Creative Alternatives to Dining Out

Creative Alternatives to Dining Out

Two reasons to not eat at restaurants: having toddlers, and keeping a budget. Toddlers throw food on the floor, and buying up-priced meals throws money out the window. You can see how restaurants decide to price their menus– an item that costs them $1 is sold for over $3. But sometimes I’m just so tired, or just want to see friends without a big production. The solution is to have some alternatives to dining out up your sleeve.

Creative Alternatives to Dining Out

Planning Ahead

Since I’m pregnant, sometimes cooking dinner at the end of the day sounds almost impossible to me. I could send my hubby for a quick dinner pickup, and then later feel overloaded with sodium and fat, or start preparing ahead for these days.

Frozen Pizza

Definitely not an ideal option, but frozen pizza costs MUCH less than a quick meal out. It costs about $30 for my family of four to have dinner at a fast-casual restaurant. Even a fancy frozen pizza costs less than $5.

Money saved- $25

Prep Your Own Freezer Meals

On the weekends, I make a meal that I can double. Half of it goes into the freezer, and half is eaten right away. The next time I’m feeling lazy or uninspired, I pull it out of the freezer.

Money saved- $10-15

Pick Up Something Made with Love

A few years ago, those meal prep places popped up everywhere. Some have options where you prepare your own meals there or pick up prepared, homemade dinners. A place near us offers frozen meals. These are nice because it feels like a treat- but feeding our family costs around $12-$20.

Money saved: $10-18



Dining out with friends used to be so much fun. Now it feels like a challenge packed with strategy. What time to go, how quickly the food is ordered, and even skipping options that might take too long are all part of the dining out game. It’s much easier to have friends over to our house. I have some ideas to keep these events fun- and inexpensive- for everyone. Since we’d typically go to a little nicer restaurant with friends, our family of four can rack up a bill of at least $50.

Potato Bar

This is one of our favorite winter party ideas. Potatoes are inexpensive, and you can load them up with lots of filling toppings without breaking the bank. Plus, it’s just fun! Some ideas:

  • chili
  • cheese
  • sour cream
  • bacon
  • green onions

Money Saved- $25

Progressive Dinner

A progressive dinner is a great neighborhood get together. Three or so families decide which course they’d like to serve- appetizers, main course, or dessert. This helps keep your costs down, but the change of scenery makes it a little more exciting.

Money Saved- $10-$20, depending on the course

Chopped Cook Off

We have pretend Chopped cook offs all the time, but we haven’t had a real one- yet. My plan for this is to have four ingredients, have some friends over, and start cooking in two teams. This would even just be a fun family night in.

Money saved- It depends on your ingredients 🙂 

Camping Night

You know all those fun camping recipes on Pinterest? I’ve always wanted to try them- but we’re not in a season of life where camping makes any sense. But the good news is that we have a fire pit, so we could prep those fun dinners on an open flame. The kids would love it, the clean-up is quick, and it’s perfect for frugal recipes. Hot dogs roasted on the flame? Peppers and sausage in a foil pack, anyone?

Money saved- $20

Theme Night

Plan a movie night with family or friends. Make dishes that align with the theme- like pineapple pizza before watching Moanna. You can also do this with a single ingredient- chocolate, for example. Have your guests bring a dish that include the ingredient.

Money saved- $20-30 


We love summertime picnics! There are lots of free concerts near us this summer, so meeting up with friends for a picnic dinner and live music makes a great alternative to dining out.


Making it Fun

Sometimes we want to go out to eat because we’re in a rut. I run to the same go-to recipes over and over again. Some of the ideas above can help you get out of a rut, but here are some more ideas.

Make a Copycat Meal

Chick-fil-a is a quick favorite at our house. But it is requested several times a week! This nugget recipe holds of the craving- and it isn’t too tricky, either.

Money saved- $10

Let the Kids Decide

Miss H got a cookbook for her birthday, and she loves looking at the recipes. Letting her pick the meal to make is the most exiting thing for her!

Money saved- varies

Dining Al Fresco

This is one of our favorite things to do in the summer. We just move the meal outside, and suddenly, we have this whole new thing going on. We do this several times a week when the weather is nice.

Money saved- $20-$30

Order In

This isn’t the cheapest alternative, but for special occasions when we don’t want to spring for a babysitter (or she cancels last minute!) this is a good option. Nate ran an picked up a meal from a restaurant we like, and because we didn’t add on all the little extras, it cost less than actually eating there. We just waited until the kids went to bed to eat, and it felt like an actual date.

Money saved- $10-$15


There you have it! Keep some of these fun alternatives to dining out up your sleeve when you’re tempted to avoid the kitchen, but your budget doesn’t want you to.


What’s your best tip for a fun, delicious dinner?



Dining Out






No Comments

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge