This week, I’m sharing some tips and ideas for saving money — those things that we have some control over during this time of high inflation.
Another one is how much we spend on food.
We already know that to stop eating out and to cook more at home will save money. But if you are away most of the day or work from home, preparing a meal from scratch can be discouraging when you are already tired. I work at home during the day and don’t always enjoy cooking an evening meal. Especially every day.
To save time and energy, we have bought into the life of convenience: stopping at the grocery store to get a prepared meal (we convince ourselves that since it was prepared at the store and not frozen, we are eating more healthfully), ordering at a restaurant for pickup, or subscribing to a meal delivery plan.
Consider this: freshly prepared meals by a grocery store ready for the microwave or oven cost on an average $8-9 per person. Depending on the entrees you choose for one of the popular meal kits (like Hello Fresh, Freshly, Real Eats, and Every Plate) the final cost per person ranges from $9-13.
(Let me say, I’ve tried most of the meal services. Even Dinnerly, who advertises a lower price per individual meal, isn’t necessarily better. Most of their recipes are filled with grains and potatoes as fillers, which make the meals cheaper. I also learned that many of these meal services do not offer enough food for the 4 adults in a 4-meal plan.)
We recognize that buying prepared foods from the grocery store or take-out is a tremendous time-saving advantage, even if it costs more. Cooking at home more often sounds lovely, but with a busy schedule, isn’t it just as important to save time? And while we understand that cooking from home may save money, is it worth it? Or is it better to save time?
Here are some tips to help you more easily cook at home more often:
Plan Your Shopping List in Advance
Try using Google Assistant or Alexa to create your grocery list. It’s helpful for my Google assistant to add something to the grocery list just as I’m using up something in the kitchen.
Don’t go to the store hungry. This is so true. If you do your own shopping, keep on task (and budget) by having a prepared list. Don’t let sale displays tempt you to buy things you don’t need or won’t remember to use later.
Have the store shop for you. At my favorite grocery store, if I schedule curbside service a day or two in advance, I get free service instead of paying an additional fee. This is my best solution for getting only what is on my list!
Prep Your Kitchen
Establish up to one hour a week for food prep. I plan an hour not long after a grocery run to prep everything in my order for the coming week. This is to accomplish two things: (1) wash, cut and store veggies in zip bags for the fridge, and (2) divide large packages of meat into separate containers for upcoming meals or the freezer. This can be accomplished in an hour or less, and the best part is that when you cook during the week, you only need to grab your meat pack and veggie bags to start a meal.
If I have extra time, I clean and portion veggies and fruits in small snack bags for my family to grab when on the run. It keeps them from stopping at a convenience store to spend money on expensive (and unhealthy) snacks.
Clean out the refrigerator. This should be done weekly and before a grocery run. I take a few minutes to clean out the fridge (of too old, expired, or abandoned food) and wipe down the shelves. It lets me see what I have left to use so I don’t buy more.
Even if we are good money-savers, sometimes wasting food just happens. Occasionally, fruit doesn’t get eaten quickly enough in my home. Instead of throwing away fruit (like apples and bananas) that is near spoilage, I take time during my meal prep to cut up the fruit and freeze in bags so they can be used for smoothies. The frozen chunks of fruit work in place of ice cubes and add creamy thickness. Apples are usually so mild tasking that you don’t even notice it.
Keep Fewer, Simpler Ingredients
Recipes that are simpler with fewer ingredients are a big key to making cooking more at home worthwhile.
Keep fewer condiments. Don’t buy things that are only used a couple times a year. Instead, keep condiments to a minimum with only what you use regularly. Do you need mustard and steak sauce on hand when no one uses it?
In our home, I keep one salad dressing, Ranch. Not only do my husband and son prefer it, but it can double as a dip for carrots and celery.
Having every spice on hand isn’t necessary. You don’t need every spice to create tasty meals. Instead of separate herbs, try spice blends. I began making my own spice blends to use what I have now and condense my spice rack.
Not sure how often you use a particular herb? Keep it by the store as a reminder. If you don’t use it in enough dishes, get rid of it. If you don’t make Chinese dishes, then there probably isn’t a reason to keep ginger on hand. If Mediterranean dishes aren’t your jam, then turmeric probably isn’t needed.
Limit the number of different grains and pasta. If you don’t have a preference, use grains like rice in microwavable form. I found a brand of instant brown rice I can microwave in 9 minutes while cooking something else on the stove. Most pasta recipes requiring one type of pasta, like a bowtie, can be made just as easily by replacing it with penne, which you always have on hand.
Save on prep with frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables are just as good as buying from the produce department. They are flash-frozen right at the peak of freshness. Using frozen saves on prep time and stops waste. Many frozen veggies are now available in steamable bags, saving time by microwaving.
Use a Rotation of Favorite Recipes
Keep a rotation of family favorites. Making something new is always fun, but an often-used recipe is quicker and less stressful when you have a full schedule. Teach order children how to do some steps. If you have teens, a simpler recipe is an excellent start to cooking independently. And bonus — they can start dinner for you for a change!
Start now with what you already have. If you have a stocked freezer and pantry right now, do an inventory of your freezer and pantry (not just a casual look, but an actual list). Take a few minutes this week and try a website like All Recipes to find one or two simple recipes using ingredients you have on hand or want to deplete. As your stock dwindles, you will learn what you like to use most and what your family prefers. You may discover a new recipe to add to your regular rotation.
Let me know in the comments: Which of these tips do you already implement?
Which one will you try? What other tips can you add to help other readers?