When I moved from China to the US, eating out became so much more expensive I had to break the habit. Here's how I did it.
- When my husband and I lived in China, we were restaurant addicts. We could eat out constantly, since a meal often cost us about $5.
- When I moved to the US, however, I was a foodie who couldn't afford her hobby. I had to find a way to try new meals I loved without spending a fortune eating out.
- We found creative ways to curb our habit of our daily eating out, like creating our own supper club, trying new recipes, and using the crockpot (which I'd completely underestimated).
- I've since learned to love cooking - it's now become a hobby.
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Before my husband and I had our son, we ate out constantly. Part of it was that we lived in a great neighborhood in China - we're total foodies and the excitement of trying out a new place was too much to pass up. The other was that it was super cheap to live in China and most restaurant meals are really inexpensive (we're talking around $5 per person).
To say we were restaurant junkies is an understatement. In fact, both my husband and I mourned our dining out habit after our son was born and we moved back to the US. No longer were we able to walk down the street to try out the new place in town or find meals that cost as little as they did in China.
Sure, we could have totally busted our budget and eaten out, but we had other financial goals we wanted to pursue - like saving up for retirement and a house. I realized that my love of restaurants boiled down to trying delicious creations, the convenience of it and hanging out with friends over a great meal.
Instead of feeling like I was depriving myself, I set out to manage my restaurant addiction by figuring out how to recreate what I loved about them.
1. I created our own supper club
Supper clubs are typically places where people come in their finest attire and socialize while enjoying a delicious meal. I'm pretty casual when it comes to dressing up, so that part didn't matter to me when it came to enjoying a meal at a restaurant.
Like I mentioned earlier, I also loved going out to hang out with friends. In China it was normal to make last-minute plans to the restaurant down the street because we typically lived near each other and even the most frugal of folks can spare $5 or so for a meal with friends.
Now that I'm in the US I still want to go out to socialize. Instead of spending tons at a restaurant, a group of us coordinate meals at each other's houses. It's not a traditional supper club per se, but it has many of the same aspects - a place where people gather for a great meal and the ability to socialize.
We typically set a time every two weeks where we plan out a menu - we take turns cooking a meal so it works out evenly. Or we do meals potluck-style where we coordinate dishes so that everyone contributes to the meal. That way we get a chance to try different dishes, hang out with friends, and not have to cook as much.
2. I learned how to use a Crock-Pot
When my husband insisted that we purchase a Crock-Pot when we first moved to the US, I wasn't convinced. Sure, I've seen recipes on Pinterest but always thought that meals cooked in a Crock-Pot can't be delicious.
Boy, was I wrong.
It took some experimenting, but I've been able to find some recipes I've been using on repeat since my family loves them so much. These include buffalo wings, chili, and mac and cheese. The best part is that I can just dump in the ingredients and let it do the rest - perfect when my schedule gets a bit intense.
Read more: The best Crock-Pot slow cookers you can buy
3. I challenge myself to recreate restaurant meals at home
To say I was obsessed with cookbooks and Youtube during this phase is an understatement.
I missed trying new dishes so I decided to set out to recreate some of my favorite meals and find new recipes my family might be interested in. Turns out, cooking doesn't have to be difficult - I like to cook but for some reason thought that cooking restaurant-quality meals was hard.
First I went on Youtube to look at cuisines that looked interesting and started making what was considered quintessential dishes from certain regions. For example, I love Korean food so decided to try my hand at making different kinds of kimchi. Turns out, it was super easy to do (though it does require a bit of time) and I had so much fun while learning about the different ingredients and history of kimchi.
Read more: The best cookbooks for beginners
I also went to the local library and borrowed cookbooks from restaurant chefs to learn what their secrets are. Turns out many of them have staple ingredients and sauces they use for most of their recipes. I'd learn different cooking techniques like grilling and sauteing and experiment with marinades.
Cooking has turned into a fun hobby of mine. It's also saved me and my family hundreds of dollars each month.
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