It’s no secret that Americans love to eat. Even when we aren’t eating we’re bombarded with all kinds of messages encouraging us to dine out rather than choosing to eat at home. And the statistics show that those messages are very effective.

The USDA reports  that in 1970, 25.9% of all food spending was on food that was prepared away from home. By 2012 that number had risen to 43.1%. Not surprisingly, the increase in dining out also corresponds with an increase in caloric intake and weight gain.

4 Reasons to Eat at Home

Fast food meals at the end of hectic workdays may seem like a simple way to feed the family. But there are some good reasons to skip the drive-thru, eat at home and live more simply.

1. It costs less.

For a family of four, a cheap meal out can easily run $35-40. And to keep the bill that low, you’ll probably have to tell the kids to drink water and skip dessert.

The USDA food plans suggest that a family of four can eat at home for as little as $150-300 a week, depending on how thrifty your food choices are. Do the math … eating at home is good for your wallet.

2. It’s better for your health.

It’s harder to make good food choices when you dine out. It’s too tempting to choose french fries over the side salad, or the 10 oz. steak when you should really only have 4 oz.

Cooking and eating at home puts you in control.  You control how much salt, sugar and fat go into your cooking. You also control the portion sizes, which is better for your waistline.

3. It’s better for your relationships.

Study after study shows that eating with your kids is good for them. The time spent talking with them and sharing a meal has been shown to improve everything from grades to resistance to tobacco and drugs.

In the quiet of our home it’s easier to take time to pray before we eat. We can truly relax together at the end of a busy day without interruption.

4. It’s better for the earth.

Restaurant portion sizes are often more than we can eat (or should eat). When we eat at home, we can adjust the recipes to the number of people eating. And when there are leftovers we always use those for lunches the next day. A little organization and planning can go a long way toward preventing food waste.

A Few Tips to Simplify Eating at Home

You want to eat at home more. But maybe you’re skeptical because you’re afraid that cooking every day will make your complicated life even more complex.

I’m not going to lie. Dining in does require some organization and planning. But a little time invested upfront saves time and money later.

Create a meal plan.

Start by making a menu for the week. I ask for ideas from the family so that they all have some input in what we eat. Choose simple meals for weeknights — meals that can be made in 30 minutes or less.

Having a plan reduces the stress of answering “What’s for dinner tonight?” after you’re brain dead from a long day at the office.  I save the more complex meals for the weekends when I have a few hours to let things bake or simmer.

Make one trip to the grocery store.

One trip a week to the grocery store saves time and money. It’s less time traveling and fewer opportunities for impulse buying. Make a list based on your meal plan and stick to it.

Need some more inspiration? Check out this website  from Iowa State University.  It has some great tools to help you live more simply by spending smart and eating smart.