So you want to start your own Project Takeout Breakout? Welcome to the club!
I can think of several reasons why someone would want to cook at home more and rely on takeout less. Environmental reasons, financial reasons, dietary preferences (such as allergies, religious requirements, medical requirements, or simply a desire to know what is in your food).
My own primary reason for Project Takeout Breakout is financial. I love some of the meals I get from restaurants but I don’t love their impact on my bank account. I don’t love the stress at the end of the month about paying the bills, and I especially don’t love the guilt of knowing that I spent money on something I know was unnecessary and yet I couldn’t seem to kick the habit.
I wanted to free up some of that cash so my budget felt more free…and I didn’t want to give up the meals I love.
I had tried to cut back on takeout many times over the past few years. It was my one spending vice. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink frequently, I don’t gamble, I don’t shop for shoes or clothes or handbags, but I never seemed to be able to quit takeout for more than a couple weeks, even when the budget was tight. And the budget is often tight. My husband works at a non-profit organization, and I work part-time at a farm (and in agriculture, pay is often one step below that of a non-profit). One third to one half of my paycheck goes to childcare in any given week. My husband and I are pretty conservative spenders. We have no credit card debt and no loans other than our mortgage, and we only drive one car, but we still rely on family help at times. Especially when the car needed to be replaced or we got an unexpected large bill.
I share all that to show why I was motivated reduce our spending in the one area that was a challenge for me.
And I had tried many times. Usually it lasted a couple weeks, until life got stressful or the kitchen was way too messy to cook or I just craved my favorite Cellophane Noodle Chicken Salad or Green Curry or Drunken Noodles. Even though I am a pretty good cook and know my way around a kitchen pretty well. It was a puzzle.
And yet the budgetary concerns still weren’t going away. I knew I needed to make a sustainable change. And I knew that my previous way of attempting to cut out takeout foods was not sustainable for me. If it was, it would have worked already.
But something was different this time. This time, I had two years of successful sustainable habit change under my belt. You can visit my other blog, Power Peace and the Porch Gym, for the details of that process.
Over the past two years, I had formed reliable and consistent self-care habits, and I knew I could apply the same principles to reducing my takeout spending and cooking more at home.
Principle #1: All behaviors and habits (even undesired ones), are attempts to meet needs.
If I have a habit I’m trying to form or break and it is not working out for me, I always ask myself “why?” Not in a demanding way or a loaded way. Just in a genuinely curious way: “why do I do that? Why is it difficult to go for more walks even though I enjoy them? Why do I want to stay up late even though I know I feel better when I go to sleep early?”
Principle #2: In order to break an undesired habit, we must discover what need we are attempting to meet, and find an alternate way to meet that need.
Once I am clear on WHY I am having trouble forming or breaking a habit, it becomes easy to brainstorm a strategy that will help me through the trouble…..because I know exactly what the deeper issue is that I am trying to solve!
In the case of going for walks more…..when I asked myself “why is it difficult to go for more walks even though I enjoy them?” I came up with several reasons. I won’t go into all of them here, but one of them was that I didn’t like walking in the summer sun on city streets. Once I recognized that obstacle, I decided to drive to shaded trails to walk in the summer instead.
In the case of staying up late even though I knew I felt better when I went to sleep early, the reason I wanted to do that was because I was enjoying binge watching a favorite show on Netflix. Once I realized that, I was able to come up with other times to watch my show (I chose while I’m doing dishes in the kitchen). I also chose to remind myself that the show will still be there later in the week and I don’t need to finish watching it late at night.
In the same way, I realized why I was unable to abstain from takeout for very long every time I had tried in the past: because I wasn’t acknowledging the needs takeout was meeting for me, and since I wasn’t acknowledging them, I was either meeting them with takeout, or not meeting them at all. But even if I wasn’t meeting those needs, they were still there.
For me, takeout was meeting the following needs:
- Ease and cleanliness: if the sink and counters were already full of dirty pots and pans, it seemed easier to get takeout than to try and think of something to make for dinner, and wash all the pots and pans. If my kid was whining, learning to cook something new seemed like an insurmountable task and the options were either eat leftovers, cook something I already know how to make, or order takeout. If the kitchen was messy AND there were no leftovers in the fridge AND my kid was whining…..well, what does that leave?
- Pleasure: Some of my favorite foods came from the Thai and Lao restaurant across town. Even though I knew how to cook, I did not know how to cook those favorite foods, or how to improvise with the ingredients used in those cuisines.
There were two moments that led me to the idea of Project Takeout Breakout:
- I bought a programmable electric pressure cooker (Instant Pot brand) on a Black Friday sale. Suddenly I was able to cook a variety of tasty meals with the hands-off ease of a rice cooker at a speed that often took less time than ordering takeout and picking it up. Since I could suddenly cook delicious meals that had a lot of “hands off” time, I had time to clean the kitchen and do the dishes while we waiting for dinner to cook.
- I checked out a cookbook from the public library called “Simple Thai Food” by Leela Punyaratabandhu. Flipping through this book, I was shocked at how, well, simple the recipes were for many of the foods I liked to order out. And suddenly it dawned on me: if I wanted to eat the meals I ordered for takeout more than I wanted to eat what I cooked at home….why not just learn to cook the foods I actually want to eat?
And so, Project Takeout Breakout was born. I decided to make it my goal for the new year to learn how to cook my favorites, and to become so comfortable doing so that I could whip them up after work while tired, or at least prep them in advance.
In order to accomplish this goal, I did some preparation and study (as can be expected when you learn anything new). If you would like to learn how you can prepare for a successful and sustainable Takeout Breakout, download my free guide!