One of the most popular ways of saving money is to cook at home.
Simple enough, right?
Unfortunately, assuming the role of an amateur chef isn’t free of obstacles.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I have my reasons – good reasons – for dropping an extra couple hundred bucks a month on my food bill.
Whether your schedule is packed with meaningful or meaningless activities, you’re probably not always in the mood to cook. And despite your unwillingness to cook, ya gotta eat.
Yes, preparing you own meals is a valid and, likely, timeless way to cut your food budget. But adhering to this semi-labor intensive savings strategy can be challenging.
When you’re pressed for time, cooking at home is a hassle.
Here are seven ways to remove the barriers that stand between you and your kitchen.
Don’t Try to Do It All
Waiting 30 minutes to an hour for your casserole to finish baking is hard enough.
You’re hungry! Do you really want to tack on an extra 15 to 20 minutes mincing garlic, slicing onions, shredding cheese, dicing bell peppers, and cutting chicken into 1-inch cubes?
If saving money means dragging your tired butt into the kitchen for an extra 45 minutes of work after a stressful day at the office, you’ll probably just hit the McDonald’s drive-thru on the way home.
Take it easy on yourself.
Use frozen, pre-cut veggies whenever possible. Their nutritional content is practically the same as their fresh counterparts. They’re frozen at their peak for maximum flavor. They’re inexpensive. And, in case you backslide into your dining out ways, you have more time to snap back since frozen food is less likely to spoil before you get around to eating it.
No. You don’t need to experiment with ingredients like dill weed, chutney, or mustard seeds. However, you should feel free to experiment.
So, toss the recipes, and trust yourself.
You’ve been eating food almost your entire life. Tell me you don’t know what tastes good.
Even if you follow a recipe down to a nano-teaspoon, you’ll still need to adjust the flavor to suit your preferences.
Scared of trashing a recipe altogether? Feel free to alter it.
If you’re missing an item, don’t run to the supermarket to buy it. Just ask yourself, what’s the worst that can happen if I eliminate or substitute an ingredient? Unless you’re replacing something like apple juice with pickle juice, your meal will probably turn out just fine.
Make Cleanup a Breeze
After you whip up a frugal and fabulous meal, your work isn’t done.
You’ve got dishes to deal with. Oh, the dishes! If you don’t have a dishwasher (like me) this realization is absolute torture.
It’s not the cheapest or greenest thing to do, but I like to use tools that help limit the amount of time I spend cleaning grimy cookware.
When possible, line the bottom of pans with aluminum foil.
If you don’t need a dish, don’t use it.
You can place baked potatoes directly on the oven rack as well as pizzas. Consider whether you’ll always need a cutting board. If you don’t, that’s one less dish to wash.
Although I adore my slow cooker, I dread cleaning this appliance once my meal has finished cooking. Cleanup is a cinch with a slow cooker liner.
Reduce Your Thawing Time
One frugal living tip I can’t support is to go vegetarian one or two days a week. Times have to be pretty hard for me to give this suggestion a second thought.
However, non-vegetarian meals are more costly.
To save money on meat, buy in bulk. As soon as you get home from the supermarket, section off your family sized purchase into small portions, store in quart sized freezer bags and toss in the freezer.
By storing meat in small portions, you drastically decrease thawing times.
Instead of waiting two days for meat to thaw in the fridge, you can place your properly stored, frozen meat in a pot of cold water, and be ready to go in an hour.
If the thawing process takes much longer than that, I’m in hell, and I’m going to McDonald’s.
Use Prepackaged Mixes and Marinades
There was a time I felt like I had something to prove in the kitchen. All ingredients had to be fresh, and I became overcome with guilt if I took shortcuts.
I’ll never forget I spent hours and what may have been a thousand dollars making a homemade pasta sauce.
When it was done, I promise, the only difference between the sauce I made and the $2 name brand sauce I could’ve pulled off the grocery shelf was that the name brand sauce tasted better.
True. Canned pasta sauce isn’t fresh and it’s laced with BPAs, but it also doesn’t have a spring wardrobe’s worth of ingredients in it either.
Over the years I’ve learned that prepackaged beef stew and chili mixes taste about as good as what I can make from scratch. A little salt and pepper will get me close enough to perfection.
I’m particularly fond of marinade mixes that only require the addition of a few items suchs as vinegar and oil. Not only are they quick, but they add different and interesting flavors to your meals that you may not have in your pantry.
Keep It Simple
That squash and zuchinni spagetti with italian sausage looks divine, BUT it inexplicably calls for 15 different ingredients.
Unless you’re preparing the meal for a special occasion OR you really derive a great deal of satisfaction out of cooking OR you’ve got a ton of time to burn, skip it. You’ll thank me later.
It’s a bit of an investment, but stock up on common spices and make sure you have basic staples on hand.
Personally, I’m lost without onions, rice, and fresh garlic.
Cook One Pot Meals
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably realized, the name of the game is Quick and Easy.
There are times we all (and by “all” I mean anyone from the southern region of the United States) get a hankering for fried chicken, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, and sweet potato pie. But try not to attempt these types of meals during the workweek.
Trust me. When you’ve got three burners blazing on your stove and the oven fire up for two baked dishes, you’re gonna be a hot, sweaty, tired mess by the time you sit down to eat.
These types of cooking sessions are like brutal workouts. They mentally scar you from approaching the
gym kitchen for months.
And when you know that’s what you’re facing, heck, you’ll just go to McDonald’s.
What tricks do you use to reduce the amount of time you spend cooking?