The Hidden Costs of Eating Out: Why Home Cooking is Better for Your Wallet and Your Health

Eating out has become a popular and convenient option for many individuals and families. Restaurants, fast food chains, and takeout services offer a variety of choices that cater to different tastes and dietary preferences.

While the convenience and variety of eating out can be appealing, there are hidden financial and health costs associated with this habit that are often overlooked.

In this article, we aim to shed light on these hidden costs and demonstrate why home cooking is not only better for your health, but also for your wallet.

By understanding the true impact of eating out on our finances and well-being, we can make more informed decisions and embrace home cooking as a healthier, more budget-friendly alternative.

Fast food vs. Home Cooking: Which is more economical?

This is a subject that has long been on the minds of adults with both stomachs and wallets. And there is not a simple solution.

It’s because coming up with an answer is conditional on the importance you place on your time, your health, and your finances.

First of all, time is money. Any time you spend has an equivalent cost, and ideally you should get paid for any period time you are not using for your own leisure. Therefore, that element must be considered in coming up with an answer.

On the flip side, it can be very expensive to be unhealthy. Being unhealthy can lead to debilitating, life-long diseases that can cost you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in medication, doctor appointments, surgeries, and treatments.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical American family spends around $3,000 per year on eating out (keep in mind that a single person’s expenditure counts as a household).

This is because, let’s say, if you eat out for lunch every workday for a year, Monday through Friday, you might spend $10 every meal. It comes to $50 every week.

If you eat out twice or three times a week, you can easily spend that much money. Dining out still includes ordering takeout or having food delivered after all. The minimum required orders and delivery costs for those mean it is virtually cheaper to eat at home.

If you spend $50 per week on eating out, you will spend $2,500 per year, which is about the national average. Half of the average American’s yearly food budget can be summed up to this number.

The annual cost of fast food to the average American varies widely, but research has found that thirty percent of all consumers spend an average of $180 a week on restaurant food. For certain families, that equates to $9,360 each year.

A Consumer Expenditure Survey published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics last year estimated that the average American spends $2,375 per year on eating out.

Whichever way you look at it, the sum total of American spending is enormous.

Keep in mind that markups of 300 percent or more are commonplace in restaurants. Service and ease of use are what you are paying for. A dinner that costs $15 at a restaurant can often be made at home for $5.

It is true that homemade meals will not always taste as well as restaurant fare. The occasional indulgence in a meal prepared by a trained chef is well worth the cost.

There are other motivations for going out to eat as well, including socializing, celebrating, exploring new cuisines, and relaxing from hectic schedules. However, if you eat out frequently for the purpose of convenience, you could save a significant amount of money by preparing meals at home.

Cooking might not appear to be a frugal choice at first. You will need cash to buy food and cooking supplies. Budgeting time and energy is also a consideration.

How much money can you save by home cooking?

The cost of ready-made meals sold in stores is much higher. A commercially cooked lunch will set you back about $13. Take into account how often you dine out, rather than how much you spend each time. A total of $6.50 can be spent on two lunches.

Alternatively, a home-cooked meal can be produced for roughly $4 in groceries, a savings of $9 per person per meal compared to eating out. Simply put, eating out at a restaurant costs 325 percent more than making the same dinner at home for four dollars.

Using the leftovers from your cooking will help you save even more money. The precise figures will vary depending on the price of food in your area.

However, in the same way that grocery prices tend to be higher in affluent neighborhoods, so do restaurant prices. Still, eating in will save you money in the long run.

The Hidden Costs of Eating Out: Why Home Cooking is Better for Your Wallet and Your Health

If you are trying to cut costs, you do not have to give up eating out forever. You can still save a lot of money without giving up takeout entirely. About four times a week, the average American consumes a ready-made meal.

Consider halving this. The annual cost savings for making just two of these meals at home instead is $936.

You may make significant progress toward your long-term and short-term savings goals with this additional sum. You can save nearly $500 per year if you cook or eat leftovers instead of eating out just once a week.

One other benefit of cooking at home rather than eating out is that the food is more likely to be nutritious. Home cooks have a healthier diet overall because they prepare most of their meals from scratch rather than relying on restaurants.

How much cheaper is it to eat in than to eat out?

If you want a simple answer: cooking at home is more cost-effective than eating out.

The human psychology variable explains why so many people cannot seem to go past the question. Not everyone is good with their money, and it is not like grocery store and fast food restaurant costs remain static.

Cooking a meal a dozen different ways means you have a dozen different ways to pay for it, and there is always a deal to be had, a discount to be scored. But there is still that factor of tallying all of that cost in your head.

