Help stop our going-out addiction!
September 29, 2017 1:37 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I both love to go out for dinner, but we’re spending WAY TOO MUCH MONEY on food. We’ve tried to be better at eating at home, but it seems like it’s either strict austerity or wild spending abandon and no in between.

We did Whole 30 and successfully cooked at home for the entirety of that, but by the end I wanted to burn up the kitchen and he swore if he ever saw a dirty dish again he’d cry. One week later we’re back into wild abandon mode.

I am way too embarrassed to say how often we eat out per week or how much we spend per month on food and alcohol, but suffice to say, it is A LOT. I think we’re addicted to going out. We both find comfort in being surrounded by a social environment (even though we’re not strictly “socializing”) and not having to worry about food or cleanup.

Relevant factors:

Cooking. We both hate cooking. I hate it slightly less than he does, and his cooking drives me batty (no one ever taught him to cook, he is very slow, and he gets panicked when anything goes wrong, I love him dearly), so I cook most of the meals. He cleans the dishes. We do not have a dishwasher.

Meal planning. I am not good at meal planning. It stresses me out. We did Sunbasket for a long time and it worked well, but it’s really, really expensive, and we would usually find one meal went wasted. I also get anxious about the environmental and societal ramifications of using that kind of service.

Diet. We eat a pescetarian diet. I usually try to order healthy foods when I go out.

Booze. We like to have a drink or two when we go out. I get that eliminating this would be an easy way to reduce the amount we spend, but I don’t foresee this changing, I’m just hoping the frequency of going out does. We’re both big beer nerds in a big beer nerd city, and a lot of the time we’re eating from food trucks at breweries. We’ve been limiting ourselves to one drink most of the time lately. Drinking at home doesn’t have the same appeal—for some reason drinking beer at home makes me feel gluttonous and gross (I have no idea why).

Work and stress. Eating out is clearly our stress relief. We both work relatively demanding jobs and I am hard at work on writing a novel, too. Often we both will start the day saying “we will NOT eat out tonight! We have salmon thawing in the fridge!” and then by the time we’re both home we’re saying fuck it and throwing up our hands. Introducing exercise as stress relief is unlikely to be successful (we both already exercise a fair amount and it has not seemed to solve this problem).

Budget. We make enough so that eating out a lot is not a hardship, but it’s also a huge waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere. We have a decent amount of money in savings. We use YNAB religiously, which is why the number of how much we spend going out is ALWAYS DANGLING OVER OUR HEAD.

Mostly, I’m tired of (a) looking at how much we spent on going out each month and thinking about all of the other things we could have bought for that money, and (b) the constant guilt of thinking “I could have cooked at home” or “If I were just better at meal-planning.” We’d both like to start eating at home more but we’re not sure how to make that happen. Any tips from people that have been in our situation would be helpful.
posted by good day merlock to Work & Money (52 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Have you ever read the I Hate to Cook Book? It's written, in the words of its author, for the kind of person who'd rather wrap their hands around a dry martini than a wet flounder at the end of a tiring day.

It's an old book, but I mention it because while her love of cream of mushroom soup might not suit 2017, her general approach to cooking seems like exactly what you need: you don't need a meal plan. You need like, 10 recipes. Of things that you like to eat and which are easy enough to make that putting them together doesn't seem like the end of the world even when you're tired. Between work events, social events and take out 10 should give you enough of a rotation that you don't feel like you're eating the same thing all the time. Then you don't have to meal plan, you just stock up on whatever pantry basics you need.

I can't tell you what you'll like without knowing you. But there plenty of ways to cook fish in 15 minutes or less, and lots of sides you can throw together in that time. If you hate cooking, you're never going to find the one magic recipe that makes you like it. I'd just go for finding 10 you can tolerate. You'll still be eating out enough to get plenty of variety, and the planning part will be taken care of.
posted by Diablevert at 1:52 PM on September 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

That's a lot of factors, and I can't address all of them, but here are a few thoughts.

We have specific nights of the week that we go out to eat pretty much every week. The rest of the nights, we eat at home most of the time. We're not super strict about the delineation because we don't have a specific goal of eating out less, so you might need to be more rigid about it. But if you, for example, said "we go out on Wednesday and Saturday ONLY," the structure might help a bit.

Secondly, I may be lazy (and I know many people do it), but I'd pull my hair out if I didn't have a dishwasher. Is there any way you can direct some of your savings from not eating out into getting a dishwasher? They're not that expensive, and I think they make eating at home much less daunting.

Finally, I wonder if there might be some middle ground of doing takeout and eating it at home. That would start to break the habit a bit, and if you're anything like me, you'd probably spend less too (harder to get a second drink, add on extra dishes or dessert after the fact, etc.). Maybe use it as an interim step while you're getting more into the habit of cooking at home.
posted by primethyme at 1:52 PM on September 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

Can you figure out what it is you'd like to be spending the money on instead? That gives you a positive goal rather than a negative one.

Me, I consider worknight cooking to be drudgery and don't have a lot of qualms about spending to avoid it, when I can afford it. But of course that's the issue. It sounds like you can afford it, but think it's an unnecessary expenditure. Okay, so what is it that is more important to you? Where would that money be going? Can you pin a picture of that Tahitian island you'd like to vacation on to the fridge?

