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Eating out- how does it affect your wallet and your waistline?

Updated: May 26, 2020

Missourians spend $2,547 each year on eating out (1).

The national average spent by Americans on restaurants and delivery is $3,000 (2). This seems insane but think about how easily it adds up. $10 or $15 for lunch or dinner a couple times a week, plus $4 Starbucks coffee every morning, and don’t forget about the pizza you get delivered on Friday nights! That’s easily at least $50 each week.

But isn’t cooking and buying groceries expensive?? Well consider that restaurants have a 300% upcharge on their meals to make a profit (2)! The average meal is at least $10-$13.

The money you spend on groceries to make the same meal for yourself is generally $4. When you eat out 4 times a week, spending about $2,704 if each meal was $13, just think about how much money you could be saving at home on a $4 meal. If you ate out 2 times less each week, you’d save $1,036 each year!

Let’s look at what you actually get from restaurant food.

Restaurant food almost never provides fruits and vegetables in the recommended amounts, and they have more calories, salt, sugar, and fat than foods you make at home. Restaurant foods contribute to all kinds of chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, cancer, diabetes and heart disease (3, 4).

The ability to make healthy choices decreases when we are away from home. We are more focused on the look and taste of the food than the nutrient content.

Most people have also lost our internal satiety and hunger cues, so we don’t stop eating when we should. Studies show that when served more than we should eat, we eat more than we should and do not compensate by eating less at the next meal (3, 4).

Restaurant meals are always bigger than they should be!

Calories meals from restaurants are usually substantially higher than home prepared meals (5). An analysis of 245 restaurants found that customers consumed 785-949 calories compared to the recommendation from the Institute of Medicine to stay around 600 calories for a meal (4).

Eating food away from home is associated with a lower quality diet, a higher BMI while eating more at home increases chances of meeting dietary guidelines, intakes of fruit, veggies, fiber, folate and vitamin A (6).

The US Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act required that fast-food and full-service chains with more than 20 locations had to provide nutritional information on their menus (5). This does help to bring more awareness to what is in the food, but the amount restaurants serve is still way too big.

“Healthy Choice” items may misleading-

An analysis of “healthy choice” menu items from restaurants across America found that main items did not meet healthier criteria for calories 50% of the time, 30% of main items were over the DRV for saturated fat and sodium and only 20% of main items met the recommended minimum amounts for fiber (4). It seems the best “Healthy Choice” items are ones you make!

Sit down restaurants are not any better than fast food! Here is data from a study that compared meals from the two different types of restaurants (5).

Cutting back on eating out will be beneficial on your waistline and on your wallet! Check out this post for tips and recipes on quick, nutritious meals. You can use them when you’re short on time or to meal prep for your busy week!



3. Cohen DA, Bhatia R. Nutrition standards for away-from-home foods in the USA. Obes Rev. 2012;13(7):618‐629. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2012.00983.x

4. Cohen DA, Story M. Mitigating the health risks of dining out: the need for standardized portion sizes in restaurants. Am J Public Health. 2014;104(4):586‐590. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301692

5. Auchincloss A et al. Nutritional Value of Meals at Full-service Restaurant Chains. Research Brief VOLUME 46, ISSUE 1, P75-81, JANUARY 01, 2014. DOI:

6. Ducrot P, Méjean C, Aroumougame V, et al. Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2017;14(1):12. Published 2017 Feb 2. doi:10.1186/s12966-017-0461-7

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