Be Well: My Month of Not Eating Out

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What I was going for with that picture was a kitchen that looked like a restaurant. You know, because my kitchen was the only restaurant I visited this past month? I know, so subtle and insightful, Natalie.

Yes, I have spent the past month eating basically only things that I cooked at home. At times it was easy and rewarding (I got so much better at making homemade pizza dough!) and at times it was challenging (I ate cheese for dinner two nights ago!) but on all the various nights it has been so, so worth it.

So, why did I decide to challenge myself to a month of no eating out? Easy: to save a boatload of money. Before this month, my husband and I were eating out every Friday and Saturday night, ordering in food on at least two weeknights per week, buying lunch a minimum two days per week (usually more), and grabbing a bunch of snacks (hello, Bi-Rite) in between all of those meals out. Here in San Francisco, all that gastronomic goodness comes with a pretty steep price tag. So I thought it would be good for our bank account (and our health!) to try to sever our dependance on restaurants for a month. Note: the original idea for no eating out came from this Wall Street Journal article.

Okay, so here were the rules I set for myself (and by the transitive property, my husband as well) for no eating out month: no buying food ever from restaurants, except on select, pre-planned special occasions. And there ended up being only two special occasions: a brunch that I had had planned for months with friends who were visiting from out of town, and my coworker's 30th birthday celebration lunch. That was it. Everything else had to be made at home from ingredients purchased from the grocery store. I could, however, eat food that I didn't make, as long as I didn't have to pay for it. And I promise that I didn't find loopholes in my own rules - I didn't have my friends take me out to dinner while promising that I would pay them back in March or anything like that. I did, however, eat a free cheese plate while at a charity meeting, and I ate food that my coworkers brought into the office to share. Also, I decided that drinking out was okay, because the point of this experiment wasn't to be anti-social, and because my husband has Type I diabetes and occasionally finds himself out of the house and in need of a soda in order to raise his low blood sugar. So, to break it down: eating food that we had to pay for = not allowed. Buying drinks that we wanted for social or health reasons = allowed.

I picked to do this experiment in February because it's a short month, but I have to say that now that it's March, I'm kind of sad that the experiment is over. I loved no eating out month. It was such a worthwhile challenge to force myself to cook every weeknight (it's so easy to fall into the "I'm too tired" trap and just order food!). I know that from here on out I will be so much better about cooking during the week because I've reminded myself how manageable it is (and I've mastered a lot of new recipes)! My absolute favorite part of this challenge, though, was having friends over to our apartment for dinners on weekends. You hear so much these days about how the era of entertaining at home is over in America. About how back in the 1950s everyone knew their neighbors and had them over for dinner, but how these days we never see the inside of other people's apartments and never even say hello when we pass each other at the mailbox. Before this month, I had had friends over for meals of any kind exactly two times. Once on the 4th of July and once when my husband's college roommates were in town. That was it. When I reflect on that now, I can't help but wonder why that was the case - I really love to cook, and I have all these great serving dishes from my wedding. I should be entertaining every weekend! But I wasn't. Well, this month I did entertain every weekend, and I hope to continue that trend for many, many months to come.

I can't encourage you enough to try this for yourself. Not only will you save so much money (I kid you not when I say that I think my husband and I saved almost $1,000), but you'll gain confidence in the kitchen and hopefully form some really fun memories with friends just sitting around in your apartment, drinking wine, and eating a great meal without interruptions from a waiter, distractions from other people in the restaurant, or feeling like you have to rush out after dinner in order to give up your table to the next party in line. I am very strongly of the opinion that eating should always be a fun experience, and with a few exceptions I've found that my most fun, rewarding eating experiences come when I master a dish and serve it to people I enjoy hanging out with. So try it yourself! You won't regret it.

Have a great weekend!