Consumer IQ

MintStyle with Rachel Weingarten: Simple Ways to Save on Dining Out, Eating In and Everything In Between

takeout

One of the hardest parts about keeping New Year’s resolutions is the fact that they come so early in the year. I’m only slightly kidding. In most of the country it’s cold or grey out and it can be tempting to order takeout instead of cooking a healthy meal, or to splurge on a night out with friends.

Well, before you do either, consider some facts. According to food delivery website Seamless.com, people start off the week by ordering healthier foods and then as the week progresses, opt for comfort foods like pizza, whose popularity peaks on weekends.

On rainy days, people are more inclined to order Greek or Indian food and you guessed it — pizza. The folks at Seamless also noticed that people eat dinner earlier during winter months and that offices are heavier on the lunch ordering, especially mid-week.

Take Out Takeaway: These trends can aid you somewhat in trying to prepare your own food action plan. If you know your lazy times, external temptation times or comfort food cravings, you can prepare healthier options in advance and hopefully avoid overspending and overeating.

Social Eating

Despite the gloomy days and endless nights, winter seems to be a season chock full of entertaining options. Between Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day and even Academy Awards-inspired parties, people tend to entertain a lot and spend far too much.

David Venable, host of QVC’s In the Kitchen with David and author of In The Kitchen With David: Comfort Foods That Take You Home ($18.38 on QVC), is well versed on entertaining on a budget. “It’s always been my idea that you should never go shopping without a menu and a budget already in mind.”

Venable says that too many times, we go shopping without checking inventory at home, so it’s crucial to plan the menu before you shop. “If you understand what you’re prepared to spend,” he continues, “you won’t get in over your head.”

And if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thought of feeding a house full of guests, Venable advises going heavy on the hors d’oeuvres. Set up the food in two or three spots around the house, which encourages your guests to mingle.

Venable’s entertaining action plan:

  • Plan the menu before you shop.
  • Understand what you’re prepared to spend.
  • Plan for hors d’oeuvres. A quick equation: Plan about 4-5 different kinds of nibbles and that each guest will have 3-5 of each. Shop accordingly.
  • Take guests up on their offer to bring something. Encourage them to bring things that will drop the budget- wine, soda or dessert.
  • Take food sensitivities into account by being sensitive to the most commons allergens (shellfish, nuts) and provide alternatives, but don’t go overboard trying to cater to everyone’s special needs.

Guest Appearance

What about when you’re on the opposite side of the equation and want to reign in your snacking while at a party?

Heather Bauer, a celebrity nutritionist and author of Bread is the Devil (List price $24.99, $10.00 last I checked on Amazon.com) says you can continue your healthy eating resolutions even when at a party.

She advises making sure that you eat regular meals the day of the party (breakfast, lunch and a PM snack) and avoid hitting the food table until you’ve filled up on a glass of water.

Interestingly enough, Bauer advises allowing yourself “a small taste of everything at the party that you want.” After that, avoid the fattier options and opt for low-cal instead. And if all else fails, bring a healthy dish with you to the party.

Bauer recommends options like turkey chili or a fruit or vegetable platter with a low-fat yogurt dip. In this way, you’re not only a thoughtful guest, but a smarter snacker, too.

Home Advantage

What about when cooking for your family – should you skimp to save? Not really, says Venable, just be smarter about when you spend. “You’re running a home kitchen, not a restaurant. Not every meal will be everyone’s favorite.”

Venable offers tips on making your meals at home as affordable and delicious as possible.

Venable’s at-home action plan:

  • Investigate: Spend some time getting to know your local market, where the freshest foods are located, and how the prices fluctuate.
  • Research: Study the circulars to know what’s on special at your local market.
  • Avoid the box: Try not to spend on boxed, prepackaged items, which are expensive and likely full of sodium and preservatives.
  • Stock and store: When you find produce, meats or other family staples, freeze or vacuum seal to keep fresh for future meals.
  • In the soup: Make sauces, soups, stews and chili in large batches and freeze them. You can create easy meals that are still homemade and cost pennies to produce.

Social Style

Sims Foster, Vice President of Restaurants and Bars at the Denihan Hospitality Group, lives a more glamorous life than most.

While many of us spent New Year’s Eve watching the ball drop on TV, Foster mentions launching the James Royal Palm Hotel in Miami Beach–an intimate gathering of about 1,500 people, including A-list celebrities.

But Foster also worked for about 5 months on the launch and at 11:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, he finally decided to take some time off to enjoy the party.

It can be hard to put our own budgets and lifestyles into perspective when faced with an onslaught of celebrity lifestyles and a national ethos of more is better.

Foster says, “If you feel competition just to keep up with people, maybe you’re not coming from the right place and maybe those aren’t the people you should aspire to be like anyway.”

He continues, “The people that inspire me are genuine and authentic and make you feel good about wherever you are at any stage in your life, whether they have $10.00 or $10 million.”

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re entertaining at home or eating out, whether your guests include celebrities or the couple next door, it’s important to set and stick to your own spending limits and lifestyle.

Rachel Weingarten wonders what your best tips are for entertaining or spending time with friends. She’s a noted style expert and writes for outlets including CNN.com, Crain’s NY Business, MSN and Newsday among others. Rachel is the author of Career and Corporate Cool and Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America ‘40s-‘60s. Visit her online at http://racheletc.com or on Twitter @rachelcw Write to her with your burning style questions at mintstylerachel at gmail.com