How to Avoid the Restaurant to Save Money

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In many North American homes there is one furniture item that is becoming obsolete – the table.  Family breakfasts are replaced with a flurry of tasks.  Lunch is shared out and about, and dinner is an inconvenience to be sidestepped.  The table is being replaced.  Not only is this transition harmful to families, it is also burdensome to budgets.  Larger and larger portions of the food budget is being transferred to eating out.  With the increased cost we work more to subsidize our eating out, and before we know it, we are in a vicious and unsatisfying cycle. 

Since today is Canadian Thanksgiving I started thinking about food.  I wanted to first thank many of my readers who are Canadian.  I am thankful for you (along with many other things).   There is indeed a lot to be thankful for.  It is on this day, Thanksgiving, that I wonder why we rush to the table.  At Thanksgiving we often dream of a home cooked meal surrounded by family.  Could it be that we are emotionally starving ourselves from the joy of regularly celebrating around a table?

Food is for celebration

In the book, Living on Less and Liking it More, Maxine Hancock suggests food serves two functions.  First, for nutrition and second for celebration.  She goes on to suggest:

every meal should be a celebration of God’s goodness (pg 88)

Meals, however, have become inconveniences, not celebrations.  We are too busy to sit.  Too busy to eat.  Too busy to talk. And certainly too busy to thank God for his goodness.

How to make the table a place of celebration

My wife has made the table a place of celebration for our family.  We have come to realize that a special family evening does not require eating out (thought we do on occasion as a celebration).  In fact, some of our family highlights happen at home, not at the local restaurant.  The remainder of this post is nothing about things I do, but things I see my wife do that make the table a place of celebration.

  1. Remember that variety is the spice of life.

    Occasionally in our home there will be a note at every plate or even just a place mat.  The kids eyes light up when they see one of those little assorted items on occasions. 

  2. Ask “What’s your favorite meal?”

    My wife goes out of her way to make special meals for certain family members.  One of the things people enjoy about eating out is the ability to choose their own food.  Our family takes that flexibility and brings it home instead of taking the family out.

  3. Create Anticipation

    Early in the day someone will ask (typically one of the kids), what’s for supper tonight?  There is often a response like ‘goodie goodie or yeah, yeah’ (and yes, with the occasional awww).  For that moment early in the day our family gathering at the table is anticipated. 

  4. Develop frugal family home traditions

    Our family has two traditions each week that actually take us away from the ‘table’ but foster a healthy family.  Every Friday night we make homemade pizza.  The kids help put on the toppings.  We open a liter of coke – the only pop (soda, coke) enjoyed all week.  This is a family highlight.  On Friday afternoon we always eat lunch on the porch.  We had a tradition of going out to eat, but we came to find that the kids liked eating on the porch far better than eating out. 

  5. Bake Something

    Nothing gets the family excited like a batch of fresh chocolate chip cookies!

Strategies for getting out of the restaurant and around the table

  1. Make the table a place of celebration.

    Just follow the list above.  The more you anticipate and enjoy meals, the more likely you are to stay at the table.

  2. Think ahead

    Eating out often happens as the result of a lack of planning.  Do you ever find yourself standing in front of the refrigerator door at 5 p.m. wondering what you’re going to make for supper?  If you made the decision earlier you would just get to work instead of wondering – should we be going out?

  3. Plan meals with your schedule in mind

    If you know Wednesday is going to be a busy day with a quick dinner before church, you should make Wednesday an easy meal to prepare. 

  4. Shop with a list (developed based on a menu)

    The less time you spend in the grocery store, the less money you will spend.  Armed with a list you can get in and out, which will save both time and money.

  5. Build your menu around weekly sales

    If your local grocery store ads come on Sunday then make your menu Sunday night.  If ham is on sale this week, plan a meal with ham. 

  6. Prioritize the table

    When I was growing up the table played a central role.  Children were to be home in time for dinner.  Plans were to be adjusted according to meals and occasionally meals adjusted according to plans.  Whenever possible the family was all together at the table.

  7. Take a one or two month restaurant break

    Absence does make the heart grow fonder.  By cutting back on your eating out for an extended period, eating out becomes special once again.  When it is special, a few times a month feels like a satisfactory indulgence. 

Photo by Wolfgang Staudt.

What do you do that helps make your table a place of celebration?  How do you reduce the cost of eating at home?


  1. Art Ford says

    We cook up larger portions of hamburger meat and freeze them in smaller portions. We also put celery and onion through the food processor so we can freeze them in small portions. This helps us to have a home cooked meal on the table in a relatively short time after each of us gets home from work. We like homemade hamburgers, so we make up a few pounds at a time and freeze them for later.
    In my mind, it takes making the decision to eat at home (whether for economy or to build up the family) and then doing little things to make it workable.

    • Craig says

      I do hope all of us learn to slow down as you mentioned. Too often we are rushing through life we no sense of direction.

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