18 Easy Ways to Take a Week Off from Cooking (Without Breaking Your Budget)

published Jun 26, 2022
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Hey, you over there. Yes, you! You deserve a break! Chances are, you do a lot of cooking. Day in and day out. It can be fun most of the time, but sometimes all that work can start to feel like a full-time job. As in, a full-time job that’s on top of the one you already have. And so, just like you (hopefully) take a vacation from work now and then, we’re big proponents of also taking a vacation from cooking once in a while. So go ahead, take the week off.

That’s right. While we’re normally the first ones to encourage you to figure out a quick dinner or to try something new, this week we want you to do as little cooking as possible. It’s time to relax and recharge! It’s your summer vacation!

If you’re seeing dollar signs right now, keep reading this post. We’ve gathered up the very best tips to help you take a break from the kitchen without going broke on takeout and restaurant meals.

And just in case it’s not realistic for you to fully close down your kitchen, we’ve stacked the week with lots of three-ingredient dinners, easy recipes, and pantry staples that always get us through those nights when we just don’t feel like cooking. (Plus, we’ve added lots of vacation-related tips and tricks!)

Ready? Here are 18 easy ways to take a week off from cooking without breaking your budget.

1. Stock up on lunch specials during the day. 

Lots of restaurants offer lunch specials during the day. These specials usually include an entree, a side or two, and maybe even a drink — all at a discounted price. Call or go online to order yours to-go and then heat everything up for dinner later. (You can have that iced tea now as an afternoon treat!) These specials usually include more than enough food, and you’ll have a budget-friendly meal that’s ready in minutes.

2. Pick up a few party trays.

Prepared platters of vegetables, fruit, cheese, and meats are usually a no-go when it comes to saving on groceries, because you can easily recreate these yourself for much less. But when it comes to taking a break from food prep, party trays are a convenient, affordable, and fun option compared to picking up food from a restaurant. Pick some up and keep them on hand for snack time or an impromptu dinnertime grazing board.

3. Host a potluck.

Throw a backyard potluck and have friends and family members sign up to bring a dish. At the end of the night, divide up the leftovers among anyone who’s interested — yourself included. This way, you get to hang out with your loved ones, and you get to fill your fridge with a mix of new dishes that you didn’t have to make or buy.

4. Supplement your takeout orders.

Instead of ordering everything you need to serve a well-rounded meal, skip the extras and supplement the main dish with sides and refreshments you already have at home. Chips, popcorn, and fruit can round out a lunch. For dinner, it’s not hard to toss a bit of lettuce with olive oil and lemon juice (a basic salad!) or heat up a handful of frozen fries in the air fryer.

5. Buy restaurant gift cards in bulk.

Warehouse stores like Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s sell bulk packs of restaurant gift cards at a discount of around 20 percent off. For example, you can get two $50-gift cards to Macaroni Grill for just $74.99. That’s basically free money to use on food!

You can also check sites like Raise or GiftCardGranny for savings on restaurant gift cards — no membership required.

6. Order an extra pizza.

Pizza night is a no-brainer during a week off from cooking (and every other week). Our slightly more surprising tip: Add one additional pizza to the total number of pies you plan to order. If your family can usually eat two pies, get three. This way, you’ll have extra slices to turn to throughout the week. Just make sure you read this post about the best way to heat up leftover pizza before you go to bed.

7. Try a precooked meal delivery service.

There are lots of very good meal delivery services these days that make dinnertime a snap (just heat and eat!), but subscriptions can get pricey. Luckily, many offer free trials or deep discounts for new customers. For instance, you can get 50 percent off your first week of CookUnity (which ships precooked dishes from top chefs), and Freshly is currently offering $125 off your first five orders. Just make sure you cancel once your deal has been fulfilled.

