I woke up last weekend feeling terrible. I had finally caught the bad cold that had been knocking down our friends and family left and right. My husband knew that I needed a restful day (with no cooking involved), so together we hatched a plan for a family day of fun, including eating out.
The last thing I needed to eat was a lot of fast food, and of course we wanted good-tasting food, too. We decided to set a limit of $5 a meal for everyone. While certainly not as cheap as everyone buying one item off the dollar menu at a fast-food place — or me cooking whole, healthy food at home — it was still cheaper than the “cheap eats” restaurant prices found in our area which start at $7 to $9 per person, but generally cost $10 to $13 per person. We all had a budget of $15 per person for the day.
We also didn’t want to burn a lot of gas driving somewhere in search of cheap food, so we tried to find food in close proximity (which was quite possible since it was in the city). Using some of the principles I shared here, we looked for healthier choices. While there were a lot of “compromise” foods in our day, we were looking to avoid that “blah” feeling that we've often experienced while eating out. Here’s what we came up with.
Breakfast: Bakery Bar
We were able to get good coffee as well as a biscuit sandwich made with a delicious homemade biscuit, fried egg, and cheese ($4.75). Let me tell you, these were so much better than the typical version from a fast-food window. These were delightful and fairly similar to ones I would have made t home. My daughter got a side of hash browns and a side of sausage (about $5, pictured at the top of the post), and I ate off of both their plates and got a coffee. (I would usually never eat so little, but with my cold, it was plenty.)
If we had really wanted to be healthy, we could have checked out a juice bar that was just a few blocks away. That company's all-natural (and very healthy) smoothies were about $5, and we could have shared two of them, as they were quite large. We felt like we needed some protein, so we went the other route. We left breakfast full and under budget by a dollar or two.
Lunch: Food carts
We decided to check out some of the food carts in the area for lunch. We had heard of one cart that serves delicious injera (sourdough teff bread) topped with enough chicken, lentil and vegetable fillings that the $6 injera would easily feed two. We were disappointed to find that they were closed on the weekend. However, we found a taco place that had $1.50 tacos. My husband got one to try and it was amazing, by far one of the best tacos we’ve had. You could get three of these delicious morsels for $4.50.
We also found a cart selling bratwurst. For $4, you got a gluten-free, preservative-free, MSG-free dog that was actually one of my favorite bratwursts. The spice was just right. I was a bit disappointed to learn that they use dextrose and corn syrup solids in their bratwursts, but the ingredient list could have been worse.
My gluten-free daughter enjoyed a huge $5 Thai rice dish, which we all shared. We left the food carts under budget as well. In between lunch and dinner, the girls played at a local toy store, enjoying the wide variety of toys they had out for play. (A fun, free outing for them!)
Dinner: Indian food take-out from a local restaurant
We got take-out for dinner from a local restaurant serving Indian food (I needed to be home by then, and it saved us a tip). A spicy lentil and vegetable soup was only $5 when served with four large steamed rice dumplings. This was a very nice, vegetarian meal. We got two orders, as well as a dosa stuffed with a spicy potato filling. This was the only meal for which we spent almost all of the $15 limit.
After a full day of no cooking, fun with the kids, and yummy food, I felt better rested (and no stomachaches from our food either!). I think it may be worth $45 to do again someday.