From a health standpoint and also looking at the budget, eating out can pose some issues, as well as solving some problems. Many families have developed the habit of going to a fast-food joint or a regular restaurant instead of cooking at home, citing the lack of time, the need to entertain themselves some more, the small prices etc.
As many are struggling with weight and also with meeting a stricter budget, some have turned their lives around and cook more at home. While it’s a pretty serious adjustment to make, smart grocery shopping, cooking in bulk, cooking from scratch by using good fresh ingredients can help a family trim down the expenses and also the daily calorie intake.
Today I’d like us to chat about eating out (whether is a restaurant or just the McDrive), its advantages and disadvantages.
The pros of eating out
When you don’t have the time to cook, it’s an easy way to get a meal
One of the biggest ‘pros’ cited by most people is the convenience of eating out. You just order a burger or a soup and in few minutes or half an hour you’re being fed. On the other hand though, cooking at home (and from scratch, not heating some processed meals) doesn’t have to take such a long time either. This spring, we went to our ‘regular’ vacation spot in Croatia and decided that, instead of paying for most our meals, we should try and cook some stuff. It didn’t take us more than 30 minutes to prepare a lunch, similar to the time we’d have to wait for the restaurant to prepare the food. And we did save 800 Euro (which was 1/3 of our set budget).
TIPS: when cooking at home, you can choose to prepare meals that don’t take a lifetime to make. If there’s something more complex, don’t forget about cooking in bulk (a great idea for soups, broths, stews etc.) and freezing the surplus. We’re usually cooking more of some meals and then pre-portion them for the freezer. When we want to eat a certain type of broth for instance, all we do is take out the box/bag and we’re set for the day. It saves time and money.
You don’t have to know how to cook
Let’s set it straight: I’m not a good cook. I know how to prepare some meals and need a lot of recipes for the rest. Had my share of ‘disasters’ in the kitchen and have the amazing talent to ALWAYS cut my fingers (even with the bread knife, if you can imagine my clumsiness). So I agree that cooking for someone who lacks experience is pretty difficult. When ordering out, all you need to do is to read the menu and others will take care of filling up your belly.
It doesn’t have to be like this. There are a gazillion of books, articles, videos around to help you start cooking. You don’t need to start preparing a soufle or god knows what tricky food. But mashed potatoes, a salad and a steak even we can prepare. Start with something very easy and slowly grow from there. You’d be amazed to see how much talent lies in you and that cooking is not really rocket science.
It’s cheaper (at least this is what some would say)
Possibly if you’re eating the 1 dollar burger at your fast-food joint, otherwise convenience food is NOT cheaper than what you’re cooking at home. It’s easy economics: at home, you have the ingredients to work with. A restaurant has the ingredients (even if they get better deals because of the quantity), a location, staff to be paid, taxes to be covered, electricity bills and many others. Not to mention the business there is not created for the owner to lose money, so do factor in the profits that need to be made.
So we have your ‘overhead’ at home and theirs .. this means that, either you’re eating very cheaply there (which probably means you’re eating crap food) or you’re paying premium for it, just to enjoy the experience and the meals. This doesn’t make it more affordable than cooking at home.
TIP: Do not eat your meals at the fast-food joints. It can be very cheap, but the food is BAD for your health and the things you’re messing in your body will cost you dearly. Too much sugar and salt, all kinds of ‘chemicals’, a lot of useless calories .. everything can make you gain weight and also mess up your body.
You can entertain your family better
Most of us go out to eat at special occasions or to have some fun with the family, so we’re after the restaurant experience more than the food. Sure, you can have some great fun at home and, as I can remember, some of our greatest meals on various occasions were still the ones we’d cook.
The cons of eating out
Yes, some would claim buying the groceries and cooking at home might get more expensive, but overall eating out is pricey. We have noticed this too in the past few years. We do spend quite a lot on the groceries, since we buy ONLY fresh produce, we never purchase something close to expire, we’re very picky with the meat and other ingredients.
