Whether it’s a special occasion or you’re trying to figure out what to make for dinner, figuring out how to decide what to eat can be a challenge. Not only do you have to consider how healthy the food is and how accessible it is, but you’ve also got to think about whether or not you’ll enjoy the food as well. Fortunately, eating doesn’t need to be such a challenge—here’s how to decide what to eat:
Should You Go Out or Cook At Home?
Before you even consider what you’re going to eat, the first question to address is whether or not you’ll be cooking at home or going out to eat. Cooking at home leads to plenty of different options and recipes while going out means figuring out which restaurant you want to eat at. Here’s what you should think about:
Your Budget Matters
Although eating out can be enjoyable and more convenient than cooking, it can also put a dent in your monthly income as well. Although eating out might not be too expensive if it’s only you and you’re careful about where you can go, it can start costing around a hundred dollars if you take the entire family out.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t go out, but you should consider how eating out will affect your monthly budget. If all you want to do is take the entire family out for a treat, going out might be worth it.
There are more affordable ways to eat out. Ordering pizza for the entire family or grabbing takeout from a local restaurant might be within your budget.
However, going out to eat on a regular basis can cost a lot of money. If you enjoy ordering takeout regularly or going out, it’s crucial to make sure you can afford it.
Convenience Can Be a Factor
What usually plays a large role in whether or not you decide to eat at home or go out is convenience. After a long day at work, you might not have enough energy to cook an entire meal. For this reason, going out to eat or ordering food might be a big time-saver that helps you save your energy for other tasks.
If you’re on a road trip or in the process of moving, going out to eat is often a lot more convenient since you have limited access to a kitchen.
Although it might not be the only factor, convenience is worth thinking about. There’s nothing wrong with deciding to order takeout or sit down at the local restaurant after a long day.
You Can Broaden Your Cooking Skills
Besides saving a little money, one benefit to staying home is that you can broaden your cooking skills. You might already have a wide range of cooking skills and different recipes that you’ve mastered, but learning to cook something new can be fun. Not to mention, you might get to eat something that you’ve never tried before as well.
The only way to truly develop your cooking skills is by taking the time to cook new things. While you might not want to try cooking something new every night, it can be beneficial to do something out of the ordinary on a regular basis.
How Healthy Do You Want To Be?
Besides budget and convenience, one thing to think about when you’re trying to figure out what to eat is how healthy you want to be. Ordering pizza might be convenient, but it’s usually not the healthiest thing you can eat. Whether you’re on a diet or just trying to live a healthier lifestyle, the nutritional content of your food is worth considering:
Do You Have Dietary Restrictions?
When it comes to thinking about how healthy your food is, many people already have dietary restrictions they have to consider. Dietary restrictions can range anywhere from food allergies to not eating certain foods that don’t fit within your dietary plan.
If you’re on a special diet, such as a low-carb or keto diet, there are certain foods that you shouldn’t eat. When you decide what to eat, this narrows your options down. For instance, if you’re on a low-carb diet, baking a cake or eating a lot of pasta might automatically not be options.
Professional athletes, on the other hand, might eat a lot more protein than someone who doesn’t play a sport would.
If you have food allergies or food sensitivities, it’s important to steer clear of meals that are going to cause an unpleasant reaction. Someone who is lactose-intolerant might love the taste of macaroni and cheese, but cooking this meal might not be the smartest choice.
If you’re cooking or going out to eat and it’s more than just you, you’ll also need to worry about everyone else’s dietary restrictions or allergies as well. You might have no issues eating a sandwich, but one of your friends could be allergic to gluten. If you aren’t sure whether or not anybody else has a dietary restriction, don’t be afraid to ask.
Dietary restrictions can be difficult to manage if you’re going out to eat. You might not know if a restaurant includes vegetarian or gluten-free options, which means you could be taking a risk on whether or not you can even eat the food at all.
One tool you can use to try to figure out how a restaurant handles your dietary restrictions is the internet. Looking up the restaurant’s menu or even reading other people’s experiences can give you an idea of whether or not they cater to your diet. If the internet isn’t accessible, you always have the option of calling the restaurant as well and asking if they have options you can eat.
Even if you’re not the one with dietary restrictions, you can still take the initiative and try to find out whether or not your friend with the restrictions will be able to eat the food at the restaurant. Once you know whether the restaurant has food that everyone can enjoy, you can quickly make your decision.
Creating a Balanced Meal
One way to help make sure your food is a little healthier is by creating a balanced meal. If you’ve been eating a lot of meat lately but not a lot of grains, it might be time to include rice or a side of whole-grain pasta in your meal. The same can be said for fruits or vegetables. If you’ve been eating a ton of vegetables and grain, you might want to include a side of meat in your meal.
If you aren’t sure how balanced your meals have been lately, you can always try making a list of everything you’ve eaten that day or that week. If there’s one specific food group that pops up more than others, you might want to take a break from it. On the other hand, if one food group seems nonexistent in your diet, you should try to include it in your next meal.
It’s also important to eat a meal that includes multiple food groups at once. While a juicy steak might sound appealing, you can create a healthier and balanced meal by including a side of vegetables or rice. The more food groups that you include, the more balanced that your meal will be overall.
Try Limiting Sugary Foods and Drinks
One key to creating a healthy and balanced meal is limiting the sugary foods and drinks that come with it. The food that you cooked for dinner might be incredibly healthy, but if you eat tons of dessert afterward or consume sugary beverages, it might negate the effect of your healthy meal.
There’s nothing wrong with eating dessert or having a sugary drink every once in a while, but if you’re trying to eat healthily, you want to try and limit these things as much as possible. If you’re planning to go out to eat, you might be able to limit a few restaurants that include sugary drinks or foods on their menu rather than healthy options.
Figure Out What You Don’t Want to Eat
One way to help you narrow down and decide what you want to eat is by figuring out what you don’t want. For instance, if Mexican and Italian food don’t sound great, Chinese food might be the right option. This tactic can be especially effective if you’re in a group setting, and everyone is trying to figure out where they’d like to go.
Once the group has eliminated the options they don’t want (or the options they can’t have), then you can usually figure out where to go from there. With only a few options left, you shouldn’t have too much trouble picking one.
What if People Can’t Agree Where to Go?
Whenever you’re in a group setting, whether it be friends or family, there’s always the chance that people won’t be able to agree. One friend suggests pizza, but another ate that earlier and doesn’t want to have it again. Another friend brings up Mexican food, but someone else is vegetarian. These disagreements can quickly become tiresome if you’re already hungry.
If using the process of elimination doesn’t narrow down your choices enough, another thing you can do is consider budget and distance. A restaurant that’s within walking distance might be a better option than one that’s a twenty-minute car ride away. Budget is always a factor when trying to pick out a restaurant.
There might be plenty of places nearby, but if it’s going to cost you fifty dollars for an entree, going somewhere that’s a little farther (but cheaper) might be the better choice. If your group is on a schedule, you might already be limited to what’s nearby. If you plan to catch a movie in an hour, you probably don’t want to drive to a restaurant that’s thirty minutes away or across town.
Even if you aren’t on a time-crunch, it’s still a good idea to pick a place that’s close to any activities you might do afterward. For instance, if you plan to go to a museum after you eat, it might save you a little time to pick a restaurant that’s near or within walking distance.
One thing you can always do is get in the car and start driving or begin walking in one direction. Once you begin to pass by restaurants, your friends will likely choose one pretty quickly. The combination of hungry stomachs and good-smelling food will make choosing where to eat a little easier.
If none of these tactics seem to work and your group is still deadlocked about where to eat, the 5:3:1 rule might be a good way to make a decision. This method works by having one person suggest five different places to eat. A second person cuts out two of those options while the third person makes the final decision.
Other simple ways to make a decision include letting everyone put the name of a restaurant in a hat and then having someone pick one. Whenever you make a random choice, you might still have a few disagreements, but remember to let the group know that it’s the final decision.
Use the Internet or an App to Find a Restaurant
Regardless of whether you’re in a group or hanging out in town by yourself, one thing you can do is use the internet or an app to help you find the right restaurant. Even just using a simple google search can yield a huge list of restaurants that fit the type of cuisine you want. Google also typically allows you to filter your search options to better suit your needs.
If you only want to look at restaurants that are a couple of miles away or that are currently open, you can do that. Some people might also have other specific needs—such as a restaurant that’s wheelchair accessible or includes WiFi. Not only will Google highlight certain restaurants and reviews that talk about these needs, but other sites might also have lists of restaurants based around what you’re looking for.
Using the internet to find a restaurant might be less useful if you already know every restaurant that’s in town, but if you’re in a new place, it can be incredibly helpful. Besides highlighting restaurants that fit your specific needs, you can usually view the restaurant’s menu ahead of time or view pictures of the food.
Not only can this help you find places that have all your favorite food, but it can also help you eliminate restaurants that don’t seem to have what you want. If you aren’t a fan of the location or the food doesn’t look appetizing, you can immediately cross it off your list.
When it comes to looking at restaurants, don’t be afraid to use review sites to help you make your decision. Review sites often include the experiences of past customers who have eaten there. While most restaurants might contain one or two bad reviews, if a place is full of bad reviews, it might be a red flag.
These reviewers are often subjective, and what one customer viewed as “bad service” or even “bad food” might not match up with your experience.
Comparatively, a restaurant that has plenty of five-star reviews and only a few bad reviews might be a sign that it’s a good place to eat.
Once you’ve found the place you want to eat, you can decide whether or not you want to actually go there or if you just want to order in. Apps like Grubhub or Postmates allow you to place an order at the restaurant you want, and someone else will come to pick it up and deliver it to your home.
Use the Internet to Help You Find New Recipes
If you’ve decided to cook at home or try to make something new, finding a recipe can be challenging. Besides cooking books, the internet is an extremely useful resource for finding new recipes.
