I have often found myself longing for the luxury of a nice meal out at a restaurant. The atmosphere, the company, the delicious food (and not having to prepare that food myself) all sound really appealing. But, in my quest to lower my food spending, I now find myself trying to avoid eating out as much as I might be inclined to.
Eating at home doesn’t have to be a huge sacrifice though, and I’ve learned a lot of ways to make eating at home feel like dining out but for a fraction of the price. Here are my thoughts on how you can create an “eating out” experience in the comfort of your own home.
- Set the table. And eat at it. Skip the TV dinner for the night and actually enjoy a meal at your dinner table (points for eating at a proper dining room table instead of just a kitchen table). Take out some placemats, set the table with water and wine glasses, and even light some candles to create ambiance. Even though you’re at home, you can create a romantic, unique environment that helps take you out of your day-to-day at-home life.
- Indulge in forbidden foods. I think that part of why I enjoy eating out so much is that I allow myself to eat less healthy foods at restaurants than I cook at home. I am (unfortunately) naturally drawn to unhealthy options (think cheesy, bready, bacony), but I try to curb this by cooking fairly healthy fare at home. Sometimes, it’s OK to lighten up and enjoy some unhealthy favorites at home. Make the mac n’ cheese. Toast that garlic bread. Eat the bacon wrapped pork. These little treats will help make you feel like you’re “splurging” a little, even though they don’t have to cost a ton.
- Imbibe freely. Drinking at home has two key benefits. First, it is substantially cheaper than drinking at a restaurant. I can get a whole bottle of wine from Trader Joe’s for the cost of a single glass at a restaurant. We see even bigger savings on beer consumed at home, thanks to BF’s home brewing hobby. Second, when you drink at home you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving! It’s OK to have that third glass of wine and get a little tipsy when you only have to make it from the dining room to your bed.
- Get dessert. You can keep it simple or go elaborate, but eating dessert at home after a delicious meal (especially if you typically limit dessert intake) is the perfect ending to an at-home evening. One of our favorite at-home desserts is homemade ice cream (if you don’t have an ice cream maker, get one. Trust me – best investment ever.). It’s simple and quick yet feels quite decadent.
- Dine with friends. We often go out to eat at the invitation of friends. A great alternative is hosting a dinner at home (it doesn’t have to be a dinner party, just a simple dinner for four or six can be tons of fun, too!). When dining at home with friends, I always try to keep the menu relatively simple. I go with dishes that can easily be made ahead of time so that I can sit down and relax with my guests, instead of feeling like the chef stuck in the kitchen all night. A great fringe benefit of eating at home with friends is the personal pride you feel in showing off your cooking skills to friends (this is especially awesome when you made something that is super simple but just seems so impressive). You might face a slightly higher cost for a single meal since you’re likely to foot the grocery bill for the whole gang, but it evens out over time as friends reciprocate with dinner offers.
How do you create a “restaurant-like” dining experience at home?