Butler Serving FoodDinner is a big deal: from planning to shopping to cooking to cleaning up to leaning up, there’s a lot of time-consuming work involved. For some people, eliminating all that work is a matter of stopping by McDonald’s, Burger King, or Chick-fil-A on the way home. That approach can lead directly to health problems, and more. There are plenty of other ways to outsource your food tasks and still avoid the problems that go along with fast food. Not only that, outsourcing will help free up your time for other valued pursuits and perhaps even save yourself some money.

  1. Personal Chefs: These days, hiring a chef to cook for your family is not a full-time proposition. Instead, you can arrange for a chef to come by your home on a regular basis and prepare a week’s worth of healthy and tasty meals. The United States Personal Chef Association can direct you to chefs in your area.
  2. Organic Produce: By joining a CSA, short for “Community Supported Agriculture,” you can arrange to purchase a weekly basket of freshly picked produce, almost always organic. Visit LocalHarvest to check for CSAs that deliver to your area.
  3. Grocery Shopping: Got a shopping list ready to go, but no time to stop by the grocery store? Many stores now offer shopping and delivery services that allow you to place an order online and have it delivered. Contact your local supermarket to check availability as well as places to buy your groceries online for other services.
  4. Gardening: Growing your own fruits and vegetables requires a lot of work, but can be outsourced in some areas. There are a number of organizations, such as Community Roots in Boulder, that will come to your home and grow produce in your yard, providing you with truly local food.
  5. Meal Planning: While there are a variety of nutrition professionals you can consult about meal planning, there are also many free meal planning tools online. Sites like Meals Matter will provide meal plans, shopping lists at other tools to speed up your meal planning process.
  6. Calorie Tracking: If you track calories to help manage your meals, there are thousands of websites that have reduced that task to just typing a few words into a website. Sites like Mealographer have eliminated the need for a meal diary.
  7. Having Dinner Delivered: Rather than ordering the usual greasy food you can get delivered, you can get deliveries from higher quality restaurants. In most towns, there are companies that will provide delivery services from the restaurant of your choice — Delivery.com has a similar selection, but you might also want to check for a local delivery company.
  8. Coupon Clipping: Rather than spending time clipping and organizing coupons, you can easily find those coupons you want online. Take a look at places to find coupons online to get a head start.
  9. Making Reservations: For some restaurants, it seems like you can spend an hour on hold just to make a reservation. But you can outsource tasks like reservations to a virtual assistant easily — it’s just a matter of telling your assistant the date, restaurant, and guests.
  10. Meal Assembly Options: Companies like Dream Dinners help you assemble all the ingredients for a week’s worth of ingredients at their stores — in an hour, they’ll help you put together 12 meals that you can freeze until you’re ready to eat them.
  11. Dieting: Many diet plans will, for a set fee, provide you with a complete program to follow as well as meals, delivered directly to your home. Companies like Nutrisystem reduce the time you need to spend on shopping and preparing food.
  12. Shopping Lists: Keeping up with shopping lists can be difficult. But rather than trying to maintain a paper list, you can add items to your shopping list by calling into a service like Jott, which will transcribe your list and send it to your phone, your calendar, or another tool.
  13. Organizing Recipes: You may have thousands of recipes in your personal collection, turning cooking into a time-intensive procedure. Check out “Smarter Ways to Manage Your Recipes and Grocery Lists” for tips on managing your recipe collection.
  14. Budgeting: The time you expend on managing the money you spend on food can be reduced with just about any budgeting tool. Most personal finance software has budgeting tools built in, but tools like BudgetTracker and BudgetPulse focus on budgeting specifically.
  15. Catering the Big Meals: When it comes to big dinner parties and other events, the amount of time you can save by catering is incredible. In many cases, you can actually save money by bringing in a professional to cook for your guests.
  16. Using a Personal Shopper: You can arrange for someone else to spend time at the grocery store — a personal shopper can locate items on your shopping list, as well as plan meals. Look at “Personal Grocery Shopper: Get Someone Else to Grocery Shop For You” for more information.
  17. Stocking a Home Bar: If you do much entertaining, you may have considered putting together a home bar — but figuring out where to start can be a lot of work. Many websites, such as About.com, provide guides, but you can also arrange with local bartenders to have someone set up your home bar and even run you through the basics of using it.
  18. Cleaning Up: Most maid services will handle general kitchen cleaning, but if you’re planning on doing extra entertaining, it’s often worthwhile to schedule some extra time to handle out of the ordinary clean up.
  19. Renting Dishes: It’s worthwhile to rent dishes for special events, rather than trying to buy and store extra dishes yourself. Your local party supplier will not only provide you with a variety of tableware — but all the dishes will be clean and ready to use, unlike the dishes you might have in storage.
  20. Planning a Party: Even if you’re only thinking about an informal dinner or other small party, you can hand over the details to someone else. Inviting guests, arranging for catering, and all the rest can be handled either by a party planner or a virtual assistant with ease.
  21. Finding a Nearby Restaurant: Trying to find a restaurant while you’re out and about? Google can help you, no matter where you are. Text the type of restaurant you’re looking for (like sushi) and your zip code to 466453 (“GOOGLE” on your keypad) and it will text back nearby options.
  22. Buying Packed Lunches: You can often buy lunches that are already packed — these meals are cheaper than a lunch out and can be picked up on your way to work. Typically, you can buy such lunches from small restaurants as well as convenience stores.
  23. Consulting a Nutritionist: If you’re having difficulties coming up with balanced meal plans, or you have health issues affected by your diet, a nutritionist can help you come up with meal options that take allergies, religious dietary laws, and other factors into account. You can find a local nutritionist through the Nutritionists’ Directory.
  24. Potlucking: While not precisely outsourcing, planning a potluck meal can give you the opportunity of eating with friends without taking on all the tasks of preparing a big meal. You can make planning the potluck easier by using a site like Tadalist to manage the items that your guests are bringing.
  25. Choosing a Restaurant: Trying to decide on a restaurant can be tough, especially if you’ve got more than a few options to decide from. However, there are many tools to help you, such as Urbanspoon — put in your criteria and it’ll make a decision for you.

Image credit: jgroup / iStockphoto
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