According to the Bureau of Labor, Americans spent 2.6% more at restaurants in September of this year than last year, but at the same time, the price of food at supermarkets is up 6.2%. Dining out doesn’t have to be bad for your health or your wallet. Below you’ll find our top 10 ways you can lower cost and boost your health when eating out:
Drink Water – soda, juice and alcohol all add money and calories to the bottom line. Eating out is a great time to prioritize getting your daily fill of water (~2L for women, ~3L for men) while cutting costs. For more on why hydration is so important, check out our h2O 101 blog.
No Dessert – skipping dessert when you’re eating out has positive implications for both your waistline and your wallet. Reducing or eliminating simple sugars from your diet is a good way to lower your risk for excess weight gain, diabetes and heart disease. Furthermore, baked goods served in restaurants can contain loads of trans fats, which have a negative impact on your cholesterol and your heart.
Steamed Rice instead of Fried – when you’re eating out at an Asian restaurant, especially those that offer hibachi grilling, you often get to choose between steamed and fried rice. This is a perfect opportunity to save between $3-$5, and cut about 300 calories.
No Extras (dressing, bacon, etc.) – We all love extras. Adding bacon to a burger, or extra ranch dressing to a salad can add lots of flavor, but these extras can add dollars and lots of empty calories to your meal.
Split Big Meals – Portion size is at an all-time high in America. If you have a hankering for steak and potatoes, or are craving something that’s only offered as a big entree, split your meal! Saving half your money and half the calories every time you eat will add up quickly!
Eat More at Lunch – When you eat your largest meal of the day earlier, your body has time to process the nutrition you consume more effectively than if it were eaten a few hours before bed. When choosing when to eat out, opt for making your dining out experience a lunch time one. Lunch menu items are often drastically cheaper than the same items on the dinner menu. Do yourself a favor by eating earlier for less.
Take it Home – If there’s more food on your plate than you’re hungry for, don’t eat it all. A recent study compared the eating habits of those in France vs. Americans and found that lower obesity and heart disease rates among the French may be because they know when to stop eating. Americans rely more heavily on visual cues than their own bodies’ signals to tell them when to stop eating, a trend that may correlate with our rising obesity rates. If there’s more on your plate than you’re prepared to eat in one sitting, listen to your body and wrap it up and take it home. You’ll get more bang for your buck and will support your body’s natural circadian rhythm by not weighing it down with excess food late at night.
Get it in a Salad – Ever noticed that restaurants often offer almost the same meal as both a salad and an entree? You could opt for the grilled chicken (with potatoes, bread, fries, etc.) for $15, or the grilled chicken salad, for $10. You could opt for the buffalo shrimp po boy for $11, or the buffalo shrimp salad for $9. Either way, you’re usually getting about the same amount of protein, but when you opt for the salad, instead of filling up on heavy carbs, you support that protein with loads of vitamins and minerals, and often, save some money in the process.
Substitute – Many restaurants will let you swap out a side for no extra cost. Fruit instead of fries or grits? Salad instead of a baked potato or pasta salad? When you have the option, swap your side for a lighter and healthier one than the standard option. This is a great free way to make every meal more healthy.
Think Local – food that’s available to restaurants locally is fresher and also often cheaper, since restaurants don’t have to incur added costs for shipping. Favorite local dishes are also often cheaper, because restaurants must compete with others in the region serving up the same dish (i.e. – clam chowder in Boston, gumbo in New Orleans, etc.). Go local for increased freshness and lower prices.
Any other examples you can think of? Share them with us in the comments below!