8. Look for perks on delivery apps.

Download some meal delivery apps and use them to find local dining deals and earn rewards or even cash back. For example, Uber Eats shows you which restaurants offer rewards to help you earn free meals and which local eateries have current specials. There’s also Grubhub Perks, with things like free menu items, money off, and free delivery. A note on delivery, though: If the restaurant you’re ordering from has a fee, consider the pickup option to save money.

Before ordering from any app, look for a coupon first. When we were researching this article, we found codes on CouponFollow.com for 40 percent off at DoorDash and 5 percent off at Grubhub.

9. Never pass up a doggie bag.

When you order more than you can eat, it may seem unlikely that you could possibly finish those leftovers later. But we believe in you! And we don’t ever want to see you pass up the doggie bag. If there’s food left over, always ask for a to-go box. After all, it’s food that you’ve already paid for! Just use your noodle when it’s time to reheat them. No matter what you got, your air fryer or microwave is likely going to be your best bet.

10. Check your freezer.

Before you grab the takeout menu, check your freezer. Chances are, you have a few frozen options stashed away. (Maybe you made this barbecue turkey meatloaf? Or some of these vegetable burritos? Or you’ve got some freezer marinades working their magic?) If you’ve been saving things in your ice box, now is the time to pull it all out!

11. And, check your grocer’s freezer.

The frozen entrées at the grocery store have come a long, long way. A few brands to look for: Tattooed Chef, Amy’s, and Purple Carrot. Check the Flipp app to compare circulars in your area to see which stores have deals on your favorite freezer meals.

12. Embrace salads.

Salads are the ultimate no-cook meal! It doesn’t take much effort to make a good salad. Just chop, toss, and eat! If you need to make food at home during your week off, make a salad your default — using up whatever you have in your fridge and pantry. Also, please consider salad for breakfast.

13. And sandwiches.

Want something a little more substantial than a salad? Go for a sandwich. Make it an open-face sandwich to feel extra fancy.

14. Enjoy happy hour.

Happy hour isn’t just for drink specials — you can often find deals on select menu items such as appetizers or food ordered in the bar area of a restaurant. Download the BarHopper or Loople app to find happy hour specials near you.

15. Go where kids eat free.

Do a little bit of research to see where kids eat free (and mark your calendar, as these could be limited to certain days or have various time restrictions). Applebees, for example, offers free kids’ meals on certain days of the week (based on location) and, at Dickey’s BBQ, children under 12 eat free on Sundays for every adult that spends at least $10. Check the soon-to-launch site, KidsEatFree.com, for a streamlined research session.

16. Order wisely. 

Dishes that include a red meat, fish, or poultry will almost always be the most expensive on any menu, so try to stick with meatless options. Pasta dishes are generally less expensive and very filling. You may even consider splitting an appetizer and entrée with your partner instead of getting two regular-sized meals. Appetizers are usually cheaper and giant restaurant portions are likely to fill you up — even if you’re sharing.

Drinks (even of the non-alcoholic variety) can send your dining bill soaring. Stick to tap water to save money.

17. Look for cash back. 

Some credit cards give you more cash back for restaurant purchases, so make sure you’re paying with the right one to maximize your rewards, which you can use to pay for future takeout orders. You can find cash back cards for dining through sites like CardRates.com, but we’ve done some of the research for you: The Capital One Savor Credit Card offers an unlimited 3 percent back on dining.

Additionally, you can order through CouponCabin.com to earn cash back like $2.50 back at Uber Eats and $10 back at Postmates. And if you link your credit card through the cash back app Dosh, you’ll earn additional money back every time you buy food at a partner restaurant.

18. Have dessert for home. 

Going out for ice cream can cost a family of four a small fortune! Whether you’re looking at the dessert menu at a restaurant or thinking about piling everyone into the car for sundaes, reconsider. Enjoy you treat at home and eat it outside to make it feel special. Some suggestions: these Yasso bars, this no-churn ice cream, or this lemon yogurt tart.

How do you save money on food when you’re trying to stay out of the kitchen? Tell us in the comments below.