It is very easy to think that fast food can be purchased for much less than the expense of preparing a similar meal at home.

For example, say a McChicken from McDonald’s costs $1.79. For one thing, chicken breasts typically come in packages, where you are paying for several chicken breasts and not just one, so if you wanted to make a chicken sandwich at home, you would have to spend a lot more than $1.79 to get the same quality.

You would also need to buy lettuce and bread. If you wanted to create a chicken sandwich, it would cost you around $10.

To rephrase, fast food is generally inexpensive, and eating out can be justified on the basis of cost if only relative to cooking at home.

It is simple to see how shopping at a supermarket can save you money compared to ordering in, especially if you are cooking for a large group or do not mind having leftovers or freezing the excess chicken you bought to eat at a later time.

For another example, a bean burrito at Taco Bell costs $1.19. Meanwhile, you can make 10 bean burritos at home in a few seconds in the microwave for approximately $6 if you buys a pack of 10 tortillas for $2, some vac-packed refried beans, and some shredded cheese.

If you go further than that and make your own tortillas, they can come out to amounting only 60 cents.

The arithmetic usually works out so that your food costs are significantly lower the more meals you make at home.

Why is eating out so much more expensive?

Eating out may seem like a convenient option, but it comes with a variety of hidden financial costs that can add up quickly. By understanding these costs, we can make more informed decisions about our dining habits and potentially save money in the long run.

Price Markup on Restaurant Meals

One of the most significant financial costs associated with eating out is the price markup on restaurant meals.

When you dine at a restaurant, you’re not just paying for the ingredients used in your meal; you’re also covering labor, overhead costs, and the restaurant’s profit margin.

As a result, the price of a restaurant meal can be substantially higher than the cost of purchasing the same ingredients at the grocery store and preparing the meal at home.

Tipping and Taxes

In addition to the price of the meal itself, eating out often involves additional expenses such as tipping and taxes.

In many countries, it’s customary to tip the server as a percentage of the total bill, which can add a significant amount to your overall dining cost.

Taxes can also increase the final price of your meal, making eating out even more expensive than it initially appears.

Drinks and Appetizers

When dining out, it’s easy to be tempted by the variety of drinks, appetizers, and desserts offered on the menu. These extras can quickly inflate the cost of your meal, as restaurants often charge a premium for beverages and side dishes.

By contrast, when cooking at home, you have the option to prepare a simple, cost-effective meal without the added expense of drinks and appetizers.

Sophisticated Marketing and Sales Techniques

Restaurants are experts at marketing their dishes and encouraging customers to spend more. From enticing menu descriptions to strategically placed promotional items, it’s easy to fall for these tactics and make impulse purchases that increase the cost of your meal.

Fast food companies and restaurants invest heavily in marketing and sales strategies to encourage customers to order more.

These tactics often include offering meal deals, upselling larger portions, and promoting limited-time offers that create a sense of urgency.

Moreover, the strategic placement of high-margin items on the menu and the use of visually appealing food photography can entice customers to spend more than they initially intended.

By cooking at home, you can avoid falling prey to these sophisticated marketing techniques and make more deliberate choices about what you eat and how much you spend on your meals.

Taking all of these together, it is clear how the financial costs of eating out can be substantial, especially when considering the hidden expenses such as price markups, tipping, taxes, and impulse purchases.

By being aware of these costs and opting for home-cooked meals, you can potentially save a significant amount of money while enjoying a more budget-friendly dining experience.

But high restaurant bills are not the only costs you are paying.

What are the health costs of eating out?

While the financial costs of eating out are apparent, the health costs can be more insidious. Many restaurant and fast food meals are not as healthy as they seem, and consuming them regularly can have negative impacts on our overall well-being.

The risks associated with fast food have been publicized repeatedly over the years, through all kinds of media. But studies found that it is not a smart idea to forego the drive-thru in favor of a “healthier” sit-down restaurant meal either.

A study published by Public Health Nutrition found that eating at fast food and full-service restaurants both result in “significant increases in energy, sugar, saturated fat, and Na [salt].”

More than 12,000 adults aged 20 to 64 were surveyed about their food consumption patterns over the course of two days. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey was responsible for gathering the information.

About one-third of the people in the research ate fast food on both days. On the first day, 28% of people ate at a full-service restaurant, while on the second day, just 20% did. The remaining members of the group went home for dinner.

The average daily calorie intake of persons who ate out at fast food joints and full-service restaurants was higher by 200 compared to those who cooked their own meals at home, according to the study’s authors. These additional calories amounted to around 10% of their daily total.

