One of the first things we did when we began our frugal lifestyle was to severely limit our time dining out. We love dining out for many reasons: don’t have to cook or clean up, we’re tired, or we want to celebrate. But, to save money, we looked for alternatives to dining out.
After a hard day of work, my husband was the one who always wanted to eat out. He enjoyed the specialness of going out and having a good time of conversation and a great meal. When we started adding up this huge budget-buster we found how large the bill was. We knew it was a definite problem and was destroying out budget.
To find alternatives to dining out, I read many articles that gave great advice. It wasn’t always easy, but the tips were all based on planning. The little bit of time spent planning meals and emergency meals was well worth it and our budget showed the proof.
Meal planning sounds so tedious, but it works. Working through your freezer and pantry, plan meals around what you have. Then keep a running list of what you need to complete the meals. Make sure to include breakfast, lunches, and snacks. When you have plenty of available food, there won’t be as much temptation to go through the drive-through.
Pick up snacks that will keep well for a while. When our children were home, I liked to keep the small packs of peanut-butter crackers in our car. We were always running around to sports practice, games, and ballet. Having snacks and bottles of water stored in the car was a real budget hack!
Many times, eating out happens because it’s a special occasion. I feel like that is sometimes unavoidable. Nevertheless, when I planned ahead and prepared a special meal at home, we were all happy and satisfied. Cooking the favorite meal of the birthday-child was just as much fun as going out and spending too much money.
Replicate your favorite dishes
If you’re serious about having a particular dish from your favorite restaurant you should check out recipes that are copies of famous restaurant fare. CopyKat is a fun website that has lots of recipes that are good copies of some of the most delicious dishes out there.
Tablespoon has some delicious copy-cat recipes, as well as tons of quick and easy recipes. One of my favorite things to utilize is the crock pot or instant pot. I’ve always used crock pots to create hearty meals with almost no work. The Instant Pot is a new kitchen tool for me and it’s super to help you create good, hearty meals very fast!
The most important alternative for my family is having emergency meals. These are the regular options that I keep on hand for those nights…..you know what I mean. Whether there has been a late practice or you have a headache, emergency meals are needed.
It really helps to keep 2 or 3 meal options handy. Pick things that you know your family likes and that are fast. We like to keep a frozen pizza in the freezer. Another easy option for us is to keep plenty of spaghetti and jars of pasta sauce. Many times when my children were younger we had this and I made some quick drop cheese biscuits to make the meal special.
Emergency meals don’t have to be as balanced or healthy as your regular planned meals. Pizza at home is still not as bad as getting bags of cheeseburgers and fries. Plus, you’ll save lots of money by eating at home.
When you plan your meals, it’s a great idea to plan one fun meal every week. This will help you to not feel deprived because you’re not dining out. Grab a few carnations for the dining-room table or light some candles and eat by candlelight. Have a themed night: Italian, Mexican, or French cuisine might be a wonderful way to try a new recipe.
Think about the things that make you enjoy a meal out and try to replicate that at home…..just do it cheaper. Use what you have and make mealtimes special for you and your family.
@2019, copyright Lisa Ehrman