You might find Mark Bittman's Minimalist cookbooks to be useful. They are relatively straightforward recipes with lots of easy variations.
posted by praemunire at 1:55 PM on September 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'm sure the dishwasher thing is a HUGE contributor. Frankly, trying to cook when there's a mess in the sink makes me stabby. We actually have a dishwasher in the budget, but it's part of a whole kitchen remodel which is coming next year. We've talked about buying a dishwasher early, but there's no counter space we could put it under and apparently they're difficult to hack so they're usable without the counter. And we don't want to buy a portable dishwasher when we have a real one coming in six months..

Thank you!
posted by good day merlock at 1:56 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

What if every night you eat at home that you still feel that need to be in a social space you go to the brewery after your meal? You're still spending money on the booze, but as a reward for fixing the first part, saving the food money. If you love the beer bring home a six pack and the next night when you're making dinner drink it while you're cooking. It'll keep you more active and make it feel less like downing beers on the couch.

Totally get a dishwasher (look on craigslist for a portable one or buy a portable one knowing you're going to donate it to a women's shelter when you remodel) and insist your husband learn how to make one meal well so you can get a cooking break. There are all sorts of sources for people who weren't raised to know how to cook. I know this problem because it's where my husband and I were, but once I gave up some of the control and just let him be frazzled he got better. One dish isn't too much to ask for and it will help him build up to a second or third in a few months.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 1:58 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Since you have decent income but you don't have a dishwasher: can you get one? Can you hire someone to come over for an hour, three days a week to bust through the dishes? If you separate the idea of cooking from the idea of ugh, dishes, it might make it easier to cook at home more. (Edit: sorry, cross-posted with your update about a dishwasher!)
posted by kate blank at 1:59 PM on September 29, 2017

Oh! and the making one meal well can't be a thing he aces after work when it's dinner time and everyone is frazzled. This is something he should practice in the middle of a day off a few times until he feels comfortable doing it in the after work state.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 2:00 PM on September 29, 2017

Until the dishwasher comes, I don't see why you can't use disposable dish ware and utensils. Even if it's just part-time, the dread you'll save will be worth it!
posted by Champagne Supernova at 2:01 PM on September 29, 2017 [12 favorites]

Here's a training plan:

Month one, eat takeout 3-4 nights a week, scramble eggs or similar super easy meal 1 night, with dishes. Use candles 1-2 nights a week at home.
Month two, eat takeout and grocery store hot counter food 3-4 nights a week, use plates, get used to washing up, keep making that one meal.
Month three, cook on Sunday, make one easy meal at home, make one plan-ahead meal at home (crockpot, casserole you made ahead, leftovers, frozen)

Keep increasing your at-home game and reducing takeout and eating out.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:02 PM on September 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

We try to make a big crockpot of soup on Sundays; it really relieves a lot of the stress knowing that on a given day if I get home and I'm too tired to cook we have a backup option - there will almost certainly be at least one of those days during the week! I don't even like soup that much, but perversely, it really helps my motivation having that safety net. Then usually when I'm cooking early in the week, I try to make more than enough for just that one night's dinner so that we have another leftovers option. Stir-fry is great for that, and it can also be made quickly while dirtying pretty much only the cutting board, knife, and wok.And if we are getting later in the week and look like we aren't gonna kill the soup or other leftovers, we have something to take to work for lunch, which is also a nice way to save. We keep salad makings around, so that's always a low-threshold (and low-dirty-dish-making) option. You can always throw some cold shrimp or hard boiled egg in if you can't feel full without some protein. You can keep dressing on hand, we occasionally happen to have some in the fridge, but more often we just whip up a vinaigrette to pair with whatever veggies were around that we included in the salad. Also: sandwiches. You can make hella fancy and fun sandwiches without destroying the kitchen.
posted by solotoro at 2:06 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I love to cook, and don't mind dishes. But, back when I was a single parent to a rambunctious little boy, I didn't have time for fancy cooking. Even now, when I do, I'm often not in the mood/out of time/just hungry.

What I do is find some frozen prepared meals that are easy and simple. For example - Frozen fish fillets and biscuits. Microwave veggies. Dirties one cookie sheet and whatever you eat off of, and done in ~20 minutes.

Boxed dishes are often uninspiring, but it doesn't take much to improve on them. For example, Ramen is a very easy thing to dress up. Get a 30 cent package of ramen. Add some frozen veggies and tofu or scramled eggs. I usually throw in some peppers to give it a kick. Macaroni and cheese - add peas, broccoli, or carrots.

That sort of thing. The idea is things to eat that are dead simple to prepare - 1 pot - and don't make much of a mess. Do your elaborate cooking on the weekends.

Frankly, if it weren't for frozen chicken patties I'd probably starve to death.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:09 PM on September 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

Other random spitballing ideas:

*No-cook dinners. In our house that's a lot of salad! But sandwiches too, or toast with mashed avocado and beans on it, easy things like that.

*Partially-prepped food -- your supermarket has things like pre-chopped, pre-packaged veggies for stir fry. You pay a little extra to buy them pre cut up and save all the prep time. I buy bagged salad like whoa because if I buy heads of lettuce I eat salad maybe twice a week but if I buy bagged salad, we eat it like five nights a week. It's just so much less work! Sometimes I get the whole dealie with the dressing and croutons bagged inside, sometimes I get just the greens bagged and buy dressing and toppings. Salad bar, hot bar, produce section, and deli are all good places to look for meal building blocks to cut down on the prep work.

