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Whether you’re headed out to a fancy restaurant with that special someone on a date or popping into your favorite coffee shop for breakfast before work, dining out is a special experience. However, if you rely on going out to your local neighborhood pub or clicking on that meal delivery service too often, you will drain your budget in no time.
Food can get quite expensive while dining out, especially if you live in a big city where prices can sail through the roof. On the other hand, after a long, busy day at work, spending hours in the kitchen seems like an exhausting ordeal that you’d rather avoid – especially if you aren’t a huge fan of cooking in the first place, so how can you meal plan and save dining out money?.
Luckily, you can meet somewhere in the middle. Although no one is saying you can’t enjoy a nice meal out every once in a while, a meal plan can definitely help you stay within your budget so that you can splurge on those nicer dinners out more often.
Additionally, dining in is a whole lot healthier for you because you are using whole foods rather than prepackaged or processed stuff – something almost everyone can get on board with.
8 Tips To Meal Plan and Save Dining Out Money
1- Do Some Research On Your Faves
Do you have a dish from your local restaurant that you can’t live without? Look up some recipes that are similar and see if you can create your own original version at home. While it might not have that special chef’s touch to it, you can still enjoy one of your favorite meals without sacrificing too much money.
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2- Create a Kitchen You Love Being In
If your cooking space is cold and unwelcoming, you probably won’t be interested in spending much time in it.
You don’t have to have a kitchen that resembles Martha Stewart’s, either– all it takes is a little work. Invest in some great chef’s tools and appliances so that you can try out a lot of recipes.
3- Hit the Sales
There are a lot of strategies you can implement in your meal plan, but if you’re savvy, you can find a lot of excellent deals on fresh produce and meat at your local grocery store by looking at in-store or online newsletters, then planning your weekly meals around what you pick up.
For instance, if the supermarket has a great deal on bell peppers, you can make a big pot of chili that will taste delicious and feed you for days.
This is especially true from late spring to early fall, when seasonal produce is readily available. In the same vein, don’t hesitate to venture out to your local farmer’s market, especially toward the end of the day when farmers are trying to get rid of certain items– you can find some excellent deals on high-quality, local produce!
Once you have some great finds in the produce section, you can spring for those little extras you love, such as free-range meat and eggs, or even a nice bottle of wine.
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4- Create a Weekly Meal Plan
Most meats and veggies will spoil after about a week or so, which is why weekly trips to the grocery store are usually a necessity. Take some time out each week to see what you might be in the mood to cook, look up some recipes online, and begin creating a list.
It could seem daunting at first, but the entire process will only take you about 30 minutes or so and save you a lot of headaches once 6 p.m. rolls around on a Wednesday and you have no idea what you are making for dinner.
5- Make Weeknight Meals Simple
During the workweek, your inner Julia Child might be nonexistent, which is where fast food and online delivery tends to creep in. While at the grocery store, look for things that are easy and quick to make, such as ingredients for pasta dishes or pre-made burger patties.
Then, on nights when you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, go crazy and roast up some chicken or make a homemade pizza from scratch.
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6- Soups and Stews Are Long-Lasting Solutions
Refined and complex roasted red pepper soup. Comforting and classic chicken noodle. Healthy and rich chili. Nap-inducing beef stew. There is a reason why soups and stews are a consistent go-to for meals.
Additionally, you can make big batches of these dishes and take them to work the next day, or simply heat up the pan and enjoy the leftovers tomorrow. As an added bonus, you can usually cook everything you need for soups and stews in one pan, making dish washing and cleanup a lot less hectic.
7- Stick to Your List
One of the reasons why people deal with sticker shock at the checkout counter is because they don’t stick to their grocery list. The grocery store is a winding, overwhelming place that uses advertising at every corner to draw the most money possible out of you– don’t enter without a game plan.
If one of the items on your list is on sale– great! Otherwise, don’t fall for marked-down merchandise if you have no intention of using it. Buying those strawberries just because they are on sale then having them spoil days later is still a waste of money.
8- Bonus Tip
As an added bonus, having your list in front of you will make the trip to the supermarket much faster– let’s face it, it’s not the most interesting place to be during your time off.
Cooking at home may seem a little overwhelming at first, but even novice cooks can come up with a few dishes that they can master with a little practice. Try making your own meals and watch the savings in your bank account roll in!