Towards the end of our month, we got a little creative in how we could go out to eat without spending any of our own money. We used a gift card to go out to lunch together, then I used the rest of the gift card to take my sister out to lunch during her visit (she then treated me to my first Starbucks in 3 weeks!) I also went on a business trip during our time on the restaurant diet. I had no choice but to dine out for all meals, all expensed of course, and had a Starbucks EVERY day – one day I even had 2 S-buck drinks!
Money Saved and Lessons Learned
Aside from the short, “creative” reprieves, my husband and I stuck it out and managed to save over $400 from not dining out. We also learned a few things. We learned that on a restaurant diet, we compensate by buying expensive cheese and lots of comfort food. I learned that I do NOT need Starbucks to function every day. I learned that spinach can be added to a plethora of dishes to add nutrition, color, and bulk. My husband learned that we need to have carrots in the house at all times and in large quantities.
If you are considering putting yourself on a restaurant diet, here a few ways to help make dining in easy, fresh, and fun!
8 Strategies for Dining at Home
- Remember the 3 P’s – Because lack of time is our biggest trigger for eating out, we had to do three things – prepare, prepare, and, oh did I mention, PREPARE our meals in advance every week. From dinners to snacks, a little advance preparation of meals can be and is a lifesaver. The day before you intend to shop, draft a menu plan for the week, considering what food items you already have in the house, your work schedule, and even the weather (for grilling purposes). Develop a corresponding grocery list from your planned menu and you’re ready to go.
- Exhaust before you buy – To save time and money, try to use up all of your groceries from the previous trip to the store before heading out for a new trip. This can be a little tricky when you’ve run out of a key ingredient – like meat! In these cases, refer to strategies #1, #3, and #4.
- Make friends with the grocery store – Prior to our experiment, if we could not find anything to our liking in the freezer, fridge, or pantry to eat, we would opt for a meal out. Now, we make a quick trip to the grocery store to buy any necessary items to make a meal with what we already have in the house. This may seem contradictory to #2, but it’s more of a last resort. If you absolutely need to run to the store to buy items for that evening’s dinner, then a trip to the grocery store is a less expensive option than dining out.
- Get creative – On the restaurant diet, I thought about all of the dishes my husband and I would order when we went out to eat and then tried to recreate similar ones at home. I also tried to use what was already in the house to make a meal which called for significant creativity. In these situations, I found that cookbooks or online recipe sites helped with recipe ideas. I just tweaked the recipe based on what food items I had in the house.
- Have a Plan B – No matter how well we plan our menus, we find ourselves not wanting a particular dish on the day we planned to make it, or we realize we don’t want to cook at all. Having a back up meal ready or nearly ready – like frozen homemade chili or pasta sauce, can be our saving grace in these times.
- Cook once, eat twice – Although my husband and I are not very fond of leftovers, there are some dishes that are better made in large quantities – like chicken dumpling soup and chili verde. Leftovers can either be eaten that week or frozen for a later date for a Plan B situation.
- Take turns cooking – My husband and I have very hectic schedules. Aside from planning our meals in advance, we actually have to plan who will be responsible to cook those meals. But we also have a rule, the one who doesn’t cook, cleans up!
- Play waiter for a day – One thing we love about going out to eat is being served and the overall “experience” of eating out. At least one meal a week, try to take turns waiting on the other person. Decide on the menu (what the other person “orders” of course!), prepare the food, serve it, including getting the person seconds, and then clean up afterward. Tips are welcome!
So, now you have the scoop on our Restaurant Diet. Would we do it again? Definitely! We are considering doing it every other month or a least a few times a year, to save money and to act as a detox for our dining out appetite. But for now, we are putting ourselves on a strict budget so as to allow for dining out, but in moderation – and that includes Starbucks!