*Paper plates. If it's only for six months until you get a dishwasher, what if you use paper plates (at least some of the time) so there's less dishwashing? You'd still be using regular utensils and pots and whatnot, but it'd dramatically cut down the dishwashing time.

*What do you do for lunch? Maybe eat a big lunch and a small dinner?

*There are some women, usually at-home moms, who make a little extra money preparing meals for people like you who want more home-cooked food but haaaaaaate cooking it. More expensive than doing it yourself, but less expensive than eating out every night. Maybe you have a neighbor who'd love to pick up a little extra cash making two extra portions of something a couple nights a week. You can also pay someone to come over on the weekend and prep a bunch of meals for you -- some freezer meals, some heat-and-eat, some where they do the prep and you do the cooking.

*You might also look at weekend batch cooking where you do most/all of your cooking or prep on Sunday and the week is just heat-and-eat. (Lot of crockpot stuff!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:14 PM on September 29, 2017 [7 favorites]

The box couscous and quinoa meals are so easy to spice up and make delicious in one pot. Just add canned or otherwise already prepared fish and frozen veggies to them. We love the frozen veggies that are packaged to steam in the microwave so we can decide if we're doing it that way or adding it to the cooking liquid. The fish in the freezer section that is bake in bag is also really good for a quick don't think about it meal.

As you think of the idea of waste, just think of all the waste that happens at restaurants, all the paper napkins and paper under the fries and takeaway containers. It's not less waste, you're just keeping yourself from seeing it. You can make things easier on yourself by ignoring that part until you have more of a routine down.

If your neighborhood is good for it, go for a walk before or after dinner to get some of that 'people are around, unwind, destress, spend time together' feeling. If it's allowed where you are, you can even walk with a beer (if it's not allowed, pour the beer into a cup).
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 2:16 PM on September 29, 2017

Although I hate their insane packaging and bad labor policies, maybe try something like Blue Apron? It's definitely cheaper than going out, and makes the cooking a little bit easier since it cuts out the parts I find most stressful: recipe selection and shopping.

Also, when we're tired but don't want to order takeout, beans and rice is a pretty reliable and super easy meal if you have a rice cooker. Nthing all the instant-pot, slow-cooker advice above, as well.
posted by dis_integration at 2:17 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

You might read /r/MealPrepSunday (or /r/MealessMealPrep if MealPrepSunday is too meat focused for your needs). Reducing down to one big evening of cooking and cleaning might help.

thinking about all of the other things we could have bought for that money

On the other hand, if you're lucky enough to be able to do it and still have good savings and lots of the things you want, eating out buys you more free time to do the things that you enjoy and that has value too. Not spending hours a week dealing with shopping, cooking, and cleaning is not worth nothing, it's just a luxury that not everyone can afford.
posted by Candleman at 2:19 PM on September 29, 2017 [6 favorites]

So here's my devil's advocate counterpoint, as someone who is more or less in your situation:

- Stress. if dining out is a stress release, why mess with that? If you enjoy the process of dining out, and enjoy spending time dining out with your husband, that doesn't seem so bad. My wife and I use the socializing aspect of eating out to catch up on our days, talk about stuff, and just generally not be sitting in our place mindlessly flicking through stuff on our phones all the time.

- Budget. You can clearly afford your lifestyle, but YNAB has made you conscious of how much you spend on dining out. Which is fine! You also mention that it's made you feel like eating out a lot is "also a huge waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere". Do you have specific things in mind that you would rather spend your money on, or is this a sort of monetary FOMO?

If you had a specific goal, it might be easier to forgo eating out a while - "if we skip dining out for a month, we could (go on a fun vacation somewhere or stay in town doing something you like to do) - than if you just feel vaguely like your money could be better put to use elsewhere. I mean, if you're talking about spending money on things that aren't rent/mortgage, your money could almost always be better spent elsewhere - but if you enjoy your life, I would argue that your dining out money is being well spent.

Another thing you could do maybe is to theme your going out - like, one week you only go to places that cost less than $15/meal, one week you only go to food carts, or something like that. That forces you to get a bit creative with your planning and going out.

It just seems, reading through your post, that you don't seem to dislike your life all that much as you currently live it. Rather than change your whole life around entirely for amorphous reasons, which is almost certainly a recipe for those changes to fail (as you saw with Whole 30), maybe you could try to find ways to make living the life you enjoy work for you?
posted by pdb at 2:21 PM on September 29, 2017 [31 favorites]

Are you in the northern hemisphere? Good news! Winter is coming and should be easy to make at least one hearty one-bowl meal a week in an instant pot type aplliance. Are you in the southern hemisphere? Good news! It's easy to make big salads with items you pick up from the deli or fancy market.

I also really liked the suggestion to go out for a nightcap after dinner at home.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:22 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

The SO and I have forced ourselves to only go out one night a week. Which is tonight. Which I am really looking forward to, stresswise.
posted by Splunge at 2:22 PM on September 29, 2017

You sound, at least at first glance, very similar to me and my household in terms of experience level, motivation, and spending.

