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Reducing "have to" eating out by planning ahead

Don't get me wrong - I like eating out. But nightskyre and I have a tendency to overstep our budgeted "entertainment" allotment (and our individual "allowances") by eating out too often. It's not the times we go out with friends that's hurting us. It's the times we go out because we're far from home and hungry, or we get home and I'm just too tired to figure out something to make and eat.

I want to reduce our "have to" eating out, so we can afford to do more "want to" eating out and other entertainment.

I've tried to fit our reasons into categories, so I can deal with them individually:
  1. On the run - when we (together or individually) have an activity after work, without enough time to go home and eat.

  2. Dinner of convenience - these are the times I'm too tired, or too hungry, to figure out a kitchen meal. This can happen on weeknights due to work/stress, or weekends due to extra activities and lack of planning. This is also known as the "nothing sounds good" cop-out.

  3. Case of the missing lunch (Anitra) - I like to bring leftovers for lunch, but there aren't always leftovers available to bring. If I don't want a PBJ, I often buy lunch in the cafeteria.

  4. Lunch run-out (Andrew) - He usually plans out lunches in advance (lately, he's switching between Caesar salad/wraps and frozen TV dinners) - but we don't always go shopping for replacement lunches before he runs out.

  1. With two regular weeknight activities this year, we've started to get better about eating out in this situation. When we're traveling together, we've been heating up Lean Pockets at one workplace or the other, then eating them in the car. When we're apart, we still need to work at it. I usually stop at Starbucks and spend some time relaxing and eating, while he travels straight to his second job and eats whatever is available to him.

  2. Planning ahead is the simple answer for convenience. I need to have more ready-made meals I feel good about eating, even if they're convenience food like frozen pizza. We currently have frozen tortellini and frozen meatballs, too. I need to keep more frozen vegetables on hand to "health up" these convenience meals.

  3. Two plans of attack for my lunches:
    • Have foods/meals on hand to pack when there are no leftovers
    • Make side dishes and/or extra quantities to expand the leftover capability of dinner meals

  4. Plan for lunch the night before (this applies to me, too). If we don't have any lunch fodder available, we need to either make some or go out and buy it before the stores close. There's a grocery store down the street and a BJs about a mile away, so there's no excuse not to do this.

Obviously, the more we plan ahead, the more we can allow for variety as well. I don't have to have a PBJ every Tuesday and a Lean Pocket every Thursday for dinner, as long as I plan other portable foods instead. But having LPs in the freezer and PBJ makings in the fridge is a good backup plan.

I think if we can implement all of these, we'll start seeing a lot more wiggle room in our budget, as we stop eating out at fast food just because it's convenient. Just in time to go to a nice restaurant for our anniversary! ;)
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hntrpyanfar October 15th, 2007
Good plans!

A strategy if you have some freezer space is to make a big vat of soup/stew/ghoulash/stuff one weekend, and freeze 1-meal quantities of it for when you're tired and cranky. There are some handy Ziploc or Gladware sized boxes for this... and you can just take the soup cube and run in the morning; no refrigeration needed. Of course, it's nice to do a couple different types of stuff so you have a choice - rather than, oh yay, chicken noodle *again*. Freezing extra leftovers so you don't get sick of them can help too. :)

Please feel free also to search my lj for things with the 'recipe' tag - there are a few handy quick meal recipes and some cooking essays I wrote awhile back lurking in there. (Mom asked me to help her write a 'beginning cookbook' for her new daughter-in-law. Hopefully Jessica wasn't too confused by our differences in philosophy.)

hntrpyanfar October 15th, 2007

You may have to scroll back a ways for some. :)

anitra October 15th, 2007
Thanks! I just spent 20 minutes looking at them. :)

I'm not a big soup-or-stew person, so when I do make some (can't bear to throw out turkey carcass, for instance), I freeze up containers of it. Anything else, I generally eat up all the leftovers for lunch...

Part of the reason I'm going to start trying to incorporate side dishes is so we'll get more leftovers out of a meal. Right now, if Andrew likes it, I have to convince him not to eat it ALL, so I can at least get one lunch out of it.

lil_cherub October 15th, 2007
Like the person above, I also will cook a ton of food and freeze it for the future use. We currently have frozen homemade lasagna, homemade meatballs, and a ton of frozen meat/cheese ready to cook(always purchased on sale). I'm making a big pot of chili tonight, and that is also one of the things we have gone ahead and frozen before.

I find that freezing fresh meat, shredded cheeses and vegetables really works in my favor when making a quick dinner. Rice, pasta and potatoes should always be on hand. This gives me plenty of ingredients to work with. Aside from tortellini and ravioli, I will very rarely buy anything premade since I read labels for partially hydrogenated oils, MSG and high sodium(preservatives). I only buy them when its a 'treat', like buffalo wings for game day (although I've made those homemade too). So while frozen purchased, premade foods may be a quick meal solution, I avoid them at almost all cost. Try making the soups/chili/stews first. You can make a ton at once and they store well.

I love cooking and try to cook as much as I can at home. And I get really annoyed when we go out to dinner and the food I order isn't as good as I know I can make it. As a result, there are really only a handful of places I really love going.

anitra October 16th, 2007
But I don't enjoy cooking (most of the time). I am willing to trade some health benefits to maintain my sanity. I'm not home enough to cook everything from scratch, even if I was cooking it ahead. Even on days when I go straight home, I'm not there until 6:30 or 7pm, at which point I am starving.

That said, I'm too cheap to buy most convenience foods unless I really like them and they're on sale. I mostly buy things that could make up most of a meal - stuffed pastas, pizzas, and "just add chicken" ready-meals.

I always have meat, rice, and pasta on hand. Potatoes are too much work (have to wash them, make sure they don't sprout, anything other than baked potatoes also requires peeling... I do them once in a while, but I have to be in the right mood.) My bigger problem is keeping vegetables on hand in usable combinations. Frozen vegetables help with that, but I tend to go through them pretty quickly. There's not a lot of overlap between my taste in veggies and Andrew's; I don't usually bother buying something that only one of us wants to eat. I might change that to buy more of "his" veggies for him to use as pre- or post- dinner snacks.

re: convenience foods

etherial October 16th, 2007
Dream Dinners is the ultimate balance between cheap, easy, nutritious, and tasty. Simply decide what you want for dinner when you leave the house in the morning and take it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge. Each meal is (more-or-less) complete with 3 servings - you, the boy, and the lunch.

gunthersdncemix January 7th, 2008
I like to keep a bunch of canned soup/granola bars/cup-a-soup/easy mac type food in my desk at work for when I'm busy or forget lunch.

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