I Didn't Order Food Or Eat Out For Two Weeks — Here's What Happened

Here’s the thing, I really like to cook, but I’m lazy about it. I’m a food editor, yet I order Seamless, A LOT. On weekdays, I don’t get home until after 7 p.m., and by that time I want dinner ASAP. When the weekend rolls around, it’s nice to splurge by going out to brunch, or dinner, or drinks with friends. So, needless to say, ordering/going out has been a big part of how I eat for quite some time now.

After complaining about my seemingly unbreakable Seamless habit to my boss one too many times, she proposed a challenge. Could I JUST eat things that I cooked for myself for two weeks straight? The gauntlet had been thrown and my competitive nature overtook my inner fear of letting go of takeout. “Of course, I can,” I said. “Let’s do it.”

The Rules:

We decided it would be way too easy if I still had access to the unlimited snacks and caffeine at Refinery29. So I sadly said goodbye to the free cold brew and gave away all of the food samples that came across my desk during this time. I couldn’t eat out or order in at all. I also couldn't eat anything that wasn’t homemade, or anything that wasn't purchased while shopping for my upcoming meals at the supermarket. Even a bite of someone else’s food that they bought was cheating. And, I had to pack my own lunch every. single. day.

P Day (AKA Prep Day Or Procrastinating Day) (More Like Procrastinating Day)
Despite knowing that it was coming for weeks in advance, this food experiment really snuck up on me. Instead of taking the weekend to plan out my meals, I waited until Monday night (I officially started the challenge on a Tuesday), panicked, and set out to the grocery store after work so I would at least have lunch and maybe something to make for dinner on Tuesday. Oy vey!

Day 1: I CAN TOTALLY DO THIS. WAIT. Groceries? Ugh.
Breakfast: Coffee, cantaloupe, a baggie of dry Honey Bunches of Oats
Lunch: Leftover quinoa with tomato sauce, corn, and zucchini, a baggie of Popchips, and a nectarine
Dinner: Pesto chicken, roasted potatoes, and roasted carrots
Dessert: Fruit

The panic has set in fully now, and I crankily forgo my snooze button so I can make coffee and pack my lunch. I drink my coffee en route to the subway thinking, “Hey, this is kind of nice!” At work, I Gchat my boyfriend about what on earth we can have for dinner. My previous night’s trip to the supermarket was a little haphazard to say the least, and I returned home with chicken, mushrooms, onions, carrots, potatoes, and a bunch of snacks, but nothing to make a sauce or bring the whole thing together. He suggests pesto because we have a ton of leftover basil from the farmer's market. I breathe easy and call him a genius. Phew, I survived day 1, only 14 more days to go.

Day 2: Encountering The Depths Of My Own Rage On The Subway.
Breakfast: Coffee, cantaloupe, toast with jam
Lunch: Pesto chicken, potatoes, carrots, plus rice cakes and another nectarine
Dinner: Pasta with pesto and sautéed mushrooms, onions, and pecorino

I start to really miss the cold brew at work. Despite it being September, it’s still too warm out to be drinking hot coffee on my commute. It’s only day TWO I tell myself, get it together! I DON’T want more chicken for dinner so I decide to have pasta with leftover pesto, but alas we don’t have pasta. I am ravenous on the train home because I haven’t eaten anything since lunch and my train stops for 15 minutes while going over the Williamsburg Bridge. My subway rage is worse than usual. It's like RAGE. I pause to consider if this is perhaps also cold brew withdrawal. My home-brew just doesn't pack the same punch. I stop at the store to get pasta and then finally get home to cook. It’s super satisfying when I finally finish cooking the meal, but I didn’t end up eating until around 8:30 or 9 p.m.

Day 3: Cheese Breaks Me
Breakfast: Coffee and a raspberry Noosa yogurt
Lunch: More of the same from yesterday, plus one Laughing Cow Cheese because I’m the worst
Dinner: More pasta with pesto for dinner

I’m the worst and I cheat and eat one Laughing Cow Pepper Jack Cheese that I get in the mail. I get more food in the mail today than I've ever received in my life (probably just to torture me) including yogurt, cheese, and coconut water. Plus, there is free pizza at the office in the late afternoon. To quell my jealousy, I eat a nectarine. WOMP. Has it been two weeks yet?!

