Reader Question: How Do I Break an Eating Out Habit

August 26, 2016
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A dear reader recently asked, “How do I break an eating out habit?”

This is part of a new ongoing series here at LAAB to address real issues and help you all find solutions to your worrisome money woes.

Considering I need to work on this little bad habit myself, I decided to tackle this question today and will tackle one each week as long as you keep them coming!

As always, if you have a question you would like to see answered here on LAAB, I have created a Google form where you can submit your questions.

Without further delay, let’s dive right into how one can break an eating out habit!


Is your eating out habit killing your budget? If so, you need a plan to help you decrease the amount you spend on dining out. Here is an easy 6 step plan to help you and a free printable meal plan. Read and download your's today!

How Do I Break an Eating Out Habit?


1) First things first — find out how much your habit is costing you.

There’s no need in going through all the trouble of tackling an issue if you don’t know how much it’s costing you!  To be a good friend and to show that I’m human, I’m going to share with you how much we spent eating out in the last 30 days.

According to my spending in Personal Capital (a free tool to help track expenses), in the past 30 days, we’ve only spent $43.

I wasn’t satisfied with this number, not because it was too high, but because I feel like we’ve been spending more money on eating out than this number is reflecting. Therefore, I decided to see how much damage we’ve done in the past 90 days.

This was more like it — $573 spent on eating out in the last 90 days. Now this number is way to high because that’s an average of $191 per month!

Seriously!  I could have had plenty of groceries with that amount of money. I could have had groceries and an extra payment on my student loans with that kind of money!

This step is designed to make you have a come to Jesus moment. If your spending is off the charts, it will help you gain focus as you move forward with these next few steps.


Your Assignment: Track your restaurant expenses for the last 90 days. You can use a free tracker like Personal Capital to figure out this number.


2) Commit to a no-eating-out challenge.

Alright, you know how much damage eating out is costing you each month. Now you need to make a commitment as a family or couple to do a challenge for ATLEAST a month. It takes around 21 days to form a new habit and this will give you plenty of time to put forth some effort to not eat out.


Your Assignment: Pull out your calendar and set a date to commit to your no-eating challenge.


3) Define no-eating-out.

To be successful, you need to define what no-eating-out will mean for you as an individual and/or a family.

Will this challenge include grabbing a quick sandwich at your work cafe? Does it include your children’s spirit night festivities with the school? Will it include chipping in for pizza with your friends? Or is this just specific to grabbing takeout or a sit-in restaurant?

Whatever you decide, you want to make the conditions clear so they are easy to follow. If you plan to exclude grabbing a quick sandwich at your work cafe, you will need to plan to bring in your lunch.

If it will include skipping your child’s spirit nights (my child’s school has spirit nights at restaurants where a portion of the sales from the evening go to the school’s PTO, in case you’re wondering), you need to let your child know the plan so they won’t be upset that they aren’t participating.

Basically, create a plan B for any exclusions so you will be prepared. This will make things go smoothly as you follow through on your commitment to no-eating-out for a month.


Your Assignment: Get everyone on the same page and discuss the limits and conditions of your no-eating challenge.


4) Write down everyone’s favorite foods.

This list will help you make a meal plan that everyone will enjoy. You should also include favorite snacks, etc. You want to include as much as possible because this will prevent last minute trips and make the experience more enjoyable.


Your Assignment: With pad and pencil in hand, brainstorm all of your favorite foods and those of your loved ones as well.


5) Once you know everyone’s favorites — create a meal plan.

You will need to create TWO meal plans.


Well, this will make your life extremely simple!  Create two meal plans that span a week each and you can rotate each week’s meal plan.

This means you will use Meal Plan 1 on Week 1 and Week 3. Then you would use Meal Plan 2 on Week 2 and Week 4.

If your family is at home for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, include all three meals in your meal plans for each given week.  However, if the only meal you eat together as a family is dinner, create a meal plan just for dinner.


How to Plan for Lunch

If you’re taking your lunch to work and/or school each day, create a list of standard grab and go lunches that you can create for the week.

For example, your lunch menu can consist of sandwiches, fruit, veggie, and water each day. This eliminates guessing and planning for one meal. Just have the same ingredients on hand each day to prepare your lunch.

To help you out, I’m providing you with a sample two-week dinner meal plan for you to use.

