13 Tips to Cut Down on Dinning Out

Two of the first few reactions people have when I tell them I’m majoring in Human Nutrition and Food is to become self-conscious and judge.  They confess they’re afraid to tell me their eating habits, in fear I’ll judge them.  Likewise, they judge me; assuming I eat perfect 100% of the time and never eat out.  The reaction when I say some days I could sit down and eat half a pizza is priceless.

No one is perfect in his or her eating habits.  Just because I know how I should be eating, doesn’t mean I always eat perfect.  If anything, I enjoy going out to eat more than other people.  I love exploring different foods and cooking techniques, and of course the social experience.  However, dinning out isn’t great for your waist or your wallet.  Eating meal after meal out adds up quicker than you would think.

Whether you’re looking to lose weight or save money, these tips can help you reduce the amount of meals you eat out.

Be honest with yourself.  It’s easy to ignore how often you’re dinning out.  Grabbing a cup of coffee on your morning commute, a quick bite to eat with a friend for lunch between classes, getting your favorite curbside to go because you’re too tired to think of or cook a dinner, hitting up the drive thru with your friends for late night food.  It’s easy to eat out four times in one day without even realizing what you’ve just done, especially in college.  If you think you may be eating out too much, keep track of your meals for a week.  Seeing in writing how often you actually eat out can be eye opening.

Figure out your triggers. In addition to keeping track of how often you eat out, note why you ate out.  Were you in a rush?  Did you not have any food at home?  Did a friend ask you to go out?  Was it just a craving?  Were you upset?  Once you identify your common triggers, you can figure out how to overcome them.

Set goals. Notice the title of this post is “How to cut Down on Dinning Out” versus “How to Stop Dinning Out.”  Some people do well on stopping things cold turkey; a majority of us though, do not.  Use your identified triggers to help set your goals.  For example, my personal triggers were being busy, not wanting to come up with meals after a long day, and using dinning out to socialize.

My goal was to eat as many meals as possible from home.  I adopted meal prepping and menu planning for encouragement.  Meal prepping helped fit meals into my busy schedule.  Menu planning allowed me to no longer worry about coming up with a meal after a long, tiring day.  I stopped asking friends out to eat.  Instead, I invited them over for a home cooked meal.  It was cheaper for me to cook for two than pay for a dinner for one out.

Menu planning.  It doesn’t have to be complex.  I know some people who keep a monthly calendar on their fridge where they have every single meal planned out for the entire month.  That doesn’t work for me.  I barely know what I want for dinner tonight.  There’s no way I know what I’ll want for dinner in 20 days.  Instead, I come up with a few meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that can last me a week or maybe two.  Then, I build my grocery list from that.  I’ll write in my calendar a few days in advance which meals I’ll be eating and rotate things around as I please.  This may even be too much for some people.  Others do better sitting down the night before or even morning of and planning their entire meals for the next 24 hours.  Adopt and work with what fits your needs best.

Meal prep. I set aside time each Sunday for grocery shopping and preparing my meals ahead of time.  I’ll wash and cut up my vegetables and fruits, prepare serving sizes of snack foods in Ziploc bags, freeze fruit for smoothies, cook and freeze breakfast foods in advance, and make a dinner.  I’ll make a few extra servings of my dinner so I have an easy lunch or dinner for the next few days.

Create copycat recipes.  If a certain restaurant has a dish that you love, try to make your own version at home!  Many restaurant recipes can be found online.  Tweak the recipe however you want to make it more personal.  You’ll get to enjoy your favorite recipe cheaper, healthier, and in the comfort of your own home!

Dig out your crockpot.  I’m not saying to run out and invest in a crockpot, but if you have one buried in a closet or cabinet, dig it out!  Most recipes can be cooked on low for the amount of time you’re out at class, work, the gym, or running errands.  If you know you have a meal you’ve already paid for and cooked waiting at home, you’re more likely to wait until you get home to eat.

Make ahead freezer meals.  Going along with meal prep, I’ll create some easy freezer meals.  I’ll make a large batch of breakfast burritos or muffins to last a week or two, and freeze them.  When I need a quick breakfast, I can pop one or two in the microwave for a few minutes.

Keep food on you.  Packing lunches is a create alternative to eating out.  However, that requires planning on being gone from the house.  We don’t always plan on being out as long as we end up being.  For instances like these, it’s easy to run through a drive thru quickly.  I always keep an energy bar, a serving size of dried fruit, and a serving size of pistachios in both my purse and school bag.   I can snack on any of these (a nice variety of less than 200 calorie snacks) to tide me over until I can make it home.

Have options.  I have a dry erase board on the side of my fridge where I write all the meals I could make with the ingredients on hand.  This way, I have a variety of options and can quickly change my mind on a meal.

Don’t go hungry.  This goes for skipping meals or just leaving the house hungry.  Skipping meals will only increase your desire to eat more and can help influence you to grab fast convenience foods outside the home.  Leaving the house hungry is just asking for trouble.  You’re more likely to be tempted by all the food choices while you’re out.

Be as simple (or complex) as you want.  If you love cooking, that’s awesome!  Try new and exciting recipes.  Cooking is one of my favorite outlets.  Just being in the kitchen helps me to relax.  I’m always willing to experiment with food, but not everyone feels the same.  You don’t have to become a gourmet chef to eat at home.  Keeping your meals simple will help save on money and time.  Stressing out over cooking at home defeats the entire purpose!

Have fun.  Invite others over to cook with you!  Have a family dinner, where each friend brings a dish or some wine.  Try out theme nights.  Make a taco bar.  Turn it into a date night, movie night, or game night.  Enjoy cooking!

Good luck!  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

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