There is nothing better than browsing Grubhub or Uber Eats for a quick and easy dinner. But unfortunately, a takeout dependency can drain your bank account and put you at risk for heart disease later in life. But you’re in luck! In this article, we are ditching dining out and getting in the kitchen for simple dinners that will make you break up with takeout.
1. Meal planning is key
Let’s admit it: Grocery shopping was only fun as a kid when you could mindlessly walk through the store picking out snacks and letting your parents do the hard stuff. As adults, grocery shopping has become a lot less entertaining, but meal planning can get you in and out quickly. There is no thinking about what you want, what you already have, or getting distracted and buying things you don’t need.
When making a grocery list, I always start by brainstorming things I want to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner and writing them down. Then, I pick 2-3 breakfast and lunch items I want for the week and write down all the ingredients I don’t have on a separate list for the grocery store. For dinner, I’ll pick 4-5 meals to cook for the week and write down the ingredients I need. Then, to fulfill the need for a quick and easy dinner every once in a while, I will usually pick up 1-2 frozen meals for the week. My favorites from Trader Joe’s include the pork gyoza dumplings and the frozen pizza crust with their pizza sauce and pepper jack cheese.
Once your list is complete, you can add any extra snacks or drinks that you need for the week. Another tip that I find helpful, especially if you shop at the same store regularly, is to separate your items into categories; produce, dairy, meats, grains, snacks, drinks, frozen, etc. Separating your list makes shopping a breeze and helps you avoid going back and forth between sides of the store trying to find any item you forgot. So, before your next grocery trip, try out these quick meal planning hacks and cut your shopping time way down.
2. Set a goal
Enjoying takeout in moderation is nothing to be ashamed of. Students often get busy, and it’s fine to splurge from time to time on an easy meal, but setting firm goals can be essential in making sure that you are actively trying to improve your habits.
Start establishing a goal by looking at how much you eat out every week and cutting it in half. Then, cut the number in half each week until you feel that you have reached a reasonable number. I strive only to eat out, including sit-down restaurants, and do takeout, one or two times a week and no more. And if I do overdo it one week, I try to make up for it in the next by deducting it from that week’s tally. This method will keep you aware of your habits and hopefully keep you motivated to stay on top of your goal!
3. Budget. Budget. Budget.
I know what you’re thinking— I’m too young to worry about budgeting! However, starting with just food can reduce the intimidation, help you practice and develop good habits for later in life when you actually need to start budgeting.
There are plenty of apps out there that you can use as a novice budgeter, but an old-fashioned pen and paper or your notes app will do just fine too. First, separate your spending into restaurants, takeout/delivery, and groceries. I have made a habit of logging my spending as I’m leaving a store or restaurant, but you can, depending on your bank, track this at the end of the day or week using your bank statements.
If you regularly splurge on takeout, seeing how much you spend can be eye-opening, especially because when you’re stuck in a habit, it’s easy to forget how often you actually do it. But with these budgeting tips, you force yourself to look at the reality of how much you’re spending on food you could most likely cook at home.
4. Recreate your favorite takeout meals
Sometimes you eat take-out for the convenience, sure, but other times you may just really like whatever meal you get at your favorite restaurant. However, with a quick Google search, you can find many recipes for restaurant meals online that are straightforward to make at home, not to mention much more cost-effective.
I used to love the customizable salads at one of my favorite restaurants on campus, Roots. But once I saw how much I was spending on a $14 salad 2-3 times a week, I realized that I needed to cut back. At Roots, you choose your ingredients, so I knew exactly what they used and was able to get almost everything at my local grocery store for about the price of one salad. So next time you’re looking for a new recipe to try, look up some of your favorite restaurant dishes, and you may even find your version to be fresher and tastier.
5. Start off with easy meals
If you’re starting your cooking journey off by attempting a fancy steak dinner or complicated pasta sauce, you will probably get frustrated and order something instead. However, if you stick to making simple, balanced meals and work your way up from there, cooking may become your new favorite hobby.
Pinterest is my favorite place to find home-cooked meals. I usually search for “easy balanced meals” or “quick dinners for one.” These searches will usually give me at least one or two meals I’m interested in trying, but if you’re in the mood for something specific, you can also search them on Pinterest too. The possibilities are endless with online recipes but make sure you’re taking it easy and not ruining the experience with overly complicated meals.
Transitioning from college to real-world adulthood can be scary, but getting a jump start on your cooking becomes an extremely valuable skill and can make the change much smoother. These simple steps can help you get organized, stay healthy and feel self-sufficient in your food habits. Happy cooking!