Eating Out is Cheaper than Groceries?

For those of you wondering if the title is clickbait, yes, it is. There seems to be a general sentiment that eating out is cheaper than buying groceries these days. This is showing up even more as grocery costs continue to go up. However, grocery costs are not the only thing going up. Restaurant prices (including fast food) are also going up. If you prefer to watch a video instead of reading this blog post, please see my youtube video below :)

I decided to map out a week's worth of food given three different scenarios to decide once and for all, whether eating out or cooking at home was cheaper. If you want to check the values that I used or verify my math, please refer to this spreadsheet.

Scenario 1: Eating out

If we assume that a meal out costs $10 on average ($5 for breakfast, $10 for lunch, $15 for dinner), that would bring us to $150 for a 5 day workweek. If you are like me and your meals out consist mainly of food delivery services or sit-down restaurants, this cost is actually pretty low.

Scenario 2: Meal Prepping

This is the most cost-effective option. This option involves making 1 breakfast, 1 lunch and 1 dinner that we eat for 5 days. In this example, we made:

Breakfast: breakfast tacos (for breakfast obviously lol)

  • tortillas
  • eggs
  • sausage
  • salsa
  • shredded cheese

Lunch: falafel salad

  • falafel
  • salad base
  • broccoli
  • carrots
  • ranch

Dinner: baked chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans

  • chicken
  • potatoes
  • green beans
  • sour cream
  • parmesan cheese
  • butter

If we add up the costs of everything that we need to feed one person for 5 days, it comes to $97.51 or about $6.50 per meal. This assumes that we end up throwing away the leftover sour cream and parmesan that we used for the mashed potatoes. If we are able to use the leftover at another time, the cost comes down to $89.43 or $5.96 per meal. I did not include the cost of things like the pots and pans or seasoning since those are not things that you would purchase each time you cook.

Scenario 3: Cooking with Variety

I'm sure some of you are saying, "but I don't want to eat the same thing for 5 days in a row". This option is for you. In this scenario, we choose 3 different options for each meal and we make enough of each option for two servings. This will feed us for 6 days instead of the 5 days that we had in the above two scenarios.

Breakfast options:

  • breakfast tacos
    • same ingredients as above, just lower quantity used
  • oatmeal
    • oats
    • milk
    • cranberries
    • almonds
    • brown sugar
  • yogurt w/ granola
    • yogurt
    • granola
Lunch options:
  • falafel salad
    • same ingredients as above, just lower quantity used
  • burrito bowl
    • black beans
    • rice
    • onion
    • bell pepper
    • cilantro
    • sour cream
  • tuna melt
    • tuna
    • bread
    • mayo
    • mustard
    • sliced cheese
    • grapes
Dinner options:
  • lentil pasta
    • lentil pasta
    • pasta sauce
    • parmesan
    • broccoli (use leftover from falafel salad)
    • carrots (use leftover from falafel salad)
  • chicken w/ mashed potatoes and brussel sprouts
    • chicken
    • potatoes
    • brussel sprouts
    • butter
    • sour cream (use leftover from burrito bowl)
    • parmesan (use leftover from lentil pasta)
  • fish and grits
    • catfish
    • grits
    • smoked gouda
    • green beans
    • chicken broth
The total for all of this comes out to $131.78 or an average of $7.32 per meal. Similar to the above case, we can bring the cost down a bit if we re-use leftover ingredients at a later date. This would bring our cost to $115.57 ($6.42 per meal).

Cost Comparison

Overall, we can see that cooking at home is cheaper than eating out. However, the way that we make this happen is by minimizing food waste. Earlier, I mentioned that I did not include the cost of things like pots and pans or seasonings. This is because these are things that you either buy once or only buy every so often. You may not save money in the first few weeks of cooking if you don't already have these things, but it should more than balance out over time.

Minimizing Food Waste

Wasted food is the main reason why I think many people think eating out is cheaper than cooking at home. Here are a few tips on how to minimize this and keep your food $$ in your pocket.

Plan Your Meals

Plan out your meals ahead of time and only buy what you know you will use that week. Try to make meals utilizing similar perishable ingredients if you can. For example, in the above scenarios, we used broccoli and carrots for both the the falafel salad and the lentil pasta.

Shop Smart

Buy only the amount you need for perishable items. If you are only one person, you probably don't need a full 5 pound bag of potatoes. Buying one or two individual potatoes is probably more cost-effective. Some stores have a better selection of produce by weight than others. You may need to go to a store that's a bit further away if that means a better selection of things like individual potatoes and carrots.

Store Your Food Properly

Make sure that dry goods are in airtight containers. Separate and freeze your meat and fish when you first buy it, so only what you need within a few days is in the refrigerator. If you make a large batch of something like a soup or chili, put only what you'll immediately eat in the refrigerator. Put the remainder in mason jars or ziploc bags in the freezer. There are proper ways to store produce as well, but I'm not an expert on that since I typically cook my produce right away.


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