Make-at-Home Vs. Takeout: Mexican

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Mexican food is a favorite in our house. And because there’s a fabulous restaurant in our village, mere minutes from our house, not only is a dinner made up of burritos and tacos tasty, but it’s convenient, too.

As a working mom, I confess that there are nights when cooking just isn’t high on my to-do list. There are times it’s also not practical unless we want to eat sometime around 9 p.m. That means we’re frequent visitors to the takeout counter of our local Mexican restaurant.

One of the things we love the most is the variety. My son, whose palate is slightly plain, goes for basic tacos loaded with ground beef, rice and cheese. My husband and I typically order quesadillas and indulge in the host of fresh condiments such as corn salsa, regular salsa (in three heat varieties), fresh onions, cilantro and guacamole. We experiment with the meats, as well; some options are pork, ground beef, steak and chicken.

Not only can I indulge my love of seafood with shrimp tacos while my non-seafood-eating spouse savors his chicken, but the price for a three-taco (hard or soft) dinner, regardless of meat choice or toppings, is $7. In fact, a burrito, taco salad or quesadilla also each costs $7.

But last week, I got to thinking that making this feast at home (or one similar to it) must be a more economic option than picking up dinner.

Here’s what I learned.

The meal: Basmati rice (with lime and cilantro), ground beef tacos, corn salsa (our “veggie”) and chips and salsa.

My make-at-home ingredients:
• For the rice: one box of Basmati rice, one bunch of cilantro, lime juice and salt (I already had that on hand, so it’s not calculated in the total)
• For the tacos: a little more than one pound of ground beef, white onion, two boxes of taco shells, sour cream, shredded cheese and ready-made salsa
• For the corn salsa: one bag of frozen corn, two diced tomatoes, chopped red onion, some of the cilantro and lime juice I’d purchased for the rice and salt and pepper that I had on hand
• For the chips and salsa side: one bag of tortilla chips and the ready-made salsa mentioned above

The cost of ingredients: $38.58.

The variables: Anytime you cook, you use utilities like electric and gas. It’s tough to know the exact cost, but my best guess is about $1.25 (based on average usage). Of course, there’s gas to go to the grocery store, my time to shop and cook, but let’s keep things simple and stick to numbers we can actually add up.

The total make-at-home price: $39.83.

The takeout price: At our family’s favorite fresh Mexican restaurant (where I must admit they serve the best salsa north of the border), five taco dinners for four (each dinner comes with three hard tacos, and if you’ve ever fed teens, you know that’s not always enough, so we always get an extra meal) plus two sides of chips and salsa (one serving easily serves two people) would cost $38.48.

Of course, I would have had to run to the restaurant to pick up the food (or send my teen). But because I went to the grocery store to buy my make-at-home ingredients, I’m not adding on drive time and gas to pick up the takeout.

Beverages: As with last month’s pizza test, making dinner at home meant that we drank what we had on hand and would have done the same if we had brought home takeout Mexican food, so beverages don’t affect our bottom line.

The bottom line: Making tacos at home cost a little more than picking up dinner. It also lacked the variety of one person eating tacos with another dining on a burrito or quesadilla, not to mention the ability for one of us to have chicken while the others have pork or ground beef.

However, I realized cooking at home meant we had more family time together. My son and his girlfriend volunteered to join me in the kitchen to chop onions and cilantro, and even hubby got in on the action, helping clean up as I cooked. And it’s difficult to put a price tag on the value of quality time with the ones you love.

Next month, I’m going to try my hand at Chinese food for the make-at-home vs. takeout price test. Because this is one of my all-time favorite takeout meals, the chance to (I hope) pare down the price by whipping up dinner in my newly purchased wok has me looking forward to this challenge.

What’s your family’s favorite meal to eat out or take out? Wondering if you can make it cheaper at home? Drop me a line and suggest a make-at-home price test. You just might be surprised to learn which option truly is cheaper.

Photo Credit: Getty ThinkStock

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