I say without hesitation that the East Bay is one of the best places in the US for food. We’re very ethnically diverse, so there’s no shortage of delicious Burmese food, Ethiopian food, Pakistani food, and every other variety under the sun. Not only that, but food delivery services makes it easy to order in on a whim.
I love food. Love it, love it, love it. It’s without question in my top 5 things that make me most happy. Of course, not only is my wallet not nearly as happy eating at restaurants as I am, neither is my waistline. Restaurant dining is loaded with way more salt, sugar, butter, and other “bad” foods, even if it seems nearly identical to something you’d cook at home.
Look, being a more budget-conscious diner doesn’t take huge changes. Just cutting down on one or two workday lunches or Chinese takeaways will make a huge difference. Here’s my tips to make that lifestyle change:
1. Freeze your own meals ahead of time
I am a huge fan of having a fully stocked freezer. When you have items ready to be heated up a whim, you’re much less likely to say “let’s just go get burritos!” on a random Tuesday night. Of course, I stock up on Trader Joe’s staples (like my favorite Beef and Broccoli), but I’m always squirreling away leftover soups and curries, ready-to-go slow cooker meals, and even cookies. Here are seven of my favorite foods to freeze for later.
2. Always have a few items on hand that can be made into dinner
A simple weeknight dinner doesn’t need to be complex. In addition to pulling out freezer favorites, Reg and I always have the ingredients to make avocado grilled cheese, breakfast soyrizo tacos, and even homemade pizza. Not having food in the fridge should basically never be a reason to spend $30 on eating dinner out, because it’s so easy to have just a handful of ingredients that can be used to make a creative meal.
3. Keep a whiteboard on the fridge with what’s inside (and meal ideas)
When Reg and I had roommates, often foods would get pushed to the back of the fridge and we would loose track of what was even in there… and the next thing you know, some perfectly delicious pulled pork leftovers had become moldy. Even now that there’s just two of us, I always keep a whiteboard on the fridge with a list of all the foods that are ready to be eaten, as well as general meal and snack ideas like “smoothie supplies” and “hummus ingredients.”
4. Pre-plan when you will be eating out every week and stick to that schedule
I love eating out… but I’d rather spend my money on a really good restaurant for a great date night that Reg and I have been looking forward to and planning, not just pub food from down the street because I’m too tired to cook. If you can accurate plan your restaurant meals out ahead of time (brunch with the girls, dinner with mom, date night with the boy), then you can not only feel stronger in sticking to that schedule but better plan the rest of your homemade meals.
5. Cook dishes that resemble your takeout favorites
My weakest moments are the times that I’m reaaaaaally craving a certain food, whether it’s sushi or chow main. Even though some dishes can seem intimidating, the cooking can actually be an enjoyable part of the process! Think about the restaurant dishes that you crave the most and learn how to make the recipes yourself. Not only will it be more affordable and more healthy, you’ll also have the self-satisfaction of your hard work to make the meal even sweeter.
How often do you eat meals out? How do you manage your restaurant budget?