It’s a weeknight and you’re starving and exhausted. So you reach out to Grubhub or DoorDash and place an order for the fastest, greasiest, most delicious, carb-heavy thing on the menu. And the best part? You don’t even have to pay for it right now. You can just charge it to your credit card!
The convenience food arrives in 20 minutes, you devour it, and move on. You’re not hungry anymore. But you’re also burning a hole in your wallet and putting on a few extra pounds in the process.
Ordering junk food—or even just going through the restaurant drive-thru—is making you broke and unhealthy. If you’re looking to reclaim your hard-earned income, gain healthy eating habits, and become a better version of yourself, it’s time to learn how to stop eating out and start making your own healthy meals.
How to stop eating out and start making good food at home: A step-by-step guide
- Be okay with saying no
- Budget for groceries
- Set up your kitchen
- Figure out a meal plan
- Learn some ballin’ recipes
- Set a schedule
- Share your victories
Emotional hunger and boredom eating are powerful forces. Yet despite all this, it’s not hard to stop eating out. As with most things, changing your behavior just requires putting a plan into motion and sticking to it.
Here’s a plan you can use to stop eating out—starting this very week.
1. Be okay with saying no
If you live in a place like New York, it can be difficult to start cooking from home. Your friends may like going out to eat or your roommates may like to order pizza or tacos a lot. It can be hard to resist peer pressure.
If this sounds familiar, the first step is understanding that it’s okay to try something different. Get comfortable saying “no” and eat in more.
You don’t have to tell anyone you’re doing it to save money. If anyone asks, tell them you’re starting a new hobby. Cooking is in vogue! It’s cool to be a foodie, learn new cuisines, and be able to cook brunch better than all your friends.
2. Budget for groceries
Before you head to the store, it’s a good idea to revisit your food budget. Figure out how much you’ve been spending eating out (you might want to sit down!). Once you know that sum, take a look at your monthly cash flow and determine how much you want to spend on meals.
You can always adjust this budget if necessary. But it’s good to stick to a plan when grocery shopping to prevent yourself from buying every type of cheese, bread, or spice in the store.
- 20 Ways To Save Money When Eating Out
- Why You Need a Personal Budget
- How To Save Money on Groceries in 2021
3. Set up your kitchen
Buy yourself a nice set of cookware
Next, take some time to analyze your cooking arsenal. Make sure you have the basics at first: a stove, cutting board, knives, cooking utensils, pots and pans, timer, and spice rack. You may also want something like a crock pot or slow cooker.
This tip may seem counterintuitive, but could actually get you cooking more: Treat yourself to some nice cooking accessories you’ll look forward to using.
If you invest a little on a nice cast iron skillet, a fun potholder, and some sharp knives, you’ll have an easier time getting into the cooking mindset.
Plus, you’ll feel bad if you spend money on accessories and don’t use them. It’s a great way to help build a cooking habit.
Learn to use your dishwasher
One reason people don’t like to cook is that they hate washing dishes. Yet cleaning up doesn’t have to be a nightmare!
Start by cooking simple meals that are easy to clean up after. Learn how to use your dishwasher, and buy some rubber dish gloves to make scrubbing easier on your hands.
It’s also a good idea to clean as you cook to avoid running into a large mess at the end.
Brush up on cooking basics
If this is your first time trying your hand at being a chef, watch some YouTube videos, buy a cookbook, and learn the basics. The last thing you want is to accidentally get salmonella or waste money by burning your food.
Watch a YouTube recipe video while you cook. That way, you know exactly how to prepare whatever meal you’re working on.
4. Figure out a meal plan
Next, figure out a plan for buying groceries. Take my word for it: Meal planning is critical for success.
You need to be careful when buying groceries so that you don’t wind up spending more on cooking than you did on restaurant food. Remember, the trick is to save money, not emulate Gordon Ramsey.
Here are some strategies you can try depending on your budget and lifestyle.
Go to the grocery store daily
This approach involves keeping a minimal amount of food in the house and going to a grocery store daily to buy items like meat and veggies for dinner. This strategy is popular in Europe.
