Are you wondering how to stop eating out so much? The struggle is real, but here are 20 strategies to help you break the habit and eat out less.
A few weeks back my sister gifted me with a couple hours of babysitting so I could go out and get in some focused blog work. I decided to go to Panera so I could grab some lunch while I worked. I got one of their meals (I love their Frontega Chicken sandwich) with a drink and a cookie.
I was a little surprised when my total came out to just over $17. Since when is lunch for one person $17, even at a nicer fast food place?
I know I probably don’t need to tell you about the rising price of eating out – I imagine you’ve noticed yourself because it’s happening everywhere. Add in a growing family and eating out is becoming increasingly cost prohibitive.
Now I’ll admit, Pablo and I enjoy eating out (who doesn’t?) And in some seasons it’s been really helpful to be able to swing by a drive thru or grab takeout, like on those especially hard days during first trimester pregnancy.
But, as much as we enjoy eating out and appreciate the convenience, we also want to be wise with our money. While I think it’s safe to say that we eat out less than many families, there have still been times when we’ve evaluated our spending and realized the need to scale back on eating out.
The prevalence of eating out in recent years
When I was a kid we ate at a sit down restaurant like once a year – and got fast food only a couple times a year, usually when we were on a road trip. Now admittedly I come from an unusually large family so that was part of the reason, but I also think that people just didn’t use to eat out so often.
The U.S. Census Bureau conducted a study recently showing that Americans spent 20% more at restaurants than on groceries in 2022. Whether it’s grabbing lunch during the work week or going out for a fancy meal on the weekend, swinging through the drive thru with the kids or door-dashing a late night snack, us Americans are increasingly eating out more and more. It’s part of our culture now – we like eating out.
Why we should eat out less
Since I often write about frugal living it’s probably obvious that I’m tackling this topic from that perspective. Dining out costs more – and learning to stop eating out so much will naturally help you save money.
And just as a side note, you may ask yourself how people can afford to eat out all the time and the answer is that many of them can’t. A lot of people are eating themselves into debt. Just saying.
But saving money isn’t the only reason to try to eat out less. Cooking at home is generally better for your health too, especially if eating out usually means running through a drive thru. (But I still love you Chick-fil-a!)
And what about the benefits of teaching your kids to cook and then enjoying what you’ve made together at family dinner?
Eating together as a family at home is important and having a home cooked dinner together beats running through a drive thru or even having a meal together at a sit down restaurant.
Whatever your reason for wanting to eat out less, it can be a hard habit to break. So today let’s talk about 20 strategies that will help you – and me – eat out less and at home more.
How to stop eating out so much – 20 strategies
These 20 strategies for eating out less are in no particular order, but the first one is a great starting point!
1. Make a meal plan
If you want to eat out less, meal planning is key. If you’ve already planned ahead of time what you’re going to eat for the week you’re much less likely to resort to ordering out.
Not sure where to start? This budget friendly 2-week meal plan might be a good starting point!
2. Prep your food at the beginning of the week
Going right along with meal planning, once you have your groceries for the week it’s important to do some meal prep. I find that when I take the time to prep some of my food at the beginning of the week it saves me so much time later when it’s time to cook dinner. If nothing else at least try cooking up some of your meat or washing and chopping up veggies ahead of time.
3. Compare the price of groceries to the price of eating out
Need a little motivation to eat at home more? Try comparing the price of a basic meal at home versus eating out. Even with the rising grocery prices there’s still a big difference. I can feed my family a week of dinners at home for less than $100, while one conservative drive-thru dinner costs us about $40 (and soon will be much more as our five kids keep growing!)
4. Always keep your pantry/fridge stocked with a few easy options
Make a mental list of a couple staple meals and try to always keep the ingredients on hand. Think spaghetti, chicken soup, ground beef tacos – basically a few things your family loves that you can always have on hand just in case. This is also comes in handy when you have a last minute opportunity to show hospitality.
5. Pack a lunch (the night before)
If you go to work every day you can save so much by simply packing a lunch every day. Be sure to do it the night before if you know that you’ll be rushed in the morning.
