A Year of Good Habits: No Eating Out

For the past three days, we’ve had Mr. ThreeYear’s cousin and her family staying with us. We’ve been living the best of August. Mr. ThreeYear took a couple of days off work, and we’ve been showing our family our town’s local lake, a craft fair, a dairy farm, and more. The five cousins have been playing, building forts, swimming, and eating ice cream (okay, the adults have enjoyed that one, too).

No Eating Out--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

The weather has been warm in the day and cool in the mornings and evenings. In short, they’ve gotten to see the best of our area while they’re here. One of the nice things about their trip is that we’ve eaten all our meals, save one, at home. Since they’re Chilean, we’ve eaten the most delicious Chilean meals–empanadas, ceviche, and we had a killer asado. Asados are barbecues (not the Southern kind) where you cook chicken, sausages, and steak on the grill, then you make simple salads to accompany all the meat. Did I take pictures of any of this? Of course not. I was too busy eating! But it’s been delicious. All the delicious home-cooked food inspired this month’s habit.

Last month, we had a wonderful trip to South Carolina, but also spent more money than we needed to on eating out. This month (and since it’s currently the 13th, I’m starting now and going until approximately mid-September), the goal is: no eating out.

Normally, the ThreeYears spend between $100 and $300 on eating out each month. I know that number might be very high for many of you, but it’s been our normal eating out budget for years. We average $200 a month for the year.

Many bloggers, like Mr. Tako, for example, are incredibly disciplined in this area and almost never eat out. While I agree with him in theory, we haven’t agreed with him in practice, especially this year.

That’s why this month, I’m going to adopt the habit of not eating out at all. Why do I say “I”? I think most eating out starts with me. Since I cook the majority of the food, if I have a clear plan for what we’re going to eat each night, and an emergency stash of frozen pizzas or other quick meals, like Mrs. Frugalwoods, then we won’t need to eat out. Also, when we head out to the beach (and by beach I mean lake), we’ll pack food with us.

Cousins at the lake--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
The cousins enjoying their time at the lake, despite the very chilly water!

This means food preparation. Cutting up carrots and celery for snacks, organizing the pantry so snacks are easy to access, and writing a meal plan for the week. In an ideal month, I write a meal plan first, and then write my grocery list based on that, but I have to admit I haven’t written a meal plan in several months.

Normally, we eat out on weekends, when Mr. ThreeYear asks, “what are we doing for lunch?” and I say, “we could go to…” We also eat out if we’re doing a family activity far away from the house and haven’t packed food with us. If we have food, even snacks, packed, we can usually make it home to eat our meals here. Since we live in a very rural part of New Hampshire, we’re far away from most everything, including restaurants. So we’re not usually temped to eat out during weeknights. But if we’re in a different town and happen by a delicious Indian or sushi restaurant, then we let our guards down and eat out.

Those are our cues for the habit we’d like to replace, so knowing that, I’ll pack a picnic with us, in our handy insulated bag, if we do go anywhere far away.

Sliding down the hill--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Sliding down the hill at the craft fair. Use #4,763 for cardboard boxes.

We’ve allowed ourselves to become irresponsibly spendy for the last two months in the areas of eating out, so I’m cracking the financial whip. I am going to buy delicious ingredients and take meal requests so that my family will hopefully be delighted to eat at home.

We’ll let you know how it goes. My hope is that this month resets us for the upcoming school year, so that we can meet the rest of our financial goals with the money we had been spending on eating out.

If you have any tips, please let me know! This definitely isn’t my area of strength! 

Author: Laurie

Hi. I'm Laurie, and my family and I have set out to double our net worth and move abroad in the next three years. Join us on our journey!

10 thoughts on “A Year of Good Habits: No Eating Out”

  1. This is an area I struggle with when we are trying to be “out and about” in the summer time… it is so tempting just to plan to grab lunch or dinner on the go! I try to keep it simple by having lots of easy lunch basics (salad stuff, sandwich stuff- esp PB&J!, veggies/fruit/crackers/chips/cheese for snacking, etc). And I am a die hard pizza-in-the-freezer fan after reading the Frugalwoods article on food. We always have several pizzas plus some mac & cheese, tuna, soup, other canned ingredients around so that we can have our “whatever” night dinners where we don’t plan and just eat “whatever is around”. Good luck!

    1. One thing we don’t do a ton of is crackers and cheese so I will add that to next week’s shopping list–great idea. And mac & cheese is a great idea, too! We bought a bunch of canned beans (garbanzo and black) from BJs, and I’ll think about other good canned ingredients too (maybe even some exotic ones like Heart of Palm to change things up a bit for Mr. ThreeYear). Thank you for these awesome ideas!! 🙂

  2. I think setting yourself up for success as much as possible is key. Make eating out the unattractive choice. Plan in advance, have easy meals and snacks on hand, and incentivize everyone to make the right choices. I’m also a huge fan of habit tracking. My biggest streak of $0 spending on meals out was 110 days! Trying not to ‘break the chain’ of $0 days is surprisingly motivating! Maybe you could put something up on the calendar, with a family reward at the end of the month if you hit your goal? Good luck!

    1. Veronika, I love the idea of habit tracking. Wow–110 days of not eating out. That is impressive! I agree that planning in advance will be key for us this month. I’ll have to think of good incentives for us, because that will help motivate the rest of the crew. Thanks for the great tips!

  3. Excellent goal Laurie! We very rarely eat out and do not eat processed foods either. Did it take us a while to get there? Heck yes, but now it’s fairly easy. Sure it does take some planning as you mentioned but it’s worth it in the end. Fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds (make your own trail mix) cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and plenty of make ahead items that freeze well like muffins, quiche, meatballs, burgers, taco meat, etc. help. We do green smoothies daily and make enough at dinner as to have leftovers for the next day’s lunch.

    Glad your family has been able to spend such great time together, looks fun!

    1. Thanks Amy! Wow, good for you guys! It’s good to hear that you were able to transition to rarely eating out. I like your idea of freezing things. I never think of making things like taco meat ahead of time and then freezing–great suggestion!

  4. Best of luck!! I rarely eat out, but mostly because I find going out more hassle than whipping something up for myself – but I’m also just one person with bland taste buds, who doesn’t have to worry about my family liking what I make 😛

    I do find that the easiest is to have some go-to backup meals, and to keep some flexibility in the week. If you have a big roast planned on Tuesday and soup and grilled cheese for Wednesday, and don’t feel like making the roast – do the soup instead! Or pull out a pizza and make the roast on Friday.

    I’m sure you’ll figure out a system that works for you : )

    1. Ms. Raggedly, very good point about being flexible. I’ve been working on that this week, to eat up all the food in our fridge (and eat at home), and I’ve had to change the meals I had planned every night. What are your favorite go-to backup meals? So far I’ve got mac and cheese, frozen pizzas, meatballs and spaghetti… but I love suggestions!! 🙂

  5. I’m not sure that I have any specific advice to offer on strategies to avoid the temptation of eating out… but I have to say that I loved the pic you shared of the kids sliding down the grassy hill on cardboard. Priceless!

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