Eating in a fast food joint or a sit-down restaurant results in a higher calorie intake for black people than it does for white or Hispanic diners. High-income persons were least likely to experience negative health effects from dining out, maybe because they are able to afford more upscale and nutrient-dense options.

People do not make adjustments to their calorie intake on the days they eat at fast food and full-service restaurants.

The study participants also had higher overall and restaurant-specific intakes of sugar, salt, and saturated fat. Researchers found that the average daily sodium intake was over 20% higher for those who ate at restaurants, compared to 13% for those who ate at fast food establishments.

Weight gain has long been linked to eating out, especially at fast food restaurants. According to an analysis by the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, children who eat fast food, even once a week, are more likely to gain weight.

One study found that persons who consumed fast food more than once per week had a higher body mass index. Body mass index (BMI) is a metric used to determine if an individual is underweight, overweight, or at a healthy weight.

The Hidden Costs of Eating Out: Why Home Cooking is Better for Your Wallet and Your Health

There is a link between eating at restaurants and gaining weight, according to other studies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 90 million adults in the United States are obese, or about 40% of the population.

Overweight is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 30, and obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher in adults. About 14.5 percent of children and adolescents (ages 2-19) are overweight.

About 800,000 Americans lose their lives each year to heart disease as a direct result of their obesity. High blood pressure, a direct result of obesity, is a leading cause of strokes.

About 75 million Americans have hypertension, and stroke is the fifth greatest cause of death, affecting nearly 800,000 people annually.

Sleep apnea, diabetes, gout, gallstones, and gallbladder disease are some of the other health problems associated with obesity.

Why is eating out unhealthier than home cooking?

The health costs of eating out are often overlooked, but they can have serious consequences for our overall well-being.

By being aware of the potential pitfalls of restaurant and fast food meals, such as oversized portions, lower-quality ingredients, unhealthy cooking methods, and hidden calories, you can make more informed choices and prioritize home-cooked meals for a healthier lifestyle.

Portion Sizes

One of the main issues with restaurant and fast food meals is the oversized portion sizes. These establishments often serve portions that are significantly larger than the recommended serving sizes, leading to excessive calorie consumption.

For example, a typical fast food burger meal with a large soda and fries can easily exceed 1,000 calories, which is more than half of the daily recommended calorie intake for most adults. Consuming large portions regularly can contribute to weight gain and increase the risk of obesity-related health issues.

The reason for this is that over the past two decades, there has also been a significant shift in the average size of meals. Plate size may have a role in this.

Today’s serving sizes are astronomical when compared to those of the past. In the 1960s, a typical dinner plate measured between 7 and 9 inches in diameter. These days, typical dinner plates measure between 11 and 12 inches across. More food can be served on a larger platter.

How portions have altered over the past two decades is detailed on the “Portion Distortion” page of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s website. Some of what it discovered is as follows:

The diameter of today’s bagels has more than doubled, from 3 inches to 6 inches, and the calorie count has increased from 140 to 350. Not included are spreads like butter and cream cheese.

The typical calorie count of a cheeseburger has climbed from 333 to 590. In addition to the calories in the cheeseburger, there would also be those in the fries and soda.

The average size of a spaghetti dinner is growing. There are 500 calories in one serving of pasta and three little meatballs. Two cups of spaghetti and three large meatballs, a more common portion size today, has 1,025 calories.

The portions of French fries are also larger. The calorie count for a 2.4-ounce serving is 210. The 610 calories in today’s 6.9-ounce serving size is the result.

This is not unique to fast food restaurants, either. In many restaurants, it is possible to consume an excessive amount of calories in a single sitting.

Ingredient Quality

Restaurants and fast food establishments often prioritize cost savings over ingredient quality, which can result in the use of cheaper, less healthy ingredients in their dishes.

For instance, they may use lower-quality cuts of meat, processed foods containing artificial additives, or large amounts of unhealthy fats and sugars. When cooking at home, you have the opportunity to choose higher-quality, fresh, and whole ingredients that are more beneficial for your health.

Cooking Methods

Many restaurants and fast food chains rely on unhealthy cooking methods, such as deep-frying, to prepare their meals.

These cooking techniques can result in high levels of unhealthy fats, such as trans fats and saturated fats, which are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and other health problems.

The preparation methods used in restaurants have a major bearing on the nutritional value of the food they provide. Calories are increased in items that are fried or doused in heavy creams and sauces.

It is possible to ruin the nutritious content of veggies by cooking them in butter and salt. The same holds true for fish; hollandaise turns a beautiful piece of salmon with lemon into calorie hell.