If 'we make enough and we save enough' is true*, then what you need is a recalibration of what you need to feel guilty over, more than you need shopping lists or recipes or dish ideas.

I know from finance forums that families of 4 eat better than I do on well less than half of what my husband and I spend on food. My perspective is that we're .... financially fine, and I need to spend my brainpower and time (both limited and valuable commodities) on things other than recipes and whether I used all the cilantro before it turned to goo and whether my dearest is using an $20 entire packet of smoked salmon for a single sandwich. I need to let it go.

I cook when I feel like it. He cooks when he feels guilty enough. We rely on semi- and fully-prepared meals a bunch. We use Blue Apron a week or two a month. And we go out at the drop of a hat, for reasons similar to you. I'm going through tenure, dammit, I NEED to drink.

We watch what we spend, but not to the level of detail that Mint would like to impose (I do not enter a "monthly budget!" because I only want to track; I don't want to be limited and reminded and that stuff by Mint). So I guess my advice boils down to: you're stressed when you think about the money? Don't do that.

*Both that judgement and the 'too much' judgement strongly depend on actual numbers: Do you make and save "enough" to make the minimum payments on credit cards, or "enough" that you should really be considering umbrella insurance? Do you spend "too much" that you could better spend on actually having an emergency fund, or better spend on paying your mortgage off 12 years early? These are all wildly different. But that's another post.
posted by Dashy at 2:25 PM on September 29, 2017 [9 favorites]

I have subscribed to Clean Food Dirty Girl's meal plans for about a year now, and it's worked well for me. It's a few hours of cooking once a week, then dinner comes together in 30 minutes or less (sometimes way less). Its vegan and free of processed foods/oils, so is very healthy. You buy your food, so it's as environmentally friendly as you are. If you wanted, you could make half of the dishes and end up eating out the other half of the week or whatever.

(That being said, I will often make the food and still end up eating out, then throwing away some of it each week. So it only solves some of the problem)
posted by Fig at 2:26 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is something my wife and I struggle with too, but we've gradually gotten better about it over the years.

I might go the opposite direction from what a lot of people are suggesting: is there any way that your dinner at home can feel more like a fun, social environment? It won't be less work, but what if the work is part of the experience? Does your husband usually join you in the kitchen while you're cooking? Have him join you. Put on a record. Open a growler from the brewery. Make it your pre-dinner aperitif.

That mindset also manifests itself in the kinds of food you make too. Some foods are more fun to snack on while you're cooking. Like tacos, or grilled vegetables.

Grilling outside is one of my favorite things to do when it's warm enough. Like you said about restaurants--even if you're by yourself, it feels like a more social activity. It's a lot of work including cleanup and everything, but it doesn't feel like work.

It's the same thing when you have friends over. If you have enough space in the kitchen, cooking with your friends can be great fun.
posted by roll truck roll at 2:34 PM on September 29, 2017

So, cooking is a skill like any other. Which means you have to suck at it for a while.

Grab a copy of Mark Bittman's 'How to Cook Everything'. He also has 'How to cook Everything Vegetarian.' either way, read all of his advice.

Start with the easiest recipes you (the collective you--husband too!) can find. Italian is foolproof, in my opinion. Boil noodles, dump a nice sauce on there, you're good!

Crockpots only require you to put the ingredients in and turn it on. Roasted veggies are versatile and require minimal work.

Try recipes, suffer through a few bummer dinners and much sooner than you think is possible, you're gonna make a meal so delicious you won't want to go out anymore.

(Alas, I cannot solve the dish crisis for you. That's a battle I'm still waging my home.)
posted by queen_mob at 2:36 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would try cooking ahead on Sunday. I guess you might need a meal plan, but I take a loosey-goosey approach to that. (Some of my ability to do so might be from all the experience I have at being a home cook.) Whenever I spend about 1.5-2 hours cooking and prepping ingredients on a Sunday, then the meals for the rest of the week are easy, come together in minutes and usually only dirty the dish I'm eating from.

Here's what prep might look like:
--wash and chop a bunch of kale
--mix up a basic vinaigrette
--saute some sweet potato/cauliflower mix with chipotle chili powder (I've been buying the veg pre --chopped and frozen)
--saute some red potatoes
--chop up some flavored tofu or maybe saute it myself with ginger and tamari
--quick pickle some red onions

Other things to have on hand:
cans of tuna/salmon
green onion if I didn't quick pickle red onions
feta, parmesan or cheddar
salsa and/or hot sauce
cans of pinto or black beans
head of cabbage

Now you can assemble salads or tacos for dinner every night, and there are enough ingredients to make it different each night. The most "cooking" you'll be doing is opening cans, assembling ingredients or maybe chopping some cabbage or green onion. Rinse the knife and cutting board and call it good.

I also think the training plan idea and the specific goal for the money saved sound like helpful ideas.

