Fast Food Confessional

 

Photo (of our delicious recent rainy day lunch date) by Denise Bovee

I recently turned down a generously paying sponsored post with a major fast food chain via Instagram not because I was fully against promoting aspects of a drive-through agenda, or even paid posts for that matter (at this point, if you can’t see that just about everyone on Instagram is selling one thing or another, your eyes might need some fine tuning) but more because we don’t ever actually eat at this particular place and I figured if I had to mull it over for longer than an afternoon, it wasn’t a good fit. I also knew I would feel like a sham if I went with it knowing it’s not in fact a part of our real life style.

But, it did get me thinking. What fast food, if any, might I endorse?  Because in all reality as a family of six constantly on the go we do eat out through the week and there are times when it is really does prove the cheaper (obviously easier) option. What came to mind instantly was Del Taco – for those of you on the West Coast you know exactly what I’m talking about and I have no qualms admitting that I am at that drive through 1-2 times a week, consistently. Why? Because it’s delicious, and I argue still the cheapest fast food on the block (our entire family eats there, excluding drinks because we usually skimp on those anyway, for 10 -11$) And lastly, because I think it remains one of the “lesser” evils, health wise, in the plethora of major fast food options available these days. Not to mention it offers up a handful of gluten-free options for our one gluten-free kid.

A few other places we tend to lean on regularly being: Subway, my husband way more than me, Miguel’s Jr. (beloved local haunt) In-N-Out (rare, but definitely on the list) Chinese (God Bless) and, though I’m not proud to admit it, Pizza Hut when we’re really desperate. Not gourmet by any means, or healthy for that matter either, but when the cupboards are bare and we’re both too exhausted to go out and stock up on groceries it certainly does comes in handy. Also one of the few choices that leaves us with leftovers which is always nice to count on for school lunches the following day. And, might we all raise our hand in agreeance that pizza, of any kind, is a true life saver on those certain, more desperate days?

Other expenses- if we’re on the topic I figure why not delve all the way – would be coffee. And dining out either as a family, with friends, or, if you’re a little luckier than us, an occasional date night out. As far as coffee is concerned I will say that we are better than we use to be. In the past our drive through coffee stops ranged from an almost daily indulgence, to maybe every other day. Nonetheless, a complete money suck either way. When I stop and consider the fact that I can do “community class” Yoga, for 90 minutes every Wednesday, OR buy myself a latte for the same 5$, it seems a little absurd. Now that we’ve finally replaced our broken press though we’ve lost any excuse to go out and usually make it at home every morning. Yet still allow ourselves an indulgence here and there when we might really need it. A mid day iced coffee or a morning pick me up on the days I help at the boy’s school usually being the case on my end. So anywhere from 2-4 times a week currently.

Dining out in resturants still remains a rare treat. We go out as a family maybe once a week, to Mexican usually because chips and salsa seem to help ease the stresses of keeping everybody calm with in-booth tensions that can arise over something so silly as one kid getting a certain color crayon the other one’s missing, and because we have one hearty taco meal that feeds our whole family (including the GF kid) for 28$, with lots leftover. In way of restaurants I also usually find a way to squeeze in a brunch or lunch date with at least one of my girlfriends 1-2 times a month. Typically after our flea market outings but sometimes on a week night when I am downtown to pick up material or source out shop stuff. When I’m down that way I always make an effort to make a day of it because it’s a long way back and really the only time I get out and have the chance to visit with friends and try fancy, delicious new places. A major perk in my month for sure and not one area I would ever think of cutting back on. With an end week tallied estimation of all things considered being anywhere from 100 – 150$ a week we are spending eating out.

Once I started to stop and consider just how much we were eating out though I have to say I did feel a little shamed by the reality of it. Especially because it seems to come in sprouts. Meaning I’ll go months were we keep it in check and I cook and do a fair job at planning ahead for our week’s meals and then suddenly fall off the bandwagon and it’s a full on struggle trying to pull ourselves out of the habit all over again. For instance last year I craved greens and fresh foods the entire duration of my pregnancy so I cooked nearly every single night. On the weekends we would bbq tacos which meant we were home for most meals. I made simple, healthy dinners with all the vegetables my body was craving, it was routine and  a nice break from the plies of old drive-through tendencies. And truth be known I’m not a great cook but the meals I was turning out were tasty and appreciated by all members of the family so as much as I can accept the reality of fast food as a crutch on those rough weeks, I do still wholeheartedly believe in the ways of home cooking. In sitting down together at the end of the day, setting a table, passing the beans, allotted time for real conversations and measured manners that are linked to this kind of routine and still speaks volumes for long-lasting ideals where family and connectedness down the line are concerned.

