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How to Eat Out Less and Plan Meals More

Eating out at restaurants is so frickin’ tempting.

There’s the instant gratification. The joy of sitting down and having your meal magically appear in front of you. The need to get a meal in somewhere within that impossible time crunch between work and soccer practice and bedtime.

It’s tempting. It’s gratifying. It’s easy. But it’s also just plain not good for you. Or your wallet.

No one’s denying that it’s easy and fun to eat out. Dining in takes time and planning, and a heck of a lot of determination.

Need help saying “no” to the drive-thru? Here are a few reasons to stop eating out, followed by tips to make dining in a lot easier.

It’s Unhealthy

Sure, you can find plenty of lists and articles and advice on how to make healthier choices when dining out. But while you can make healthier choices, it’s hard to make dining out as healthy as dining at home.

The meals you eat at restaurants tend to be higher in sugar, fat and sodium than what you can make at home. Not to mention, for the increasing number of people with food allergies, dining out is riskier than dining in.

Oh, and we can’t forget the portion sizes. Yeah, okay, your waiter isn’t going to shackle you to your chair and force you to finish that overlarge portion. You can always ask for your leftovers to go. But there’s just something about the massive plates that make the gargantuan portions look normal. There’s the suspicious normalcy of eating an appetizer, a salad, a couple baskets of bread, a huge entree and then considering dessert after.

Whichever way you slice it, eating out makes it easy to overeat unhealthy food.

It’s Distracting

A meal out with your family would be lovely if:

  • You weren’t constantly being interrupted or rushed by waitstaff.
  • You didn’t find yourself shouting to be heard over the hundred other patrons.
  • Family-friendly restaurants didn’t feel the need to fill every available bit of vertical space with giant, flashing TVs.

Dining out with family always seems like a fun treat, a special way to spend time together, but it actually makes enjoying each other’s company incredibly difficult.

It’s Expensive

As of 2012, Americans were spending roughly 43% of their food budget on dining out. Nearly half the food budget. For those with a large family, spending that much of the food budget on dining out is a sure way to find yourself scrambling to make ends meet.

How to Plan to Eat In

Let’s face it — eating out tends to happen for a few simple reasons: you’re celebrating, you’re tired or you’re too busy.

Eating out for a celebration tends to be a planned, budgeted event. Turning into the drive-thru or picking up takeout because your schedule is packed or you’re too exhausted to cook? Not so planned.

Avoiding the temptation to eat out when you’re busy or tired takes planning and determination. No buts about it. Well, okay, one but: it’s easier than you think.

Set yourself up for dining-in success by harnessing the budget- and time-saving power of these tips:

Plan Your Meals

Break out your calendar of choice, whether it’s an app or paper, and sit down for a meal planning session. With your schedule in hand, it’s easy to see when you’ll be a chicken with its head cut off and when you’ll have time to roast a chicken instead.

Plan enough breakfasts, lunches and dinners to get you and the family through the week. Oh, and don’t forget snacks. A stash of portable snacks makes it easier to stave off hunger on-the-go and avoid the siren call of the drive-thru.

Speaking of portable, keep ingredients around to make sandwiches or wraps to take on-the-go. Everyone has those nights where there’s no time to even think of going home, so have quick dinner fixings on hand to make packing a portable meal easier.

Count on Leftovers

Some people can’t stomach leftovers. I’m still not sure why… but for those who can, leftovers are a time- and budget-friendly way to eat at home with less hassle.

Use the days you have time to cook to prepare large meals that will yield plenty of leftovers. Pick tasty recipes that your family will want to take for lunches or eat again the next night. Why pick up takeout when you have a tasty favorite at home just waiting to be reheated?

Use Your Freezer

Freezing homemade food is a great option that more families should take advantage of. Forget mass-produced frozen meals with no nutritional value. Turn your mind instead to delicious, home-cooked meals that are ready to pop in the oven.

Scour Pinterest and other recipe sites for freezer-friendly meals. Set aside a weekend or a few evenings to cook batches of soup or cheesy casseroles. Make batches of your favorite sauces or try your hand at making and freezing homemade pizzas.

Freezing meals is a lot of upfront work, but putting in the time — when you have it — saves you time, money and temptation later.

Invest in a Slow Cooker

Slow cooker recipes are a treasure trove of no-muss, no-fuss meals. Plus, they’re just dang-on delicious.

Slow cookers give you an easy, hands-off approach to cooking. There’s usually minor prep involved, followed by tossing everything into the cooker and leaving it to do its thing for hours and hours. That means you can toss ingredients in first thing in the morning and have a delectable, hot meal waiting for you when you come home at night.

Learn to Make Your Favorite Meals

With so many recipes, copycat recipes, tutorials and cooking channels available online, you really can learn to cook just about anything.

So why not learn to make your favorite dishes at home? A quick Pinterest search will give you copycat recipes for everything from Panda Express and Olive Garden to Panera or Cheesecake Factory. With a little practice, you can learn to make your favorite dishes at home for a fraction of the price.

Finally, don’t forget to make this a family affair. Get the kids to help with meal prep. Stand firm and united with your spouse about how frequently, if at all, you’ll eat out.

Most importantly? Get everyone’s input. Kids and adults alike will be more involved if they know their favorite meals will be in the rotation, too. You won’t please everyone with every dish, but having a meal rotation with a little something for everyone will go a long way toward easing the transition from eating out to dining in.

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