ETA: I like kale and cabbage in part for their long shelf life.
posted by purple_bird at 2:39 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]



That's it. Chuck it in the toaster oven (I find using a lower than recommended temp setting to be optimal, they don't work like conventional ovens) and toss out the soiled plates and aluminum foil when finished. Done and done.
posted by jbenben at 2:39 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

From your profile, it looks like you are in a major city. There are services that come cook for you that would be cheaper than a restaurant but more than you cooking for yourself. A cursory glance suggests that they do everything - meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking and cleanup - so you'd have to decide if it's worth the cost to not have to worry about any of that.
posted by AFABulous at 2:39 PM on September 29, 2017

Have some go-to easy meals for those days that you Just Can't Even. Mine are canned soup and the makings of grilled cheese sandwiches. Also things like cheese and crackers, pre-cooked rice in pouches, canned beans, canned chili. Also eggs. Seconding the use of paper and plastic dishware if it makes you feel like life is easier. If you can get used to the idea of drinking at home, it's way way cheaper than going to a bar.
posted by Daily Alice at 2:40 PM on September 29, 2017

I'll second (or third, or whatever) the notion that it's not so awful to eat out if you can actually afford to do it. But, here are some ideas that have made cooking at home easier/better for me:

I will put in a big plug for freezer convenience foods plus salad or a super easy veggie side. I think most of the gardien fake meats (also available for less at trader joe's) are pretty tasty, and they heat up in 10 minutes in the toaster oven, leaving you just enough time to make a quick salad (or open a salad bag kit) or saute some pre-washed baby kale or pull together taco fixings. If you need a sauce, mayo mixed with chipotle from a tube is excellent alongside their fake chicken and fish. And done, in less than 20 minutes and for about $10 for two people, which is by no means an amazing feat of budgeting but certainly less than eating out, even at a food truck.

Obviously, you can swap out the gardien for whatever convenience proteins you prefer (fish patties, quorn, veggie burgers), but that formula is what makes it possible for my husband and I to avoid eating out except when we actively want to. Also, it's a no-fail meal for someone anxious about cooking and produces very few dishes. Stocking up on a few pre-made sauces and dressings you like will also help make convenience foods and super-simple vegetables seem more appealing.

Is there any way you can make your at-home dining experience nicer? Making sure you both sit at the table together, no phones, good drinks, etc, may help you replicate the nice stress-reducing, social aspect of being out.
posted by snaw at 2:40 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

It also would be totally legit to wait to implement this plan until your kitchen renovation is done and you have a dishwasher. What's six more months? ::shrugs::
posted by purple_bird at 2:41 PM on September 29, 2017 [11 favorites]

I just want to add that I used to cook for a living, I have a culinary degree and everything! But as a parent and busy small business owner, healthy frozen food and the occasional paper plate is our go to solution. Read the ingredients list, you don't want heaps of preservatives and chemicals. You could always go from scratch to cook & freeze your own.... No. Don't do that. In 6 months you will have a new kitchen and cooking will be like a revelation! Until then, keep it simple, toaster oven, frozen foods, and yes even paper plates if it has been that kind of day. No shame! Enjoy your life :))
posted by jbenben at 2:44 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

The way to make a big change is to make a small change and get used to it, then repeat. When we wanted/needed to cut back on our expenses on dining and drinking out, we cut back like 10% at a time and let our budget software yell at us if we went over budget for a month. There are some months it's just going to yell at us, but we've cut our spending by like 40% on average since we first started looking at the number and saying we should spend less.

The other thing we did was assign specific value to the money we weren't spending on that line item. The initial target for us was just savings (let's take 10% of the money we're spending when we go out and put it in savings instead). That way we weren't just being austere, we were also hitting a positive goal (and feeling very specific, actionable guilt instead of a general sort of displeasure). Once we had some cushion in savings the goal turned into covering our wedding and honeymoon expenses without dipping into those savings, and now we're at the point we still put money in savings and we can pay for vacations mostly pain-free (not counting the occasional cash flow problem I repay into savings in a three-paycheck month).

So yeah, start small and set a specific goal for the money. Build on that.
posted by fedward at 2:44 PM on September 29, 2017

I also hate cooking, so I cook every 3 months. I do a huge, all day (or even 2 day) freezer cooking extravaganza, and I hate it and it's miserable, but I make my spouse cut up all the raw meat, and I bust out the food processor for chopping veggies and then it's just DONE. I make like 30-40 meals and that lasts us 3 months because we usually "cook" (by which I mean reheat or Instant Pot a frozen meal) 3-4 nights a week, eat out once, and eat leftovers or cereal/cheese and crackers/quesadillas the other nights.

I literally do. not. cook. the other 89 nights of those 3 months, other than to pop a casserole dish in the oven, dump a frozen brick in the Instant Pot or Crockpot, or MAYBE sauté some pre-marinated chicken strips that I cut up and froze.

Sometimes we are too tired to even turn on the oven or Instant Pot, so I make a triple batch of these for the freezer and they take 2 minutes in the microwave. Lazy? Yes. Delicious? It's relative. Cheap? Heck yes.

We are also really good at eating out once a week, not eating the whole meal, and eating the leftovers for dinner at home the next day.

