9 - 2009

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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