Better Living on a Budget: Take-In Instead of Takeout


Before I was vegan, I regularly ate out two or three times per week, including a couple nights of takeout. There was little I enjoyed more than ordering Indian food and having it arrive at my door, complete with steaming naan, or getting hot and sour soup and mu shu from the Chinese restaurant down the street. However, once I made a commitment to veganism, getting takeout got a little more complex. I now had to call and ask what kind of stock was in their soup, or if there was dairy in the chana masala. Ultimately, I did these things and found some takeout places that had vegan options, but, through this process, I started ordering takeout less. I noticed an improvement in both my wallet and waistline once I wasn’t having pricey, salt- and fat-laden food arrive at my door.

Fast-forward a few years and the area I now live in is flowering with new vegan restaurants. We have a vegan taco place, a vegan bistro up the street, and a local pizza and sub shop that makes all-vegan versions of its menu items. Suddenly, ordering vegan takeout got a little easier, but not any better for that wallet or waistline. What do I do when the lure of takeout strikes, even though my family has a tight budget? Here are the ways I’ve figured out to enjoy the benefits of takeout, but in a budget- and health-friendly way.

Make it Convenient
One of the main reasons takeout appeals to me is convenience. I just pick up the phone, or tap a few buttons on an app, and someone else makes my food and brings it to me, complete with utensils. Plus, there are no dishes! Happily, I can create some of this same convenience at home with minimal work and at a much lower cost. Even more exciting is that this “at home” convenience usually is on my table faster than actual takeout and delivery!

Splurge on Frozen Foods
Pick-up something delicious, but maybe a bit pricier than you would normally get, at the store. Whether it’s a Daiya frozen pizza, a few frozen burritos, or pre-made vegan ravioli and a jar of marinara, heat-and-serve meals can actually save you money in the long run. If you are having a long day at work, or the kids have been driving you bonkers, and the idea of cooking is just too much, reach for the freezer door instead of the phone. Just pop a pizza in the oven, or microwave a couple of burritos and enjoy the convenience of take-out for a fraction of the price!

Freeze it yourself
If you want to be a real budget ninja, plan ahead for some frozen meals that you make yourself! Next time you make a lentil dal, a curry, or a pot of chili, double the batch and freeze half of it. Then, on another night when actual chopping and cooking just seems like too much, pull out a yummy meal you’ve already made, heat it up, and enjoy! A bonus is that many of these types of freezer-friendly meals actually get more delicious as the flavors blend when reheated!

Make it Fun
Of course, sometimes takeout isn’t just about convenience. It can also be a special treat, or a chance to eat a type of food you don’t get to have very often. For me, Indian food and Chinese food takeout were my special treats. When my family had to trim our budget significantly, I decided I didn’t want to be without these delicious foods, even though I couldn’t order them weekly anymore. I played around with recipes from the internet and cookbooks and found homemade versions of some of my favorites. I will make these once in a while as a special treat, with no concerns about fat, carbs, or anything—just a fun, home-cooked meal that mirrors my favorite takeout food from days gone by! Here are just a few ideas for ways to make fun takeout food at home for a fraction of the price!

Make your own vegan naan
Having steaming hot Naan slathered in Earth Balance butter brings me back to my favorite Indian food meals from my pre-vegan days. This bread is delicious with dal or curry. (Bonus points if you made the dal and curry in advance and have it ready to heat from the freezer!)

Pair some hot and sour soup with “crab” ragoons.
This is another former favorite of mine. I sometimes make my own soup, or get a canned brand I like from the store. Either way, for a treat I pair this with vegan “crab” ragoons using won ton wrappers, Tofutti cream cheese, chopped scallions, and garlic powder. Yum!

Have a pizza night!
Rather than ordering a vegan pizza with no cheese or over-priced vegan cheese, buy some Daiya or Follow Your Heart shredded cheese and a pizza crust from the store and make it yourself! You can also pick your own toppings and make this a fun activity for kids by making small, personal-sized pizzas.

Takeout food has become easier than ever before with multiple takeout apps, far more vegan options, and a host of restaurants that are offering this service. Even to a family on a budget, take-out still holds a great appeal since it is usually cheaper than actually eating at a restaurant. But the truth is that take-out can easily become an expensive habit. The trick to fighting the lure of takeout is in making the benefits of takeout available to you in your home. Whether you buy a few extra frozen items, or just plan an exciting meal or two, finding ways to enjoy fun and convenience while avoiding the takeout trap can be a relief for both your family’s budget and your waistline.

Posted in Family Life

Marie Levey-Pabst is a vegan mother of two, educator, and life-balance consultant who helps parents create a more balanced and joyful life at Create Balance. She loves developing new recipes, biking, and reading whenever her kids let her. You can follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.