Now that March’s no-restaurant challenge is over, I am both relieved and appalled.
Relieved that I can go back to dining at will; appalled that apparently I have no willl. My urges to eat out are much stronger and more prevalent than I previously thought.
While the month wasn’t completely restaurant free (see exceptions to the rule), eating out was cut significantly back, saving who knows how many calories and more than $500 in restaurant spend. $500! At least!
Growing up, my family rarely ate out. Meals were cooked at home, we were on the school lunch program and snacks were packed in coolers for road trips. It was a treat to “eat out” at McDonald’s and even then my dad made sure I ate the hated pickles on the cheeseburger so as to take advantage of every penny spent on food. Fast foward 30 years and the urge to eat out — not just meals, but 7-11 snack runs — is apparently the norm. How did I develop such a habit!?
Well, on reflection, here’s what I think might have happened. Slowly, we could afford to start eating out. And it was so, so convenient.
At work, eating lunch out — though, these days, it’s more like grabbing lunch out and then bringing it back — is a momentary respite from the computer. There’s also a social component. If all your co-workers are going out to lunch, you want to feel included, right?
And at dinner, after a hard day, who wants to cook? Especially when you don’t have all the ingredients at hand and still have to go to the store. And again, our social nature pops up – what do you do with your friends after work or on weekends? You hang out at a happy hour, you go to dinner, you go to brunch.
After doing this for a length of time, this of course became normal. And now, after this month-long experiement, I’ve wiped the state of denial mask off my spending — and eating — habits and am now doing something about it to get to a healthy balance, new normal way of dining:
(All of this may seem so totally obvious, but I wasn’t doing it to begin with, so…there you have it. True confession.)
1) Go grocery shopping, and frequently. But no need to fill up the cart. Buy what you feel like eating in the next couple days, eat it, and then go back to the grocery store. And give up buying things that you think that you should eat but never eat them.
2) Use what you already have. Type in ingredients and get a recipe with Super Cook.
3) Set aside time to eat. Don’t wait until you get hungry, making that random meal at the closest restaurant look good.
4) Think of other things to do with friends besides dining together – walks, museums, hiking, sporting event, movies, watching your favorite tv show.
5) Pack food, for lunch and snacks. This is so obvious, it pains me that I actually have to put this on my list. How hard is it to make a sandwich for heaven’s sake? I’m not a fan of granola bars, so if they’re in my purse, I don’t eat them. But there are a million other snack-y things: Bananas! Cheese sticks! Popcorn! Hard-boiled eggs! I saw a couple once bring crackers, cheese, hummus and salami to snack on at the airport. It sure looked better than McDonald’s.
6) Not drinking soda this month (for the most part) has also weaned me off of it (for the most part). It’s now too sweet for me. Surprise, surprise. Given the choice and the need for fizz, soda water does the trick. I like a splash of juice if I need a little more zip. Soda’s not completely out of my life though. I get the odd cravings now and then, but even when I do get a pop, I don’t even finish it. Ergo, when eating out, I can save the extra $2.50 by ordering water with my meal. It’s small, but symbolic. To me, anyway.
7) Am I buying something just to buy something? This sounds so weird to me, but sometimes I find myself getting things from Starbucks or a convenience store only to walk out thinking, “I don’t really want this.” Is it just knowing that I can afford these little treats? Food is comforting. Is it comforting to be able to buy food whenever you want it? I don’t know for sure. Something to explore.
8 ) Finally, make eating out a treat. It’s a special moment — sharing nourishment, time together…why do you think people say grace? And, if any of you have just read The Hunger Games, it sure makes it obvious that food is a luxury.
What was a club challenge to save money turned into a more meaningful peek into my relationship with money and food. It was fun take the challenge, just to see if I could, but it was also interesting to see how interwoven my habits are with food and money.
What about you? Are you up for the challenge? Do you have any additional tips for me?