For most of us, dining in a restaurant is an indulgence to enjoy now and then. For some, it is a way of life because of busy schedules. And for others, it's just too expensive. Eating out is also a time to dress up and pamper ourselves; we can order specialty dishes and experience new tastes, and every diner gets to order an individual entree to his or her liking. Plus, when we dine out, we get served and don't have to do the cooking or the dishes, and cleaning up the kitchen is someone else's problem.
If you want to have more control over what goes into your food -- such as salt, sugar, fats and carbs -- if you have kids with early bedtimes or if you simply just want to tighten your budgets, then cooking and dining at home may be the answer. But time-consuming shopping trips and rising grocery bills don't always seem to support that decision.
What are some of the ways we can keep our costs down at the store and still feed our families tasty, high-quality foods?
Consumer and money savings expert Andrea Woroch of Kinoli Inc. offers a few tips on dining at home frugally in a dine-out world:
--Shop on Tuesdays. Supermarkets publish their weekly newspaper ads on Wednesdays. Most grocers are interested in ditching last week's produce and meats on Tuesday night.
--Use mobile coupons. Shopping on Tuesday means you can't take advantage of Wednesday coupons. There are some coupons you can find online or in the store.
--Plan your meals around ads. If you plan on shopping after newspaper inserts are printed, plan your menu around featured items and build a list before you hit the store.
--Shop stores that double coupons. Not all supermarkets are willing to let you double up on coupons. This may be limited to specific days and only up to a certain amount.
--Don't overbuy bulk. It may be tempting to buy the supersize box, but you need to buy what you actually will use so you can avoid tossing stale or spoiled food.
--Limit produce purchases. Make a list and avoid spoilage. You're also likelier to use produce if you don't hide it away in your refrigerator's bins.
--Avoid temptation. Many stores use location and visual appeal to purposely place temptations in your way. It may be tempting to fill you cart with these purchases, both food and non-food items, but make a list and stick to it.
--Don't use a cart. If you find you need to visit a store for just a few items, ditch the shopping cart and carry a basket for quick trips. The less room you have to fill the less likely you are to make impulse purchases.
In addition to Woroch's tips, a few more hints will help you feed your family healthy and affordable foods.
Read nutritional labels, and choose healthier products; you might even find a money-saving generic that matches the more expensive brand. Know what your family will eat and avoid purchasing a brand or item they won't. You can eat healthy and still live within a budget. You don't need to frequent specialty, high-priced food stores; you'll find many lower-priced stores with a selection of organic produce and healthy alternatives.
Cooking wholesome meals for a busy family when your own schedule is just as hectic can be difficult, but if you regularly cook more than you need and freeze portions, you can stockpile easy-to-reheat dinners and quickly serve your family. Use leftovers in creative ways instead of dumping them. For example, use that remaining turkey in soups, chili or sandwiches. Combine leftover vegetables in potpies and stews.
In 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a family of four spent an average of $155 per week on groceries, and we all know how prices have climbed in the past few years. It is estimated that the average family tosses up to $2,000 in the garbage every year. The tips above can help reduce food waste and save money on grocery bills -- and that can help us afford the occasional splurge to eat out.