It can be fun thinking about what you want to eat during the day, building an appetite, and then going out and buying your ingredients from a local market. This strategy can also keep cooking fresh and exciting. Every day can be a new possibility.
Of course, this is much easier if you live very close to a grocery store.
Shop in bulk
Another strategy is to buy items in bulk at the beginning of the month to save money. Get a BJ’s, Sam’s Club, or Costco membership, and head to the store to load up on things like meat, dairy, eggs, and vegetables.
After that, supplement your main ingredients with smaller items from the grocery store as necessary.
Buy weekly groceries
The most popular way to buy groceries is to head to the store on a Saturday or Sunday to buy groceries for the week. This is better for people whose budgets tend to fluctuate on a weekly basis.
With this approach, you’ll buy the items you need for the week ahead and very little beyond that.
5. Learn some ballin’ recipes
Finally! Now that you’ve taken care of the prerequisites, it’s time to look for some simple, nutritious, easy recipes.
You don’t have to be a five-star chef to cook spaghetti and meatballs, not to mention burritos, chicken cutlets, salmon, and mashed potatoes. You can even keep things very basic if you don’t want to cook much on weekdays and stick to peanut butter sandwiches or cereal, both of which are tasty and filling.
Keep it simple at first and just print out a few recipes from the internet. As time goes on, experiment with different combinations and cooking styles.
For example, if you love Indian food, learn how to make the classic dish chicken tikka masala. If you love pizza, get a pizza stone and try making your own pie. Or learn how to make pad Thai or drunken noodles. Whatever grates your cheese!
6. Set a schedule
You don’t have to go overboard and completely stop going to restaurants or ordering takeout with this strategy. The point is simply to cut back on eating out to reduce expenses.
If you’re up to it, plan to eat at home just on weekdays to kick things off. You may find the experience so enjoyable that you decide to cook at home on Saturdays and Sundays, too. Sunday in particular is a great time to have friends and family members over and treat them to a nice home-cooked meal like lasagna or a pot roast.
7. Share your victories (and your mistakes)
Speaking of sharing, you may want to showcase your progress on social media and with friends as you go. Post pictures of your meals and your catastrophic culinary failures on Instagram to keep things light.
Sharing will help you track your progress and learn tips from fellow cooking enthusiasts. As time goes on, your money-saving strategy may just grow into a full-blown hobby that you get into and enjoy.
Either way, you’ll be encouraging others in your network to try their hand at cooking, potentially helping them save money and get healthy, too.
Why you should stop eating out
As the above-mentioned steps show, cooking isn’t hard. It just requires some basic setup and learning, a little bit of strategy, and discipline.
Here are some of the reasons why you should stop eating out so much.
Eating out is expensive
When you eat out, you’re not just paying for the food on your plate. You’re also paying for the convenience of it.
Restaurants are notorious for jacking up the prices of simple ingredients. Plus, you need to cover tips and service fees, especially when using third-party delivery services that add fees just for using their platform.
When you buy your own food, all you need to do is pay for the ingredients after an initial investment in cooking and cleaning supplies. That’s it.
It makes you lazy
Eating out also makes you lazy and dependent. As fun as it may be ordering from your favorite place or frequenting a local restaurant, it’s probably not healthy to do it every day.
Forge your own path and learn how to cook. This is a basic skill that everyone should know how to do.
Eating out can be bad for you
Pull up a food delivery menu and take a look at what you see. Chances are the items that catch your eye first include pizza, wings, burgers, desserts… junk food, in other words.
These items are fun. But if you eat them every day, you’ll be consuming a lot of salt, fat, and mystery ingredients, none of which are healthy. And they can be hard to pass up for healthier alternatives when you’re hungry and need to fill up fast.
One of the great parts about cooking your own food is that you can see exactly what goes into your food by looking at the labels. Keep in mind that—with a little bit of practice—you can make delicious food that rivals anything you find on a delivery menu.
