Is your dinner for here or to go?

Last week on a local morning radio show, I heard these amazing statistics about the American dinner:

At 4pm everyday, 75% of Americans do not know what they will be having for dinner. Only 16% of the meals consumed at home are actually “home-cooked.” The rest are take-out, frozen or pre-packaged meals.

— Source: Chris Kimball, Publisher of “Cook’s Illustrated” magazine

Now, the first statistic — about not knowing what’s for dinner — doesn’t surprise me in the least. I bet many of us arrive home, open the fridge, and THEN try to figure out what to make. We certainly do that a lot around here. It can be a relief to have meals pre-planned, and putting something yummy in the Crock Pot in the morning is a great idea … but it doesn’t always happen.

But the second number — that only 16% of meals at home are home cooked — is a shocker. That means out of 30 days in a month, people cook about 5 dinners. Dinner cooked once a week. Not to mention breakfast and the weekend lunch.

Especially in this economy, where people are cutting back on dining out, I wonder about this statistic.

How do we do?

Usually, we are guiltiest of eating out on the weekend, but this weekend went like this:

  • Friday night we cooked for family (using one of our big squash from the garden).
  • Saturday we ate lunch out at Chipotle.
  • Saturday night we went to a party (with a homemade appetizer and home-baked bread).
  • Sunday lunch Mr. Cheap made burritos.
  • Sunday night we weren’t too hungry, so Mr. Cheap ate leftovers and Little Cheap and I had popcorn and wrapped up with some cookies and milk after parceling out her Girl Scout cookies for delivery.

We have cut back on some restaurant eating. We always eat breakfast at home — our local joint has good food, but breakfast for three can run $30. Most often, we visit our circuit of favorite restaurants — an Ethiopian place near our home, an Indian restaurant farther afield, and occasionally we order Chinese food. Other options are a bit pricier — sushi or, as Mr. Cheap and I did last week, the occasional splurge where we took advantage of a special deal that made an extraordinary restaurant more affordable. (We’ll consider that our Valentine’s dinner — and no, we don’t do it often, but great food is a great reason to save money other times.) In these tough economic times, I don’t want to eschew restaurants altogether — after all, I do want my city to have great places to eat.

In addition to breakfast at home and dinner cooked at home an average of 6 nights a week, our lunches usually come from home, too. We used to buy Little Cheap’s lunch at school, but when Little Cheap’s school lunches rose to $4 a day this year, we started sending lunch four days a week.  This is especially great as school no longer provides sack lunches on field trip days, so we would be paying but packing a lunch on those days. (She still has hot lunch on Fridays, which include pizza and a cookie to get the munchkins through the end of the week.) Mr. Cheap most often takes leftovers or cooks ahead, and I eat at home usually, because I’m working there too.

Our total? I would estimate that our food is home cooked about 86% of the time.

How about you?

How often do you eat in or out? Do you cook or do you intend to cook … or do you just not bother?

Answer the poll and tell us about your table below.

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14 thoughts on “Is your dinner for here or to go?

  1. SavvyChristine says:

    I’m curious about those statistics you heard on the radio. Do you think “prepackaged” includes things like pre-made ravioli or tortellini? Because then I’m guilty as charged.

  2. Lan says:

    We tend to cook at home a lot–and I’m trying to be better about menu planning (or, at least contemplating it before 2 pm on the day of!) but that’s been hit-or-miss. What we *do* do a lot of is cook a big batch of soup, or make up several lasagnes, then freeze the extra, so all that has to be made on a busy weeknight is a salad or something similarly easy.

    As for eating out… we aren’t doing that much these days (hello tighter budget), but when we do go out, it tends to be for breakfast. Probably because while I like breakfast, I don’t like to cook it, so it’s a break for Mr. Lan when we go out. Dinner: not so much.

    What I’ve always enjoyed (but haven’t gotten to do often since we had a child) is to go out for dessert. Decadent yet affordable–and you don’t have three-quarters of a cake sitting around your house tempting you for the next week!

  3. erin says:

    Due to the influence of CityMama (http://citymama.typepad.com/) our family does weekly meal planning. Last weekend we actually did a “pantry inventory” and tried to come up with creative meals from the pantry. When we remember to do the weekly planning – we do great. When we forget or stray from that idea, we may be more prone to eating out. Generally, we eat breakfast at home, lunch at home when we are home or bring leftovers, and cook dinner 6 nights a week. Maybe two months ago I would have said that we ate dinner out two times a week but we have cut back.