In this TIME article, author Jennifer Martin-Biggers, a doctoral student in the department of nutritional sciences at Rutgers claims “The data suggested that family mealtime has a wealth of health benefits, especially for children. Kids who ate more meals together with their families tended to eat more fruits, vegetables, fiber, calcium-rich foods, and vitamins, and ate less junk food. Social improvements were also linked to frequency of family meals. Teens who ate at the family table more often were more likely to show fewer signs of depression and feel that their family was more supportive, compared with teens who dined less often at home. “It is very interesting that something as simple as frequently eating meals together may contribute to so many different types of benefits to all family members.”

On the other end, I would also say that it’s not something we should beat ourselves up over too much either, feeling guilty over not being able to sit down together as a family ever night like we may long to but can’t due to schedule conflicts, nap times, sports, ect. I try to remind myself that even if it’s not our “regular,” there are ways to work it in and make a point of it. For example our family eats at home much more in the summer months, when the weather warms up and the option for dining outdoors becomes a daily option. So while I regret that we do tend to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the school year, sometimes overwhelmed by meal preps and grocery runs, I always try to make more of an effort during the season to test out new recipes I’ve had on my radar for months. A table set and waiting for us to settle all around during the weeks our schedules let up a bit and we have the luxury of new, albeit late night dinners together to look forward to.

 

I wanted to post here to open up the topic to all readers, hoping you guys might weigh in on how frequently you eat out, where, when and how much. It’s something I haven’t read much about and am happy to open up discussion here. So please, feel free to join the conversation. How often do you eat at the table together as a family? When you do eat out, what’s the main reason and where do you tend to frequent most? To get things started I asked a handful of my friends to share some of their own fast food confessionals.

 Paige: “about three times a week. Weekends mostly. And pizza from our favorite place. We spend about 100 – 150$”

Lyndeez: “it use to be maybe once every two weeks but now that we are on the road it’s more like three times a week. Which sucks but you gotta do what you gotta do. It’s about 20-30$ each time for a family of 5.”

Kate: “most weeks we eat out once (usually Mexican) and order in once (either Thai or pizza) so I’d we spend around 100 or so total a week.”

Latonya: “okay, so I tried really hard not to eat out after having Oak. But, actually, it’s the only thing that saved us. So we did it a lot. In the winter here, we cooked a lot but ate out around twice a week, order in once a week. This Spring – so far, we;ve actually been eating dinner in a lot, but I think overall, out a lot as well. We’re out running around all day so sometimes I don’t have enough food to last. So maybe out 3-4 times (maybe more) Mostly lunch and late breakfast dates. Order in maybe once or twice a week for dinner.”

Kristin: “we are kinda all over the place, I’d say we eat out 4-5 (counting a quick coffee and snack type things too) times a wee but that can range from spending 8$ – 30$ depending on where we go and if it’s just me and the girls or the whole family.”

Denise: “I eat our every single day. It’s a lot of money, and usually Sushi or Mexican but the girls also love subway and juice it up too. At the end of the month it’s a lot of money.” – On the reality of being a single mother on the go through the week. 

 

Additional Links to Consider:

Why Families Who Eat Together are Healthier

The Importance of Eating Together

How Americans Eat Today

And, for fun, secret fast food items on the Del Taco link Here and 14 “Top Secret” Fast Food Menu Items (a couple of which totally blew my mind) Here

22 Responses

  • Interesting. We have five children and moved from the U.S. to Canada (near Toronto) seven years ago. With each child we have eaten out less and less. The price difference between eating out in the states and here in Ontario is wowzers, a big difference. For five years we were gluten free which kept us in for meals. Eating out is kind of a hell scape for me, mostly me ferrying children to the bathroom and giving my meal or most of it to the older boys (who seem to have tapeworms). I do indulge in chip trucks with poutine and cheese curds in the summer and we are getting burgers at A and W now and then. I have to say since making our own sourdough (I never knead the dough) I haven’t missed takeaway as much. I am a recovering food snob who is eating plenty of crow these days
    , I appreciate the honest post!