6. Set a goal/challenge
Sometimes having a specific goal for yourself and making a challenge with a friend is what finally provides the motivation you need. You could set a goal for an amount of money that you hope to save by not eating out. Every time you resist eating out, put the money that you would’ve spent aside and see how much you can save in a month.
7. Meet up with friends at places where you don’t need to buy food
Meeting up with friends often involves eating out but it doesn’t have to! Try to brainstorm other ways to hang out – maybe going on a walk together, meeting at a park, or planning a game night at home.
8. Make freezer meals
Freezer meals are wonderful and have come in handy for me so many times when I don’t have time to make dinner from scratch. One easy way to stock your freezer with meals is just to make double when you make a recipe and freeze half. I love to freeze soup, enchiladas, meat loaf, pasta dishes, and more. Read more about how I like to stock my freezer here.
9. Set a budget for eating out
Maybe you don’t mind eating out regularly but know you need some sort of limit. Set a monthly budget and be strict about not going over it.
10. Plan special meals at home
A special meal doesn’t have to mean dinner out at a restaurant. Learn to plan and make special dinners at home. Make the table look pretty, pull out your nice dishes, and light some candles. Even a basic dinner looks fancy when you dress things up!
11. Utilize your slow cooker
Sometimes the hardest part of trying to eat at home more is how tired I feel when it’s time to make dinner. If this is you, why not try making dinner earlier in the day via a slow cooker? I feel so accomplished when I can get dinner going in my crockpot in the morning and don’t have to do anything later!
12. Make a plan for when you will eat out
Having a plan for when you are going to eat out helps you to enjoy it when you do and not feel guilty about it. And when you’re tempted another day to swing by a drive-thru you can remind yourself that your planned time for eating-out is coming!
13. Plan dates that don’t always involve eating out
There are lots of great date options that don’t involve eating out or spending money at all. It just takes some planning ahead. Google “free date ideas” and you’ll find all sorts of good ideas.
14. Have a go-to list of favorite, easy meals
Keep a list on your fridge or in the front of your cookbook of your family’s favorite, easy meals to help give you ideas when you draw a blank (which, if you’re like me, is often!)
15. Don’t run errands when you’re hungry
This one’s important! How many times have you bought a bunch of groceries, only to swing by the drive-thru on the way home because you’re starving and too tired to cook what you just bought? (Or maybe you just by a bunch of extra groceries because everything looks so good!)
16. Get on the same page with your spouse
If you’re married, it is crucial that you get on the same page with your spouse about how much or how little you want to eat out. Do you want to stop eating out during the week? Are you wanting to only eat out for special occasions or celebrations?
If you tell each other that you’ll only eat out when there’s something to celebrate, define your terms. Are you talking like once a year birthday celebrations? Or celebrating a good day at work? We’ve found that there are many many reasons to celebrate haha so it’s always good to make sure you’re both thinking the same.
17. Go cold turkey for a month, then assess
Sometimes you just have to stop something cold turkey for awhile, then circle back and decide what you want to do moving forward. If you haven’t eaten out in a month it’s going to feel like a treat to give yourself permission to eat out say once a week, when before that might’ve felt like a big change if you were used to eating out all the time.
18. Define your why
What’s your reason for wanting to eat out less and eat at home more? Is it to save money? To eat more healthfully? To get better at cooking? To be more intentional about family mealtimes? Or all of the above? Defining your why can help when you feel yourself being tempted back into your old habits.
19. Splurge on some nicer groceries occasionally
Yes, the goal is to save money, but hear me out. That fancy cheese, while pricey, is whole lot less at the grocery store. Steak cooked at home is still cheaper than at a fancy steakhouse. If you’re tempted to eat out on occasion because nothing in your fridge looks good, try keeping a few special things on hand to pull out for just those times.
20. Eat your leftovers
An estimated 30-40% of food is wasted every year in the US according to the US Department of Agriculture. Just imagine how much money you’re wasting if you’re throwing out 30% of your food. Eat your leftovers people! (And don’t forget all the veggies stowed away in the crisper drawer!)
Eating out is definitely a habit that can be hard to break, but these 20 strategies will definitely help you to stop eating out so much if you implement them.
What would you add to my list? Do you struggle to stop eating out or is it not an issue for you? Let me know in the comments!