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Americans spend more on eating out than on groceries

MarianVejcik/Getty Images restaurant meal platter
EXPENSIVE FARE: Americans spend 50.70 per person, per week for food. For a family of four, that’s $203 a week, or $10,564 per year, for food, with slightly more than half of that spent at restaurants.
Eating at home is a cheaper, more nutritious option.

When our four sons all lived at home, I spent a lot of time planning meals, buying groceries, cooking food — and of course, doing dishes. Once a month or so, we’d take them to McDonald’s. On rare occasions, we’d eat at a family restaurant. It just wasn’t practical for a family of six with four growing boys to eat out very often. And that’s not how we were raised. I don’t remember eating at a restaurant very often when I was a kid. My mom always cooked meals, and that’s what everyone’s mom did 50 years ago.

Fast-forward to 2019. I’m still planning meals, buying groceries and cooking food. The only differences are that with our boys all grown up, there’s a lot more leftovers and a lot fewer dishes to wash — except when they all show up for Sunday dinner.

The other day, I read a story that talked about how the average American now spends more money on eating at restaurants than on buying food at a grocery store. I wondered, How can they afford it? The article went on to say that restaurants have steadily grown in popularity over the years, as an increasing percentage of women work outside the home. That may be true, but I think people are just too tired or to crunched for time to cook, don’t make meal preparation a priority, or are just lazy. It does take work to keep a refrigerator and pantry stocked with food, and effort to plan and cook a meal and clean up afterward. I can empathize with working moms. I have worked full time for the past 40 years.

My husband and I have a lot more time now than we did a few years ago, when our kids were in junior high and high school. We spent lots of nights and weekends running from one kid thing to the next. On some weeknights and Saturdays I remember running kids in two different directions, or splitting my time between two and three activities. They were active in 4-H, FFA, church, dairy bowl, dairy judging, sports, band and various school organizations. It was easier when they got their driver’s licenses, but there were still sporting events, band concerts and 4-H meetings to attend. The challenge for us was, Do we hurry up and eat before the event, or wait until we get home?

Shocking numbers
This article that I read went on to say the average person spends $2,641 per year on food, with slightly more than half of that spent at restaurants and slightly less than half spent on food at a grocery store. That works out to $50.70 per person, per week for food. For a family of four, that’s $203 a week, or $10,564 per year, which seems like a lot of money for just food.

Some people say that by the time you drive to the grocery store, buy the food, prepare it and do the dishes, it’s no more expensive to eat at a fast-food restaurant. I don’t agree with that. I think it’s cheaper to eat at home, provided you are not buying expensive convenience food from the frozen food aisles at the grocery store.

I figure I spend about $40 per week per person at the grocery store. That’s just for food and doesn’t include everything else that I buy at the grocery store, such as paper products and cleaning products. If you do the math, $40 divided by 21 meals a week works out to about $1.90 per meal. And I buy all our food, including meat and fresh fish, at the grocery store.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think you can buy a Happy Meal for $1.90 — much less a meal plus a tip at a restaurant. I think families could save a lot of money if they would buy groceries and eat at home. The meals are more nutritious, too.

There’s nothing wrong with eating out occasionally. But maybe couples should get back to basics, learn how to plan meals, buy groceries, cook and do dishes. They would save money and eat healthfully, too.

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