So, confession time: I ate lunch and dinner out yesterday. And lunch out Sunday… and three days before that.
The rational side of me knows that most of those were pretty bad decisions, but at the time, it seemed like a great — or the only — option. First, my brother and sister-in-law were dropping by for a very brief, unexpected visit, so some quick take out on the way home seemed like the only way to eat, get home and maximize our time with them. Then my husband forgot his lunch, and babycakes and I were going to be near his work anyway… so why not get lunch together? Then my mommy friend needed a pick me up so I took her out.
And so on and so on and so on.
It’s SO easy to eat out! There are three restaurants on every corner, ads and coupons encouraging you to go. Then there’s your busy schedule and invitations from family and friends.
Unfortunately, those easy options and friendly invitations pile up and pile up until you’re left with more problems than you realized.
Problems, you say? Oh yes. For a better idea of what I mean, here’s the 411 on why you need to stop eating out so GD much:
Out of Proportion
TIME Magazine recently released an article in response to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Consumer Expenditure Survey. And I have to say, the article’s title really says it all: “Americans Spend Half of Their Food Budgets at Restaurants.”
To break it down, the average American household spends about 42% of its annual $6,887 food budget at restaurants.
To break it down a different way, that’s saying that Americans are likely making financially and nutritionally poor choices for a nearly half of their meals.
Look, it’s really hard to make good decisions when eating out. Everything is working against you:
- Comically oversized portions
- A compulsion to clear your overstuffed plate
- The novelty can entice you to blow a week’s food budget on a single meal
And that’s not even touching on more understandable factors – like a packed schedule and the desire to socialize.
Of course, dining out less isn’t the whole solution. It needs to go hand and hand with a commitment to making better choices at restaurants.
The best way to do that would be to only go to restaurants that serve completely healthy, completely delicious food. Of course, not everyone has access to those mythic eateries.
For the rest of us, it comes down to keeping three decision-making tips and tricks in mind.
First: Whenever possible, decide on your meal before you get to the restaurant. It’s like grocery shopping. Shopping with a list and a full stomach makes it easier to avoid temptation. So check the online menu and make your choice ahead of time, instead of trying to resist a picture-filled menu, a room of delicious smells and a growling tummy at the restaurant.
Second: Just pick one. Are you going to add apps, drinks or dessert? There’s no need to indulge in everything at once.
Bonus tip: Apps can make excellent, portion-savvy entrées!
Third: Embrace the doggy bag. Most meals are so oversized, they are easily two portions. Commit to only eating half your meal and packing up the rest for lunch the next day.
Heart of the Home
You’re not just blowing your budget and wrecking your nutrition by eating out. You’re also losing one of the most important, beneficial parts of family life: the family meal.
Family dinners are more than just sitting down together. They’re about getting kids involved in choosing and creating good food. They’re about strengthening family bonds — and building vocabulary and interpersonal skills — through meaningful conversation. They’re about raising self-esteem and establishing connections that help reduce the risk of teen pregnancy, substance abuse and depression.
Unfortunately, rushing through the drive-thru or sitting down in a crowded restaurant filled with TV screens and loud music doesn’t quite measure up.
Busy schedules are often a driving force behind trips through the drive-thru. Some commitments just can’t be helped, which is why a dedicated meal prep day can help your family eat better and eat at home more often.
Get the whole family involved in picking healthy meals and snacks. Dedicate a few hours on the weekend to prepping items for the week’s meals. Wash and chop fruits and veggies. Pre-pack lunches and pre-portion healthy snacks. Having good options on hand and ready to go makes it easier to make good choices and ignore the siren song of nearby restaurants.
Let’s start and end with some real talk: Changing your eating habits isn’t easy. I get it. I promise. I’m certainly not perfect!
While the changes are clear and simple, it’s committing to those changes that’s the hard work. That’s why it’s so important to keep those benefits in mind when temptation strikes.
Just remember: It’s better for the budget, better for your health and better for your family.