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In our busy lives, it can be hard to keep track of our spending. For people that come from all walks of life, one of our biggest expenses is food. People used to eating out know all too well that food can be expensive. But eating at home can get pricey, too, especially if you’re not careful when grocery shopping.
This guide will help you make decisions about how to properly feed yourself in a way that considers diet quality. We’ll go over multiple angles of the cooking and eating at home vs eating out debate, focusing on cost and health.
Let’s get started!
Is Eating Out Better than Eating at Home?
Namely, it depends on what “better” means to you. It also depends on what food you’re eating, how it was prepared, what it costs, if it’s healthy or not, how convenient it is, and so on. For you personally, would you say that "better" means convenience food or does it consist of a balanced healthy meal?
In short, there are many factors that go into deciding whether to stay in and cook a homemade meal or go out to a favorite restaurant.
There are some general criteria and trends that can help guide your decision making. Here are some of the biggest trade-offs between eating at home vs eating out:
- Eating out is usually more expensive, but it can be more convenient
- Some restaurant food is unbelievably delicious, as well as equally
- unhealthyCooking meals at home gives you more control of food quality,
- along with more responsibility
- While cooking can be difficult, it can also be a fulfilling experience once you have followed the recipe to completion
Each person will value these trade-offs differently. An expensive dish might not seem worth it, especially when you have plenty of time to cook the same thing at home. But with a taxing workload, the convenience of takeout could be a cost-saving factor itself—time is money, right? Then again, that sticky sauce can’t be good for you…
All this is to say that there isn’t just one best option for all contexts, but there are always factors to consider in the moment. For our purposes, cost is a huge factor.
And if you’re worried about cost, eating at home is usually the better option. Whether you are in a younger stage of life balancing a budget and trying to figure out where to shop in your 20s or are further down the line and married with kids, preparing a home cooked meal at home tends to sustain appetites longer at a lower cost.
Is it Cheaper to Eat at Home or Out?
Eating at home is almost always more affordable than eating out.
When preparing a healthy meal at home, you have the benefit of shopping for affordable ingredients or buying in bulk. You can make meals as modest—or as lavish—as you choose. Portion sizes at restaurants tend to be exaggerated; you can make smaller dishes at home. Also, if you make restaurant-sized portions at home, you can usually get more than one meal out of it and enjoy leftovers.
At restaurants, while there are often various options at different costs, the actual price of a given dish is typically much higher than what it would cost to cook that dish at home.
Plus, when you dine in at a restaurant, you’re not just paying for the prepared food on your plate.
There are many other elements that drive up the price of your meal when eating out.
Some of these are obvious, like adding avocado to a burger or swapping out regular fries for sweet potato fries. But some aren’t explicitly included in list prices.
Some of the costs that drive up your bill at a restaurant include:
- Labor costs of the restaurant
- Atmosphere (and associated business costs)
- Extra courses you wouldn’t normally eat at home
- Beverages, especially alcohol
- Gratuity (yes, you should be tipping!)
The amount you pay for a dish, even at your favorite restaurant, is not necessarily representative of what its ingredients cost. These hidden costs apply to subscription meal kits, as well. In certain cases, however, many brands offering customized meal kits allow consumers the opportunity to try products for free or at a discount before committing to a monthly or year-long subscription.
Takeout, Delivery, and Fast Food
Ordering delivery or takeout can also be quite expensive, as the menu price stays the same but you also factor in delivery costs.
According to a study done by Wellio, ordering takeout from a restaurant can cost up to five times as much as cooking your own meals at home:
- Restaurant meals average over $20 dollars per serving
- Subscription meal kits average over $12 dollars per serving
- You can save money on healthy food subscriptions with a Thrive Market coupon
- Home-cooked meals average under $5 dollars per serving
That said, there are some exceptions.
For instance, in many cases, fast food options can be cheaper than a traditional sit-down restaurant meal or a home cooked meal. However, that’s changing, as fast food is becoming much less affordable than it used to be.
Also, there are health concerns with fast food—and all food you don’t make yourself.
Is it Healthier to Eat Home Cooked Meals?
Usually, meals you make at home are healthier than those you eat at restaurants.
Having control over the entire cooking process means you know exactly what you’re putting into your body. Additionally, portion size is a huge factor when it comes to the healthiness of a meal as fewer calories, less saturated fat, and lower cholesterol levels could help avoid unnecessary weight gain.
As mentioned above, portion sizes in restaurants are often exaggerated far beyond what’s healthy, according to USDA-recommended servings.
For example, think of common cuts of steak offered in most restaurants. Often, you’ll see options beginning at about 8 ounces and going all the way up to 12 ounces of meat or more. However, per the USDA, no one should be having anywhere near that amount of protein foods over the course of a whole day:
- The amount you need depends upon age, sex, and level of phsyical activity
- Most people should have between 2 and 6½ ounce equivalents per day
- The highest recommended value (6½) is for boys and men aged 14-30
This is a huge disparity between what’s considered healthy and normal and what you can expect to eat when dining out. Of course, you can always save food for later and enjoy leftovers, but the restaurant normalizes large portions by putting 2 or more servings on the plate at once.
Portions aren’t the only culprit, either.
Ingredients and Techniques
Restaurant food can be delicious, but that pleasure comes with a price.
Restaurant food is also dense—calorie-wise—with many harmful nutrients and few beneficial ones. Namely, restaurant food is made with much more fat and sugar than many home chefs would ever dare to use in their own kitchens.
Why is that?
There are several factors:
Restaurant chefs use more butter and oil than is necessary. They do this to impart excess flavor and to enhance non-stick properties on cookware that’s under heavy use all day.
Even dishes and recipes you wouldn’t associate with “sweetness” are often prepared with sugars—think sauces, gravies, soups, etc.
Deep-fried foods at restaurants are some of the most calorie-dense foods available. Similar dishes sauteed or fried at home don’t come close.
It’s often said that certain foods just taste better when they’re restaurant quality. That may be true, but the trade-off is usually the healthiness of what you’re eating.
For those looking to save dollars and eat less calories, home cooking is the way to go.
Why Homemade Food is Better than Restaurant Food
For all the reasons detailed above, cooking your food at home is the smartest way to eat.
On one hand, home-cooked meals typically save you money. You don’t have to worry about paying upwards of $20 dollars for under $10 dollars’ worth of ingredients. Plus, you aren’t paying for things like the atmosphere and business costs of the restaurant. On the other hand, you also don’t need to worry about health concerns in home-cooked food. Since you buy the ingredients yourself, you’re in control of how healthy you want (or need) it to be.
But another amazing benefit of home cooking is that it enables you to take advantage of the best food hack of all: meal prep.
Meal Prep: Maximum Efficiency
When making food at home, you can plan ahead by cooking in bulk and pre-portioning out meals for the next few days (even an entire week).
The benefits of this practice include:
- Better prices for ingredients purchased in bulk
- Healthy, pre-planned portions for dieting
- Savings from bringing packed lunch to work
It’s simple: cooking at home, especially with smart meal prep, can help you plan out your week—and save you money!
Maximize Your Savings with RebateKey
Now that we’ve laid out all the different factors that go into the eating at home vs out debate, you know how and why it’s often better to skip the restaurant.
If you’re looking for a healthier, cheaper option, you’ll probably find it at home.
Here at RebateKey, we’re all about helping you make smart decisions around your finances. To save while shopping online, our Chrome extension is a free and easy add-on that helps you save money with discounts and rebates. Plus, we publish guides like this one that help you save in all kinds of different situations!
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