10 Meals that Are Cheaper to Order in Than Make at Home

Learn which dishes are more affordable in takeout formBy Danielle Page

Dialing for delivery undoubtedly saves time and effort, but-surprise!-it can sometimes save you money too. So when should you hit the supermarket for ingredients for a home-cooked dinner versus showing your local eatery some love? Read on for 10 dishes you're better off ordering, what they tend to cost per person and the surprising reasons why they're more expensive to make. Photo by Getty Images

Spicy Tuna Roll

To Order: $7 to $9

To Make: $15 to $18

That smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture comes from chefs using only "sushi-grade" fish with a special fat content, explains food expert Alan Watts of MenWhoDine.com. "There are rules about how to catch and prepare it to ensure its quality." While sushi-grade tuna costs about $28 per pound at a retail fish market, Japanese restaurants purchase an entire tuna directly from Japan for much less per pound, Watts says.

Beef and Pea Pods with Black Bean Sauce

This Chinese dish requires about 14 different ingredients-and a lot of luck finding them. "Your local supermarket might have a few of them, but not all," says Renee Burland, professional cook and founder of The Chef Inside. If you're able to swing by an Asian market, the ingredients would cost a whopping $38. Like all eateries, Chinese restaurants buy in bulk, which lets them get expensive, obscure ingredients, like fermented black bean paste, for a song.

Related: Try 50 surprising foods under 100 calories.

Lamb Souvlaki

To Order: $10 to $12


To Make: $13 to $15

A pound of lamb alone would run you $15, which costs more than the pita, feta cheese and tzatziki sauce also needed to make this dish. "Greek restaurants buy the whole lamb," says Watts, "which makes their cost per pound much less." The kitchen staff breaks down the animal, using the legs for souvlaki, the bones for soup stock and the ribs for lamb chops, so unless you plan to do the same, get delivery.

Rotisserie Chicken


To Order: $6.99 to $8.99


To Make: $22 to $29


Two reasons why whole, uncooked chickens are more expensive: "Their shelf life is longer," says executive chef Eddie Rodriguez of Olives Gourmet Grocer. Plus, cooked chickens are "loss leaders." Grocers price them attractively to entice consumers to buy items they wouldn't if the entrée were pricier, according to David Bakke, grocery expert at MoneyCrashers.com. Shoppers end up spending more that way. You may be able to save extra on a cooked chicken if it's still for sale as the supermarket's closing; it won't be good the next day, so they sell it for a deep discount.

Steak Burrito

To Order: $8 to $10


To Make: $12 to $14


A fully loaded one is cheap from chains like Chipotle and Moe's Southwest Grill because of the assembly-line preparation style. "Since these aren't waiter-service places, labor costs are lower, and they're able to serve many more people," Watts says. More buyers mean the eateries can afford to sell each burrito for less. And with many locations across the US, "they're able to secure tons of products at the best prices available," Watts explains.

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Southwestern Grilled Chicken Salad


To Order: $8.99 to $12.50


To Make: $15 to $20


"When you consider the initial purchase price of all ingredients, plus potential waste from unused products, the savings is quite large," says Laura Cipullo, a registered dietitian in New York City. Evette Rios, lifestyle expert and correspondent for ABC's The Chew, agrees. "If you're not willing to eat that same salad for a few days in a row, or have a big enough family to help you finish it, homemade high-ingredient salads can be really expensive."

Pizza

To Order: $10 to $12


To Make: $15 to $21


For a true taste of Italy, you need to invest in San Marzano tomatoes, what most Neapolitan pizzerias use to make their sauce. "They're sweet and delicious with a lot of liquid in them, and are grown only in volcanic soil," says Watts. "They cost $3.50 to $5.50 per can at your grocery store." Also on your shopping list: a high-quality dough, like "00" flour, recommends Watts. It's fine, powdery and would set you back about $6. Throw in a top-notch mozzarella cheese at about $10, and you're better off ordering a pie. You might even save enough to get a cannoli!

Cheeseburger and Fries

To Order: $3 to $6.50


To Make: $15 to $17


With value meals and the dollar menu, it's impossible to make a cheaper version at home. According to California-based clinical nutritionist Stella Metsovas, many fast-food chains own farms and livestock, so there's no middleman, who'd charge restaurants extra to make his own profit. These chains also cut waste costs because they "dehydrate, freeze or chemically preserve products," Metsovas says. And that gives them a longer shelf life." What's more, "fountain beverages cost fast-food chains pennies," which allows them to mark down food since they make up for it with lucrative drink sales.

Related: Discover foods that keep you full longer.

Minestrone Soup

To order: $5 to $6

To make: $12 to $15

"If you go to the store, you have to buy 17 fresh ingredients," including northern white kidney beans, soup pasta and chicken stock, says Watts. "Italian restaurants get all of those ingredients at a fraction of the cost." Good luck trying to beat that sweet deal!

Shrimp Pad Thai

To Order: $8.50 to $10

To Make: $13 to $15

Thai food is known for being spicy, but you'd be surprised at how many spices go into this dish. "You'd be buying ingredients you can't use to make anything else," like fish sauce, which is only called for in Southeast Asian dishes, Watts says. And the spices, like lemongrass, lime leaves and tamarind paste, are pricier than your run-of-the-mill seasonings, adding up to about $40-before the $15-per-pound shrimp. To top it off, you'd need a wok in which to cook everything.

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