issue I have is I don’t make alot of money to stock up on food. I need to find more coupons. Lol thanks again!
I have a few to add:
1. Eat more healthy fat…it fills you up more than any other calorie source.
2. Eat less carbs…they just spike your insulin levels then crash your blood sugar making you hungry more often. Even if you aren’t diabetic.
3. Eat foods with fewer ingredients, i.e., less processed foods. The simpler and less processed food you eat gradually eliminates your taste for processed, take out food.
We also have cut back on eating out as we try to eat healthier and live within our budget now that we are retired. I agree with all your points except for #1. I have never wanted a dishwasher as in our 43 years of marriage, this was our special time together. We took turns washing and drying and got caught up on each other’s day. I would not trade this time for anything. 🙂 Now that it’s just the two of us, there isn’t much as I still love to cook once and eat twice. Also getting to love my crockpot again.
# 2 is so me .
This post prompted me to take immediate action. I printed up the list that was linked on MSM several weeks ago for 20 Crock Pot Meals for $150.00 from Aldi. I got a bit of a late start on it so only got 10 meals prepped. But I’m SO happy with my progress!
Thanks for the post. I like the ones that inspire me to do something right away to solve a problem.
Good for you Alexa. I’m a fellow single mother who also, at one point in life, had a bad eating out habit. We still enjoy nice meals out on occasion — as Andrea commented earlier, you can enjoy delicious healthy meals in restaurants (I’m not talking about the golden arches). But a few years ago I made a conscious effort to start cooking at home more often, and the benefits are great. Not only is is less expensive and healthy in that you always know what you’re eating, but it’s been a great family bonding activity.
I like to make a couple of dishes on the weekends so that on week nights we have something to heat up for dinner quickly.
Katy @ Purposely Frugal says
How ironic! Just this week my husband and I were looking over how we’ve been spending our money and decided we’re going to cut way back on how much we eat out. I can totally relate to #2, in fact one of my strategies to eating out less is to up our grocery budget a little, to then decrease our eating out budget by a lot!
I wish I could use the crock pot more. My husband hates the texture it gives meat. So, roasts, chicken, etc are out! I can do chili, and maaayyybe chicken + salsa to shred for tacos. Any other meals that don’t yield pull-apart meat are welcome. 🙂
Lea Stormhammer says
Try googling crockpot recipes! You can cook a ton of stuff in your crockpot. And believe it or not there are several blogs dedicated to just crockpot cooking.
One site that I found helpful was A Year of Slow Cooking (crockpot365.blogspot.com). There are others that are good too but that one is my personal favorite!
Something else I’ve found is that a lot of soups can be adapted for the slow cooker – noodles need to be added about an hour before or they’re mushy but chicken or turkey noodle/rice soup, vegetable soup, vegetable barley soup, beef barley soup, minestrone soup, The Prudent Homemaker’s Taco Soup (her web site has a bunch of recipes so you’ll need to go there rather than the blog), and a host of others all work in the crock pot really well. Add some bread (or chips) and a salad and dinner is done in minutes!
Have fun finding some new recipes to try,
A recent favorite of mine is fajita chicken bake. It is oven, not crock pot, but it bakes in 20 min! You can cut everything up the night or morning before, then just put the pan in the oven for 20 min. It is just chicken, taco seasoning, onions, sweat peppers, and cheese. Bake @ 425. We eat it over rice or on a tortilla.
Well, for a multitude of reasons I haven’t eaten out for years, not simply months. Food tastes better for sure than through the drive thru. One of my big motivators that recently got me when I had a 9 hour drive was breaking the cycle and stopping for dinner. My big eat out in years. Afterwards I got seriously sick.
Lately it seems the restaurants in my area are getting awful ratings from the health department. Another reason to forgo eating out whenever possible. For a long time I have been worried about the amounts of hidden fats and salt and sugars while dining out for health reasons. Now I have more health reasons to worry about with the health department shutting these establishments down for unsanitary conditions and unsafe food practices.
So many blogs and internet sites to give you easy quick meals to cook at home make it easier. Money saving mom has been very helpful in this area and I just have to worry about feeding myself.
I also try to have easy fall back meals around the house for times we are busy or I am not feeling well. Scrambled eggs, peanut butter sandwiches, grilled cheese, add a fruit or veg to that and you have a meal for a lot less than a dollar menu burger!
Ashley M. says
We’re working on eating out less too. I just subscribed to 5Dinners1Hour to see if that will help make things easier. I feel like thinking about what to cook is almost as exhausting as cooking and cleaning up after!
Davonne Parks says
Great article! I agree that keeping meals (and therefore cleanup) simple helps tremendously!