This meal plan includes tips and tricks for making the rotating meal plan easy. It also includes clickable links to some of my favorite variations on some of the suggested meals.


To download your copy, click the picture below (This is a viewable Google document only. Go to file > make a copy > enjoy!).


Need help cutting down on the cost of eating out? Here is a free 2 week meal plan printable that will help you break your dining out habit.


If this sample meal plan doesn’t tickle your fancy, just remember one thing when you create your own – keep it simple!  Simple means one meat and two veggies (if you’re low-carb) or one meat, one veggie, and one starch, etc.


Your Assignment: Print off the sample meal plan for your personal use. If this one won’t cut it or doesn’t align with your eating habits, use this link to grab a blank printable you can use to create your own (This is a viewable Google document only. Go to file > make a copy > and happy meal planning).


6) Always have an “I ain’t cooking meal,” on hand!

Trust me, no matter how much you plan you will always have one of those days where you don’t feel like doing anything. That includes feeding your face.

I have one at least once a month and I know a good ole pizza or breakfast items will solve the dilemma of feeding my family.

Keep some of the following on hand for your no good terrible day:

  • Frozen pizza
  • Soups
  • Bread (I like to keep extra bread in the freezer)
  • Peanut Butter
  • Jelly
  • Grits (y’all know I’m country)
  • Eggs

What can you do with these items?

Well, you can whip up a bite to eat in a flash!  Grits take about 5 minutes to cook. Throw some cheese on them and my daughter is a happy camper. Or pop a pizza in the oven and dinner is ready in 15 to 20 minutes.

I don’t eat this stuff every day, but they are lifesavers for when I don’t want to cook.


Your Assignment: Create a master grocery list that includes the things you need to have on hand at all times for breakfast, lunches (as discussed in the prior step), snacks, and “I ain’t cooking” meals. You will need this in addition to your grocery list for your dinner meal plan.


7) Additional Resources

Of course, I’m including some additional resources that will help you with meal ideas and ways to keep your grocery bill from blowing up. Here is a list of some quick and easy meals you can add to your meal plans below.

How Pantry Meals Can Keep You From Ordering Pizza

25 Meals That Cost $5 to Make

Frugal Real Meal Plan

Follow my Pinterest Board, Frugal Dinner Ideas, for more resources!


Wrapping Things Up

I hope this answers your question, dear reader!  Simply make a plan and stick to it. Once you’ve done this challenge for a month, come back and drop me a line on how much money you’ve saved. And no worries — I’m doing it right along with you. We’re doing much better with meal planning this month and have reigned in our eating out expenses.

Does anyone else have any tips on breaking an eating out habit? Drop us a line in the comments!

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Latoya Scott
Latoya Scott is a personal finance writer and blogger for hire who loves talking about budgets and money. Her mission is to help women create better finances so they can live a carefree lifestyle.

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  • Colin Ashby August 26, 2016 at 2:31 am

    Definitely agree on pulling your spending history from the previous 90 days rather than just the previous month. Gives a better overall picture to it. There seems to be a real need among people for having a set meal plan they can follow. The first step I used to getting better with meal planning and cutting down on eating out was Leanne Brown’s Eat Well on $4 a day: Good and cheap. The cookbook is FREE! ( . While I don’t strictly follow the $4 a day limit (#fastmetabolism,, haha) it does provide really helpful recipes and guides. Also check out Buzzfeed’s 24 ways to eat healthier (
    Colin Ashby recently posted…Don’t Ask Your Bank Account to Spot YouMy Profile

    • Latoya Scott August 26, 2016 at 9:15 am

      Awesome, Colin! Thanks so much for sharing these resources!

  • Lindsay @ The Notorious D.E.B.T. August 26, 2016 at 9:39 am

    Love the idea of having an “I ain’t cooking ” meal ready! I’ve done a lot with planning out meals and that’s helped a LOT, but sometimes despite all my planning life gets in the way and I get home late or am too tired. Having one of those meals ready to go really makes it easy to walk past the fast food restaurants on the way home.

  • Tia @ financiallyfitandfab August 26, 2016 at 10:18 am

    Awesome tips Latoya! I am so guilty of this habit. It helps me to take out cash and decide to only use that cash for eating out. Therefore, when the cash is gone that also means I will be in the kitchen cooking. lol!
    Tia @ financiallyfitandfab recently posted…FFF Travels: Puerto Rico for $1000 or lessMy Profile

    • Latoya Scott August 27, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      Yes, we had to separate our dining out cash and put it into a separate account. It definitely helps.

