Last month I took a much needed vacation and spent a month visiting friends and family. Before leaving, I took a few hours to plan and make the best estimate I could on what my expenses would be. When I arrived, I decided to take it a step further and break down each spending item into additional categories. Normally I include eating out in my food budget, but this time I decided to keep them separate. Before the end of the month I quickly realized that the majority of expenses were from eating out! I took a few moments to ponder why I felt it was necessary to eat out so much. I came up with the following reasons
- Convenience – It takes me quite a while to make anything decent.
- Taste – I love eating at specialty restaurants for the unique tastes.
- Time – Cleaning up takes more time than cooking!
- Variety – Sometimes I just get tired of what I know how to cook.
Copy Restaurants Recipes and Save Money
During my trip, I met a few friends for dinner at a soup /salad/sandwich shop. The food was great, but fairly expensive. One of my friends mentioned something about finding it more difficult to justify buying the salad than the soup, as the salad could be replicated at home. It wasn’t until weeks later that the thought came to my mind to search on the internet for that soup’s recipe. Sure enough, all I needed to do was type in the restaurant’s name with the word “recipe” and I found several sets of instructions for recreating their secret ingredient soups.
As it turns out, I could make the same soup for about a fifth the cost per bowl than they charged at the restaurant. Talk about saving money. Of course, it took me about an hour to cook it, having to chop all the tomatoes, onions, peppers, and garlic cloves. That didn’t even count the time shopping for the ingredients (OK, I’m lost in a super market). The cleanup was also more mess than I had anticipated.
Improve Variety by Freezing Meals
The good news is that once I had finished, I had about 18 servings of soup! I then froze the soup in freezer zip-lock bags for a later feast. The next 17 times I had that soup all I had to do was empty the bag and heat it up! It was fast, clean, and tasted just as good as it did fresh. Seeing how successful that was, I began to replicate some of my other favorite restaurant dishes. It turns out that many of my favorite restaurant meals can be made at home and stored for pennies on the dollar. I found that I could pre-make stir-fries, wraps, pastas and more. Now my freezer is full of fully made or partially made foods that take almost no time to prepare and cost a fraction that the restaurant would charge.
My greatest success came with one of my favorite wrap stores. A large wrap from the restaurant costs about $8.85 without soda or side dish. After some experimenting, I was able to pre-mix my own custom veggie mix and freeze 28 servings in less than 30 min. The total cost? $14.50. Not only do I have 28 servings ready to go (just add tortilla, sauce, and cook), I have several flavors of sauces that I can use with the wraps AND stir-frys. Because I can share ingredients, I can either save money or increase variety.
Paper Plates Save Time
The final trick that makes eating in ideal for my lifestyle is disposable plates. Although Al Gore and David Suzuki would find this despicable, for people in a hurry using disposable plates can really save cleanup later. When cooking for multiple people, using paper plates can save lots of time when eating in. I love to host parties and have friends over for dinner, but I HATE the cleanup after. Even though I like the look of nice tableware, it’s worth the extra dollar to avoid the hours of dish washing that follow. Of course, you can save money buy washing your own dishes, but if you want the convenience of eating out and can stand eating with disposable tableware it just might be worth it to you. As you have probably guessed, my home doesn’t have a dishwasher. 🙂