Fine Dining at Home

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Tips for Budget Saving Eating

If there was ever a statistic about why modern budgets fail again and again, I am certain that eating out would be on the list, if not the leading act! More than any other habit of the modern American family, eating out is positively the worst thing you can do for your financial and physical well-being.

If you’re ready to break from the habit and kick eating out goodbye, here is my exhaustive list of the best ways to go about it, Fiscal Fizzle style:

Pack Your Lunches

This is fairly common advice for curbing your lunch habits, so why is it so hard to follow? Because not all of us are morning people, and it takes a few minutes to prepare a lunch that we won’t get tired of. It’s also difficult to prepare “wet” dishes or things that need re-heating, unless a microwave is available (which doesn’t always taste very good). Here are some tips if you jump on the brown-bagging bandwagon:

  • Prepare as much of your lunch the night before.
  • Have 4-5 “standard” lunches in your arsenal so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every night.
  • Pack wet items, like sauces or tomatoes separately and add them just before eating.
  • Prepare microwave-friendly foods that won’t taste like rubber coming out.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a stovetop at work, consider packing things to fry up quickly.

Learn to Cook Well

One of the main reasons people like to frequent restaurants is because the food simply tastes better. However, if you’re ever been around someone who has spent a little bit of time learning how to cook foods properly, they will probably tell you that they can make better-tasting food than most restaurants (I say most because there are always a few that are just out-of-this-world delicious).

Start slow and develop your own style of cooking. Don’t worry about setting things on fire, food tasting bad, or the dog not wanting to touch what you made – every new skill takes time. Start with recipes that are easy to follow and you’ll pick up the “basics” through repeated experimentation.


If you know someone who has quit “cold turkey,” tell them congratulations! You also probably know that it was an incredible challenge of their willpower and determination. A great alternative to stopping in mid-action is the gradual step-down plan. I recommend this if you’ve been addicted to eating out for a long time.

Consider your average monthly budget for dining out, or the average number of times you eat out every week. Then commit to reduce either number by a set amount each week or month, until you are dining out very infrequently.

Set a Very Desirable Goal

What’s the one thing you want so badly in your life that you would give up almost anything to get it? That one financial goal that’s so desirable that it can literally stop you in your tracks when you think about spending money somewhere else.

If you don’t have such a goal, it may be a good idea to sit down and develop one. Maybe it’s a summer vacation in the Keys. Or an engagement ring for your girlfriend. The more emotionally attached you are to the goal, the better it will work! Next time you think about eating out, just bring that one, undeniable goal to mind and say No!

Start Weight Watchers

I’m serious. I ate out less than I ever had the minute I started Weight Watchers, and continued on the plan for about 6 months. You simply can’t be on a well-structured diet like WW and eat out – most restaurant foods contain so many calories you’ll blow through all your WW “points” immediately.

You can imagine the health benefits of not eating all that calorie and fat-rich food on a daily basis – maintaining a healthy weight becomes a much easier proposition.

Compare to Your Hourly Rate

One of the best tools I’ve heard of for combating impulse spending is analyzing the purchase based on your working hourly rate, in order to determine the amount of hours or days required to pay off that purchase. Why not do the same thing for lunch?

If you spend $20 on lunch every single day, and your hourly wage is, for simplicity’s sake, $10/hour – you just used what took 2 hours to earn on lunch. That doesn’t even consider the cost of driving to your destination, or the potential cost of health implications. If you work an 8-hour day, that’s 1/4 of your entire day spent of paying for meal out. Does anyone else think that’s crazy?

Calculate the Cost of Dinner at Home

This is one of my favorite motivational strategies and one that I use regularly between myself and my wife. Based on the ingredients used to make my lunch or dinner dish, I will calculate out the total per-person cost of that meal (not taking into account the time it took to make it, of course).

Last night’s dinner cost $3 for each of us…find me a restaurant other than McD’s where I can eat that cheap and I will bow before you!