The USDA recommends that a typical adult male consume 2,500 calories per day and a typical adult female ingest 2,000 calories per day.

Meanwhile, the typical American diet in 1970 consisted of 2,160 calories per day. In 2010, the average American consumed 2,673 calories per day. The rate of childhood obesity in the United States has tripled since the 1970s, which comes as no surprise.

By cooking at home, you can choose healthier cooking methods like baking, grilling, or steaming, which preserve the nutrients in your food and reduce the amount of unhealthy fats.

Hidden Calories

When dining out, it can be challenging to accurately estimate the calorie content of your meal. Many dishes contain hidden calories in the form of sauces, dressings, or added sugars, making it difficult to determine the true nutritional value of what you’re eating.

A seemingly healthy salad at a restaurant can contain more than 1,000 calories due to the generous amounts of dressing, cheese, and other high-calorie toppings.

The calories pile up quickly, even at upscale restaurants. Hundreds of extra calories might be found in the sauces offered at steakhouses. Even the smallest fillet on the menu has more than 1,000 calories if eaten alone.

When you factor in the sides, a single meal might easily exceed your calorie limit for the day.On the other hand, cooking at home gives you full control over the ingredients and can better manage the calorie content of your meals.

What are the benefits of home cooking?

Having explored the financial and health costs of eating out, it’s essential to highlight the numerous benefits of home cooking.

Embracing home cooking can lead to a healthier lifestyle and significant cost savings, making it a worthwhile investment of time and effort. Here are some of the key advantages of preparing meals at home:

Cost Savings

One of the most apparent benefits of home cooking is the potential for significant cost savings. By purchasing groceries and preparing meals at home, you can avoid the price markups, tipping, taxes, and impulse purchases associated with eating out. Additionally, you can save money by buying ingredients in bulk, taking advantage of sales and discounts, and minimizing food waste through proper meal planning and storage.

Healthier Meals

One of the greatest advantages of home cooking is that it often leads to a more healthful diet than eating out. Of course, it’s not guaranteed.

You can get several processed, harmful meals at the supermarket, such as jelly-filled doughnuts. But at the same time, it’s also not the same as the bacon burgers and curly fries at the nearest fast food joint.

Fast food places, in particular, tend to provide salads and wraps that are both healthful and low in calories.

When you cook at home, you have complete control over the ingredients and cooking methods used in your meals. This allows you to create healthier, more nutritious dishes tailored to your dietary needs and preferences.

You can choose high-quality, fresh ingredients, opt for whole grains and lean proteins, and incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables into your meals.

Furthermore, you can control the amount of added sugars, salts, and unhealthy fats, reducing the risk of chronic health issues like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Portion Control

As mentioned above, home cooking makes it easier to manage portion sizes and avoid overeating. By preparing meals at home, you can serve appropriate portions based on the recommended serving sizes, helping you maintain a balanced diet and avoid consuming excessive calories.

You can also save leftovers for future meals, which not only helps with portion control but also reduces food waste and saves money.

Customization and Creativity

One of the biggest benefits of home cooking your meals is that it can also be a source of fun. Cooking at home offers the freedom to experiment with recipes and cater to individual tastes and dietary requirements.

You can modify recipes to suit your preferences, accommodate allergies or intolerances, and explore new flavors and cuisines.

Home cooking also provides an opportunity to develop your culinary skills and take pride in creating delicious, satisfying meals from scratch.

How do you maximize savings while cooking for yourself at home?

Whether or not fast food or groceries is less expensive depends heavily on how you allocate your food budget.

Do you buy the best possible ingredients? Do you choose for the more expensive prime rib or the more budget-friendly pork chops? Do you read recipe blogs and go grocery shopping with a list of twenty items?

The Hidden Costs of Eating Out: Why Home Cooking is Better for Your Wallet and Your Health

Adding on to that, do you check the menu’s price before ordering, or do you just get whatever sounds good? How often do you shop around for the best price?

The cost of groceries and fast food can add up quickly if you are not attentive. It all comes down to your restaurant and retail habits.

Get your produce when it is at its peak of freshness. If you are craving seasonal produce out of season? Buy them frozen as frozen vegetables are typically very versatile and can be used in a variety of dishes, such as a quick omelet, a casserole, or a stir fry.

Only buy perishables if you know you will use them quickly. If you want to try new recipes, wait until a week when you will not have a lot going on. Schedule around the best time to purchase proteins and short shelf-life foods.