In short: I solve this problem with the freezer and leftovers.
posted by raspberrE at 2:52 PM on September 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

This comment by modernhypatia about foil packet cooking from another thread a few weeks ago has worked well for me.
posted by XMLicious at 3:03 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Takeout is your big compromise! Buy the wine and the booze and keep it at home, take turns picking up takeout. Eat it out of the box if you don't want to wash dishes, but put a tablecloth and candles on the table. At least you won't be washing pots and pans. Then maybe gradually combine takeout main dish with home made salad. Or make a dessert together, fun cooking, tasting treats, etc. Then maybe eventually sign up for a fun couples cooking class. Invite friends over for potluck dinner, or cook, or get takeout.
posted by mareli at 3:11 PM on September 29, 2017 [10 favorites]

How do you feel about frozen foods? Trader Joe's has some pretty decent frozen food that can be spiced up, a la making ramen interesting. For example, I buy their Japanese fried rice and toss spicy black bean sauce on it while it's heating up on the stove. If I'm feeling super fancy, I add some frozen veggies or pre-cooked tofu (also purchased frozen from the Asian grocery). Their paella is good just by itself, and pescetarian-friendly. If you like Asian food, frozen dumplings are super easy to boil and 90% as good as pan-fried. I prefer 5-10 min stovetop cooking, but if you prefer 30-40 min oven cooking, there are lots of frozen options for that too.

The thing I like about frozen food, although I was raised by a mother who cooked every day and wouldn't dream of buying frozen or canned produce, is that it doesn't go bad. If you fall off the bandwagon and go out for a week straight, the groceries will still be at home waiting for you next week.
posted by serelliya at 3:14 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

At least until you get your dishwasher, try looking for recipes for one-pot meals or for baking tray meals, that might help with the dishes seeming too daunting if you only have one large pot or baking sheet to clean up after dinner. Also practice learning to eyeball measurements, that way you don't have to use measuring cups or spoons all the time, more dishes saved.
posted by katyggls at 3:18 PM on September 29, 2017

Check your local Craigslist for "personal chef" - if you're in any sort of vaguely urban area, you'll at least find personal trainers and dieticians (or student dieticians who need X hours of meal prep experience), but possibly also just people making extra cash doing meal prep and cooking.

Given what you're spending out, and what a good home cook can do with even just $5-8/person/meal - especially if you have them make vegetarian 3/4 meals that you just add ready-to-cook seafood to - you could still eat incredibly well and get the novelty you're accustomed to from eating out, with a fraction of the dirty dishes and no prep or shopping. Some of them even deliver, or you give them a key and they let themselves in and put the meals in your fridge/freezer.

And maybe that's not your solution for 7 nights a week, but maybe it's what you do for 3-5 meals a week (or 3-5 dinners plus some lunches) and do some of the other suggestions as well.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:40 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

There are so many new meal delivery options! Munchery and Freshly both have pre-made (really good!) meals that are flash frozen and delivered, you just pick which meals you want and they rotate the menu regularly. This might be a good transition from going out to staying home, and eventually to cooking for yourselves.

I have heard mixed reviews on the cook-it-yourself deliveries like Blue Apron, but it does take the guesswork out of shopping and measuring and so forth.

It will all be cheaper than going out, though not cheaper than menu planning and shopping yourself. But it's a start :)
posted by ananci at 3:40 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Start with 4 nights out and 3 nights in. If you both hate cooking, why not have unconventional dinners at home for your 3 nights in? Cereal is a popular choice, or something like cocktail party dinner (olives, nuts, cheeses, bread, cornichon, maybe a warm-up frozen appetizer from Trader Joe's - baked on parchment paper in the oven), sandwich night, soup and baguette night, or prepared convenience food from Whole Foods or similar and salad fixins.

I think you could also train yourself to enjoy a drink or 2 at home. Make it fun. Go to your favorite beer store and pick up some things that seem interesting to try. Even if you buy premium things, you're still saving tax and tip and you're also training yourself to get over feeling gluttonous about drinking at home. Do some tastings with hubby where you each pick a beer or two and taste through all of them.

Do you have a grill? Grilling out seems so much easier to me than cooking in the kitchen. Prep is usually very easy and there isn't much clean-up.

Also, if you don't already use parchment paper, start now! For anything that goes on a baking sheet, you bake with parchment paper and there's no sheet pan clean-up. Throw away or compost the paper and mess. For grilling, I prep raw food and place it on the parchment paper on my serving plate and after I transfer the meat/veg/whatever to the grill, I throw the paper out and my clean serving platter is ready to go.

Finally, if you can afford it and it's something that you both really enjoy, reexamine why you think you shouldn't be spending money this way. Sure, you could save up for a fancy vacation, but is that really better than a series of mini vacations to favorite restaurants with your partner at the end of most days? There are a lot of "shoulds" in life that don't make much sense once you closely examine them. Having a fun social life that revolves around going to restaurants and breweries with your partner is a nice thing to have.
posted by quince at 3:42 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am EXACTLY like you guys except I'm a singleton so I'm even MORE LOATHE to cook for myself. I second all the advice above but also how about this weird compromise? I have, on more than one occasion, done a weird mix of eating out and meal prep:

Most portion sizes these days are too large anyway, so sometimes I'll order food from a place and then split it up into tupperwares (along with some brown rice which is easy for me to make a huge batch of) for future meals. It works out to about the same as buying groceries but I didn't have to cook anything and it's more delicious than what I could have made on my own. So like...a Mediterranean place I'll just get some meat and portion it out with some veg and voila! That's like 3 meals right there.

Of course there are days when I just don't feel like leftovers...but ehhh
posted by sprezzy at 3:53 PM on September 29, 2017

Is your grocery store any good? My Wegman's sells "EZ Meals" to heat up for $6.50 - $8.00 or so. They're actually quite tasty. If you can stand to stretch a bottle of wine (or whatever) for a couple of dinners that would have to be cheaper than eating out every night.

