Eating out?
Prefer eating out or ordering in? Image Credit: Stock

Dubai: While there are good reasons to eat most of your meals at home, eating out or ordering-in at least periodically can actually be better for your financial health, even if you don’t love it as much.

Young working couples and single working professionals are increasingly eschewing cooking at home and opting to order food through delivery apps or subscribing to meal service plans to avoid the hassle of grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning.

However, opinion is divided whether these options are economically viable and healthy in the long term when compared to cooking at home.

For the time-strapped

Many have been increasingly subscribing to a meal plan service for a few months and have been enjoying the ease of having food delivered daily and not worrying about planning what to eat for the week.

However, UAE residents feel that meal plans are proving great if your goal is to lose weight or if you just don’t have time to cook. But from a cost perspective, meal plans are observed to be pretty expensive, apart from it being restrictive - meaning you couldn’t just eat what you felt like at a given moment.

Apart from this, meal plans also restrict you from going out for lunches or dinners because of having to eat what was already prepped. However, there were also repeated instances wherein food can go to waste when often chosing to not eat what was in the box.

Finding the right balance

According to KPMG, one of the world’s largest accounting firms, the UAE’s food and beverage market is worth more than $13.2 (Dh 48.48) billion. There is a growing demand for food delivery. Consumers are ordering more food from mobile apps than ever. According to a KPMG study in the region, 60 per cent of smartphone users have a food-related app on their devices and 50 per cent of this use it to order online.

A consistently popular trend among many UAE residents is they use food delivery apps but try to balance it out and not order too often as it all adds up. Financially, it’s much smarter to cook at home than to rely on food deliveries all the time. 

Mulitple experts remark how the 'meal service' industry is still evolving and how as the lifestyle in the UAE is getting busier, there is a growing desire to eat home-cooked nutritious meals without compromising on quality or convenience.

The fact that every little thing from the garlic cloves to the herbs come pre-weighed and packaged is an advantage for anyone strapped for time. If you tend to order takeaways on a weekly basis, meal prep services might come in as financially reasonable.

Some of the typical challenges the industry faces is to find better and more sustainable solutions to maintain high standards of product quality and service as well as customer retention. Let’s Cook, a pre-planned meal delivery service, for instance charges between Dh29 per meal to Dh48 per meal, depending on the number of persons and number of recipes chosen in any given week.

Are home-cooked meals the only right way to go?

If there are more than two of you, the math starts tilting more and more in favor of home cooking.

A popular excuse for eating out is that many fast food chains and restaurants offer inexpensive meal options, while shopping for fresh ingredients or “healthy food” can be expensive. While both of those statements can be valid, it is commonly overlooked that most groceries are purchased in bulk, which can provide multiple healthy meals when prepared and stored properly. It is here that the savings related to at-home cooking really become noticeable.

Researchers and surveyors have been trying determine whether eating out was truly cheaper than cooking for yourself at home.

When compiling and compared dinner items purchased outside to cooking the same dinner item at home, it was found that after shopping for ingredients and replicating the meal, the at-home cost was averaged at Dh12, compared to Dh23.84 when dining out.

Cost-wise analysis

Let’s say, though, that not all meals at home are going to be that inexpensive and assume you’re averaging Dh5 per meal per person prepared in the home. If you were to simply prepare all meals at home, you’d move 4.2 meals from restaurants to your home.

At an average cost of Dh12 per meal, you’d save yourself Dh8.75 for each of those meals. In other words, the average resident would save Dh36 per person per week by moving all of their meals from restaurants to home-prepared meals.

Furthermore, when it comes to ordering out, as opposed to dining at the same restaurent - the costs remain largely the same, when one factors the transportation costs as well. According to a global survey, the average household spends about $3,000 (Dh11,000) a year dining out, keeping in mind that one person spending only on him/herself counts as a household, too.