Don't we all, well, at least most of us, love going to our favorite restaurant and partaking in the wonderful variety of foods offered on their menu. I've been to some restaurants where the menu is so extensive it can take 15 or 20 minutes to get through it and hopefully be able to decide on a selection. Diners, especially those often referred to as Greek Diners like the places to be found all over northern New Jersey, my home state, often have such menus. And, of course, most of the time, the food is very good.
Eating out was a treat when I was a kid growing up. Today, for a variety of reasons, one being people seem to be working and commuting longer hours, more people patronize restaurants, diners and fast food places. On the plus side, there is the convenience and the variety of foods. On the negative side, eating out is costly and most restaurants serve meals with quantities designed for “The Incredible Hulk.” And, as an additional negative, the food is prepared to taste good, but isn't necessarily (and usually not) the best nutritionally or for weight control and health maintenance.
Depending on your age, you were probably reminded regularly about the poor starving children in India, China, Africa or some other place you had no connection to. The idea was that not eating every morsel on your plate was a waste of food. Remember those starving children and clean your plate. I remember times when I was told I would not be excused from the table until my plate was clean. Sometimes, if I didn't clean the plate I was sent directly to bed without playtime or TV. Gee! Was that a form of child abuse? Our parents were doing their best to be sure we weren't undernourished by punishing us if we didn't overeat.
The Reality About Eating Out
First, let me say I'm as bad as the next guy or gal. Put food in front of me and I'm going to eat it and do just about everything except lick the plate clean. I'm a product of the late 1940's and 1950's when the parents had grown up during the Great Depression and wanted to make sure their children didn't grow up hungry.
Maybe I should say I was that way. Believe me, I'm not without continued guilt, but I've attempted to curb my appetite and eat realistic amounts. Here are a few things I've learned and I'm passing on to you.
Restaurants need to charge the most they can for a meal. After all, that's how they pay their bills, provide salaries (not including tips) and make a profit, the primary reason for starting any kind of business. So, A restaurant could serve a reasonable size serving (and there actually are some that do) and charge a reasonable price for the meal. However, it costs the restaurant very little more if they overload the plate with food.
Perhaps a baked potato twice the size that would be satisfactory may only cost them a few pennies more. The same with a piece of meat, fish or chicken. Pasta is always a real moneymaker as is pizza. So, by giving you portions that might be double the size you'd be satisfied with, they can add several dollars to the price of the meal even though it might only cost them an extra dollar to prepare.
Here's the gotcha. As a society, we've become so accustomed to these large portions, we feel gypped if a restaurant doesn't serve massive portions. We might not even go back to that restaurant again because we don't feel we're getting our money's worth.
Of course, when we look at a menu, it only displays the item price. It doesn't include the sales tax added on in all but a few states in the U.S. If it's a full service restaurant, there is an additional 15% to 20% added for a tip. And, of course, there is the most profitable items on the menu, beverages, coffee, tea, soft drinks, juice and especially alcoholic beverages. And don't forget the up-sells in the form of appetizers, salads, soups and desserts. Some places even charge a hefty fee just to pour some gravy, cheese or chili over French fries.
Buffet style restaurants work on a model that suggests the patron will pay a set price for a buffet believing they are getting a deal. The patron then eats as much as they can cram into their stomach to get their money's worth. But, they are eating food prepared in bulk amounts and not necessarily of the same quality as the food at a full service restaurant. The patron seldom consumes enough to deprive the restaurant of its profit or the buffets would be out of business.
My personal favorite model eatery is what I call home-style The menu is a single, computer printed page prepared each day. There is a single price for everyone, with a possible reduced price for children under a certain age and possibly free for toddlers and younger.
Typically, there is a single or possibly two forms of protein, such as a meat, fish or poultry. There are a couple vegetables of the day and there is a starch in the form of potatoes, pasta or rice. Salad, bread, a beverage and dessert is included in the single price. All the food is served in or on serving bowls or plates. Each person helps him or her self to a satisfying portion. There might be two or three choices of desserts and those are laid out on a side table. Beverages are also limited to a certain few choices. The food is prepared and served just like it was and still is at home. And since the menu is limited, it's prepared very much like home-cooked food. It's usually very basic and nutritious.
I'm not even going to discuss fast foods, delivered pizzas, etc. If you haven't seen the docudrama, “Super Size Me” by Morgan Spurlock, you can watch it online. Nothing more needs to be said.
But, is that all? Heck no! We've also added all those calories to our body. We're not actually going to burn those calories off, either. So, they transform into body fat. That means, eventually, we'll have to buy new clothes to fit our enlarging bodies. Let's not forget the potential long term consequences to our health. These include doctor bills, medication, higher insurance premiums and possibly a shorter life.
I'm sure you're aware of all this, but we tend to sweep it under the carpet. Do I fault the restaurant business? Absolutely not! Like all businesses, they are in business to make money and there are specific business models for restaurants to follow. We have, like everything else in life, choices we can make. Some are good choices. Some are not.
Meal Splitting – Healthier and More Economical
So, here's this week's tip. Split your meals. How do you do that? It's really quite simple.
If there are two of you, spouses, significant others, you simply agree on an entree that you both like, just as if you were eating at home. You order a single meal. If it comes with a side salad and you both want a side salad, simply order a second side salad as an add on. Ask the server for a second plate for when your entree arrives. Eat your salads and when the meal arrives, split it in half and you should each have a satisfying meal.