I'm also a huge fan of "one pot" cooking because I hate cooking and am lazy. I like recipes where I can throw a bunch of stuff into the crockpot and then eat it with a spoon or fork 3-4 hours later. At most I will accept some amount of bean straining and minor measurements of things like tomato paste or herbs, but I buy my veggies and such pre-chopped in convenience bags. I also use crockpot liners so I don't have to do any major crock scrubbing afterwards.
posted by xyzzy at 3:57 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I do blue apron for this purpose, but it won't solve your dirty dishes problem. I do enjoy spending only $60 for three of our weekly meals which is far far cheaper than going out to eat or takeout at least where we live, and I hate meal planning.
posted by ch1x0r at 4:15 PM on September 29, 2017

If Sunbasket worked for you, perhaps you can do a 'fake' Sunbasket. My wife and I do 'faux Apron' each week, where we pick out 3 or 4 of our old Blue Apron recipes and go buy the ingredients Sundays. Definitely more work than the real meal delivery service, but it does take away the most irritating parts of meal planning.
posted by crazy with stars at 4:48 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I agree with Diablevert that you need 10 recipes you know how to make easily and fast. Best if they have some overlapping perishable ingredients (probably half my recipes have green peppers, for example).

I think you should also give yourself permission to waste a lot of food while you are ramping up your cooking. If you've got food for five meals in the fridge, at least one is probably going to sound alright and if some goes to waste, you're still saving money. Make sure you have good beers at home too, if that's what you like.

If he's not cooking, he should be washing the dishes as you finish with them while cooking. When I bring dinner to the table, I have typically served all the food we'll eat and have the rest in containers in the fridge, and the cooking dishes are already washed and drying. If you don't have a convenient place for dishes to dry, make or get one. Make every annoying thing more convenient somehow -- buy better pots if you need; better utensils; have your recipes printed in a drawer; good-quality dish scrubber; etc.

You're also probably too hungry when you get home to make good decisions. Both of you should have low-carb/high-fat-or-protein snacks on your ways home from work, like some nuts or lox. Then you won't be desperate for dinner.
posted by flimflam at 5:36 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

1) Get the portable dishwasher.
Get it from Craigslist.
Sell it back on Craigslist when you're done with it. They're always in demand.
"And we don't want to buy a portable dishwasher when we have a real one coming in six months.. " I know. I hear you.
But rethink this. Even if you said it was only 6 more days instead of 6 months -- I would still do it.

2) Look into sous vide cooking. A dorkfood plugged into a crockpot makes a very fine sous vide.
Get the already vacuum packed meat, don't open it, throw it in into your sous vide setup. You now have steak that's amazing and you didn't have to do anything. Open a bag of salad. Apply favorite dressing. You're good.
Serious Eats has been on a sous vide roll, something in there will inspire you.
posted by msamye at 5:41 PM on September 29, 2017

Okay. Herr Vortex and I were struggling with this last year, so we've come up with a plan to keep our going-out-to-eat in control.

1) We decided that we'd go out to eat 12 times this year. I painted a picture of a tree (with some squirrels and rabbits on the ground) and then drew and cut out 12 little apples and taped them onto the tree. Whenever we go out to eat, we have to think about taking one of those apples off the tree and putting it onto the ground. For some reason, we're both surprisingly dedicated to keeping the apples on the tree.

2) Our 12 dinners out do NOT count...

a) Dinners out with friends (infrequent since our closest friends have kids and we mainly do potluck or they cook and we bring drinks)

b) Fundraisers (which lead to us going to 6 different churches for fish fries during was a ton of fun)

c) Dinners out when it would be super impractical to eat at home (if we're on vacation, or if we have 6pm community meetings and we get home from work at 5:50 and the meeting is at a coffeeshop)


We have a Weekly Menu board next to the fridge with dinners on it. Herr Vortex has a super long commute, so I cook 4 weeknights out of 5. He cooks on the one day he works from home. I cook on Saturday nights and he cooks on Sunday night. We always have some sort of soup or stew in the fridge for taking to work during the week. We've been trying to cut down on work-food as well but haven't created a plan for it other than having food on hand.

So far we're doing great. We have 4 apples left on the tree for the last three months. Early returns say that our restaurant bill is down about 50% from last year. I can't tell you how much that silly tree with the apples falling off helps us.
posted by Elly Vortex at 6:16 PM on September 29, 2017 [5 favorites]

The alternative to going out shouldn't have to be a miserable restrictive diet. Two suggestions:

Get into wine. Wine is better at home than out imo and doesn't have to be expensive.

Foil is your friend. If you line a pan with foil there are lots of things you can make in the oven that require minimal cleanup.

Bonus hint: Ever made pizza at home with store bought dough, precut veggies, shredded cheese? So good, so easy. Many foods need assembly (tacos, nachos, sandwiches) rather than heavy cooking and most working people I know rely on them a lot.
posted by kapers at 5:23 AM on September 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

No one has mentioned a meal delivery service. Not a recipe kit service like sun basket or blue apron, but actual meals that you just have to stick in the oven. It's more expensive than cooking but less expensive than going out. No dishes or cooking stress either! changed our lives. We order twice a week and just get multiple days of meals each time. You should try it!
posted by RobotNinja at 12:31 PM on September 30, 2017

When you first get started cooking for yourself, it is easy to spend MORE than eating out. Over time you start to have a good selection of the ingredients and tools you really need, and it gets cheaper. So you're not going to save money right away.

