Obnoxious whine: I’m tired of the food options in my town

This is truly an obnoxious whine.  See, back when we lived in places with amazing food options we had no money.  Now that we have money…

I live in a small college town that has had some recent growth.  Usually in the summer a number of college student places go out of business and a number of new places move in to replace them.

This year instead of getting interesting new places, we’ve been getting places that are either literally or essentially duplicates of places we already have.  We do not need yet another cheap wood-fired pizza place in town, yet this summer we got three of them.  We do not need another crappy Thai place, but this summer a couple sprang up.  (These things seem to go in cycles– when I got here we had a bunch of great Vietnamese places and the one Thai place in town had gone out of business the year before– now all the Vietnamese places have been replaced with sushi of varying quality and we have an overabundance of mediocre Thai.)  We even got a second really mediocre poke place (I did not realize mediocre poke existed until we had some in our town– I think it’s just not the right demographics to support a decent poke place… students prefer cheap), though I suspect that now there are two they will both go out of business.

So what’s left are places that are so meh that we don’t particularly want to go there again, or good places that we’re kind of sick of.  (In the case of super fancy restaurants, only I have had the chance to have gotten sick of their menus– I was on two search committees last year and really do not need to go to the fancy restaurants in town again any time soon.  Even these are kind of repetitive in terms of menu options.)

The way work is for both of us this year, we have a lot of disposable income, but less time than usual.  It would be nice to have a list of places we wanted to try or places that we like but aren’t tired of.  But we don’t.  So we waste time trying to figure out where to eat and finally decide we might as well just make something instead.

Now, our kids would be perfectly happy if we went to the burger place once a week and our favorite pizza place once a week and the hand pulled noodle place once a week and pei wei (never mind—pei wei just shut down) once a week and so on.  But DH and I have just gotten bored of their limited menus, along with those at our favorite Chinese place and our favorite Indian place.  Over the eight years or so that we’ve had an Indian place in town, we’ve literally tried everything on the menu, most multiple times (particularly when I was pregnant with DC2 and couldn’t eat wheat).  (To be completely truthful, I suspect our kids would be happy with macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas, spaghetti with meat sauce, and grilled cheese each once a week… I don’t know what we would do for the other meals.)

It’s so easy to find new exciting things to try when we go into the city.  Heck, there are fun things at the grocery store to try in the city.  But it seems like if we want new things to try here we’re going to have to keep making them ourselves.  And that takes time.

The box delivery services remove the part of cooking that I like (picking out food) and keep the time consuming parts (chopping).  And, with the exception of purple carrot, the recipes seem pretty pedestrian.  Plus there’s all that plastic.  And the per-person cost for most places is more expensive than take-out.  (Of course, we’re tired of local take-out…)

My sister suggested getting a personal chef, but that seems expensive (most don’t post their prices online, but the ones who do it looks like ~$80/meal for four people, and their suggested menus are BORING).  Plus I really don’t want the kind where someone comes to your house because I don’t want people in my house when I need to work or relax.  Moving to the city and commuting to work on week days also seems less of a good idea than going the other direction on weekends.  But when weekends come, there’s so many chores at home that going to the city just to eat out seems like maybe not a great idea.

So I guess we’ll keep cooking, going through new recipes in cookbooks and Cook’s Country magazine.  And we’ll spend a good portion of each weekend on fancy recipes.  And the kids will complain half the week that they don’t like whatever we’ve made and will thank us fervently the other half.  DC1 had been starting to cook more this summer, but zie has way too much homework during the school year.  Since we remodeled the kitchen and got a new stovetop, DC2 is no longer tall enough to safely use the stove.  So it’s on us.

What do you do about food when you have more money than time?  Would you ever get tired of your local restaurant options?

22 Responses to “Obnoxious whine: I’m tired of the food options in my town”

  1. Michael N Nitabach Says:

    In order to allow your kid to use the stovetop, you could get one of those platforms w railings made exactly for this purpose for them to stand on.