Day 4: Free Bagels Are Evil
Breakfast: Toast and jam for breakfast
Lunch: Scrambled eggs for lunch
Dinner: Almond butter and jelly sandwich

Today is a sad showing. It’s the day before Labor Day weekend and I work from home, partially to avoid the free bagels that R29 brings in on Fridays. Typically when there’s a long weekend, I give myself one day to stay in bed, order in enough food for the entire day, and watch bad reruns of cop shows on TV. Clearly I’m worried about this weekend’s prospects.

Just like mom used to make. (Running out of lunch ideas.) #pbj #foodexperiment

A photo posted by Zoe Bain (@zeeeebs) on


Day 5
: Pancakes & Human Contact Are Necessary
Brunch: Pancakes
Dinner: This soup

Did I mention I have the apartment to myself this weekend so there is no one to nag me into getting up and going to the store, or telling me I should probably plan my meals for next week? Oh, well. I somehow manage to get up. In the Bain family, we have a tradition that we always have pancakes on Sunday mornings (it’s Saturday), but I am running out of options so I stick to what I know. For dinner my friend comes over to cook with me. Half way through dinner, I realize that this is probably the first contact I’ve had all weekend, unless you count my cats (don’t judge!)

Day 6: I Am A Saint.
Breakfast: Toast with almond butter and jelly
Lunch: Leftover soup
Dinner: Gouda quesadilla and a salad with avocado, peppers, and tomatoes

I head to my friend’s house in the afternoon, where she is packing up to move. Upon the realization that she is planning to eat leftover pizza for dinner, she is now forced to come to the supermarket with me so I can figure out something to make. I eat my quesadilla while she, her mom, and her boyfriend eat pizza. But, the quesadilla was actually really good, so I’m not complaining! Look at me, being all positive! YES.

Day 7: Banana Bread Is A Breakfast Food, Right?
Brunch: Coffee, eggs, bacon, potatoes with onions, mushrooms, and peppers, and frozen biscuits
Snack: Banana bread
Dinner: Chicken sausage with sautéed mushrooms and onions over quinoa drizzled with soy sauce and Sriracha

Normally I’d go out to brunch at some point during Labor Day weekend, but today a friend comes over for brunch instead. Then we bake, so I have breakfasts to take to work for the week (banana bread is a perfectly acceptable breakfast item in my book!) and I manage to make dinner out of a bunch of random shit in the fridge, so I’m feeling good.

Day 8: Cheater, Cheater, Fries Eater
Breakfast: Banana bread and coffee
Lunch: Leftovers from dinner last night plus strawberries and pretzels
Dinner: French fries

I CHEATED. It starts out as a normal day and then it all goes wrong: I am supposed to take my friend out for dinner (he took care of my cats when I was out of town earlier in the summer) and tonight is the only night that works for both of us out of a three-week period. Dinner is happening, the only question is would I cheat?! My bosses say I should just go and not eat anything, (“for the sake of the story”) but let’s just say, I’ve now learned that I just don’t have that kind of self-control. As I watch him eat his Umami Burger, I CRACK. And I order fries, and I eat them all, and it's amazing, and that’s all I have to say about that.

Day 9: Back To The Grind!
Breakfast: Banana bread and coffee
Lunch: Almond butter and jelly sandwich plus chocolate covered almonds, dried mangoes, and carrots
Dinner: Salmon with a savory marinade, spinach, and red peppers over quinoa

Because I went out to dinner (yes, I’m a fry-eating cheater), I don’t have any leftovers and lunch is a sad, sad sandwich, but the TJs snacks sort of make up for it (I hit up Trader Joe’s on my way home from dinner last night to buy food for the rest of the week).
Day 10: Apparently, Banana Bread Never Gets Boring!
Breakfast: Banana bread (AGAIN) and coffee
Lunch: Leftover salmon from last night’s dinner
Dinner: A smorgasbord of roasted turkey slices, carrots, hummus, cheese, and crackers

No, I’m still not tired of the banana bread even though I’ve eaten it four days in a row. And yes, I’m that girl who heats her salmon up in the office microwave and makes everything smell fishy.