I'd also be careful with the cooking large amounts in advance thing. I used to do this and got really, really bored and kind of depressed. Eating the same small selection of food is really dull.

I'd get one really great cookbook (like the famous Jerusalem cookbook) and try to do as many dinners from that as possible. That'll make your food fun and give you a concrete plan.

Another option is to develop a taste for different restaurants... I'm pretty sure I can't make food as cheap as my local Thai and Vietnamese places sell it, and they're healthy and booze-free too... just an idea.
posted by miyabo at 12:35 PM on September 30, 2017

A a lot depends on what you mean by cooking. We "eat out" by me picking up Panera on the way home a lot of I'm too burnt out or it's too late at night for me to want to cook. But also, on a lot of those nights, once I get home and say yes I'm going to eat some food that's currently in the house, it becomes pretty low maintenance to boil some pasta or make quesadillas and have a side salad.

But part of that is having the right stock in the pantry. We don't always have pasta or quesadillas but we always have *something* that can be converted into dinner quickly enough to satisfy my burnt out end-of-work brain. And I always have one of those $5 clamshells of pre-washed greens for salad, and a nice olive oil and some aged balsamic. Whether it gets a peach or tomatoes or feta or basil or all of those depends on what else I've got in the fridge, and we rotate different things each week, but the trick is getting quick and comfortable enough with preparing the dish that it doesn't take a lot of mental energy.
posted by Lady Li at 2:04 PM on September 30, 2017

Riffing off pdb's sensible advice, might I suggest lots of restaurant leftovers?

Go out to a reasonably-priced Chinese or Indian place and get several entrees. Eat as little as you can to get full. Take home everything you didn't eat. You now have several days' worth of food to enjoy at home, maybe with a nice cheap-ish bottled beer. (However much it costs, it'll be cheaper than at the restaurant.)

I love to eat out, but restaurants almost always serve more food than I actually need to eat a filling meal. If you take the leftovers home, you get to eat the same delicious thing for a second meal!
posted by kristi at 2:27 PM on September 30, 2017

Well, it's much harder when your choice is really extreme, like "go out for fancy food" or "the boring food we know how to make." Solution - try to recreate a dish from the restaurants you like. I got an Indian cookbook (it isn't that hard to make passable). I read a japanese traditional cooking blog and copied down some recipes.

Actually the experiments are more fun than making something I already know how to make. The former is learning! and feels like a hobby, the latter is work.

Also, the 'A cooks, B does dishes' is the obvious but wrong model. Wash as you go is the only way. At the end, there should only be two place settings and the serving container to wash. A better division might be 'A cooks, B does the shopping and chopping (prep).' Cooking is more fun when you just have to reach for the little bowl of pre-diced onions and throw it in. And the prep is tolerable when you know you're going to get to sit down and wait while the magic happens.
posted by ctmf at 7:37 PM on September 30, 2017

I've also been exasperated by our going out habit this year, and I've put a lot of energy into rewiring our habits/relationship to food for the past I don't know how many years.

1. Give yourself a break. Eating today is hard, our food system/attitudes are systemically dysfunctional. Your going out habit is a symptom of a messed up system, rather than something messed up with you. Don't get angry at your reaction, get angry at the system(s). ;]

2. Stay present while eating. When I'm stressed, I tend to eat way too fast. Savoring every bite has multiple positive effects: improved digestion from eating more slowly (more complete nutrient absorption, less food required), deeper appreciation of the foods I'm eating, better understanding of what I like/what my body is craving at the time.

3. Clean out your cupboards and fridge. Get rid of everything, unless it's fresh. Get rid of all the old condiments, anything expired, anything you think you should enjoy eating but don't actually enjoy eating. Get rid of everything you won't eat in the next week. Your fridge should be nearly empty.

4. Learn to identify the freshest, highest quality ingredients and seek them out. When you start with great ingredients, it's easy to cook. You just then need to add salt/spices and some oil, plus heat and/or time (optional).

5. Keep your kitchen stocked with small amounts of fresh, high quality ingredients. When you have few ingredients on hand, choosing what to cook becomes obvious. You cook what you have. Shop for more only once you've used up what you have.

6. Keep yourself well fed all day. This one's hard for me!! I make bad eating decisions when I let myself get super hungry, skip meals, or eat too little/too fast/too unhealthy. When we eat a good breakfast and lunch, we perform better in all aspects of our lives, and make fewer impulsive decisions. Staying hydrated helps too.

7. Add some love. When I'm frustrated, resentful, rushed, it comes through in the food I cook. The other day I was frying french toast and I started to get frustrated, another chore on my to-do list for the the stove too hot, ack, it's cooking unevenly grrrr. But I caught myself, and instead spent the next (omg) five minutes or whatever, focusing on how I wanted to make a beautifully toasted crunchy done yum slice as a gift for my husband who so graciously puts up with a lot from me. =] It totally shifted my experience, both cooking and eating.

So, that's what I've been trying to do, with good results. Good luck to you. Here's hoping we all have something good to eat today.
posted by hannahelastic at 4:26 AM on October 6, 2017

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