Invest in nonperishable goods. Common pantry staples like canned tuna, crackers, and dry spaghetti are great to have on any occasion. All tasty meals that do not go bad quickly, so there is no need to rush to eat them all.

For the best deals, peruse the grocery store’s clearance section. They put things in there that are about to expire or have been damaged in shipping.

Do a lot of cooking in batches to save time. The more frequently you cook, the faster you become. But that does not mean getting help from time to time should be ignored.

There are other ways to speed up the cooking process as well. Think smarter when getting your ingredients together. If a recipe calls for mixing together milk and eggs, do it right in the measuring cup. That is a huge time-saver in the kitchen.

Experiment wisely. Even if you have some cooking knowledge, it is best to stick to a recipe for safety’s sake. To save prep and cleanup time, cooks need to be adaptable. Not every component has to be measured precisely.

Put all your money into use. Most of what people throw away can be cooked, which is a huge money saver.

For example, if you buy a head of broccoli, you may roast the florets, but most people throw away the stalk. Don’t. Make a slaw using broccoli and this.

Do you want carrots, radishes, or beets? Make pesto out of them, or sauté them with some garlic. Prepare cauliflower stalks for a soup or sauté. Crispy potato skins are a delicious snack. Fry them in some oil and season them with salt instead of throwing them away.

Also, remember that you have some leeway in adjusting the ingredients called for in a recipe. If a recipe calls for a pinch of two different herbs, use just one and increase the amount by a factor of two. Make do with what you have before running out to get more.

Purchase a meat chiller. If you make a lot of meals, that device can be quite useful for storing leftover food, but you may not be interested in spending a lot of money in order to save a lot of money in the long run.

How can I save money when eating out?

If you do end up having no choice but to eat out for a meal, there are still ways you can save money.

Although grocery stores typically offer better deals, fast food restaurants still nonetheless offer reasonably priced options. If you are looking for ways to save money on already inexpensive fast food, consider the following suggestions.

Get the main course and skip all the extras. The longest amount of time is spent cooking the protein. It is the last thing anyone wants to do when they are tired or busy.

Even when pressed for time, vegetables that can be steamed and instant rice are two examples of economical and quick-to-prepare sides.

You will save money, and you might even end up with a healthier lunch. You may order that high-calorie burger you have been craving while forgoing the fries in favor of some microwaveable greens.

You probably should not get a drink until you are very thirsty. The cost of your drinks at restaurants is astronomically high, so going for simple tap water can save you loads.

Find the budget options menus. Value meals can be found at many fast food places, including McDonald’s, Burger King, and Sonic Drive-In, for under three dollars.

Keep in mind that the cheapest option on the menu is not necessarily the best value. Go with what you feel gives you the most bang for your buck.

Make use of postal discounts. You probably get fast food discount coupons in the mail on a regular basis, but you probably end up throwing them away when you might be saving money.

Participate in loyalty programs. You undoubtedly already know that if you download the restaurant’s app, you may expect to receive digital coupons and be notified of special offers.

Invest wisely on restaurant gift cards. Discounted gift cards can be purchased from sites like and It is not a huge cut, but it could help you save money.

A discount of 8% would bring the price of a $50 gift card to a restaurant or coffee shop down to $46. Do not let your restaurant gift cards collect dust in a drawer; many are given but never used.

Keep in mind that certain grocery stores too provide points that may be used for discounted gas or other rewards if you shop there frequently.

Final thoughts

The most essential takeaway from this is to be mindful of the food you purchase, whether at a fast food joint or a grocery store. When we go through the motions of purchasing without giving any thought to it, that is when we pay the highest prices.

In conclusion, the benefits of home cooking extend beyond financial savings and improved health. By embracing home cooking, you can also enjoy greater control over portion sizes, the ability to customize your meals, and the satisfaction of developing your culinary creativity. With these advantages in mind, it’s clear that home cooking is a worthwhile endeavor that can lead to a healthier, more budget-friendly, and fulfilling lifestyle.

The idea that people should never eat in a restaurant is absurd. That is not the point of this article. There are always special events that call for a restaurant meal, such as birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, graduations, and more.

All of that is fine. Finding a happy medium between never dining out and eating out too often is the trick.

You can improve your diet and your weight by eating at home. You will be able to control what goes into your body, saving yourself from potentially harmful fat, sodium, and other additives.

The money you will save by not eating out as much can go toward paying off debt or boosting your retirement fund. Also, in this day and age of longer workdays and longer commutes, cooking together as a family is a wonderful way to reconnect.

Your candle-lit restaurant dinners will feel all the more rewarding and meaningful when you don’t have them all the time.

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