Did you know for the first time in history, Americans eat out in restaurants and fast food places more than they eat dinner at home?
Of course you could argue that eating out is a necessity when you consider how busy our schedules have all become. People work and often have long commutes — especially when you consider the traffic factor. Then there is the children factor … how many activities do they have? So many!
I well remember those hectic days when the kids got home from school, did some homework, and then it was off to the races. Ballet, soccer, basketball, horseback riding lessons, baseball, softball, guitar and more. It was crazy and who could blame us if dinner involved a drive-thru window? I know so many moms and dads can relate.
So what is wrong with eating out? Some might argue it is cheaper to eat out. After all, a hamburger, fries and a drink are often just a few dollars. That is much less expensive than a chicken breast, salad and some vegetables, right? While that might be true, there are plenty of reasons we should all try to limit dining out — especially at fast food places.
First of all, when you eat out, you can’t control the amount of fat and sodium in your food. And chances are, it is the bad kind of fat and is loaded with sodium. In fact, you are likely getting lots of additives and preservatives that you would never put in your food at home.
I don’t know about you, but there is no polysorbate 80 or maltodextrin in my spice cabinet, but those are likely in lots of foods you eat when you eat at restaurants and fast food chains. I remember a few years ago when a popular fast food chain announced, rather proudly, that they were lessening the number of ingredients in their chicken sandwich. Their sandwich went from containing more than 50 ingredients to a “mere” 40. Hmmm. When I make a breaded chicken sandwich or chicken nuggets at home, the ingredients are flour, eggs, a few spices and breadcrumbs. You don’t have to be a nutritional expert to guess which version is healthier.
So, just how can you avoid eating out so much? Here are some tips to get you started on your quest to avoid the eating out cycle.
• Plan, plan, plan. First and foremost, make a weekly menu plan. Look at your calendar and see what nights are definitely going to be an issue. Use your slow cooker so that you know when you do get home, dinner will be waiting. If you will have to be in the car, due to a late meeting or soccer practice, pack sandwiches and some fruit in a small cooler. Don’t forget to pack water or iced tea so you can avoid sugary soda.
• Plan your dinner out. Instead of spontaneously going through the drive-thru, plan your dinner out, choosing the best option possible. Instead of a hamburger and French fries, opt for a cup of soup and a salad with grilled chicken.
• Keep snacks on hand. Even if you don’t plan on eating out, keep healthy snacks on hand. Nuts, protein bars, apples, bananas, granola and beef jerky are terrific snacks that don’t need immediate refrigeration. If you have a small cooler and some ice packs, bring along boiled eggs, cut up cheese, yogurt, hummus and vegetables with ranch dip all make terrific ride-along snacks.
• Set eating out goals. In other words, make a plan for yourself and your family when you make a weekly menu plan. If you do plan on eating dinner out, look at the menu before you go to the restaurant and decide what you will order when you get there. This helps because you are less likely to make poor choices. If you plan on ordering the salad with grilled salmon, you are less likely to order the fried fish tacos or fried eggplant parmesan.
• Get everybody on board. It is difficult to implement limiting eating out if your spouse is not on board with the plan. If you have children who are used to eating out frequently, explain the new changes to them and remember, you are the parent.
• Don’t fall into a recipe rut. Sometimes you find yourself cooking/eating the same dinners every week. This can make it more tempting to eat out.
Try some new recipes — perhaps a different ethnic cuisine. Of course there are thousands of recipes online you can try. My favorite thing to do is to check out various cookbooks from the library for inspiration.
When I find a cookbook that seems to have particularly great recipes, often I will purchase the book. Changing up your weekly menu and incorporating various dishes from cuisines from all over the world, will surely spice up your dinners.
Does your family eat out all of the time? Let me know what your strategies are for eating out less. As always, I love hearing from readers.
South Forsyth resident Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.