Dining in is one of the cost-saving ideas UC Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program educators share with low-income families. As a UC Cooperative Extension advisor who specializes in family and consumer sciences, I can tell you there are many potential benefits to dining in:
- Reduced expense for meals
- Better health and decreased risk of developing chronic diseases
- Lower medical costs
When people are asked to identify their discretionary expenses, food eaten at restaurants often tops the list. Eating out, along with entertainment expenses, is frequently identified as an item to reduce or cut from family budgets to free up money to save/invest or cope with a reduction in income. This is not surprising because about a third of the money spent on food in the United States is spent at foodservice establishments, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Over time, the amount of money saved by meals eaten and/or prepared at home (e.g., a “brown bag” lunch) is noteworthy. According to the Eating Away at Your Future poster on the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Small Steps to Health and Wealth website, someone could accumulate almost $50,000 in 20 years by eating out one less evening per week and investing the money saved at a 5 percent yield. Online calculator tools like the Brown Bag Savings Calculator are useful to make personalized calculations of the amount of savings that can be realized with home-prepared food.
Another way that home-prepared food impacts personal finances is the linkage between restaurant meals and overweight/obesity. People tend to eat healthier meals when they eat at home because they can better control portion sizes and the use of sauces, dressings and other high-fat ingredients.
Following are more specific health benefits of eating more meals prepared at home:
- Ability to select low-fat, low-sodium and low-calorie ingredients
- Ability to make healthy ingredient substitutions, such as applesauce for oil in baked goods
- Less temptation to eat tasty, but unhealthy, foods and large food portions
- Lower likelihood of children becoming overweight or obese
- Higher intake of health-promoting nutrients (e.g., Vitamin C and calcium) and dietary fiber
- Knowing exactly what you are eating, which is especially important if a family member has food allergies
Beyond the money saved by reducing the frequency of spending on restaurant meals and investing it to earn interest, there is a third way that eating more meals at home affects household finances. Poor health and nutrition habits often translate into high out-of-pocket medical expenses. As explained in the Small Steps to Health and Wealth workbook, a person's health and finances are strongly associated with one another and “the greatest wealth is health.”
It is widely known that long-term consumption of high-fat, high-calorie foods can lead to health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, arthritis, and some types of cancer. People who eat healthy meals at home and adopt a healthy lifestyle with recommended levels of physical activity are less likely to develop expensive health conditions that can drain family wealth, even for those who are insured.
Want to be healthy and wealthy? Start by “Dining In” and prepare and eat a healthy meal with your family on Family & Consumer Sciences Day, Dec. 3.
Field of family and consumer sciences
Family and consumer sciences (FCS) draws from broad and diverse disciplines to develop and provide content and programs that help individuals become more effective critical thinkers and problem solvers. Through discovery and delivery of research-based knowledge, FCS professionals help individuals and families develop essential skills to successfully live and work in a complex world. Professionals in the field are uniquely qualified to speak on many critical issues affecting individuals and families, such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle, wisely managing personal and family finances, and creating supportive relationships with family members, friends, and co-workers. They are located nationwide in a variety of practice settings, including secondary schools, universities, government agencies, and businesses.
For more information, contact: Patti Wooten Swanson, nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor, UC California Cooperative Extension - San Diego County, (858) 822-7719, firstname.lastname@example.org
The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.