If you find it’s too expensive to eat out but you don’t have time to cook at home, a simple technique might is a fabulous way to combine the best of those two worlds. We call it “semi fast food” combining quick-service food with home cooking. Let me explain …
The take-out pizza store in my neighborhood sells ready-to-roll pizza dough. I can buy a large ball of dough for $2.50, which makes a sixteen-inch pizza. That’s more than it costs me to make my own pizza dough from scratch. But when time is of the essence, this is a fast, cheap, reliable alternative.
Using my own sauce and toppings, I can have really great pizza on the table in no time at all. I do rely on this option quite often, particularly when we have last-minute guests. It is impressive to turn out such a high-quality delicious pizza so quickly. It is my little secret.
Not all pizza stores sell their dough (the national chains in my area look at me as if I have three eyes when I inquire), but independents are typically more than happy for the business—any business. In fact, one store near me even lists this on their menu board.
Hint: You can freeze the dough and use it to make breadsticks and calzones, too.
Just because you don’t have an entree for dinner doesn’t mean you have to replace the entire meal. You can supplement a big bucket of chicken at home with your own salad and bread. Or maybe you have the chicken but no sides. Large cole slaw and corn plus fresh biscuits from the drive-thru will turn that into a complete meal for far less money than buying the entire meal.
As easy as it is to make at home, it pains me to suggest buying rice at a quick-service or other restaurant. But this is a great solution that can reduce an otherwise expensive meal replacement.
All Asian restaurants, even the quick-service variety, offer plain white rice as a menu option—usually dirt cheap. I can pick up a large container of white rice for $2 or $3 in my neighborhood. It’s hot, fluffy and perfectly cooked. At home I can serve it plain or enhance it by adding scrambled eggs, soy sauce, left-over chicken, peas, carrots and so on.
Soup du jour
The fanciest fish restaurant in my community has a pricey menu. I mean take-your-breath-away expensive to the point that getting the check all but ruins an otherwise fabulous meal.
However, their to-die-for New England clam chowder is renown and available for take-out at a reasonable price. I can only imagine they are trying to discourage the annoying customers who come in on a cold winter night, take up space at a lovely linen-covered table, and linger over big steaming bowls of hearty chowder, turning down the complete meals and dessert.
That’s fine with me because picking up a quart of steaming hot chowder and sourdough rolls (also their specialty) is a terrific way to avoid a huge restaurant tab when needing a meal replacement.
Lots of restaurants serve homemade soups that are available for take-out. Check around and then put that on your list of options when you need to fill out or replace a meal inexpensively.
Pizza restaurants are notorious for offering big salads on their take-out menus. It might be called a large antipasto salad. Typically it’s a big bed of lettuce and other greens plus a variety of pizza toppings, such as onions, olives, peppers, tomatoes, pepperoni, and cheese. Fantastico!
Toss it at home with your favorite dressing and you have a large, satisfying, family-sized salad at a side-dish price. In fact, you could make the salad the dinner entree by adding your own ingredients at home, such as hard-cooked eggs, garbanzo beans (chick peas), left-over chicken, beef and so on.
Now is the time to start planning how to replace a regular meal more economically. You’re smart, so I am confident you will come up with ideas and strategies I’ve not considered.
But don’t get too excited. You want meal replacements to be as rare an event as possible. Otherwise, all of the money you are not spending on groceries will get sucked into the big black hole of fast food while the food you buy at the grocery store goes to waste.
Question: Got any of your own “little secrets” that you rely on to get a great meal on the table when life becomes overly hectic?