  2. sciliz Says:

    My former boss was on the search committee and claimed to get tired of fancy restaurants in Chicago, so there is always a more obnoxious whine level to reach.

    That said, I absolutely got tired of the options in grad school town. It was touristy, but has like 14,000 people. That is just not enough to support a huge variety. Where you live definitely impacts the strategies available to get new foods.

    Ultimately though, I don’t think I need *as much* variety in food as some people. I need more than my Dad did (he literally ate a PB & Mayo [eww, yes, I know!] sandwich every day of school K-12). I pretty much eat the same few dishes for all my breakfasts. I get one new thing every time I go shopping if I don’t have the kiddos to distract me (coping with grocery input and kiddos is A Lot for my brain).

    Although a personal chef sounds like a lot, a personal shopper to run to the city and back for you, might be the kind of thing you can outsource to a college student (particularly if they are from the city and already have a car). I can’t think of anything that would have been a better side gig as a student than heading up to Trader Joe’s and doing a weird food run and getting paid for it. That said, it might cause a lot of front loaded labor (cause generally you have to know what is in the store, groceries with interesting items are not terribly great at online inventory).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We try to make it into the city about once a month just for fun and hit TJ and WF and fun restaurants. TBH we got a bit tired of TJ’s frozen food options that year we were on sabbatical… plus when you eliminate their options with yeast extract (which gives me massive headaches) there’s not that much left, and when you eliminate those with sugar and refined carbs (PCOS), almost nothing. So mostly we get ingredients. I’m so annoyed that they started adding yeast extract to their red curry. Why take something already perfect and give me headaches?

      • Michael N Nitabach Says:

        Ugh is it the glutamate in the yeast extract that gives you headache?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Dunno. I do get msg headaches but it takes a lot of MSG, and those could just be dehydration headaches since a lot of msg usually also means a lot of salt, or really any of the crud that generally is also in things with msg in the US.

        I have no problems with things like tomatoes or mushrooms.

  3. monsterzero Says:

    Given the constraints, all I can think of is to try cooking in larger batches for multiple meals, but that would depend on your tolerance for repeats and how much fridge/freezer space you have.

    I guess we have more money than time, but we don’t act like it. There are lots of restaurants near where we work so we could bring home takeout but we just don’t. When we leave work we just want to go home and not stop anywhere.

    And I do most of the cooking. I should use our crockpot more, but it takes up so much counter space and our kitchen is so tiny that we have to keep it downstairs in the garage. We’ve joined a CSA for the summer and fall, which means we eat tons of awesome vegetables but I spend more time cooking them.

  4. bogart Says:

    I really do not have this problem, so I’m better situated or less motivated to find new/different stuff (or both). We don’t have enough data to know, but I’d guess the latter plays a role, as I have any number of restaurants around us where I order the same thing every single time we go there. I know I like it, it’s generally something I can’t/won’t make at home (that is a criterion for initial choice off the menu), so … happy. But then I’ve come to observe that although I like good food and will try new things (fried bone marrow, anyone?), I view much of the process of eating as being a get-enough-nutrition-into-my-body-in-a-reasonably-pleasant-way rather than — oh you know, I’m a satisficer, not a maximizer. There it is again!

  5. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I don’t know, we’re not there yet!

    I do get tired of the options that are available to us in our price range. (Everything here is expensive whether it’s good or not.) Mostly it’s good but the more good it is the more expensive it gets … of course. I CAN understand being tired of the fancy stuff, still, because at some point all restaurant food / eating out starts to blend into a sameness even if it IS good. Add in the dietary limitations and that point comes up surprisingly fast!

    When that happens, I feel a need for the most basic of meals (plain chicken and rice, boiled shrimp and cucumber dipped in fish sauce). I’m really liking traditional home style spring rolls for those days – rice noodles, shrimp and pork, cucumber and fresh herbs come together really well.

