I don’t have actual data, but I would guess that more people ate at home in 2020 than in any other year. For most, this was not by choice. Many of those people will return to their old ways as the vaccine rolls out, and our society returns to some form of normalcy. For others, they will not return out of continued fear. Another group of people is a little more undecided, and it is for those people that I write this post.
As I mentioned in my last post, we cut our monthly food bill by 50% in 2020. We used many tactics to achieve this goal, but the most impactful was eating at home. Surprisingly, we learned that saving money was only one benefit of eating at home and not the one we enjoyed most.
Here are my top 5 reasons to eat at home, ranked in descending order:
Reason # 5: Learn New Skills
In the post I wrote about why 2020 was a great year for me, I touched on some of my DIY greatest hits. One thing I did not include was cooking and eating more at home. We invested in an outdoor flat top grill/griddle, bread machine and started our own raised garden to expand our cooking horizons. We challenged ourselves to make and try new things and, in the process, learned new skills in the kitchen. Learning new skills is extremely rewarding. There is a sense of accomplishment that comes from doing it yourself. Our kids also got involved and have started to learn life skills that will serve them well down the road. They have also embraced and even began requesting some of our favorite dishes instead of asking to get take out or dine out.
Reason # 4: Try New Things
I have always had very self-limiting beliefs about food. When I was a little kid, I refused to eat most things. I was a proverbial picky eater. That continued into adulthood. By the time I was married with kids, the stories I had told myself about food were so ingrained that I didn’t attempt to change them. This past year has changed that mindset. I believe strongly in the growth mindset’s power, as described by Carol Dweck in her book Mindset. I apply this mindset to most aspects of my life and preach to my kids about loving to learn. As they got older and started to understand this messaging, they began calling me out on my fixed mindset regarding food and trying new things.
Cooking at home has afforded me the luxury of trying new things, mainly because I am frugal. When I go out to a restaurant, I get what I know I will like for fear that if I get something new and don’t like it, I will waste money. The excuse is eliminated when cooking at home, which leaves me with a simple choice, fixed, or growth. During the past year, I have chosen the growth mindset and have been rewarded greatly. The menu of things I like has grown significantly, and many of my new favorite dishes are foods I would not have even tried a year ago.
Reason # 3: Eat Healthier
Eating at home has proven to result in healthier eating overall. The reasons for this are varied, but this is what I have learned from my own experience.
When I eat out and spend money, I tend to order the foods that I really like and can not easily make myself. Unfortunately, those foods are mostly unhealthy and fried. We would also get a lot of take-out, high in calories and preservatives, and low in nutritional value.
As I mentioned, I am frugal. So when I eat out in any way, I leave nothing behind. I eat everything, so I don’t feel like I am wasting money. Leftovers from dining out in any way are just not as good or enjoyable as leftovers when you cook at home. Because of that, I overeat when I eat out. When I eat home cooked meals, I control the portions, and I do not feel the need to eat every bite knowing that I can quickly pack it up and eat it during another meal that week.
Lastly, the quality of the food we make at home is just better. The food is fresh and real. We do not add in unnecessary preservatives, only spices to improve the flavor. Luckily, we do not own a fryer of any kind, so none of the food is fried. We have complete control over what is in our food when we eat at home.
Reason # 2: Save Money
Have I mentioned that I am frugal? Well, I am. In 2019, we were spending $2300/mo on food for our family of four. Most of that was eating out. We were fat and poor. That trend was just not sustainable for obvious reasons. Eating at home was a clear answer.
Here is the best example I can think of. My family, like many, have Friday night pizza night. We love pizza, and we love the time with family. Friday night was set aside for this tradition, and we did it every week. If we were busy on a Friday, we would push it to Saturday. No matter what, we did it. In 2019, we decided that our pizza night would be at a new pizzeria that opened near our home, Anthony’s. Their pizza and beer selection is fantastic! The atmosphere was fun, and we loved going there.
At the end of 2019, I took a look at my year-end Amex statement. Amex sends a yearly review broken down by category, merchant, etc… One look at that, and I was in shock. We spent just under $5000 at Anthony’s alone. Each time we went, we spent about $100. This included 2 pizzas, 2 beers, and 2 sodas. Occasionally we would get some wings, meatballs, and extra bread. Bust mostly, it was pizza and drinks. We justified it to ourselves by saying it was just once a week, and it was family time. This was true, but it was also extreme. So we changed it in 2020.
Remember that bread machine I mentioned earlier in the post? We bought that so that we could start making our own dough and our own pizza. Every Friday, we make two dough balls that produce 4 large pizzas. We use 2 jars of sauce, some mozzarella cheese that we buy in bulk, and toppings that are usually sourced from leftovers or buy from the grocery store in large quantities. The total cost to make the four pizzas is $5-$7, depending on what toppings we use. We have a few beers that we get from local brewers ($2-$4 each), and the kids have drinks we get from the grocery store ($1). Our total cost for Friday night pizza night went from $100/week to $15/week!
Take the example and apply it to all of our meals, and it is easy to see how we were able to cut our food bill by 50% in 2020. Our goal for 2021 is to get our monthly food costs to under $1000/month. I suspect that as we get better at eating at home, we will accomplish this goal.
Reason # 1: Spending More Time With Family
As we embarked on this lifestyle change, our motivation was financial. We need to spend less on food, and we did. Ultimately, the best thing that has come out of eating at home has been spending more time with our family. By cooking at home, we have eliminated the commute, often done in silence as the kids would have their air pods in, and I would be listening to podcasts. We have eliminated the busy and loud restaurant where the conversation was difficult, and the distractions were plentiful.
What we have now is more rewarding than I could ever imagine. We are home with each other. Each Friday comes with its own activities. There are some Fridays where the kids have friends over and somewhere we spend it alone (thank you, Covid). The kids have helped make the pizza a few times, though it is my wife and me most of the time. She and I get to spend time together in the kitchen having good conversations and creating new and better versions of our homegrown pizzas. The quality is the same or better as when we ate out, and the experience is significantly better.
Where do we go from here?
I do not see us ever going back to the way we lived before. There are too many benefits for our family from eating at home to go back now. I see us expanding our menu and skills so that we can keep it fun and fresh. I hope that the kids get more involved and learn new skills to apply with their families down the road. This is not a novelty for us, this is now what we do and we are grateful for the 2019 budget fail for giving us the push we needed to do this.
What are some of your hidden benefits from eating at home that I didn’t mention? I would love to hear your stories and even some recipes. Please leave your comments below.