  4. Rob says:

    For a single guy, I tend to cook at home quite a bit, but have to admit having my fair share of take out. This weekend, I worked Overtime, Breakfast was out a (at my car club meeting) No lunch and dinner was chicken soup I made from leftover chicken. Sunday Breakfast was a piece of toast, Lunch at mom’s, dinner was a sandwich made with leftover pot roast.

  5. Wendy Gabriel says:

    I try to plan out my weekly meals ahead of time (not always successfully)… so we have the ingredients on hand. Before we had kids we ate out a lot more than we do now. It’s less costly and (usually) less chaotic to eat at home!

    Love your blog!

  6. AngelaSpots says:

    DH and I work full time out of the house and have two kids under 4. We cook at home every night. I rarely make things from scratch. Tonight was spagetti and meatballs, the meatballs were frozen and the sauce canned.

    For eating out we hit McDonalds as a treat once a month or so. DH indulgest in coffee out most weekday mornings and has the odd lunch out. I brown bag it and the kids daytime food is provided with their care.

  7. jessimonster says:

    We used to cook almost everything at home. Since my son was born, we’ve been eating out a lot more often. Then since my mom’s ankle has been broken, we eat out or eat premade food more often than we cook at home. It bothers me quite a bit.

  8. Kris says:

    We eat out for supper once a month — if that. I try to plan a menu but sometimes I just wing it. We are lucky to raise our own beef so I always have a freezer full of meat to choose from. In the fall I can up several jars of “convenience” foods. I can meaty spaghetti sauce, chili, vegetable beef soup, turkey in broth, and chicken. These can be made into a quick supper after a ballgame instead of driving through a fast food place or ordering pizza.

  9. Nikol says:

    We have a perpetual dry-erase calendar on the fridge & a magnetic dry-erase pen (even more key–you won’t do it if you can’t find the pen) & every Sunday, I look in the fridge and jot down a week of potential meals based on what’s on hand and note anything that needs to go on the week’s shopping list. If the fridge is bare, I check out what’s oldest in the freezer. If you have something erasable and a pen right at hand, it only takes a few minutes to check what you already have and plan to eat it. My partner gets home late, so I include enough leftovers/frozen (frozen=real food; we always make extra & freeze) so that we only have to really cook half of the week or less & the rest is just heating up and making a veg or salad.

    This is the calendar we use: http://www.nordisco.com/shop/Product.asp?mscssid=&idsection2=8&id2=2&idss2=43&idgroup2=2311&strSKUPrefix=QRT&strSKU=12707032. It has 4 weekly strips you can rotate each week (so you don’t have to erase a whole month and start over). I only use a week at at time, but if you were industrious, you could write your family’s commitments on one weekly strip & meals on another, so you’d plan easiest food on the busiest days.

    We usually just switch things around to eat what we’re in the mood for unless something’s due to expire, but having 7 potential meals lined out–and noting what will spoil if we don’t eat it–saves a lot of time and money.

  10. cara says:

    We used to be the family that looked into the fridge at 4pm (or sometimes 6pm!) and tried to figure out what to do for dinner only to realize that nothing was thawed from the freezer, or there weren’t enough ingredients to make a meatless meal. But we all got frustrated with that routine. Now, I make a list of meals we would like to eat for at least 7 days out. I usually do it on the weekend and start the list based on things we already have in our pantry. Then, I make a list of the remaining ingredients we’ll need. I write the list of meals and post it on the fridge. In the morning, I scan the list, choose a meal that sounds good and take out anything from the freezer so it will be ready for the evening. This has been such a huge help. We’re no longer rushing around in the evening, running last minute to the store or ordering an unplanned pizza. This little bit of planning has also saved on our grocery budget.

  11. cheaplikeme says:

    @Cara – We used to do EXACTLY that. After quite a while I think we got into the habit of automatically shopping and cooking that way … which we still generally do. It’s a great way to train or maintain one’s cooking habits.

  12. Kelly says:

    the hubby and I tend to eat dinner out (without the kids) twice and month and we take the kids out to dinner maybe once/month. Hubby eats lunch out, but he runs a business and considers this to be a neccessary thing- to grab a quick and cheap meal for himself and his crew, and he writes it of with business expenses. The kids and I do not eat out for breakfast or for lunch. Although, on occassion I do have lunch with a friend but I would guess that is only once/month or less often.

    My problem is that I spend a bit too much on groceries. I need to learn to cook more meals that have less expensive ingredients.

  13. Diane says:

    We go out for supper once a week. I always pack my lunch for work, and my husband goes out to eat 2-3 times/week. The rest of the time, we make meals at home. Most of those are homemade, but we do prepare frozen pizza or boxed Indian food regularly too.

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