My first reaction to the headline on a recent Christian Science Monitor article—"Is Eating Out Cheaper Than Cooking?"—was one word: no. It's hard to imagine how restaurant dining, with tips and often inflated food prices, could cost more than a home-cooked dinner. And yet the article suggests just that.
My second reaction was a sense of déjà vu. Back in 2002, the Wall Street Journal caught a lot of flak for defending the same point—that cooking at home can easily cost more than eating out. That article, "Why You Can't Afford to Eat at Home," cited $20 bottles of champagne vinegar and $10 mushrooms to make its argument. Add a new set of All-Clad cookware, and you're out $900 more.
The problem, as many letters to the editor pointed out to the Wall Street Journal, is that no one needs to use $20 champagne vinegar or All-Clad to make a scrumptious meal. I say this as someone who is obsessed with replicating Barefoot Contessa recipes on an almost daily basis. I spend around $120 on groceries each week for my husband and me, and that generates about five dinners, plus breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. Meanwhile, even a relatively inexpensive restaurant can easily put us out $40. Clearly, we save by cooking. (Blogger Wanda at Well-Heeled recently wrote about how she saves even more at the grocery store.)
The Journal and Christian Science Monitor articles also include the argument that professionals earn too much money to "waste" time cooking, because it would be more lucrative to instead spend the time working longer hours. That ignores the fact that cooking is often the perfect antidote to a day spent feeling stressed out while sitting in front of a computer, as so many professionals do. The smell of sautéing onions in butter and olive oil can be more relaxing than a spa treatment, as is the family dinner time that often follows it. To say cooking saves money—which it does—misses the even larger point, which is that it can save one's sanity.