As food costs soar across the country, many wonder how to get the best meals for the money. Eating out has always cost more than eating in, and at Top Nutrition Coaching, we believe in making living healthy lives easier. Still, according to our latest research, the average meal at an inexpensive restaurant costs nearly 285% more (!) than eating at home ($16.28 versus $4.23 per meal). We've compiled the national data to determine the expenses per meal, whether eating out or in. How much does it cost for a meal in your state?
Facts & Findings
- Americans save around $12 by opting to cook and eat at home, with the average home meal costing $4.23 versus over $16 per meal at an inexpensive restaurant.
- Annually, it costs over $13,000 more to eat out than it costs to prepare the same amount of food at home.
- New York residents see the most drastic price difference and save $19.40 per meal made at home–nearly $3 more than New Hampshire, the second state with the highest home meal savings.
- Increased food costs don't necessarily correlate with high populations. For example, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Louisiana all have above-average grocery costs but all rank in the bottom 25 most populated states.
Pros and Cons of Eating In
Self-sufficiency and independence aren't possible without home cooking. Eating in comes with several perks, especially the cost, but there are a few downsides compared to eating at a restaurant.
Pro: The Cost
Regardless of your state, cooking and eating at home is significantly cheaper than eating out. Even in the bottom ten states, the cheapest cost for a meal at an inexpensive restaurant costs well over $12 compared to $3.78 made at home.
Residents in more expensive states like New York, Connecticut, and Washington realize more significant savings from eating at home, at least $15 per meal. This estimate doesn't factor in additional costs, such as parking costs, tips, drinks, or appetizers, so restaurant meals may cost substantially more and add up over time.
Pro: Nutrition and Portion Control
Home cooking gives you complete control over the ingredients' quality, nutritional value, and intake. It's far easier to diet and meal plan while eating in, and you can tailor meals to your dietary preferences.
People with specific dietary needs or restrictions especially need ingredient transparency in their lives, and sometimes restaurants aren't able to accommodate every preference. Moreover, you can buy the appropriate amount of ingredients, so you only portion what you need and don't waste food.
Pro: Useful Hobby and Skill
Many people love to cook at home and try out new recipes. You learn how to handle food using different techniques, ingredients, and equipment, and eventually, master a helpful craft that'll never go out of style.
Over time, home cooking inspires new tastes and styles that'll satisfy your cravings whenever you want them. Plus, it's always great to show off your cooking skills to friends, family, or prospective lovers.
Con: Time Investment
Of course, you can't just snap your fingers and have a meal prepared. Home cooking requires meal planning, research, grocery store trips, preparation, and cleaning–not to mention the time it takes to cook the meal.
Eating out may cost more, but you can satisfy your hunger in a relatively short time compared to preparing a meal yourself. And, you don't have to worry about dishes or preserving meals.
Con: Intimidating to Novices
If you're unfamiliar with cooking, you may find it challenging to match what you can buy from a restaurant. Tasty home-cooked food may seem intimidating to prepare, and certain dishes can require equipment or ingredients not readily available to you.
Professional chefs have the experience of providing quality meals, and it's far more convenient to eat out than learn to cook for yourself.
Pros and Cons of Eating Out
The restaurant experience comes with plenty of benefits. Not only does eating out allow us to try expertly-prepared dishes, but we immerse ourselves in the ambiance and atmosphere of the establishment. However, it's not cheap to eat out consistently, and restaurants have other drawbacks compared to home cooking.
Pro: The Convenience
You don't have to worry about making the food or cleaning when eating out. It's far easier to rely on the experts to care for your hunger, and you just need to pay the check. No grocery store trips, prep work, or waiting are involved with eating out (as long as you get there at a convenient time).
Plus, you don't have to think about what food to prepare. The menu tells us everything we need to know, and we can choose based on what the restaurant offers instead of discerning what to make ourselves.
Pro: Professional Chef Quality Food
You don't have to dine at a Michelin star restaurant to taste expertly prepared food. Restaurant foods and flavors sometimes aren't achievable in the average home kitchen, and eating out exposes our taste buds to delectable cuisines.
Even though this comes at a cost, delicious food and the experience can be priceless. And in some cases, restaurants may have the only available resources to prepare certain dishes. Beyond the flavor, expert chefs make food into a form of art.
Pro: Experience and Atmosphere
Getting out and socializing with others gives us vitality and purpose. Eating at home all the time can turn monotonous, and the restaurant experience can uplift our spirits. Catching up with a close friend or loved one over a restaurant meal can be a memorable experience, and we can't always replicate this at home.
Without the atmosphere and experience of eating out, meals are far more boring. Restaurants not only feed us but give us a place to come together and enjoy each other's company.
Con: The Cost
The biggest and unavoidable downside associated with eating out hits our wallets. It costs nearly 3 times more to eat a meal in a restaurant than to make it at home, and some states will see even higher costs with eating out.
Over time, the costs can eventually equate to months' worth of rent, car payments, or retirement savings. Although the price isn't a total waste, it's certainly far from efficient and sustainable for most people.
Con: Limited Quality and Nutrition Control
Restaurant patrons only have so much visibility regarding ingredient sourcing, quality, and nutritional value. Some restaurants may cut corners and use subpar ingredients, and we may not intake the best foods for our bodies.
Typically, restaurants that guarantee high-quality ingredients cost significantly more, and we can't always see what happens in the kitchen. Eating out isn't always transparent, and we may not get our necessary nutritional intake because of lower restaurant standards.
We compared the cost of eating out to the cost of eating in for the most populated city in every state to find the total cost difference between the two. The sources we used are:
- Numbeo’s Cost of Living research for a meal at an inexpensive restaurant in the most populated city in every state
- Numbeo’s Food Prices research for the daily recommended minimum amount of money for food per person in the most populated city in every state
- Simple English Wikipedia: List of U.S. states' largest cities