Do you know what’s one of the most shocking expense categories that people discover when they start tracking their expenses? It’s food. Between grocery trips throughout the week, eating out for convenience and entertainment, and grabbing snacks at vending machines and gas stations, food expenses add up quickly. If you don’t keep track of how much you spend, you might be in for a rude awakening.
Part of becoming more frugal is changing our habits, and that’s not always easy. Today we’re going to make an effort at reducing our food budget by cooking at home.
Don’t tune me out because you think you’re not good in the kitchen or are too busy to cook at home. Increasing how much you cook at home is possible for everyone. With some practice and some adaptations, you can make cooking at home work for you. It’s no only good for your wallet, but it’s good for your body.
Address Concerns and Excuses
This may sound a little backward, but before we actually make a plan for cooking at home more, I want you to think about what has kept you from doing so in the past. What are the reasons you end up eating out or ordering take-out? Addressing these concerns as you make your plan will prevent you from using these excuses or allowing old habits to creep in. Be honest with yourself. Here are a few common reasons people don’t cook at home.
- I’m too busy.
- I don’t know how to cook.
- I don’t plan ahead.
- I’m tired of the “same old.”
As you make a plan, keep your concerns at the front of your mind so you can come up with a way to combat them.
Make a Plan to Cook at Home
It’s no secret that cooking at home takes more effort and planning than going through a drive-thru or ordering take-out. Knowing what you’ll fix before the dinner hour strikes is crucial. Start by making a list of the dinners you like to cook (or eat), know how to cook, or would like to learn to cook. If you’re stumped or are stuck in a menu rut, a simple search on Pinterest will have your mouth watering and your tummy growling for sure. Get some input from your family to make sure their favorites are on the list too.
Look at your calendar and decide how you’ll fit the meals in. If you’re new to cooking at home, ease yourself in with a couple of meals to start. If being busy has you eating out often, choose nights where you’ll have a little extra time to get used to cooking . As you get more experience under your belt, you’ll be able to pull together successful meals more quickly and with less effort.
If you’re already in the habit of cooking at home, make out a full menu for the rest of the month. Even though I always cook at home, sometimes I am too lazy to follow my own advice and make a menu. Making a menu will save you so much sanity! Having a menu that you are excited for and prepared for can put the excitement back into cooking at home when you’re in a rut or have fallen off the bandwagon.
In you Frugal Fresh Start Workbook there is a printable weekly menu planner that you can use. If you don’t have the workbook, you’ll get it emailed to you when you sign up to join the challenge!
Prepare to Cook at Home
When you have an idea of what you want to make and when you want to make it, schedule a trip to the store to shop for whatever ingredients you don’t already have on hand. Look at all your recipes and make a good list so that you only have to make one trip to the store. If cooking at home is new to you, you will probably have to build up your pantry’s stock of staples. For the sake of not getting overwhelmed, try just shopping a week at a time. If you’re a seasoned family chef, you might want to prepare your menu and shopping list for a longer time period.
If your schedule is busy (or you just like saving time), figure out what prep work you can do ahead of time. Could you chop veggies the morning of or the night before the scheduled meal? Could you prepare several crock pot meals over the weekend and stick them in the freezer? How can you involve your spouse and kids in the preparations? One of my favorite ways to prepare is to brown my ground beef in bulk (I stretch it with veggies too) when I buy it, then I freeze it in meal-sized portions. Getting some of the prep-work out of the way makes fixing dinner a breeze and will prevent you from eating out, even at the end of a long day.
Combating Challenges of Cooking at Home
Hopefully thinking about your concerns at the beginning helped you to creatively think through how you personally can overcome the challenges that you face with cooking at home. Figuring out your own solutions is probably more effective than giving you all the answers, but in case you still need some hints, here are a few ways to combat the common concerns I listed above:
I’m too busy to cook at home.
- Use a slow cooker or Instant Pot. Your dinner will cook while you are away and will be ready at dinnertime.
- Get a rice cooker with a delay timer. We love this feature on our rice cooker!
- Use weekends to prepare and plan the next week’s menu.
- Make enough so you have leftovers. If you don’t want the same thing on consecutive days, freeze your leftovers for a busy day.
- Keep meals simple. Your dinner doesn’t need to look like a restaurant’s spread.
- Enlist your family’s help!
I don’t know how to cook.
- It’s time to learn! There are loads of videos and tutorials available online.
- Start with dishes you love so your motivation will be high.
- Search for simple recipes.
- Learn some versatile basics.
- Get other family members involved.
- Have a freezer cooking day with a friend.
I don’t plan ahead to cook at home.
- Choose a day each week to plan your menu.
- Plan your shopping trips so you have ingredients on hand.
- Search for freezer meals that can be made now and stored for the days that don’t go as planned.
I’m tired of the “same old” homemade meals,
- Challenge yourself to add a new recipe or two to your menu each week.
- Follow some recipe boards on Pinterest to get new ideas.
- Ask your Facebook friends to share their favorite go-to recipes.
- Get suggestions from family members.
Whatever your reasons for not cooking at home, there is a way to make it possible. It may take some creativity and discipline but it will be worth it. You will save a significant amount of money over eating out, getting take-out, or buying pre-packaged food. That is money that can go straight to making the financial goal that you set on Day 1 of the Challenge a reality!
- What have you done to make cooking at home a reality for you?
- What are the challenges that keep you from cooking at home?
Challenge– Day 5
Make a plan for cooking and eating at home. Your exact challenge will depend on where you’re coming from and what your current habits are. Set a specific goal for making some or all of your upcoming meals at home. Find recipes to use and make a shopping list so you won’t have any excuses. If your time at home is limited, get to know your slow cooker and get excited about some new recipes. If you already eat at home, choose a couple new recipes to keep things exciting!