If you don’t eat healthy, you’re going to wind up paying more in medical bills down the road if you get diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. By eating healthy now, you may be able to save money later while also maintaining your health.
Eating out too often ruins the fun of it
Yet another reason to avoid eating out often is that it ruins the fun of the experience. When you eat out all the time, it stops being a treat.
Keep eating out for the weekend when you want to order a pizza or burgers with some friends. You’ll appreciate the experience and enjoy the break from cooking, too.
Tips for making cooking fun and affordable
Cooking doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Here are some quick tips you can use to get into the process.
Round up your friends and have everyone bring a different dish once a week. You’ll save money and get to try some fun new dishes.
Have meals ready to go
If you have busy weeks with long days and genuinely don’t have time to spend on meal prep, consider spending a little time over the weekend preparing food.
Put meals in the freezer that you can easily defrost and consume the next day or throughout the week. Frozen food is great for quick meals.
Make it a fun experience
Make cooking playlists or pair meals with your favorite movies. If you cook Mexican food, get a bottle of tequila and make some tasty margaritas. When cooking Italian food, pair your spaghetti with a nice bottle of wine.
If you make cooking a fun and enjoyable endeavor, the food will turn out better.
Another way to make cooking fun is to cook something elaborate or decadent once in a while. Just because you cook from home doesn’t mean you have to be a saint.
Put bacon on… well, anything and everything. Or bake cupcakes for dessert! You deserve it.
Keep track of your savings
As you begin cooking more at home, keep a running list of your expenses and watch as your money piles up.
At the end of the month, treat yourself to something small as a reward for your hard work.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much can I save by cooking at home?
This largely depends on your location and eating habits. However, if the average prepared meal costs between $10 and $20, and you eat out five nights a week, then you’re spending anywhere from $50 to $100 on food per week, or $200 to $400 per month… just for one person, which is outrageous.
Compare this to spending roughly $5 on chicken, $1 on a can of beans, $1 for a pound of rice, and $4 on a few tomatoes. You can put together enough for three or four meals for under $15.
If you try really hard, you can probably cut your entire weekly food budget to about $50 per person or even less if you’re on a tight budget.
Is eating out more expensive than cooking at home?
Eating out is much more expensive than cooking at home because you have to pay for the convenience of someone else buying, cooking, preparing, and serving your food, not to mention cleaning up afterward. If you order, you’ll also wind up paying more for service and delivery fees.
On the other hand, when you cook at home, all you have to do is buy basic ingredients. As such, you’re guaranteed to save a lot of money if you can keep to a budget and avoid buying half of the grocery store.
Are restaurant meals bad for you?
Eating out can be bad for you. But it can also be healthy! The problem is that it’s hard to maintain discipline when eating out—especially when ordering comfort food.
Many dietary experts tend to agree that pizza isn’t necessarily bad for you. It’s what you put on top of the pizza and how much you eat that makes the difference.
A typical slice of cheese pizza usually has under 300 calories. Eat six slices, and you may potentially be eating twice the recommended caloric intake… and that’s before tacking on wings, beer, soda, or dessert, all of which not only add up to a hefty bill when you’re hungry, but can be bad for you as well.
The Bottom Line
If the Pixar classic Ratatouille teaches us one lesson, it’s this: Anyone can cook.
And this is absolutely true!
Don’t be afraid to try your hand at cooking. Not only is cooking an essential skill, it’s also an activity that will make you a more well-rounded person.
The more you cook, the more money you’ll save. And you’ll also get healthier in the process by cutting back on fast food. Taken together, it’s great for your financial goals and your body.
As an added bonus, you can even add that you like to cook on your dating profile for extra points!
Of course, you don’t need to give up ordering burgers from McDonald’s or greasy sandwiches from your local deli. Just moderate your consumption so that you save a little bit more money, and save eating out for special occasions.
Cooking healthy food can go a long way in establishing financial independence. You’ll save a ton of money while getting into the habit of cooking more and more meals. In turn, those savings will begin to compound, pushing you that much further along in your journey to financial freedom.