I come from a long line of takeout connoisseurs. Growing up, my parents cooked two dishes for me: spaghetti and delivery. That isn’t to say I was ever deprived of tasty eats—they loved to eat, they just didn’t love to cook. I grew up on a steady diet of unagi, Phat si-io, and Cacio e Pepe. I had a very sophisticated palette by the time I headed off to college. But once there, I didn’t have the funds to keep up with my food desires. Hence, I learned about the marvels of the microwave, a skill set that served me well into my early 20s. At 25, I went vegan. That meant learning to cook so that I could keep enjoying veg-friendly versions of all the foods I love most. I even experimented with baking and ice cream making. I was a regular (vegan) Martha Stewart!
But old habits die hard. When I moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) and started making a bit more dough (the money kind), I started eating out more and more. At first, it was one night a week, then two, then three, until the two of us were dining out (or ordering food) four or five nights a week. And with bills upward of $50, we started to really feel it in our budget. And in our gut health. And in our general ability to remember how to turn on the stove. It was too much, and it needed to stop. With all that in mind, I decided to take a week off from eating out or ordering delivery or takeout, and instead, make all of my meals at home. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea. But I did love the thought of spending less cash and potentially alleviating my chronic stomach aches, so I decided to really commit.
I started on the weekend, even though I already had plans to go out and see friends in establishments that serve food and drinks because clearly, I like to make things hard for myself. Oh, well!
First, I meal planned, because I read somewhere that’s the secret to success in, like, every area of your life. This part was actually fun — I cruised all the recipe sites I love, like those of superstar vegan chef Isa Chandra, Minimalist Baker, and VegNews. I loved looking at all the delectable photos, and after about an hour, I had a grocery list in hand (crucial since my fridge is full of–you guessed it–old takeout containers and soy sauce packets). I went to Whole Foods and purchased a plethora of goodies, being careful to avoid the prepared food area, because that felt like cheating. It wasn’t easy; they had some roasted cauliflower that looked out of control! I was legit drooling. At Whole Foods, I spent $142.93 on groceries and considered that a major win.
I went home and made sesame cold noodle bundles and basic teriyaki tofu for lunch. I had wanted to make this meal for a while, but never prioritized it because, well, restaurants rule. But I was so glad I finally made it because it was DELICIOUS! As good as anything I could get at an eatery, and it came with the smug satisfaction of having cooked it myself. Bow down.
That evening, my husband and I attended a friend’s art show. Since it was in a neighborhood with great restaurants, we normally would have eaten somewhere nearby. Knowing that I couldn’t do that was a bit of a bummer. But I felt better knowing that I was saving money, which is just as fun! Instead, we had leftover noodles and tofu and washed it down with a beer.
At the show, there was free wine and beer and even some vegan cheese, so I was in heaven. Unfortunately, we went out with our friends to a bar afterward, and I had to sip on warm water while they downed delicious, but costly, alcoholic beverages. I was sad in the moment, buuutt…
…stoked when I woke up on Sunday without a hangover. Yes, goddesses! Plus, It was meal prep day! I felt like an honest-to-goodness homesteader. I prepped several things: a large batch of rice and beans, a bunch of seitan, several batches of overnight oats for breakfasts, mango salsa, and some kimchi, The kitchen looked like a tornado hit it, but I had about 50 gallons of tasty treats so I didn’t care. Plus, my husband did the cleaning up! Score.
We had rice and beans with salsa and tortillas for lunch and dinner and they were so tasty, I thought I could eat them all week.
I felt very confident at this point. I had meal prepped out the wazoo, and was silently adding up all the money I was saving in my head. Normally, I would have spent around $200 by this point, and all I’d spent was the money on groceries, which would last me all week and even beyond.
I work from home most days, so I ate some of the food from the fridge for lunch. I had to fight the urge to pull up my Postmates app at noon, and instead, I made a burrito. It was yummy, and it was (kind-of) free! For dinner, it was more of the same. I went to bed knowing I was basically the best at saving money and that my new lifestyle as a frugal foodie would soon be turned into a blog and then a book and then a major motion picture starring Amy Adams.
Remember what I said earlier about how I could eat rice and beans all week? Arrested Development narrator voice: She could not eat rice and beans all week. I mean, it’s very tasty and all, but a girl needs some variety! I decided to mix it up a bit with some homemade pho for lunch. Listen, working from home can be lonely, but it also allows you to whip up pho for lunch, which is a definite perk. It was great — not as great as the stuff from my favorite Vietnamese restaurant — but good enough for this week. I doubled the broth and had the same thing for dinner because when it comes to cooking, I’m nothing if not lazy.
Then came my first major bummer of the week: A friend unexpectedly texted that she was in town and wanted to know if I could meet for dinner. I told her the deal and said I could meet her afterward for drinks, but she had an early plane to catch and it just didn’t sync up. I was super sad to miss her, but we made plans to hang out the next time I’m in New York. Looking back, I could’ve gone and sat with her in the restaurant and just had water, but that’s so weird! And I didn’t want her to treat me, because that kind of defeats the purpose. Blah.
To comfort myself on a missed hang opportunity, I decided I needed a treat and made a dozen vegan sugar cookies and they were EXQUISITE and made Tuesday a little less sad.
Wednesday was great — I had overnight oats for breakfast, rice and beans for lunch, and then I had some friends over for a vegan sushi making extravaganza! We made rolls with all sorts of tasty veggies and marinated tofu. It was fun and filling and I think I inspired a few of my buddies to try eating at home for a week. (Maybe. Those women love their Seamless.) No shame!
Things got a bit harder because I had a coffee date with a friend that involved me just sipping on water (again! I’m getting my eight glasses a day, that’s for sure!) and getting (real? imagined?) dirty looks from the cafe employees. I also just felt super weird drinking a paper cup of water while my friend dined on a (very appealing and very giant) muffin and a (very yummy looking) oat milk latte. She offered me some of the muffin, but I declined because I didn’t want to cheat. Would that be cheating? Probably not, but I’m hardcore! This week was teaching me discipline like you wouldn’t believe.
Also, related: The stomach issues I’d been experiencing for years seemed to be a bit better — probably because I knew exactly what’s going into my food, and I was eating fewer fried foods. It prompted me to make an appointment with my doctor to get to the bottom of it, which I may not have done if I wasn’t paying such close attention to exactly what was going into my body. That was definitely a win.
Last day! Last day! I was feeling good and eating well, but I would be lying if I said that by Friday I wasn’t fantasizing about Saturday night dinner plans. That daydream is what got me through Frugal Friday. More oats, more rice and beans, and finally, for dinner, more of that pho, back by popular demand. I did it!
I expected my week of eating in to be challenging, and it was. I had also expected to save money, and I did — about $250. The experiment reminded me that although I love to eat out, I don’t have to do it all the time. I have some skills in the kitchen, and I feel satisfied and proud when I use them. Going forward, I’m not going to forgo every single outing with my friends and husband just to save some money; I am very lucky that I don’t have to.
But I am going to be a lot more thoughtful of how often I pick up my phone and scroll to my “delivery” folder. (Yes, I have one, and no, I am not proud.) Instead, I’ll try to meal plan more often. This way my fridge will be stocked with healthy things I want to eat. I guess part of growing up is taking some of the things you learned in childhood and making them work for you as an adult. Now I can have my Phat si-io and eat it, too! (I just have to make it myself sometimes.)