Easy Way to Save Money and Calories: Eat Before You Play

 photo by destinelee

There is no shortage of places to go out to eat in our country.  I’m continually amazed at how much food is incorporated into all forms of entertainment. You can’t go anywhere without a hotdog stand, a concession stand, or even a full-blown restaurant stuck inside a discount store.  We recently took our kids to a popular indoor play place (think of a gym for kids with inflatable equipment), but didn’t think to eat before we went.  Like all kids, it only took about twenty minutes of play and the scent of pepperoni pizza wafting through the building before they were begging for a snack.

Snack Savings

I think our lunch cost us about $12.00 that day.  It consisted of two pieces of thin-crust pizza for each of us, and three small drinks (my wife and I usually share, but kids and germs don’t mix well so they get their own cup).  We could have bought an entire pizza with all the toppings we wanted from our local Kroger grocery store, baked it ourselves, and had drinks at home for less!  Lesson learned.  When planning activities away from home it is a good idea to eat a small meal before leaving, else the activity is bound to cost significantly more with food purchases.  I recently wrote about the decision to sneak food into movie theaters instead of buying from the concession stand.  Assuming you simply ate a meal or snack at home you could easily survive a two-hour movie without buying a $5.00 tub of popcorn and a $3.00 drink.

Healthier Food Choices

Things made at home are typically much better for you than food purchased on the road.  Even the choices are significantly better.  It’s rare to find a grilled chicken salad on the menu at eateries tucked away inside amusement parks.  Most menus here resemble fast food restaurants where the most popular items are hamburgers, french fries and hotdogs.  Eating at home saves both dollars and calories.

An Annual Exception

I can easily live with this rule but for one major exception–the fair.  When the state fair comes to a city close to us once a year, part of the experience is fair food.  I’ve often joked that if a place opened and only sold “fair food” they would rake in money!  Funnel cakes, corn dogs, fried candy bars, turkey legs and homemade ice cream are all part of the experience at the fair, and we budget a stomach-ache-inducing binge into our entertainment budget just this once.  After all, what’s the point of living frugal if you can’t have the occasional treat?

How do you avoid food expenses while visiting entertainment venues?  Eat before you go, pack a picnic, or just budget in the food costs?

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