  6. rose Says:

    Made me giggle. Reminded me off when I was cooking every meal for family & on highly limited budget. I got so tired of only the same affordable meat/poultry/fish and would mutter “I wish there was some thing different to consider.” And then, there was: Bunny. All at once I was cured.

  7. Cloud Says:

    Given where I live, I obviously don’t have the same restaurant shortage problem. I think if I whined about how I don’t have enough time to try all of our interesting restaurants that would be more obnoxious than your whine, so I won’t do that!

    Anyway, we tend to eat in (partly to conserve money, partly for health, partly because older daughter is so incredibly picky that eating out can be challenging). My method for balancing a desire for some variety with a need to not spend too much mental energy thinking about food is to have a schedule of food types and then variety within the types. So, Monday is “baked good + healthy liquid” and that can be anything like waffles + smoothies or scones + soup. Wednesday is taco night, but taco fillings vary a lot. This is easy because my go to method of inventing a new taco filling is to buy a new bottle of simmer sauce for the meat. Sesame-ginger beef is a surprisingly good taco filling, for instance! Thursday is pasta night, and again I can vary a lot based on sauce since the kids are just going to eat plain buttered pasta I set aside before I add the sauce. I have an entire cookbook of pasta sauces and there is also a Cooking Light Asian-style sauce that I really like as a way to get something different, but there’s always jarred sauces for nights I’m too busy/tired to make a sauce.

    My husband cooks on weekends, and he likes to try new recipes so that keeps things interesting, too.

  8. Debbie M Says:

    I’m basically the opposite of you in this situation: loads of good restaurants, more time than money. But I can get tired of restaurants. My best advice is just quit going for a while so they can become special again.

    But then to get out of having to cook every meal, you might be able to figure out some social way to do it. Like throw dinner parties, which might inspire people to also throw dinner parties and then invite you. Or have potlucks. Or have meal exchanges, where two or more folks take turns making way too much food and then sharing.

  9. Debbie M Says:

    On another topic, I have a personal finance question for you. In my retirement system, retirees are getting a so-called 13th paycheck (up to a maximum of $2,000) this year. (Interestingly, I learned that a 13th paycheck is standard or even required for employees in many countries. Weird!) So what should I do with it? As pension money, it is “unearned” and therefore cannot be contributed to retirement savings vehicles. And I don’t have debt (woo hoo!) or an HSA. So currently I’m thinking:
    10% to charity
    45% to taxable investments
    45% to my vacation fund (still, uh, negative since I went to two foreign countries expensively in one year a while back)

    Any other ideas?

  10. Debbie M Says:

    Cool. Thanks!

  11. First Gen American Says:

    I live in a small tourist town so right there with you. I am constantly asking people what are their go to dinner meals to try to get inspired. I
    Weeknight meals are really tough because of sports ( kids and us trying to get some exercise). We eat way too much pasta and pizza because we usually have leftovers in the fridge. The regular rotation of “healthy meals” is something green, something starchy and a meat. (Last night..roast baby potatoes with herb de Provence seasoning, green beans, roast butternut squash and one rack of already cooked baby back ribs reheated on grill, or broccoli, couscous, grilled buffalo chic. )

    Emergency meals include steaming frozen dumplings with frozen edamame. Tacos are a pretty regular occurrence. When I travel I try to bring home menus of places I liked for inspiration or stop at Trader Joe’s. Or I go online an peruse vegetarian restaurant menus from cool cities I like to visit to get ideas. I eat too much cheese and too much meat. It’s also starting to be soup season. I am soaking lentils as we speak. I am a good cook but sometimes it’s hard to be inspired when you are tired after a long day. Really it would be way easier if someone said “ can you make your knockoff Barbacoa beef tonight.” Instead of: What are you in the mood for? “I don’t know”.

    Our organic grocer has lots of prechopped things. The one I like best is they have a stir fry mix that we use semi regularly. I add extra stuff to it and meat but it saves a lot of prep time and it’s only like $6 for the container which is cheaper than buying all the different veg individually and then having too much.

    Ps. Agree on your meal kit assessment wholeheartedly.

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