My husband and I have a dining-out budget in place, but when the kids are whining, "I'm starving, Mom," or the husband says, "What's for dinner?" and you were hoping that he was going to answer that for you, having someone else cook for and serve your family is hard to resist. So, here are some ways to avoid going over budget and being able to ask for your restaurant bill with confidence, instead of guilt.
1. Discuss priorities every week
Take some time each week to discuss the family's events and priorities for the week. If you find that Wednesday includes a busy morning, school volunteering, and two soccer practices after school, you can make plans for that day in advance. I either have a very quick homemade meal ready to make, or I plan for that night to be our eating-out night.
Make it easy on yourself
Examples of homemade meals include chicken, beef or cheese quesadillas with carrots and fruit, a Crock-Pot delight, or breakfast for dinner. Typically, these are meals that you’ll already have the ingredients for and take very little time to prepare.
Collect restaurant coupons
Now, if you do decide to eat out, do so with more purpose. Our community gets coupon books in the mail from local restaurants and businesses once a month. I usually keep all the coupons for places that we like to eat at or want to try, and have them in my purse or car. If you don't receive coupons in the mail, go to your favorite restaurants’ websites and sign up to receive their coupons and specials by email.
Kids eat free
If you have children, research which restaurants have kids-eat-free specials; write down the days and times the specials are available so you have that resource when you are planning your week. Also, plan which restaurant you are going to beforehand. Jumping in the car without knowing the destination wastes gas and grinds on everyone's nerves.
2. Prep for lunches
Planning lunches for your spouse and children can also cut back on dining out and can be a much healthier option.
Create individual portions
Time is money. If someone can think ahead and work ahead, delicious and healthy lunches can be easy to prepare. For example, I know that my family loves grapes, carrots, blueberries, ham sandwiches, and pretzels. For everything except the ham sandwich, I put lunch-size portions of fruit, veggies or snacks in small baggies on the day that I buy them. This allows me or my family to grab what they want and quickly add it to their lunch.
The ham sandwiches may take a little more time, but if all the sandwich fixings are easily accessible, it can be easy to make many sandwiches quickly. If you like more elaborate lunches, think about how you can break down the preparation so that lunch-making is fast and easy. For example, if you like salads, pre-cut the lettuce and put all the toppings in portions that you can take with you fast.
3. Be the chef
Be the chef occasionally. If you’re like me, cooking can sometimes feel like drudgery. Give yourself a weekly night when you have the time and ingredients to be creative and relaxed in making your meals. Dinnertime always seems to be one of the most stressful times of day, which means you’re likely to choose going out to eat instead.
Try a new recipe and enjoy the process
Allow yourself to experiment with a recipe you’ve wanted to try—or if you don't want disappointed faces at the dinner table, make your family's favorite meal with extra love and enjoy the praises during mealtime. Most importantly, enjoy cooking sometimes. Make the kitchen a place of love and warmth. Whenever I complimented my grandma on her cooking, she said, "It is made with love, my dear."
4. Be realistic
Be realistic about your dining-out budget. Sometimes dining out is more about being out than it is about eating, so depending on your budget and time goals, allow yourself the luxury. We dine out about once a week. With our schedules and our budget, this is realistic, and when I know I get a day off, I feel like I can stick to my established menu the rest of the week. If you have less money and more time, think about how you can have a restaurant experience at home, like a picnic in the living room or a themed meal.
This is a guest post by Lucy B.