  • Great post! We (family of 4) eat out about 4 times a month, but not necessarily once a week. We spend about $100 a month on eating out. We are on a very tight budget or else we’d probably eat out more! Often it’s Del Taco or Cucas or even Carls Jr. I refuse to feel bad about it. My kids always eat EVERYTHING we order them from fast food restaurants (they are 1.5 & 2.5 years old) whereas when I make them a healthy homecooked meal most of it ends up on the floor each night. Fast food gives me a break from the mealtime stare down. Fortunately the four of us eat together nearly every night. I know we are lucky to have that luxury.

    • It’s true, so much wasted food here when I make it. Which is why I don’t stray very often and stick to the handful of things I know are healthy AND appreciated by everyone in the house.

  • I think it’s very different in the U.S. Here in the UK it’s far too expensive to eat out with the whole family even once a week-so we don’t very often at all. As for takeaway coffees and lunches I always bring my flask and make food to bring for outings-being on maternity leave and going back to work part time has meant that we’ve had to be thrifty and cut back on these luxuries that just eat away any spare cash in the wallet (pardon the pun!)
    What I find hard is the sitting down together as a family part. My husband doesn’t get home for work until nearly 7pm which is too late for the kids so I try and eat with them some days and wait and eat with him on others. So we make a concerted effort to have breakfast together during the week, and as many meals as possible at weekends. I think this has had a positive affect on my kids’ eating habits as they aren’t really that fussy and are quite willing to try new things. But that could be just luck-who knows. Modern life is tough and I completely agree that the whole food/mealtimes/eating five a day/etc etc is just another thing us mothers beat ourselves up over. And we shouldn’t!

  • as a single working mom i’m totally guilty of relying on fast food chains to help in my mothering duties… and I feel bad about it. I try to do the whole mealtime-gather-at-the-dining-table with my daughter but it feels kind of weird when its just the two of us. If anyone has any advice on how to improve on that aspect of things, I’d love it!

    • It’s a great topic on it’s own, Sage. And I really wish more would weigh in regarding these types of things because I would love to include the single mom’s point of view way more than I have been. I just need more reader’s support in way of contributions :/

    • Hi, I commented below. You know, just do it – have a meal together at the table regularly, just for you and your daughter because it means something, it is a comfort for both you and your daughter, she will remember it and appreciate it as she gets older. After the age of 14 or so, kids are on the go, already moving away from you (which is normal), and after 16 forget about it – driving, most kids work, want to be social, school activities – my son was in a band – hard to catch them at home much by then. And when they are at home be prepared to feed the multitudes – 1 pizza turns in to 3 pizza’s for teenage boys & their friends.

    • I’m not a single mom, but, I recommend to take this time to talk about your day. Kids have many stories to tell, listen to what she has to tell you. Ask her to share her day with you. Take this time to talk to her about things you’d like to share with her, perhaps your childhood memories. My six year loves to hear about my childhood!

  • When we lived in LA we ate out at least twice a week, if not more. There were just so many options within a 2 minute drive of our apartment. Now that we live in Vermont, the options are fewer and farther away (we literally have one single McDonald’s within a 20 minute drive of our house) so it doesn’t actually make it the quicker, easiest option. This translates to us eating most meals at home, save breakfast out twice a month and pizza every once in a while. It was a rough transition at first but now I appreciate it. But I would definitely kill for some Del Taco right now.

  • I love these kinds of posts! I think the day to day life questions are super interesting. We live in a small town without any real fast food options so we are home cooking dinner almost every night. Our 3 kids are still little (the oldest is just finishing kindergarten) so we don’t have the running around/on the go lifestyle on our radar quite yet. When we are busy we lean on our list of tried and true quick meals for kids and often we cook ourselves a real dinner after they are in bed. It is actually kinda nice! What we save in take out costs, however, just gets sucked into our grocery budget because it takes a lot of money and planning to stock a kitchen that gets as much use as ours does when we live 35 miles from Trader Joes and Costco. We do eat out a few times a month, breakfast at a local diner or Thai take out when we visit urban friends. Our go-to fast food favorites are Chipotle and Culvers, which is an awesome upper Midwest burger/frozen custard chain. And now that it is summer we typically spend our Friday nights at our local pizza farm which is just the greatest thing ever: $20 for pizza, BYOB, and hours of kids wearing themselves out running wild through a field. Plus, no one cares how much food gets dropped or if your kids can’t sit still and outside voices are encouraged. Pizza farm season is the best time of year!

