MuuvWell Blog

Dining Dollars: Crunching the Numbers on Home Cooking vs. Restaurant Dining

April 15, 2024

Eating out adds up

Typically meals away from home have more calories, sodium, sugar, and saturated fat than what we would prepare at home. Also, meals away from home tend to be lower in calcium, fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A – essentially, the nutrients we want more of. So, homemade meals will likely be more nutritious, and more in line with your health goals. To top all that off, it will save you big money, too! 

Meals away from home tend to cost between 3-5 times more. Let’s break it down: 

Meal Price for Family of 4 Price for 1 serving
Panda Express Bowl (no drink) $36 $9
Panera Teriyaki Chicken Bowl (no drink) $40 $10
Homemade Bowl (with whole grain brown rice & fresh broccoli) $11.62 $2.90
Homemade Bowl (with pouches of whole grain rice & frozen broccoli) $12.72 $3.18

*The homemade bowl portion includes a 4 oz portion of chicken breast, 1/2 cup whole grain brown rice (either the “long cook” 45 minute rice, or the 90 second microwave pouch), 2-2.5 cups vegetables (fresh or frozen broccoli & frozen edamame – the edamame also adds more protein), 1 Tablespoon of sauce (prices averaged from a Thai Peanut Sauce, Pineapple Teriyaki Glaze, store brand Teriyaki), 1 teaspoon of sesame seeds. Prices taken from Walmart. 

Feeding a family of four at a “fast-casual” restaurant would cost $36-40 (if everyone just had the entrée and free water to drink, no sides, drinks, or dessert). If you prepared homemade meals like the bowl described above at home 4 days a week rather than eating out, you save $100 – 150 at the end of the week! Even if you alter the portions or vary the ingredients the cost remains significantly cheaper than a meal away from home. 

How to lean into more meals at home

If preparing more meals at home sounds like a daunting task, consider taking some of the pressure off. Not every meal has to take place at home. To start, just add one more homecooked meal per week. It makes a difference! You might lean into home cooked meals with services like meal delivery kits (the company supplies the ingredients, then you prepare them at home with tutorials, a great way to try new recipes and expand your cooking skills). Many grocery stores now have meal kits in the produce or deli area. Or, just put one together yourself – use salad kits, frozen veggies, or 3 ingredient recipes to make dinner in a flash. Look for sheet pan or one pot meal recipes.  Take advantage of your tools – like a crockpot, air-fryer, or pressure cooker/Instapot. Consider prepping a big batch of something so you can cook once, and yet have 2, 3, or more meals for the days ahead. 

Get the family on board

Ask your family to partner with you on this goal. Talk about the money you’ll save (and the fun things you’ll do with that extra money), and how it will be healthier for everyone (more vitamins and minerals, better energy, improve the immune system). Ask your kids to find fun recipes to try, pick theme nights, or have them watch shows like Top Chef Junior to see other kids getting creative in the kitchen.

Takeaway (no pun intended)

Many folks assume that “eating healthier” means spending more, but that isn’t the case at all! It may be true if you follow a wild new meal plan with lots of ingredients that aren’t normally in your kitchen. Instead, focus on food and flavors you enjoy, and meals that are centered around real and familiar ingredients available at your grocery. You’ll be more likely to find ease with homemade meals, spend far less in your food budget, while still enjoying the flavors you love.

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