Cooking From Scratch vs. Eating Out vs. Meal Kits

 

Wondering if you should be grocery shopping and eating in a bit more than you do? Well, depending on your stage of life and where you live, always eating out could be an arguably decent approach to meals.

We all need takeout at times, but for those living in locations without healthy restaurants and to-go options, then cooking at home is the clear choice. And for those of us with families, the expense of frequent eating out or meal kit delivery usually can’t be justified over the long run.

In today’s world, we can eat out, eat in, order in, buy boxes of pre-portioned ingredients, order fresh prepared meals, or even hire a personal chef.

Eating Out vs. Meal Kits vs. Prepared Meals vs. Personal Chefs vs. Cooking from Scratch

Eating out. For most of us, this is likely the food habit we most want to change. Frequent eating out — including takeout and delivery options — can easily take a toll on both your health and your wallet. Fortunately, my family has access to healthy eating out options and we take advantage of these. And it is also possible to eat healthy at chain restaurants. But convenience is expensive and your budget will let you know when you’ve strayed too far in this direction.

Meal kits. These boxes of fresh ingredients are delivered to your door, then all you have to do is prep and cook. These magical kits eliminate the need to meal plan, shop for groceries, or even measure out ingredients making them a super convenient way to cook at home. We’ve enjoyed a few boxes of HelloFresh ourselves, but the limited amount of food at a higher price point doesn’t make sense for a family with hungry teenagers.

Prepared meals. These to-go meals are similar to frozen dinners, but meals are fresh and ingredients are healthy. These can be a great fast option when you don’t have time to cook your own meal. Places like Snap Kitchen offer subscriptions and separate grab-and-go options. But again, the expense.

Personal chefs. This is one dinner option my family hasn’t tried, but in our city it would be as easy as this or this. And while it is comforting to know these services are only a click away, we can’t justify the expense as a regular line item on our budget.

Cooking at home. Cooking from scratch at home is regarded as the most time consuming option. Meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking do take up precious time, which is often why people resort to eating out. But studies show that there is a direct correlation between time spent on food prep at home and healthier diets. And this option beats all others on one important point: cost.

Benefits to cooking your own meals at home:

  • Save money

  • Healthier ingredients and diet

  • Portion sizes to match your family’s needs

  • Avoid food allergies

  • Your kids will be better eaters!

Save Money by Cooking From Scratch

Does cooking at home save money? Yes. Grocery shopping and eating at home makes financial sense, but to clear up any doubt, Forbes magazine recently analyzed extensive data regarding takeout vs meal kits vs home cooking.

For restaurants they used menus from popular national restaurant chains — places like Cheesecake Factory, Applebee's, P.F. Chang's, Chili's, and Maggiano's — then included fees from delivery services like Grubhub and UberEats. For meal kit services they averaged the price of meals in one box and included a small delivery fee. For home cooking, they used prices from the grocery store Whole Foods Market.

Forbes found on average:

“It is almost five times more expensive to order delivery from a restaurant than it is to cook at home. And if you’re using a meal kit service as a shortcut to a home cooked meal, it’s a bit more affordable, but still almost three times as expensive as cooking from scratch.”

Dinner delivered from a restaurant is by far the most expensive option:

“At over $20 per serving on average, a restaurant delivered meal is almost three times as expensive as a meal kit and five times as expensive as cooking at home from scratch. Obviously when you cook at home, you’ll spend more time but you usually end up with a healthier meal because you’re the one to decide what exactly goes into it.”

Grocery shopping and cooking at home was found to be the most cost effective option with healthy homemade dinners coming in around $4 per person.

This cost savings is especially helpful if you have teenagers at home who require larger portions of food. Meal kits and prepared to-go meals typically do not offer enough calories to satisfy teens.

Spend time on food prep to be healthier

Does cooking at home take more time? Yes. And many people avoid cooking at home simply because of the time involved. But our need for convenience is at odds with affordable and healthy eating.

Studies confirm that the amount of time you spend preparing food at home has a significant impact on the amount of fruits and vegetables you consume. And spending less than an hour each day on food prep actually means more money spent on food and more stops for fast food.

Even those of us who value healthy family meals often serve convenience foods — pizza, hot dogs, and mac & cheese — and we all cope at times by relying on takeout, restaurants and prepared entrees.

These quick food options can’t always be avoided, but if we want our families to be healthier, we have to accept it will mean time spent in the kitchen. If you have constraints on your time, then get creative to accomplish your goals. Consider meal kit delivery during busy seasons — this is a more expensive option, but you will be preparing healthy, whole foods. Or use a slow cooker to free up time at the end of a long day.

Learn more

If your family wants to shift away from takeout and restaurants, so that you can save money and eat healthier, learn how to cook more at home.