We want to change our Friday night takeaway habit, but keep failing!

Dear Helen,

My wife Hayley and I both work and have three young children. We find that we start the week with good intentions eating-wise, but have got into a pattern of ordering a take-away every Friday evening then overeating and feeling groggy the next day. I want to lose some weight and I particularly want to change this Friday evening pattern, to only having a takeaway some Fridays. I enjoy cooking and would like to make something tasty that Hayley and I can enjoy together.

Every Thursday for weeks now we have agreed that “tomorrow we’ll cook something healthy” from scratch. But when Friday comes round, amidst the chaos of us getting three children fed, bathed and into bed, one of us will pick up the phone and put in our usual take-away order. Once the kids are in bed we collapse on the sofa and eat.

How can we get out of this pattern?


Dear Paul

You and Hayley are obviously very tired by Friday evening. And it sounds as though rather than feeling like a treat, ordering your take-away feels more like a defeat. You’ve got into the pattern of ordering food in because it solved the problem of cooking when you are already tired and have lots of things that have to be done to sort the children out. Because it solved a problem, the takeaway has become a habit.

In order to change this habit,

  1. you need to know what you want to replace it with. This new thing needs to give you real and immediate benefits, so that you will be motivated to do it again once you’ve successfully done it once. You are clear that you want to cook something tasty yourself. The pleasure of the food and not feeling groggy the next morning will help motivate you.
  2. you need to identify the specific point where you make the decision between picking up the phone to order a takeaway and going to the kitchen and getting your chopping board out. Habit change involves particular moments. You don’t have to concentrate on habit change all the time; only at those points where you are about to do the old thing.
  3. you need to make it as easy to go to the kitchen and start cooking as to go to the phone. Because you enjoy it, once you are cooking, you’ll be OK.

Let’s look at what this would mean for you and Hayley.

First, you need to do some planning. It is the chaos you talk of that is driving you to pick up the phone and you’ll need to introduce a bit of structure to help you do things differently. Your use of the word “chaos” suggests that you might welcome a bit more order.

It will help if the ingredients and recipe are ready and waiting. Choose what to make earlier in the week and add the ingredients to the shopping list. The night before, leave the recipe book open at the page. Because time is tight and you are tired, use short cuts like pre-chopped vegetables.

The other thing you and Hayley need to plan in advance is how you will both organise the evening so the meal can be cooked. Cooking from scratch takes longer than making a quick phone call (unless you go to pick the takeaway up yourself in which case cooking from scratch may be quicker), which is partly why you got into the pattern in the first place. So either you could decide to eat together a bit later, or decide what other job could be dropped from the Friday evening routine.

If you both enjoy cooking, you and Hayley may want to alternate doing this. If it’s only you that enjoys it, she may be happy for you to cook while she reads bedtime stories. Jointly being clear about which tasks each of you will do during the Friday evening will help to reduce any friction between the two of you over who’s doing what.

Second, create an obstacle to phoning. This could be putting your phone out of the way for the evening, or sticking a reminder to the phone that you are cooking, not ordering in tonight.

Third, make cooking from scratch and eating together as pleasurable as possible, so that it is more enjoyable than the take-away option. Have music on while you cook, serve the meal at the table and really focus on enjoying what you’ve cooked by eating mindfully rather than mindlessly. Aim to make Friday into more of a date-night than slumping in front of the TV whilst you eat. If you particularly enjoy your Friday night viewing, choose something to watch after dinner that you’ll really enjoy.

Finally start noticing the benefits you get from doing this, and talk about them with Hayley so that you can both encourage each other.  Benefits will include reducing Friday night stress, enjoying your time as a couple more, losing weight and saving money.

If you’re unsure about whether cooking from scratch is going to be achievable, start with the easiest possible version of it. For example, you can now get ready-boxed mail-order packages with a recipe and all the ingredients, pre-weighed ready to cook at home. Or supermarkets have “Dine in for £10” type offers. Either of these reduces the amount of preparation and planning and is cheaper than a typical takeaway. Starting small and achieving success will help you move on to cooking your own favourite recipes from scratch.

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