Order water with or without lemon for your drink. If you prefer a flavored drink, you can purchase serving size packets of flavors at most supermarkets including Walmart. There are a lot of choices. If you want to stay on the healthy side, there are now powdered flavor tubes featuring minimal chemicals, mostly natural flavor and stevia sweetener, a natural sweetener with very low calories. Pass on the desserts that are usually over-priced and under-sized compared to the entrees. But, if you want a dessert, split it, too.
How much is enough food? My rule of thumb is, when I look at something I'm going to eat, I make a fist, hold it next to the food and create a portion the size of my fist. The average stomach is about the size of the average fist. There are various schools of thought on the process of eating. One says to only eat enough food that amounts to the size of you fist. Another says to eat five or six small meals a day. Another says, “fill 'er up” with as much as you can cram in.
Actually, the unstretched stomach can contain about a liter (a little more than a quart) of food. However, it can stretch to hold as much as four liters, that's more than a gallon. Look at a gallon milk jug and consider you can cram that much food into your stomach. Here's the question. Because we can cram all that food in our stomachs – SHOULD WE? For health and weight control reasons, the answer is probably, no. If we do it once in a while it won't likely hurt us other than some discomfort or possibly some indigestion. Doing it all the time is most likely going to have some long-term health and weight consequences. Once again, it's all about making good choices.
So, splitting meals is a way to enjoy a more appropriate sized portion of food and an economical way of eating. Let's just say a meal at a decent restaurant serving quality food, prepared well with a dessert, water to drink, sales tax and tip might cost $25.00. Splitting that meal just gave you the same quality meal in an appropriate serving size for $12.50 per person. That's a savings of 50% no matter how you analyze it. This also doesn't take into account the possible long term health, weight control and cost benefits. As a note, however, since more people are starting to meal split, some restaurants will add on a meal split fee. Seek out restaurants that don't add such a fee.
But, you say, I'm single and/or like you, Ed, I live a mobile lifestyle. I don't have anyone to split a meal with. That's simple, too. When you order your meal, ask for a take out box. When the meal arrives, take half the meal and put it into the box to take with you and eat what remains on your plate. Now you have two meals for the price of one.
On my occasional Subway sub sandwich day, I may order a breakfast sandwich and an entire foot long sub. That will typically cost me about $8.00 to $10.00 and gives me breakfast, lunch and dinner. I ALWAYS load up the breakfast sandwich and the sub with as many vegetables as possible. I never have any dressings on my breakfast sandwich, just some salt and pepper. On the sub, I usually only have them put vinegar on it and sometimes I'll even forego the cheese. On other days, I'll order just the foot long sub and have them cut it in thirds giving me three servings. Those days only cost about $6.00.
Additional Ways to Eat Less and Save Money
There are other ways to both eat less and economize. When I go to a fast food restaurant (and I do that seldom), I order off the “dollar” or “value” menu with most items being around a dollar. The size of these servings is about the size the servings were when the chain fast food places began decades ago. Interestingly, the various food items were enough to satisfy most people back then. But, then they started to super-size size everything with Big Macs, Double Quarter Pounders, Whoppers, etc.
I can go into a typical fast food chain restaurant and eat everything I need for about $3.00. Meanwhile the person next to me is buying a behemoth combo meal that's costing them $6.00 or more. If I'm a little hungrier than normal, I might order two dollar burgers or chicken sandwiches, take the meat and veggies off the second sandwich and add them to the first and toss the bread from the second sandwich. The result is a larger sandwich with less calories for $2.00.
One chain often has their twofer deal on. You buy two of their premium sandwiches, each a meal in itself, for $5.00. That's a meal for now and a meal for later. You can warm the second sandwich up in a microwave. Or in my case, I plug in my RoadPro Lunchbox Stove and warm the sandwich while I'm rolling down the road.
There are also deals to be had at some of the restaurant chains. Several have a two for $20.00 deal where you order two entrees and get a free appetizer with the meal. The appetizer is often enough to feed two people. You then have two more entrees that can be split into two meals each. So, that's basically six meals for about $25.00 including tax and tip or about $4.17 per serving.
One other thing I do occasionally is to buy a large (14” in most cases) pizza from places like Dominos, Little Caesars and similar for $5.00 to $6.00 plus some tax. I then eat a quarter of the pizza at a time for four meals. Yes! I happen to like cold pizza. That comes to about $1.50 per serving or less, I get to enjoy a food that I like (although, I know it's not the healthiest choice), eat a reasonable sized portion and save a ton of money.
The Bottom Line
Yes! I have a very varied menu and I like all kinds of different foods. My staple diet, those things I buy and store in my van food storage areas and my small refrigerator, is simple, tasty (to me), easy to prepare, inexpensive and healthy. But, certainly, I like a lot of other things that are more time consuming, complex to prepare and don't lend themselves to the typical vandwelling or very simple fixed habitat food prep capabilities. Those are the things I look forward to exploring for, discovering and enjoying with friends along the way.
Simplify your life by learning how much you really need to put in your stomach daily. Then, if you share life with a partner, spouse, significant other, split your meals when you're at any full-service restaurant or even fast food places. I suggest you avoid the buffets for long term weight and health considerations. And, when you find the occasional home-style restaurant where you'll pay a moderate price, enjoy a meal like mom used to make at home.
Simplifying life means living with less complications and economically while still living well and being free to choose so many things that most people allow themselves to be trapped by. Share this tip with friends and family. Apply it to your own life. Share your ideas and suggestions on this topic in the comments below or on the Living Free Facebook fan page or Google +. Live free and be happy. EH