The Money is in the Kitchen – Save Yourself Money and Time by Cooking at Home

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saving money, food and groceries, family, eating out, financial planning, frugal living

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Melissa Batai. Melissa is a freelance writer who covers topics ranging from personal finance to business to organics to food.  She blogs at Mom’s Plans where she shares her family’s journey to healthier living and paying down debt.

Scour the Internet or read books about frugality, and you will learn hundreds of ways to save money, from the practical such as air drying your clothes and cutting your family members’ hair at home, to more ridiculous methods such as splitting a 2 ply roll of toilet paper into two one ply roles or taking the condiments from a restaurant so you don’t have to buy your own mustard and ketchup.
However, in my experience, one of the quickest ways you can save a substantial amount of money is to cook at home and make a weekly meal plan.
I know, cooking at home isn’t glamorous, and it takes time.  Yet, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time.  If you have 10 to 20 minutes extra a day, you can get a hot meal on the table in no time.



How to Maximize Your Savings

If you just decide to shop at home and only make quick cooking foods such as boxed mixes and frozen foods, you will save money over dining out every day. 
However, if you instead commit to making your own food from scratch, you will save even more money, and your health will also benefit.



Methods to Make Quick Meals

You don’t have to spend an hour over a hot stove after work to make a nice meal at home.  Here are some strategies you can use to reduce your cooking time:

1.  Use a slow cooker.  Simply prep your vegetables and meats, put them in the slow cooker, and turn it on and go.  When you come home, you will come home to a hot meal.  There are many books that are slow cooker only, but two of my favorites are Fix It and Forget It and Holiday Slow Cooker (which has recipes that are good for any time, not just holidays).
If you don’t want to spend the money to buy the books, check them out from the library or look at some websites.  The blog, A Year of Slow Cooking, contains hundreds of slow cooker recipes.

2.  Make your meals for the week in one day.  Spend an hour or two Sunday afternoon making your meals for the week, and you won’t have to do any cooking for the rest of the week.  Rachael Ray has a television show about creating 5 meals in a day, and she also has a sample menu on her website.  I like this method because you get all of the cooking dishes dirty once, and you only have to clean up once.

3.  Freeze extra meals.  If you are making a slow cooker recipe, simply double the ingredients.  Then, put one half of the meal in a freezer bag, squeeze out the air, and freeze.  The morning you would like to serve it, simply put it in the refrigerator to defrost and reheat when you get home from work.  You can do this each night over a period of two weeks, and you will have another two weeks’ worth of meals in the freezer.  It really doesn’t take any longer when prepping, and you save yourself  time and money.

4.  Make meal components.  Another way to save money and time is to make meal components.  Instead of buying little packets of oatmeal, buy a tub of oatmeal, and add your own flavorings like cinnamon and brown sugar.  Divide the mix into several single serve containers and use them as you would the packets in the morning.  If you eat oatmeal every morning, over the course of a year, you could save a hundred dollars or more depending on the size of your family.
If you buy frozen chicken breasts at the store, why not put a few pieces in a freezer bag with sauce and cut up veggies?  Then, just dump it all in the slow cooker before you leave for work, saving yourself prep time in the morning.



Make a Weekly Meal Plan

Now that you are pumped to start cooking more at home, make sure to make a weekly meal plan.  You don’t have to be married to the meal plan, but when the week gets hectic and you’re tempted to eat out, having your meal plan ready will take away the burden of deciding what to make for dinner that night.  Also, if you shop with a meal plan, you can save yourself from buying all of those impulse purchases because you will be shopping from a list.
We all say that going out to eat saves us time, but when you consider the travel time as well as the wait time at the restaurant, you can easily make your own meals at home for half the cost or less of the restaurant meal.  Plus, your body will thank you.  I’ll take eating at home over separating toilet paper rolls any day.

How about you all? What steps do you take to optimize both the your time and monetary resources involved when cooking at home?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

    ***Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/greencolander/1087828804/sizes/l/in/photostream/

    Comments

    1. Canadianbudgetbinder says:

      We rarely eat out as we know the costs involved and to us it's not worth it although on certain occasions we dive in. On the home front we cook from scratch, batch cook, freeze, meal plan and we don't waste anything. It's important to get used to cooking at home if you want to save money. It's also important to stick to a grocery budget and to buy items that you can stretch and certainly building a nice pantry of items is important. Having the spices, flour, etc etc in your home will help motivate you to cook more. We also cut expenses using coupons, flyer deals, price matching saving on gas. Finally we track all of our expenses in The Grocery Game Challenge on my blog along with many other Canadians and Americans that want to save and cut back. We all learn from each other. Great post. Mr.CBB
      My recent post October 2012 Canadian Budget Binder Family Budget Update

    2. Unfortunately, this is an ongoing battle for us. I'm a depressive who also has chronic fatigue. There are days when even thinking about any kind of food prep makes me want to cry. (Well, more so than it usually does.) And my husband's sensitive stomach won't keep anything down if it doesn't seem appetizing. Ugh.

      In other words, we've spent far, far too much on fast food over the past year. We're having a tight month, which is getting me back into the swing of things. Amazing what a difference “have to” makes!

      But for people who just aren't going to cook — due to time, energy or health — I would recommend stocking up on frozen meals. Even on my worst day, I can stick a pizza in the oven. And Healthy Choice makes some decent meals.

    3. Great post Melissa… One word of caution on the frozen meals… Watch the sodium… My wife and I used them frequently right after the birth of our first child. Before I knew it, my blood pressure started to run higher and I was having almost daily headaches… The calorie count stays down, but to have any taste at all (and to preserve the meal) sodium content has to go higher.

    4. TAOST–Excellent point. I spend a bit of time on the weekend, creating my own freezer meals so I can control the sodium and other ingredients. I would guess that those who eat out frequently also have issues with sodium. Now that we eat at home so often, I can't stand how salty many restaurants' foods are.

      My recent post Get a Clean Eating Subscription for $12

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