Restaurant Meals That Are Almost Cheaper than Cooking at Home

Most home economists would tell you that eating in is more economical than eating out 95% of the time. But what about the other five percent? Surely there are times when a restaurant, because of bulk purchasing, special promotions, and overall efficiency, has an advantage over the home cook.

Here are BirminghamMom’s picks for deals that are as good or better than cooking at home. When you need a break from meal prep or don’t have time to cook, these are the meals that let you relax knowing you couldn’t have done better in your own kitchen:

1. Jason’s Deli

At upwards of $7 for a sandwich and chips, Jason’s may not strike you as a bargain. However, think about the size of the larger sandwiches and the quality of ingredients. A single sandwich such as a Beefeater or Yankee is large enough for two. Unless you’re a legend like Dagwood or Jethro (forgive the old school references), you’d never put that much meat on a single sandwich at home.

These meats and cheeses are premium quality and would sell for $7 to $10 per pound in any deli. At Jason’s Deli, you can choose from any variety of these meats, which due to the volume of sales never have a chance to age in the fridge as they might at home. Add fresh baked bread or a roll up and the option of fresh fruit as a side instead of chips – giant, luscious strawberries! – and you can’t make two sandwiches of that quality at home for the same price as one sandwich there. Order to go or dine in with no tip and no clean-up required (don’t forget the soft serve ice cream).

2. Costa’s meal for four to go

Choose from baked lasagna or baked spaghetti for four including fresh salad and bread for around $32. At first glance, $8 per person doesn’t sound like a steal. However, these portions are so generous you will have more than four servings. These are the dishes that are just as good, if not better, as leftovers the second day, so you’re bound to have a enough to take for lunch at work or a couple of frozen-dinner sized portions for the next night.

In particular, the lasagna is a value because of the variety of ingredients. By the time you purchase Italian sausage, stewed tomatoes, all the spices, and simmer for hours, you’d need an Italian grandmother working that stove for free to come out ahead. Add the ricotta, parmesean/reggiano, and the hour it would take to bake in your oven, and you’ve put in close to $20 bucks yourself. Now consider fresh lettuce for the salad and the trimmings like pepperoncini peppers, black olives and feta cheese. Unless you intend to prepare several meals, it’s not likely that an investment in all these ingredients can pay off before they spoil.

Costa’s to-go salad dressing portions are large enough to handle a few more of your own salads later in the week. The house dressing is good enough to sip, and their ranch dressing is the tangy, fresh kind that could make any tired crudite taste good. The bread loaves are perfectly crusty outside, chewy inside. Why bother making it from scratch when you can have all this and pick it up in a drive thru? Re-use the aluminum pans for another time when you cook ahead.

3. Little Caesar’s Pizza

No, this isn’t gourmet pizza, but you will not find a better deal anywhere. First of all, a frozen pizza from the grocery is $5, a fresh deli pizza is more. Frozen pizzas at promotional prices of 3/$10 are 10″ pizzas, but a Little Caesar’s Pizza is 14″, so it’s still a better value. And it’s hot-n-ready! Entertainment by dancing sign holder is included.

We can credit Little Caesar’s with making feeding kids easier at sleep overs, end-of-season team events, and birthday parties.  Almost nobody remembers the old Pizza! Pizza! square pies they were known for before one-price/volume became Little Caesars’ dominion. Thankfully, kids love the stuff and don’t know the difference.

4.  Rotisserie chicken from Sam’s or Costco

Rotisserie chickens from grocery stores are fine, but the warehouse store versions are often a pound larger and often cheaper. A typical warehouse price is $4.99 for a seasoned, roasted bird that is ready for you to take home and devour. Pound for pound, most moms can’t do any better with a raw bird from the poultry section. By the time you have prepped, seasoned, and roasted it for three hours (heating the kitchen in the process), you could have had your store-bought bird at a negligible difference in cost at a fraction of the trouble.

Rotisserie chickens have become so popular that Betty Crocker has published a cookbook dedicated to rotisserie chicken recipes. Imagine, a whole cookbook on this versatile item!  The value is even better when you consider that you are likely to have chicken left over for a chicken casserole, stir fry, or stew, and if you’re really industrious, you can use the carcass to make a savory stock (use your slow cooker during summer to generate less heat).

The easiest possible side for rotisserie chicken besides a salad is a large can of Allen’s green beans and potatoes. If you add seasoning and cook as you would green beans, you’ll have both a starch and a vegetable for the effort of a single one. (Unless your young kids insist none of their foods touch – then you have a little more work on your hands.)

Consider the cost-benefit analysis above, which doesn’t factor in the value of convenience to you and your family. By working meals like these into your regular menu planning, you can avoid cooking burnout and still meet your budget.