One of the tips I gave in my post “Ten Money Saving Tips”, was “Cut out fast food, frozen or prepared dinners. Cook your own meals instead.” Since writing that article I realized that on this subject the money you could save may be secondary to what might appear to be the “inconvenience” of cooking. Cooking your meals at home does not have to be a huge inconvenience. With a little planning ahead you can have fun (particularly if you get the family involved), save money, and have nearly the same amount of convenience you get from frozen dinners or take-out. The secret to this one is leftovers.
Like everyone else, if I’ve had a long hard day at work the last thing I want to do is cook dinner!
I similarly get very bored with cold cuts and so forth in brown bagged sandwiches.
When it comes to food the important things for me are taste, variety and convenience – more or less in that order. Cost didn’t make the top three.
The problem of course is how to cut food costs without sacrificing on taste, variety or convenience. One thing I learned quite a while ago is that anything that comes in a frozen dinner form would taste much better if I just spent the time to cook it myself.
The truth is you can have your savings and eat well too. All you have to do is plan ahead. It starts before you even go to the grocery store.
Check the papers or fliers you get in the mail for sales on meats. Meats will be the most expensive part of any meal so this is the first cost we want to cut. When you see a very low price on meat buy at least twice as much as you normally would. Construct your shopping list around the meats that are on sale so you have everything you need to prepare a complete meal. I said meal, singular.
You also want to have on hand at least a dozen storage containers that are just big enough to hold a moderate lunch or dinner for one. If you have a large family you might want to increase the number of containers, but not the size.
Now, when you’re making dinner at home you’re going to make twice as much as you normally would. The idea is not for everyone to eat more though! The idea is to have more leftovers that you can package up in the single serving containers and freeze for future use – home made frozen dinners!
Another approach I have used is to “cook ahead.” This is really good if you have several people in the family who enjoy cooking or kids you want to teach to cook. Set aside a day on the weekend when the main “chore” is going to be cooking meals for the coming week. You can get several meals done in one day and either refrigerate them to use in a few days or freeze them and use them over the next few weeks. If you take this approach and organize it well, you could end up cooking only one day a week and reheating the other six days. When you use this approach you can also vary how you store the food. You can put some in individual serving containers and the rest in portions suitable for a family dinner.