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Out for lunch and dinner

Published July 28. 2010 05:00PM

For the past few months, I've told you how to juggle work schedules, busy family lives, and a tight budget to achieve the nearly impossible prepare a healthy meal without breaking the bank. Now it's time for a reward. It's time for takeout! Keep the following tips in mind as you prepare for your next night out.

Spend locally

You've only got so many dollars to spend, so spend wisely. Examine your priorities before you pull out that menu. Would you rather spend a few dollars at a global fast food chain, or invest your takeout dollars in a local, family-owned restaurant? It's your choice!

Our favorite restaurants are all local. We know the managers and owners, and they all live in and contribute to our local communities. Because their survival depends on customer loyalty, the food and service are always excellent. Can you say the same about your favorite fast-food joint? For just a few dollars more than a fast-food burger, we can get a great meal cooked to order and also support the local economy.

Appetizers? Yum!

Spend just a few dollars at a restaurant? It's not impossible. We spend about $10-$15 per meal out, and these meals feed two adults with leftovers. How do we do this? By ordering judiciously off the appetizer menu when possible, or ordering our food in the most cost-efficient manner.

When we visit our favorite hoagie or Italian restaurant, I might get an order of chicken wings off the appetizer menu. I can get a full dozen wings and a handful of celery for just $6-$7 and I can never finish the entire meal! Some restaurants offer half-orders of wings for about $3, which is perfect for me.

Looking for cost efficiency on the regular menu? Check out the difference between "small" and "large" hoagies or dinner platters. You'll pay a little more, but receive a lot more food split the meal between two people, or ask for a doggie bag right away to set aside leftovers.

If the local all-you-can-eat restaurant is your favorite, check out their takeout options. Many allow you to fill a plate and pay by the pound, which means you can still get the options of an all-you-can-eat menu without gut-busting (or wallet-draining) consequences.

For here or to go?

The least cost-efficient part of any meal is the beverages. If we're going to a sit-down meal, I usually order water. It's free and also healthier.

However, most of the time we avoid the soda-cost problem by getting our food "to go." I have lots of water, soda, and other drinks at home. Why add the cost of two drinks to each meal? Yes, soda is one of the biggest money-makers in every restaurant. But I don't feel guilty about skimping on soda, because I know that we would eat out less often (and thus give the restaurant less money) if we also had to buy a beverage.

Please note that I am frugal, not cheap. When dining in a restaurant, always tip your waiter or waitress based on your dining experience, not on your ability to order inexpensive meals.

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