No Time is No Excuse

Many people complain that there is not enough time in the day to cook dinner at home, particularly in this new day and age of getting everything instantly and working 100-hour weeks. To you I say – if you choose to burn yourself out with work and miss out on the daily pleasures of life, go right ahead. But if you can spare as little as 10 minutes per day, there are ways to make dinner without having to dive into your freezer for a meal pack.

One of the great tools I use regularly to save on cooking time is the slow cooker, or “Crock-Pot.” About a month ago, Squakfox wrote an excellent article on 6 reasons you should use a crock pot; check it out if it’s something you’d like to consider (you should!).

Stop eating out to save your money and save your health. But you’ll also reap the most intangible benefit of all – getting to spend some quality time cooking and eating with the rest of your family. There’s nothing like a regular dinner with loved ones to remind you why you do whatever it is you do.

Taking The Fear Out of Cooking At Home

I really don’t like eating out very much these days if I don’t absolutely have to; or if a restaurant serves something that I can’t/don’t know how to make at home.

I started planning my weekly menus about two years ago. It started the first few months after we moved to Muscat. We didn’t have a car (we rented one later on) and every time we needed to take a taxi somewhere, it involved 10 minutes of haggling – and still paid such a hefty fee for a 5-10 minute ride. We did a major food shopping once a week, so I had to make sure my shopping list didn’t leave out the cilantro! Anyway, we realized quite quickly how much more convenient menu planning was, and how much healthier we were eating.

To make this post as brief as possible, I wanted to show you how easy and fast it is to make a satisfying three course, balanced meal in about an hour – I spread it out throughout the day, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t do it all at once.

On the dinner menu today I have the following Gordon Ramsay dishes. To start, Cauliflower-Saffron Soup

Cauliflower-Saffron Soup
Cauliflower-Saffron Soup

I cheated a bit with the Chicken Marsala with Red Chicory and used instant vegetable stock instead of making it from scratch (I usually do). It took 5 minutes to boil the milk, another 2 minutes to cook the cauliflower florets, a few seconds to whiz it all up into a pureé and about a minute of sautéing a few florets into a lovely golden brown.

Chicken Marsala with Red Chicory
Chicken Marsala with Red Chicory

I cut up the chicken earlier in the day and had them covered in the fridge. All I needed to do during dinner time was brown the pieces for a few minutes in the pan with some garlic, threw the Marsala over it and dish it out. It took all of 20 seconds to stir fry the chicory leaves. And finally, dessert: Chocolate-Coffee Mousse.

Chocolate-Coffee Mousse
Chocolate-Coffee Mousse

Desserts always take the most time to make (in most cases), and this one in particular needed time to set, so I had it done in the early afternoon. It took about 5 minutes to whip the mascarpone and cream, while at the same time melting the chocolate on the stove. The mixing took another 5 minutes. So, like I said, this entire dinner took about 40 minutes to cook. It’s healthy; I substituted low fat milk for milk, olive oil for butter, etc, clean and easy on the wallet. Plus, eating at home means *doggie-tax for the babies!

Your Home Vegetable Garden, Simplified Edition

Here is my family’s Earth Day project: We put in a second vegetable raised garden bed, the same size as our first one. We used the newspaper method, for speed’s sake and because we are lazy. I’ve never tried the newspaper method before, and I’m starting a bit late, but we’ll see how it goes. I already have a fully-functional raised bed dug the traditional way, so I intend to plant my more deeply-rooting plants (like tomatoes) in the existing bed, and put plants with a shallower root system in the new bed this year; by next year, the grass and newspaper beneath the new garden bed should have completely decomposed. Find additional home vegetable gardening tips in this Better Homes & Gardens article.

First we laid out our wooden border. Then we covered the sod beneath it with several layers of newspaper, and covered that with topsoil:

Garden Step 1
Garden Step 1

The new bed is the same size, shape and layout as the old bed. We’re going to enclose both beds with the same style of chicken-wire-and-wood-frame fence we used last year, and put a rock mulch path in between them, using biodegradable corn-based landscape fabric beneath the gravel.

Garden Step 2
Garden Step 2

I’ll have more pictures of the garden up soon. For now, more work while the sun shines!

 

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