Day 11: Eating Without Cooking Is The Best
Breakfast: Coffee (I ran out of banana bread yesterday)
Lunch: Parchment paper salmon with lemon and basil, an avocado and heirloom tomato salad
Dinner: Famous turkey chili

I’m working from my boss’ house today and she takes pity on my situation and makes me lunch — score! For dinner my boyfriend makes his famous chili (he is very serious about the spice blend and puts soy sauce and cocoa powder and other umami deliciousness in it), so now I’ve managed to stick to my challenge without cooking at all today. This is the way forward!

Day 12
: Hockey + Food Experiments Don’t Mix
Breakfast: Pancakes, coffee, and cantaloupe
Lunch: Leftover chili
Dinner: MORE leftover chili

Pancakes for breakfast again (yes, I know it's Saturday). Then, I’m supposed to go to my boyfriend’s cousin’s hockey game. The problem is everyone is going to have dinner together after, so then I have to explain my “situation” to his aunt over the phone. We decide that everyone will head back to our apartment in Williamsburg (from Coney Island) after the game and they will all get takeout while I eat leftovers for dinner. This time, I am a little (okay a lot) jealous of the pasta they all eat from my favorite Italian spot, but I don't cheat! Woo-hoo!

Day 13: Rosh Hashanah Is The BEST
Brunch: Eggs, bacon, potatoes with mushrooms, onions, and peppers
Snack: Hummus and carrots
Dinner: Matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, brisket, kugel, asparagus, wine, and mandel bread for dessert

It’s Rosh Hashanah so I get to go to a dinner where everything is homemade — major plus that this holiday happens to fall during my challenge! I obviously gorge myself on comfort food. Even the gefilte fish happens to be homemade so I get to eat that, too. YES.

Day 14: Expired Yogurt Is The Worst
Breakfast: FAIL + coffee
Lunch: AB&J sandwich, homemade brownies (yes, I made brownies yesterday instead of making a real lunch) a nectarine, and Popchips
Dinner: This black bean soup (it’s really easy!) with quinoa
Dessert: Cantaloupe and brownies

I’m almost done! I’m so excited! But then, I accidentally bring an expired yogurt to work. Nooooo. I get granola bars, and chocolate, and Campbell’s soup in the mail, but I resist. Sweetgreen comes to make salads for the entire editorial staff and I sit solemnly at my desk hating everyone.

Day 15: The Final Countdown
Breakfast: Strawberry coconut milk oatmeal
Lunch: Leftovers from dinner
Dinner: Chicken sausages with roasted sweet potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts
Dessert: Trader Joe’s peanut butter cups

It’s my LAST DAY!!! I did it!! (Mostly.) I was ambitious last night and made breakfast in advance to celebrate. It’s an upcoming recipe from my boss' food blog, Impatient Foodie, and it’s SO good.

The Post-Experiment Download:

What did I learn and was this all just a massive waste of energy?

For one thing, I eat a LOT of cantaloupe. But, in all seriousness, aside from a couple minor incidents, I really enjoyed my two weeks sans takeout. The most surprising part was I didn't even really crave my usual Seamless orders. It felt good cooking fresh, simple, mostly healthy meals, and at the end I still wanted to cook and bring lunches to work! The hardest part about this project was making plans. Yes, I invited my friends over to cook with me, but sometimes it really is more convenient to meet up for dinner or grab a bite when you're already out. I think I will try to make my new normal cooking and bringing lunches as much as I can, and splurging on meals out with friends instead of daily $12 takeout work lunches.

Eating post-challenge
It's been a week now, and I've definitely eaten at a couple of my favorite places after the fact. I went to my neighborhood Italian spot, ordered Indian food, and got Chipotle one day at work for lunch. (What can I say, I missed burrito bowls.) But, we also had friends over for brunch instead of going out this weekend. I also baked my own sweets a couple times instead of buying, and two days in a row this week I woke up a little early to make myself a smoothie for breakfast just because. (I also brought my lunch today!)

A photo posted by Zoe Bain (@zeeeebs) on


How much did I save?
Perhaps the most noticeable shift was that I saved a tremendous amount of money on food. Over the course of the two weeks, I'd estimate I saved around $200 (this is assuming I wouldn’t have cooked at all during those two weeks), which is no small feat if you do the math on how much that saves per year. I didn’t include breakfast in this calculation because technically, I can get coffee and cereal or oatmeal for free at work, but I do spend a pretty ridiculous amount on weekend brunches. In the end, we all probably already know this, but cooking even just a few times a week can really save us the big bucks. I just need to get in the habit of doing it more!

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