  • The Green Swan August 26, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Nice post, Latoya! We set a budget at the beginning of the year that we try to stick to for food. That includes a budget specific for grocery shopping, dinning out, and buying drinks (going to grab a beer after work or trip to the liquor store to re-stock the cabinet). We keep it pretty tight too, or at least I think so. Our budget for dinning out in 2016 is $1,350 for the year, or $113 / month. Just checking now and we are sticking with it pretty good, clocking in at $114 / month through August.

    For us it comes down to having a lot of quick meals on hand (like you mentioned and grits are great!) and we also try to make big meals on the weekend that will give us plenty of leftovers throughout the week.
    The Green Swan recently posted…Cold Brew Coffee to the Rescue: My Coffee RevelationMy Profile

    • Latoya Scott August 27, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      You are doing great!

  • Emily @ JohnJaneDoe August 26, 2016 at 11:04 am

    The “I ain’t cooking” scenario happens to us at least once a week. Frozen pizza, frozen burritos, and eggs are our go-tos. When we can switch out some of our takeout with a good contingency plan, we end up enjoying our restaurant visits a lot more.
    Emily @ JohnJaneDoe recently posted…How We Replaced (Almost) All of our Warehouse Club PurchasesMy Profile

    • Latoya Scott August 27, 2016 at 5:36 pm

      Very true. I’ll have to see if my daughter likes frozen burritos or taquitos. It could be another thing to add to the mix.

  • Kemkem August 26, 2016 at 11:28 am

    I think when your priorities change, you are more likely to tighten the belt and focus. I know one we decided we wanted to move out of the country debt free, we totally cut everything out, including eating out. We didn’t even have fast food for 2 years. I paper bagged my food for lunch. So l guess, my answer would be focus on the end game. I like your back up meal plan :-).
    Kemkem recently posted…Borghese Gallery in Rome with LivItaly Tours. Do it!My Profile

  • Jax August 26, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    Eating out is my Achilles heel! I love the “keep a I aint cooking meal on hand” tip! That has been a life (and money) saver more than once. We usually spend an absurd amount on eating out a month but this month we’ve been able to limit it to 3 meals out (one of them was for my birthday, so does that count?)
    Jax recently posted…Confession: I Don’t Have an Emergency FundMy Profile

    • Latoya Scott August 27, 2016 at 5:39 pm

      Nope, special occasions don’t count for me, lol. We have a separate savings bucket for birthdays:)

  • Ashli @ The Million Dollar Mama August 26, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    The “I ain’t cooking” meal is great advice! I always keep a few frozen dinners in my freezer for those moments (that tend to pop up pretty regularly now that I have a baby). It keeps me from just picking up the phone and ordering takeout. Also, if I am tempted to order out, I try to work out how many meals I could make for that same amount of money. When I work out that I could make 5 dinners for the cost of one takeout meal, it’s enough to stop me!
    Ashli @ The Million Dollar Mama recently posted…Don’t Believe These 5 Myths About InvestingMy Profile

    • Latoya Scott August 27, 2016 at 5:39 pm

      I know that’s right!

  • Eva August 26, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    This is awesome! We have a bit of a hard time with eating out, but it has improved. Mainly because – who can afford it? Definitely not us. We have managed to make burritos at home, and if I can duplicate chick fil a nuggets? It is so over.
    Eva recently posted…4 Back to School Parenting Hacks for the Busy FamilyMy Profile

    • Latoya Scott August 27, 2016 at 5:41 pm

      Yes, I think there is a recipe for faux chick fil a nuggets going around on Pinterest!

  • DC @ Young Adult Money August 27, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    Meal planning is definitely the way to go. It helps us not only eat out less for dinner, but also have leftovers planned for lunch the next day.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted…How to Stop Comparing Your Financial Situation to OthersMy Profile

  • Finance Solver August 27, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    I never noticed how much I’m spending on food until I took the time to make my own lunch and dinner. Those small amounts aren’t really small and I’m saving so much ever since I changed my eating out habits. I don’t think spending $573 in 3 months eating out is a bad number! I know that with meal planning you can lower that even more.
    Finance Solver recently posted…Get Motivated by Defining It, What’s Your Turning Point?My Profile

    • Latoya Scott August 27, 2016 at 5:42 pm

      Yes, and we definitely have!

