Do you ever wonder why people eat out so much? Apparently it's in the news now, that people (Americans) officially spend more money eating out than they do on food cooked and eaten at home. For the first time ever. Dan over at Casual Kitchen has a good post on the topic - that people still insist that it's expensive to eat healthy, and some people insist that it's cheaper to eat out. And it's not.
But that is not the point I was going to make today. What point was I going to make today? Well, we did quite a bit of eating out on our vacation recently - I'd say once per day. (That's a lot for us.) McD's once (I know, I know. I even packed myself a salad on McD's day, and my husband got it out of the car, it wasn't lidded correctly, and it exploded all over the ground. Bye bye salad.) Chipotle a couple of times. A sandwich. Pizza.
My family is a big fan of Mexican food (or Mexican-like food). One thing that we love (besides burritos and quesadillas) are "bowls". Well, I like them because they are easy. Sort of. And cheap. Sort of.
You can get a "bowl" with a coupon for $5 to $9, so that's not too terrible, right? But of course you can make it home for cheap, so why don't people? Let me tell you why. Here's a summary of my bowl-making efforts recently.
1. The rice: I use a rice cooker. Chop onions, press a garlic clove, chop a couple of carrots. Rinse rice. Put rice, peas, carrots, onions, garlic, some spices, some tomato paste, and water in the rice cooker. Do it early enough because it's brown rice so it will take 90 minutes. ~$1.75 for 5 cups
2. The beans: Soak pinto beans all day in the pressure cooker. Cook at pressure, let come down in pressure naturally. $0.60 for 1 lb dried beans
3. The guacamole/ sour cream: buy it at Trader Joe's. $3.00
4. The cheese: shred it yourself: $2.00 for 1/2 lb
5. The veggies: I used cauliflower, so I chopped, tossed with spices and oil, and roasted. $2.20
6. The salsa: I buy this, but darn it if I'm out. So make a quick version with canned diced tomatoes, garlic, green onion, jarred or frozen spicy peppers: $0.75
7. The chicken: cook this up in the crockpot. 3 lbs sale chicken + homemade BBQ sauce = $5
Now, this is delicious, makes enough for 4 people to eat at least 4 meals (in my house), except for the guacamole that will brown anyway. But there are 6 different steps up there that I had to go through to make the stuff. That's 2 steps per meal still. All told, this is $15.30 for about 4 meals, or $3.83 per meal (for four people).
Versus going to a restaurant: walk up to front, order, eat. This, my friends, is why people eat out.
At times when I've been home (maternity), or working part time, it's been easier for me to spend time cooking, because I'm at home. When I'm out of the house for 50 hours a week working, it's MUCH harder.
For four of us at a restaurant, it would run $20 to $35.
By cooking, I save $16 to $31 PER MEAL. A no-brainer, right? Except for a few notes:
1. I'm pretty good at this frugal cooking and shopping thing, so those prices are near rock-bottom.
2. Active, hands-on cooking time there is probably about 3 hours all told. Most people look at that and say "shoot, I'm going to Chipotle!" And really, you have way more variety there with different ingredients, different salsas. But variety comes with a price.
You could say I'm "earning" money by cooking:
Cost to eat out four meals: $100
Cost for my four meals: $16
Work hours: 3
Money earned per hour by cooking: $28
That makes me feel a *little* better when at the end of a long weekend of cooking.