Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Budget Take-Out Ideas

If you are like me, you've given up on eating out with children. Take-out is the next best thing when you don't want to cook, but its soooo expensive. Here are some easy things you can do to stretch a take out meal for a treate that doesn't break your budget, and to dilute the fatty, salty take out with some healthier fare.

As soon as you place the order, put a batch of (brown) rice in your rice cooker. A batch of Egg-Drop Soup can be whipped up in under 10 minutes as well. By the time you pick up your dinner, the rice will be ready. Order foods heavy on the sauce and serve them over the rice. Be sure to order MSG-free. One order of Sweet & Sour Chicken or BBQ Beef & Broccoli served over rice with Egg Drop Soup will serve four this way, and your total out of pocket expense is $5-10 depending on the restaurant.

Go with take & bake instead of delivery just for the fact that its much much cheaper and pound for pound you get more pizza. Instead of soda serve fruit juice from your freezer and a bagged salad. Skip the specialty pizzas and go basic, add your own extra veggies at home and less meat & cheese equals less fat & calories. Take & bake pizzas here range from $5.99 for fresh at the grocery store to $10.99 at the parlor. Frozen pizzas (and there are some really delicious frozen pizzas these days) are $2-6 each. 1 large pizza, salad & juice will serve 4-6 adults at a total cost of $8-12 depending on which pizza you choose.

Deli Subs:
My family loves Subway, but to fill my family of four up on sandwiches is usually at a cost of $20! Instead, just order 2 footlongs, heavy on the veggies using lean meats. Order less expensive sandwiches instead of specialty sandwiches and turn them "special" using free additions like pepper jack or swiss cheese and specialty sauces. Extra veggies are usually free, but extra meat and cheese they charge you for-so load it up with lots of veggies. Ask them to cut the sandwich in thirds instead of in half. Skip the chips and serve at home with sliced fresh fruit and water to drink. Six people can eat this meal for a total cost of $10-12.

Cook a batch of rigatoni noodles after you place your order. When they are done, it will be time to pick up your food. Spritz them with olive oil so they won't stick. Add your pasta order to this to make it go farther--Italian restaurants serve pasta with 2-3 times as much sauce is needed. You won't have noodleless sauce left behind. Order one order of pasta (vegetable based sauces are healthier than cream based) and pick up a loaf of French Bread and a bagged salad. Serves 4-6 people and your total cost is in the neighborhood of $10-14.

Order a beef, chicken or pork meal served with rice & beans. Avoid serving based dishes like tacos, burritos, chimichangas, and go for something typically served with a few tortillas. At home, break out more tortillas from your fridge and extra lettuce & tomatoes. Serves four at a total cost of $5-10.

Also find out if anyone locally makes & delivers authentic Mexican food. This is uuber cheap and even more delicious!

Your grocery store deli probably has much less expensive chicken than KFC. I've found there is only one store in town whose chicken tastes good. However a piece of fried chicken is worse for your heart than a steak, so opt instead for a Rotisserie chicken. Skip the deli salads in favor of fresh fruit and bulk bakery rolls instead of the "meal deal" rolls that are often high in sugar and very small. Your total cost for four people is $8-10.

More Helpful Hints:
Plan ahead! If you know you are going to have a take-out dinner, order it around 2pm and get the lunchtime prices which are usually $2-5 cheaper than dinner entrees. Then put it in your fridge and reheat at lunchtime-leftovers usually taste better anyway! Avoid chain restaurants because their food is usually much higher in preservatives, trans fats, calories, and MSG than locally owned small businesses. If you do drink soda, a 2-liter at the grocery store is 79 cents versus $1-3 per soda from a restaurant. For more health benefits, skip the soda and drink water!


MommyK said...

A couple of other ideas for days when you don't want to cook...

...when I make recipes that yield a lot, I freeze the second half, providing it's a food that handles the cold well. I made baked ziti a couple of months ago, and earlier this week we had the second half. It was easy to defrost it and reheat, and I threw in a loaf of fresh bread and a simple salad. The whole meal took 10 minutes to prepare.

Also, frozen meals have really come a long way. Read nutrition labels to make sure you aren't loading up on too much sodium or fat, and stock up when they go on sale to save money. I just bought 6 Kashi frozen meals at better than 1/2 price, they taste fantastic and are much healthier than other brands of frozen meals.

If you're going for fast food, an easy way to save a little money and also tons of calories is to order from the kids menu. The Junior Burger at Wendy's costs a lot less than a regular size burger, and it's plenty big for an adult.

Giovana said...

There are some great ideas in here. I'm a young mother, and I know my kids sometimes actually want different plates instead of the usual. I'm glad that I have more ideas on how to mix up dinner time.