At the beginning of January, I shared our annual no eating out challenge here on Simple Cheap Mom. In the fall we tend to slip into bad habits and eat out or get take out much more than we’d like.
So, in January we stop getting take out, going to restaurants, picking up expensive lattes, and paying for any food outside a grocery store. We use the month to reboot our systems and replace bad habits with good ones.
How Did the January No Eating Out Challenge Go?
When I wrote the first post, I admitted that we had already ate out once. We made an exception for our weekly playgroup when it was held at IKEA.
We were both sick for a weekend and the temptation to pick up something for dinner, and lunch, and breakfast was pretty strong. But we got through it without incident.
I’m pleased to say our only indiscretion was the one trip to IKEA. We had zero nights where we picked up take out for supper.
Unlike in December we didn’t pick up a pizza, didn’t get donuts (three times?), didn’t go to Starbucks, no burger joints, and no visits to the pub. Yup, we did actually do all of those things in December. Like I said, we had a problem.
The Secret to Our No Eating Out Success:
Our Cook Our Favourite Take Out Meals at Home Meal Plan
What stopped the “What’s for Dinner? Take-out.” cycle? I could say that taking away the option to eat out was what helped us make it through the month. It’s probably the best answer.
But instead I’m going to give all the credit to our awesome meal plan. It wasn’t just any old meal plan. It was The January Cook Our Favourite Take Out Meals at Home Meal Plan.
I could have complicated things and tried to make the perfect meal plan. There are some awesome examples on the internet that balance health, frugality, and efficiency perfectly. It would take me hours to make such a shining example. So instead I whipped this up in 10 minutes.
The goal of the meal plan was to answer the question “what’s for dinner?” and to gently transition us off restaurant food.
So, I filled it with the junk food we were used to eating and had fun trying to come up with how to make our favourite restaurant recipes at home.
There were some hits (shawarma garlic sauce is just oil, garlic cloves, lemon juice and salt blended together? Amazing.) and some misses (scheduling chicken wings the day before the Super Bowl when the in-laws make us their famous wings. What was I thinking?).
Because we were eating the foods we were used to, and considered treats, we never felt deprived and the temptation to eat out was pretty low.
What did we get out of The Challenge?
I had expected our grocery bill to be higher than usual this month. We did some travelling to see family over the Christmas holidays, so we started the month with nothing perishable. Plus, I knew that our diverse meal plan would need some special items (curds for the poutine) that we don’t usually buy.
But, I wasn’t expecting to be so off the ball on grocery shopping (thanks Simple Cheap Dad for taking the Little Miss out so many times hunting for new items that were hiding in one store or another when I wasn’t prepared). Plus, I had hoped to be done with the expense of diapers, but I think we’ll be buying them for night time for a while longer.
We ended up being were $90 over budget for groceries for January. ($392.04 vs. $303.00)
So did this experiment cost us money?
A little. We’ll try to make up as much of the grocery overage up month. Plus, we spend $80 less on restaurants this month than December. So overall spending was only up by about $10.
The biggest change from The Challenge is that when Simple Cheap Dad gets home from work, we know what’s for dinner, we have the ingredients on hand and we have a plan to make dinner happen.
I haven’t heard “What’s for dinner?” once.
We’ve stopped throwing around the option to get take out.
I don’t wait until dinner to start thinking about what’s for supper. Around lunchtime I check the meal plan to see if I need to take anything out of the freezer to thaw. In the past, frozen meat has been a good excuse for me to push for take out. Now that excuse is gone.
We’re Eating Better
Yes, we ate poutine. Yes, we ate pizza. Yes, we ate tacos. Yes, we ate burgers. But I’d still say we’re eating better.
For one, we know what’s going into our food. We’re aware of added fats, sugar, and salt and I’m pretty sure we use less to season at home than at restaurants.
But we also were more likely to have veggies. At restaurants I usually opt for the french fries because they’re so yummy and they were hard to make from home (pre-Actifry days). Now if a meal is looking particularly unhealthy, I know I can at least nuke some frozen veggies and we’ll all eat them. It’s not fancy, but it makes for a healthier, more balanced, meal.
I got the proof this week when I found out that even with our less than healthy meal plan, and all the Christmas chocolates that I had to eat as quickly as possible to get them out of the house, I still lost 5 pounds. That’s awesome. I don’t expect to lose 5 pounds a month, but if I get famous for the 5 pound fry cleanse, I wouldn’t mind. (#5lbFryCleanse?)
Will We Be Eating Out in February?
Probably. We have some Starbucks gift cards that we’re itching to use. It’s also Winterlude time up here, so we’ll probably go down town with the Little Miss for hit chocolates and Beavertails (fried dough with cinnamon and sugar).
We don’t miss the take out for dinner though, so we we’re going to try to keep eating supper at home through February.
The meal plan theme for February is “Eat What We’ve Already Bought February”. It should help get the budget back under control and also clear out the odds and ends that have built up. We discovered some fun stuff hidden in the back of the pantry and the bottom of the freezer, so February should be another interesting meal month.
So, we’ll be joining Alicia from Financial Diffraction in her Eat Through Your Cupboards Challenge and Frugaling.org with his $200/Month Food and Drinks Challenge.
The January No Eating Out Challenge is an annual one for us. We started off with an exception, but then make it through the month without too much trouble.
Having a meal plan full of restaurant style meals helped us from feeling deprived and also brought some excitement into the kitchen. We stopped asking what was for dinner and we developed habits to keep us in the kitchen for the foreseeable future.
Money wise it was a bit of a wash this month, but I lost five pounds. So I’m going to remember this one as positive!
What About You?
Were you trying to not eat out this month? How did it go?
What’s your favourite at home restaurant inspired meal?
How was your grocery spending this month?
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