  • Elle August 28, 2016 at 8:51 am

    We hardly ever eat out. Maybe while on vacation once or twice. Its one of the easiest ways to save. By staying at home and cooking my kids learn how to prepare meals for themselves.

    • Latoya Scott August 29, 2016 at 11:07 pm

      I can’t wait until the kids can cook! lol!

  • Kayvona August 28, 2016 at 11:45 pm

    I didn’t use to eat out too much but once I started dating my daughter father, he ate out every single day and I found myself eating out way more than normal. So much that I gained 8 pounds in like 1 – 2 months. Then I got pregnant and started depending on eating out because I never felt like cooking or only could eat one thing because everything made me sick. So I definitely have been wanting to cut out to eat trips out completely.
    Kayvona recently posted…5 Tip To Enjoy The State Fair While PregnantMy Profile

    • Latoya Scott August 29, 2016 at 11:07 pm

      Trust me, Kayvona – I feel your pain. The men sure do make you get comfortable with eating out, lol! And I ate out a lot when pregnant because I couldn’t stand cooking either. I say, go with the flow until baby comes. I adjusted our budget during my pregnancy to account for it. You’ll be back on track in no time.

  • KenyaRae August 29, 2016 at 12:02 am

    I totally needed to read this. I need to get our life in order in terms of eating more healthy (again) and saving money. I know with a family of five even my fast food fridays every week is too much now compared to when there were just three of us.

    • Latoya Scott August 29, 2016 at 11:05 pm

      I can only imagine! It feels like my one-year-old son is eating me out of house and home every day!

  • Kim August 29, 2016 at 1:05 am

    Great tips. I cut eating out when we were saving to purchase our house. It definitely is an eye opener to how much of our money goes towards things we can make at home for half the cost.
    Kim recently posted…Family Fun at the LEGOLAND Discovery Center WestchesterMy Profile

    • Latoya Scott August 29, 2016 at 11:05 pm

      Yes, it definitely is!

  • Mimi Green August 29, 2016 at 2:00 am

    I’m going to challenge myself to not eat out as much. Most of the time when I do it is because I failed to meal plan.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty August 29, 2016 at 10:39 am

    We are pretty good at not dining out too often because it’s a pain to go out to eat with the kids anyway. If I don’t feel like cooking, I make breakfast for dinner. Eggs, toast, and fruit. Sometimes pancakes. I always keep those things on hand.
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    • Latoya Scott August 29, 2016 at 11:03 pm

      Yes, pancakes are a life-saver too!

  • Joanna August 29, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    These are great tips. Love the option of creating a meal plan. Definitely helps in the long run.
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    • Latoya Scott August 29, 2016 at 11:02 pm

      Yes, it really does!

  • Tanya Barnett August 30, 2016 at 9:07 am

    I will be sharing this! I have a few friends who complain that they always eat out and want to curb it. Thanks.
    Tanya Barnett recently posted…What? Serve My Husband?My Profile

    • Latoya Scott August 30, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      You’re welcome, Tanya!

  • Katherine G August 30, 2016 at 10:54 am

    These are some great tips. My husband eats out the most because of his early work hours. I’m thinking of trying to convince him to take some frozen pancakes for breakfast sometimes.

    • Latoya Scott August 30, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      Yes and perhaps boiled eggs if he likes them!

  • Holly September 1, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    Def not a habit for me but I do like a nice meal out a couple of times a week even if it is order in. I work had so I feel like i deserve it
    Holly recently posted…Fun Local Things to Do with GrouponMy Profile

    • Latoya Scott September 2, 2016 at 12:00 am

      Hey, we all gotta do what we gotta do.

  • Jonna September 5, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    I think these are all great tips. We had to pump the brakes on eating out as well, and I think we spoiled ourselves once it was just my husband and I. But now I push more to cook even when I don’t feel like it.

  • Dyana January 20, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    This post spoke to me …and my terrible fast-food habit. It’s so hard to break when you despise cooking like I do! I used to see just how much fast food was costing me and it was appalling. I’ve recently started to break up my grocery shopping in into two weeks and I think it’s working pretty well. I meal plan for two weeks, buy the groceries I need, then do it all over again.
    Dyana recently posted…Letting Go of FearMy Profile

    • Latoya Scott January 21, 2017 at 11:52 pm

      Awesome job, Dyana!