    • I love the every day stuff too Ollie. That’s why this blog has been such a joy in examining things like this. And, your pizza farm sounds like a dream. You should write and share a post about it here once the season starts up. I’d love to hear, and see more about it.

      Thanks for writing!
      J

      • Oh, I would love to share a post about the pizza farm! I’ll submit something this summer! They have popped up all over our region of Minnesota and Wisconsin. There are now many interpretations of the pizza farm model but the original idea is functioning organic farms started building outdoor pizza ovens and hosting a once a week picnic style pizza night on the farm using seasonal ingredients they grow themselves. Guests bring picnic supplies and beverages and are encouraged to just relax and enjoy the farm! Our local one is at an off the grid intentional community in the absolute middle of nowhere. It is so, so beautiful. Can’t wait to share!

  • My kids are grown now, but when they were little we all had a evening meal together at the table – in the dining room no less – probably 5 nights a week. I was a SAHM and I cooked. My mom divorced in the early 70’s and she obviously had to work – night shift at the hospital 3-11. I was the oldest of 5 kids, I had to cook, babysit, get everyone to bed – I really do not know how we did it. Well, honestly there was fallout …I was sneaking cigarettes in the carport, my little brothers ran wild, my little sister’s were generally upset and calling mom at work every 15 minutes. It all left a mark. So yeah, I stayed home and cooked – I think it makes a big difference, doesn’t matter if you get it from a drive-thru, go to restaurant, or cook it, just being together is what its about.

  • Let me begin with how much I truly appreciate this post! As a mother who is majoring in the field of nutrition and public health, I truly appreciate this post. I truly value the importance of eating healthy and will always aim to nourish my children with nutritious food, however, I also realize that we are humans and life is not perfect. As a family who lives one hectic schedule, we rely on fast food at least 3 times a week! I have not taken the time to add up how much we spend on fast food, but, I’m going to calculate that we spend at least $100 a week. It is what it is and this is what works for our family in this time of our life. Thank you for sharing! I loved reading this today.

  • Great post. I know I can relate to always trying to keep the eating out vs. home cooked meals in check. On the average we order in about once a week, get fast food once a week, and usually between my husband and myself each eat one meal out per week, usually with a friend. We eat out as a family once or twice a month. Coffee on the other hand is my weakness. I get a drive through coffee nearly every weekday and sometimes twice a day in the summer. I’d say for all four of us we spend an average of $120, maybe a little more if it’s a week that we’ve eaten out as a family. Summer time we do grill and eat on the patio more which always helps and when we camp (most weekends in the summer) we are having home prepared meals at camp.

  • I love this post. I feel like feeding my family has become my biggest daily struggle. After the birth of my twins (now 2 yrs old) eating out was one of the first financial cuts we had to make. I long for the days of restaurants on the regular. For now I settle for our highly anticipated bi-weekly pizza Sundays. As much as I don’t enjoy the meal prep process (wrong to admit?) I do it because I think it’s important. Working opposite schedules with my husband and sharing custody of our oldest son leaves little room to gather everyone at the table, but when we do it feels so good. Each night we are all together the kids take turns picking the color of our drippy candle for the meal. We are working in earnest to rival the massive one at Candlestock in Woodstock NY 🙂

  • It’s the same for us as for the UK. Fast food is very expensive and we try to bring always our drinks and food if we are out. Sometimes we buy a coffee and sometimes we buy some things at the bakery but it’s mostly just a small thing for the afternoon.
    Our diner is our together-meal. I really enjoy it and I have to confess my partner is the one who cooks and loves to cook.

  • I love reading things like this, Well done! I’ve spent a lot of time in California and take away habits there are so different to Austrlia because food is very very expensive here. I nearly fell over when I read that you can buy food for a family at Del Taco for under $15. Without exaggeration, my husband and I had Thai takeaway last night and it cost $74. Two curries, Tom Ka soup, prawn spring rolls. This is pretty standard.
    A local & very authentic Italian restaurant serves half price pizza every Monday ($12 each down from $25) naturally it draws lots of families so it’s actually a great environment for the kids. In summer we have fish and chips on the beach a couple of times a week because it’s delicious, easy and extends our time there. But other than that I cook or we get mum to babysit and go out, if we are paying we may as well get the experience.

    • I agree about getting the most out of dinning out. Most times we leave them with Grandma too, if it’s an option 🙂

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