Not only will you save $$$, your heart and waistline will benefit too !! Also, your children will benefit from having dinner as a family.
The Jewish Lady says
I eat out a lot less when I have food prepared ahead. By bulking cooking, I can save time and money. Here’s my recipe for spicy ground beef, cooked in bulk, that can be turned into 14 other meals! http://thejewishlady.com/bulk-cooking-spicy-ground-beef/
The one about stocking up at the grocery store is one that took me way too long to figure out. But, it makes such a difference!
I tried stocking up only to see many foods I paid good money for go bad. My husband is very anti meat in freezer – except the kind you buy that is already frozen. We’ve recently downsized our family of four to a family of two (the kiddos are adults now). I do need to figure something out. I’d love to spend less than we do on food.
Kerri E says
Have you tried emeals? They have meal plans for 2 and so many options to choose from. Their app is great because it makes your list for you and you can check it off as you go through the store.
teri goodman says
I was following this practice and actually losing weight. However I stumbled (lol) and inside of getting back up and keep on going; I continued to stumble. Now I have an even bigger hurdle to come back from. But I am determined to do it and finally lose this weight that I have had my whole life.
You can do it, Teri! I am in the same boat. I have been fat all my life and I am doing it! I’ve lost 12 pounds recently and it motivated me to keep going!
Good for you! It is hard to give up the convenience of fast food. We used to eat out a lot and when we started cooking at home, we realized that we were running the dishwasher every other day. It seemed nuts at first, but I reminded my husband that we were saving a ton and eating healthier. My husband and I both cook. For years, I was getting home from work later than he was so he would have dinner ready when I got home with the kids. I would do the weekend cooking. It was nice and everyone was amazed that I actually had a husband who would cook dinner. He just switched to second shift so I am responsible for picking up the kids and doing dinner (and baths, bedtime, etc.). I had some anxiety about the extra responsibility, but it actually hasn’t been bad at all. Last night, I was exhausted so I just whipped up a leftover dinner: kielbasa, bbq chicken, tuna casserole, mashed potatoes, and some frozen veggies and homemade whole wheat bread. I felt a little weird about it, but my kids were fine with the meal. My husband actually had to be away from home for 11 days of training to prepare for this new job and during that time, I did cook once and eat twice meals. I alternated the leftovers so we never ate the same thing on consecutive days. This made my life so much easier. I am interested in learning a few easy crock pot meals. I like the idea of coming home to a meal that is practically ready to go. My hat is off to you and all the single parents out there. I did 11 days without my husband and I honestly don’t know how you do it.
I totally agree about the Crockpot meals! They are convenient and create delicious meals. I love being able to throw all my ingredients in the morning and have a delicious meal ready at dinner time. I just made some yummy Mexican Chicken in mine the other night and posted about it.
And you are right – they definitely save money and are so much healthier than eating out!
Thanks for the article, Alexa!
My Mother was raised during the depression and came up with “Investment Cooking”. I do this and have also taught my daughter. We have 4 Crock Pots and once every 3 months we get them going. We cook up soups, chili, meatballs and sauce, BBQ pork. In the oven we do meatloaf, Roast and any thing else we are hungry for. After all done we split them up into seal a meal bags and have go to meals for 3 months for both families. It’s a Win Win, fun day together and meals cooked. We also try to alter the meals.
Katlin S says
Wow, what a great and fun idea! Something to do with family and/or friends.
please share your recipe
These are good tips to help you enjoy eating at home more, but I don’t want or plan to stop eating out. Eating out for us isn’t going through a drive-through, though. I agree that that kind of eating out should be toned down. We live in a small city with lots of independent restaurants, and I love the chance to try new places (and revisit favorites) and to eat things I would never attempt to cook at home. We eat out usually once a week. I want our kids to enjoy eating out as well and to experience a wide variety of foods. I think sometimes eating out gets a bad name because it’s associated with fast food and big portions. But with a little intentionality, eating out can be delightful and healthy.
This is a blog about saving money, and a lot of people reading need to stop eating out so they can save money. I agree that eating out can be done healthily and if you choose the right places, it can really stimulate the local economy. If I had more disposable income that is definitely a way I would chose to use it, as I find it so enjoyable. I would chose that over buying expensive clothes or driving a newer car. Alas, I don’t have the extra cash, so learning to make eating at home convenient and delicious is a big priority.
What a great article, Alexa! Recently, my husband and I were grocery shopping, and he wanted a big container of raw nuts. Trying to be frugally minded, I said, “Isn’t that a lot to spend?” He reminded me that it was better to spend that money on healthy food at the store rather than unhealthy restaurant food. 🙂