10 Ways to Eat Out While Staying In

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Let's face it: eating out is fun. Nice atmosphere, food you don't have to cook, recipes you may not have the skill to learn, dishes you don't have to clean, and that feeling that you are out of the house, away from your problems and stresses just for part of the evening. But, let's also face it: eating out all the time isn't always possible. From the strain on your budget to the toll on your health from salty, restaurant food, sometimes you just have to eat dinner at home. But this doesn't have to ruin the evening! Whether you're dining with family, friends, or alone, here are ten little extras that can transform your at-home meal into an elegant affair that makes you feel like you've gone to a restaurant.

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1. Dress Up

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Dress up as casual or fancy as the mood requires! Seriously, if fresh jeans and an unstained tee gives you a lift, go for it! Ladies, go ahead and wear that dress from three years ago that still has the tag on it! The point is to just get dressed. Staying in your pajamas or bathrobe will not only make you feel like you've been nursing the flu, but it will serve as a constant reminder that you're eating at home instead of going out to a nice restaurant.

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2. Location Location

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I am guilty as charged for eating every single at-home meal in front of the television set. And I'll bet everyone reading this will admit to having eaten over the sink on occasion. However, when is the last time you went to a restaurant and ate over the sink? Exactly. So when you're at home, eat at the table! It's just one more touch to make you feel like you're at a restaurant.

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3. Utensils

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Now that you've moved to the table, it'll be hardly any extra effort to actually set the table. Don't just bring out one lonely spoon for your chili, bring out everything you've got! Two forks, two spoons and a knife. Even if they're the same size and you don't know where they go on the placemat, it will let you pretend that somebody else set the table for you and that you have "arrived." And, even if you don't end up using any of them besides that one lone spoon, it will still look nice.

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4. Napkins

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My sister is hilarious. When I have her over for dinner and I'm heaping the spaghetti into bowls, I call over my shoulder, "Do we have napkins?" She responds with, "I'll get you one. I've got my sweatshirt." If you're anything like my sister (and this I won't make you admit), then this tidbit is for you. Use a napkin with dinner and, just this once, make it a cloth napkin. All the fanciest restaurants have them, and it will really make your meal feel more elegant.

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5. Table

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Since we're in the middle of the list, I thought I'd give you an optional one. If you're really in the mood for a swanky dinner, go all out and put a tablecloth on your lonely table. It will thank you. Don't have a tablecloth? No problem. How about some flowers, fresh or fake, on the table to liven things up. No flowers? That's why this one's optional.

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6. Candles

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I know not every restaurant has candlelight, but they usually have some sort of mood lighting. At home, candles will do the trick. Not only will the glow give your home that fuzzy feeling, but the rarity of a candlelit dinner will make you feel special.

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7. Music

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This will really whisk you away to the faraway land of restaurant row! Put on whatever you feel like, even if it doesn't match the cuisine. If you feel like listening to opera while you eat your pasta, more power to you! Pop in that old cassette of '80s hits from high school while you dig in to that juicy hamburger. Putting on music at home is better than listening to music at a restaurant because you can choose the tunes! Who is getting tired of hearing Frank Sinatra played at Italian restaurants? Just me, apparently. But when I put music on for dinner, you can bet that I don't listen to Frankie.

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8. Multiple Courses

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If you're just planning on eating a bowl of chili, this tip won't work out very well. But if you're eating chili and a salad, split it into two courses. Put the salad on a plate and bring it to the table first, then clear the table and bring out the chili. If you've planned a more elaborate meal, you can make this really fun, announcing each course as it arrives at the table, just like a restaurant does. "First, we have a mixed greens salad with imported Thousand Island dressing, and for the main entrée, we will be serving three-bean vegetarian chili." Mmm, who's hungry?

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9. Conversation

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Ever notice that when you're at a restaurant everyone's on their best behavior? Sure, there's that one table who can't stop crabbing at their kids, but assuming that isn't your table (or if it is, then you were just having a bad night), going out is generally a pleasant experience. When you're at home surrounded by literal and symbolic dirty laundry, it's easy to let a nice evening slip into a regular family argument. Try setting some ground rules on topics of discussion. Plan a fantasy vacation to Shangri La, or go around the table and ask what famous person he or she would love to meet. Remind yourself of the kinds of things you talk about when you're out and about and in a good mood and stick to those topics.

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10. Cleaning Up

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You were waiting for this. How is he going to make cleaning up fun, you were thinking. Again, I'm going to tell you about my sister. She always cleans up after dinner, and she always has a blast doing it (which is why no one even thinks of taking it away from her). She turns up her ABBA music full blast and dances with the dishes as she moves them from the table to the sink; she even sings into the silverware when she dries and puts them away. She calls it a 'cleaning party" and dances off the calories from dinner. So, that's my advice on how to have fun while cleaning: turn it into a party, and dance and sing. Pretty soon, you won't even remember you're doing a chore!

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