Not only are there sites specifically designed for people sharing recipes, but there’s usually plenty of different recipes for the same meal. For instance, if you’re trying to find a recipe for pork dumplings, you might come across multiple people that have shared their own recipes. Picking a recipe among several can be challenging, but there are usually places where people can leave reviews about certain recipes.
If one recipe doesn’t work well or the end product is less than tasty, there are usually at least a couple of poor reviews.
Look for Meal Ideas
Along with plenty of websites that cater to helping you find the perfect recipe for what you want to make, there are also sites designed to help you figure out what to eat. If you can’t figure out what to eat for dinner, all you need to do is type “dinner ideas” into Google. Not only will you get plenty of search results centered around providing plenty of dinner ideas, but some sites might also include recipes for these dishes too.
If you have a vague idea about what you want to eat–such as making some sort of casserole—you can always try narrowing your search results to “casserole ideas” or something similar. Some websites or apps might categorize different types of food to help make choosing what you want a little easier.
Try a New Cuisine
If you truly want to put your cooking skills to the test, you can always try finding a recipe for a dish that’s from a cuisine you’ve never tried before. For instance, if you’re unfamiliar with Indian food, you could try cooking a popular dish like Butter Chicken or Tikka Masala.
Don’t be discouraged if your dish doesn’t turn out perfectly the first time (or even the second). Anytime you’re working with a new style of cooking, it’s only natural that you might make a few mistakes. However, once you get over the learning curve, your taste buds might thank you for broadening your cooking skills.
Trying a new cuisine is also a great option if you can’t find anything you like that appeals to you. Eating one type of food can be tiresome after a while.
If the dish you’re trying to cook seems a little complicated from the recipe, you can also try looking up YouTube videos. Chances are, there are plenty of tutorials of people cooking the meal you want to make.
Try Planning Your Meals Ahead of Time
Although it might not be able to help you figure out what or where to eat at the moment, planning your meals ahead of time can help prevent future indecisiveness. For instance, you can use the internet to help you decide what meals you want to cook throughout the week as well as which nights you might want to go out to eat.
That way, you never have to ask yourself, “What am I going to eat?” Instead, you’ll already have a plan in place, and you can begin cooking immediately.
If you’ve picked out what you’re going to eat that night, but you’d rather have something else, there’s nothing wrong with changing up your plan a little bit. Planning your meals out can help you save time, but it doesn’t have to be a strict schedule you aren’t allowed to deviate from.
Planning your meals can also make grocery shopping easier. Rather than spending hours in the store trying to figure out which items you need and which ones you don’t, you can create a list of what you need.
You Can Always Prep Your Meals Too
If deciding what you’re going to eat ahead of time isn’t enough, another step you can take is prepping your meals ahead of time as well. This way, you don’t need to worry about trying to cook an elaborate dish after a long day at the office. If you cook all your meals for the week early on in the week, all you’ll need to do is heat those meals up when it’s time to eat them.
The only downside about meal prep is that it could take you a couple of hours to prepare everything you want to eat for the week at once. You’ll have to set aside a chunk of time out of your day and make sure you have enough time to cook everything.
Another thing to think about is how quickly your prepared meals will spoil. Some meals might only be good to eat for a couple of days, so you should plan to eat those first rather than at the end of the week.
For instance, certain fruits might begin to go rotten after a few days if you purchase them while they’re already ripe.
Planning Ahead Can Make it Easier to Eat Healthier
Some people might eat poorly because junk food is accessible or more convenient than cooking a healthy meal. However, if you plan your meals ahead of time or even prep them all at once, eating healthy might be a little easier.
Not only will you have more time to think about the food choices you can make, but you won’t be tempted to order pizza or takeout at the moment if you’ve already got a meal in the fridge or you’ve purchased healthy ingredients ahead of time.
You Might Save Money
If you aren’t planning your meals out for the week, it can be easy to lose track of how much money you’ve spent on food. Eating out or ordering food can be pricey, and before you know it, you could end up spending hundreds of dollars that you normally wouldn’t.
When you plan your meals out, you can usually estimate how much it’s going to cost. If you really want to try sticking to a budget, you can look up the price of certain ingredients and figure out which nearby stores price them the cheapest.
Figuring out how to decide what to eat can be a challenge. If you’re in a group, you typically have to deal with everyone else’s opinions and preferences. Even if you’re by yourself, trying to decide whether or not to grab food from a restaurant or cook something at home can feel like an impossible choice.
However, choosing your meal doesn’t need to be so challenging. In group settings, you can use the process of elimination or even try tactics like the 5:3:1 rule to make the decision easier. When you’re by yourself, you should consider your food goals. If you’re trying to be healthy, it might be smarter to eat at home.
Using the internet to locate new recipes or to help you try a new cuisine can also be helpful, and result in a tasty meal. Even if it doesn’t help you make a decision at the moment, planning your meals ahead of time can be a time-saver that can help prevent indecision.