All the cooking is done with olive oil (don’t think we have any other type at home anymore), good quality cheese, top notch produce etc. We don’t use any ‘chemicals’ so we do need to put some serious ingredients, otherwise the food won’t taste good. And yet, with our grocery shopping which is not quite frugal (something we’re trying to work at, by making the list and a bit of a budget), our home made meals NEVER cost us as much as the ones eaten at the restaurant.
So, if you do wan to trim down your expenses, cooking at home will give you a HUGE boost. There are families saving hundreds of dollars each month just by eating out less (maybe once a week or a month) and this ‘frees’ funds for a faster debt payment or better savings.
Portion control? What’s that?
Unless you found out a really good restaurant with a lot of care about the customers’ health, many of them provide oversized portions. We’re shocked every time we do eat out at how much food we’re being served. Just a quick look at the calories (if you get the info in the menu or know how to calculate them) will show you that many such meals can easily go over your DAILY recommended calorie intake. And we don’t factor desert or anything else you might eat there. Not to mention you’re supposed to eat breakfast and dinner (or lunch, depending on what you’re eating at the restaurant), which will probably double the intake for the day. Doing this routinely will ‘ensure’ you put on weight, not to mention ‘teach’ your stomach to eat such huge portions.
Yes, you can take out some food in a ‘doggy bag’, but maybe the restaurants should know what an adult is supposed to eat and not to give children 3000 calorie meals.
You have no control over what’s in that food
In the past years, both husband and I started being more careful with our ingredients. He’s hypertensive and decided that, instead of starting to take medication, he could try and eat more healthy. Weird enough, it works. His pressure has dropped significantly as he doesn’t drink coffee anymore, we cook in olive oil, get good quality meat and also snack a lot on healthy fruits. It’s been quite a while since he started being worried about his blood pressure and it’s all working great.
In my country there are still many organic options and the traditions have been preserved. We bake our own bread (yes, even with a bread machine, but we control the ingredients), we make our own compots, pickles and jams, the meals are cooked from scratch etc. Having access to quality produce and being very careful not to eat too many ‘bad’ things have really helped us stay in great shape and good health.
Unless you can really afford eating at a very good restaurant, most of the food you’re being served is not cooked from the best ingredients or in the most virgin olive oil. If you’re eating fast-food, it’s clear that you’re also being served half of the periodic table.
Not all meals are properly cooked
I’m not a good cook at all and yet some of the meals we paid for were horrible. Bad soups (some weren’t even made by the restaurant, they just bought some instant soup from the store), meat that was badly seasoned and cooked, side dishes that were stale and tasteless etc. Why would I pay for this crap, when I can prepare the same thing at home and really make it taste heavenly?
For many people eating out is an event, a luxury they want to afford. For them it’s hard to cook more at home and dine out less, since they’re feeling ‘cheated’ in their lifestyle. In our family we don’t consider eating out as something we’d want to do too often. It’s more of a concession from time to time, since we know it costs us more and we’re not always feeling the restaurants are giving us a good value for the price.
Slowly we have started preparing our own pizza (again from scratch, even the dough), grill our meat, cook our soups and salads. It does take some time and effort, but it’s also easy to start being more efficient in the kitchen and plan better. We are reading all the labels and trying to buy the ingredients with the least amount of ‘stuff’ we don’t want in. We’re not using processed food, we’re even making our own mayo (don’t even start me on it, seeing all the crap they put into the store version, when all you need is oil, mustard and an egg-yolk).
Sure, we do sometimes eat out (every 4-5 months maybe), but most of our meals come from our kitchen, fridge and the pantry. Keeps us healthy and fit (both physically and financially).
Your turn now. What do you think are the pros and cons of eating out? Is it difficult for you to stay away from the restaurants? Are you more inclined to cook at home? What does work for you?