I have to confess that I kind of love fast food. Mmm, salty French fries and a Dr. Pepper get me all the time. Those brightly-colored restaurants call my name incessantly…
Come on, you know it’s getting late and you really need to get the kids down for a nap as soon as you get home. There’s nothing to eat at home anyway. You can spend less by splitting the kids’ food [what a deal!]. You’ve been working really hard lately and you deserve a reward.
Like most of you, I know that it’s not good for me, and it’s also not cheap. A lot of it really doesn’t even taste good, either. So this past summer, I determine (a) that we were going to go a lot of different places and do a lot of different things and (b) that we were not going to eat fast food.
I have good news to report: even though we went many places and were gone for many mealtimes, we didn’t eat fast food*! I can confidently say that we’ve conquered the fast food habit. I can count on one hand the times we’ve eaten an unplanned fast food meal since the beginning of summer, and I am really excited about my progress in this area! Much like my newfound laundry habit, I really want to shout to the world about the progress we’ve made in this area, so I hope I can encourage any of you who might have the same goal.
Here’s how I quit the fast food habit:
Above image modified from tspauld.
1. Have delicious, easy food ready to eat at home.
Why did it take me years – years – to realize that if I spent a little extra on groceries and had good food to eat at home, I wouldn’t be nearly so tempted to eat out?! Perhaps I’ve been too focused on how much I spend on groceries. After all, if you spend money at a restaurant it doesn’t come out of your grocery totals, right?
But, when I spend a little extra money having something good to make for lunch – or even just keeping ample sandwich fixings on hand – it makes lunch at home so much simpler. I know that if we have gone somewhere in the morning and are late coming home, I can quickly fix lunch rather than having to scrounge around for bits and pieces of something that resembles a meal.
I had to adjust my thinking a bit to realize that my lunches out – that weren’t for any special occasion – really should be counted towards my grocery budget or else I’m just playing with the numbers to make them say what I want them to say.
2. Take food everywhere you go.
We took a lot of trips to the zoo, and the park, and bowling, and the movies, and the splash fountains this summer, which used to be prime opportunities for me to grab some fast food. But, I was determined not to do that this summer, so we packed a lot of lunches and you know what? It was really fun and easy!
We’ve been able to pull out our picnic lunch whenever we get hungry, wherever we are. I keep it very simple – we don’t even take plates so there’s not a lot of cleanup. Sometimes I make pasta salad, cheese sticks, grapes, and chips. Sometimes it’s peanut butter and jelly, strawberries, crackers, and cheese. I’m not a fan of making sandwiches at the zoo while trying to keep track of my kiddos, so I tried making pb&j ahead of time and it was great – the bread wasn’t soggy at all.
I’m working on this area even more by buying/making tummy-filling snacks (dried fruit, nuts, granola bars) and keeping them in the car so that they are ready to eat even if we didn’t plan to be out at mealtime.
3. Realize that you are the mom (or dad).
It’s up to you to say no. Unless your kids are really really really out of control, you are the one who pulls into the Wendy’s parking lot when you are only five minutes from home. You are the one who decides what to put on the grocery list and whether or not you’ll have food to eat at home.
4. Have your favorite fast food restaurant go out of business.
It was so hard for me to resist Good Times’ $2.89 Craver Combos. Those fresh-cut fries… Man. I was so bummed when the closed both of their locations in Colorado Springs. That was one of the places I could go and get “good” fast food without spending a fortune.
I’m not really advocating that you actively help your favorite fast food weakness go out of business, but man, it sure did put a dent in my fast food desires.
5. Eat out when there are great deals.
I’m not swearing off fast food forever – I do like french fries and I don’t think that’s a problem in moderation. So, when we can get a good deal on fast food, we do go out – and boy, do I savor every last bite! When Domino’s does $3.99 pizzas, or Chick-fil-A has a freebie, I’ll spend a few bucks and treat myself and my kids.
I’ve found that both I and my kids look forward to the days that we plan to eat out, and savor it much more than we would have if we’d just grabbed an unplanned bite to eat while running errands.
6. Take many hungry children with you when you eat out.
Fast food for one person may not cost too much, but if you’re like me and have five hungry kids plus yourself (ok, one of mine is nursing), eating out and actually getting full adds up really quickly. When a fast food meal for me and all my kids hit $15+, I started to realize that it was really a significant expenditure.
OK, so maybe not all of you can take many hungry children with you to remind you how much it costs to eat out. ;) But it was effective for me!
How do you keep last-minute fast food stops from getting out of control?
I would love to hear your tips – or struggles – in the area of unplanned, unneeded dinners out!
*I’m not claiming that we haven’t eat fast food at all. We’ve had a couple of birthday lunches that were planned, and a few times where we took advantage of a special deal or coupon that made it super cheap. Yet, most all of the times we’ve eaten out in the past six months have been planned.