Tuesday, October 6, 2009

30 Day Dine-in Challenge

Quite simply, we're tired of dining out.  Sounds crazy, huh?  I grew up in a family where dining out was a treat and I never thought I'd tire of having someone else prepare, serve, and clean-up a meal.  But, living in the LA area means lots of commuting and a fast-paced lifestyle that often leaves us too tired to even think about meal preparation.  The result: we eat out...a lot.  We eat out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  We eat out pretty much every time my wonderful husband is home. 
After 5 years of marriage, we are experiencing restaurant burnout.  Perhaps you are suffering as well. The symptoms: ambivalence about where to dine, restaurant food has lost its flavor, you run through a list of the "usuals" when deciding where you'll eat, none of the aforementioned restaurants even appeal to you....well, you get the idea.
As if restaurant burnout weren't enough, we've learned that its not actually "easier" now that we have 2 children in tow.  Here's our typical train of thought: It's already after 6 and will easily be 6:30 by the time we get home and well after 7 before we get food into our toddler's tummy, and then there's the clean-up issue.  Hey, let's just grab a bite out on the way home - it'll be easier.  The problem: it never is easier.  In fact, we've discovered its a lot more stressful.  Sure, it starts out great.  Our toddler, Olivia, busies herself with the crayons and our baby, Kailyn, is typically snoozing from the car ride.  But then it all starts to come apart: Olivia gets bored and Kailyn wakes up wanting to nurse.  The second half of the "experience" involves trying to scarf down our food while simultaneously entertaining Olivia and nursing Kailyn.  By the time we leave, our wallet is $50 lighter, we are stressed and exhausted, and we can't even recall what we ate.
So, we decided to shake it up.  The goal: dine on home cooked meals for the entire month.  The rules are simple: everything must be prepared at home.  The exceptions: deli-style sandwiches (we had to have one exception to allow for those harried days) and traveling.  The challenge: finding the energy to cook every day, pack lunches for work, and plan/grocery shop every week. 
Is anyone else out there experiencing restaurant burnout?  How have you made dining at home easier?  Any great dairy-free, easy, fast recipe ideas you'd like to share?  Stay tuned to see how it goes - we are 4 days in and hoping to make big changes to our habits this month!!


  1. See my other site: http://milkfreerecipes.blogspot.com

  2. We've been doing this for about 9 months now. We literally eat out for dinner about 1 time per month. I thought it would KILL me, but it really is easier and a whole lot cheaper. We started a routine of making smoothies for all 3 of us in the morning (www.grahamcrackerbrigade.posterous.com). When I am home with Emme on Tues/Thurs, I make us something special like pancakes or french toast. I often buy my lunch somewhere quick & cheap, Elton usually takes leftovers from dinner the night before. We have a word doc on our computer desktop with a list of every possible meal we can make (some meals last 2 nights) and the ingredients. Then, on Saturday morning, we pick 7 nights of dinners see what staples we are our of (like smoothie ingredients, bagels & crackers) & type up a shopping list for Vons and Trader Joes. Lucky for me, Elton then goes and does all the shopping. Almost every week at least two of our dinners span 2 nights, like a big lasagna or pot of chili or soup. And, one meal is always something frozen for a last-minute night. It doesn't get any quicker or easier than that! Then, we are all set for the week. We don't have to wonder what we are going to eat or make multiple trips to the store and we use up almost everything in our fridge every week. Oh, and I also started to make one pot of soup each month and put it in individual containers in the freezer. Then we have "emergency meals" if one of us is not home for dinner or needs a lunch or something. By Saturday, we are almost to down to nothing, so we waste very little. Once you get in the habit of doing this, going out starts to seem like a pain in the rear and you are happy to be home with your family for dinner:)

    --Natalie Stewart Graham :)

  3. Andrea, thanks for that link. I spied it when I was on your site the other day, then got sidetracked...not sure how that happened with all the spare time I have on my hands ;) I'll go back and check it out

  4. Natalie - a spreadsheet/word doc?!?! Wow, that is VERY organized. I'm impressed! Care to share the fruit of your labor? I feel like I keep making the same 5 things or so.

  5. Hey Kristel - Well you know me - I am a cooker and don't really like eating out - with my work schedule some days or worse than others. We eat a lot of crock pot meals - which include the meat and potatoes - or beans - or even pasta or rice. We also eat a lot of tex mex - burritos - fajitas - fast and easy and good for you.

    But for some of those really hard days - here in Montana we have a place called Dinners Done Right - which is where you can go in and make your own "fresh" entrees to take home and throw in the freezer and take out for dinner and either crock pot - set the oven - or grill that night.

    The meals are $219 for the 4 to 6 servings for 12 meals - which equals $18.25 a meal - This month we had tex mex lasagna, baked tortellini, kalbi flank steak, sweet and sour tenderloins, soft chicken tacos, and 4 bean chicken stew. They are delicious - since you are making them your self you can add extra or leave out some the ingredients. And I took Andrew with me and in 2 hours we made 12 dinners. He had a blast. The stations are set up with all the measuring cups and things you need. Look in your area - it a great experience.

    Patti Renenger