Let’s be honest—the idea of shopping for, preparing, cooking, and cleaning up meals every single night is overwhelming, even for someone like me who likes to cook! When you don’t enjoy cooking as much, the unending task of preparing meals can be downright arduous. I hear you, and everyone deserves a night off from cooking here and there. But eating out or getting takeout too often is not only expensive but not as healthy as eating at home. You may be nodding your head in agreement at this notion, but doing something about it is another story. I find that most folks would love to be saving more money on dining out, but they just can’t seem to stop the cycle of feeling too busy to prepare more meals at home. If you find yourself in this dilemma, here are a few of my easy tactics to help you eat at home more, even if you don’t love to cook:
Plan for occasional dining out first
It may seem counterintuitive but planning your meals around when you’re most busy and most likely to grab food on the go is a helpful way to avoid overdoing it in the long run. If you know that it will be impossible to cook on Tuesday based on everyone’s sports practices, it’s OK to plan that getting takeout might be easier that night, as long as you commit to cooking around this instance to counterbalance the money spent. Pretending that you’ll be able to cook from scratch every busy night won’t set you up for success but being disciplined to cook on less busy nights is a realistic way of finding balance.
Keep it simple
Meal planning and gourmet cooking do not have to go hand in hand. I think when a lot of people think of meal prep and cooking at home, they automatically feel pressured to make glamorous dinners for the family every night. Don’t worry about that! The goal is just to avoid spending so much of your money on convenience food. Plan for easy meals on busy nights. If you hate cooking, grilled cheese and tomato soup, pasta and salad, an easy homemade pizza, or simple burgers on the grill require little technique and minimal prep.
Enlist the whole family’s help
If you’re trying to save money on dining out, first you’ll need to commit to this as a family. Discuss when eating out is most appropriate and rewarding, such as fun day trips and vacations, and when it’s not necessary. Further, to avoid feeling overwhelmed in the kitchen and to put the onus on everyone to pitch in, make sure that your kids are helping out with food prep, setting the table, cleaning up, and drying dishes. All of these smaller chores are not only a great way to teach life skills, but to alleviate your having to do everything when it comes to getting a meal on the table. Older kids and teens can help with meal planning and even have a regular night where they are responsible for making dinner!
Don’t forget about snacks and lunches
Meal planning isn’t just about dinner! It took me a while to figure out that I should be putting just as much thought into breakfasts, lunches, and treats and snacks when I meal plan as I do dinner ideas. It’s important to anticipate the week or meal planning cycle with regards to what you and your family members may be eating for other parts of the day, then shop and prepare these foods so there isn’t temptation to buy impulse items. Buying a treat, whether it’s a fun lunch or an impromptu ice cream run is an enjoyable part of life and you shouldn’t be too restrictive, but again it’s about finding balance. Be sure to have a box of brownie mix in the house or lots of fixings for good sandwiches to pack for lunch, and you’ll all be less likely to purchase food throughout the day.
Don’t overachieve. Keep your skillset and true cooking interests in mind when meal planning and while grocery shopping. I’ve seen many people get excited about interesting products, buy them, and never use them. It’s simply easier to order pizza than it is figuring out how to use that jar of Gochujang you’ve heard so much about. Avoid this additional waste of money by sticking to what you know. As you grow more accustomed to eating at home more, only then should you experiment with ingredients and purchases.
Finally, the most important piece of advice I can offer when it comes to saving money on food is to always be thinking ahead and anticipating what you need to be doing for meals in advance. I know that sounds tedious and taxing, but it’s merely a matter of shifting your perspective. Spending a few seconds thinking, “Do I need to defrost meat for tonight’s dinner?”, “How long do I need to marinate that chicken?”, “Let me start the crockpot this morning”, “Does everyone have a lunch prepared for tomorrow?” and other constant little reminders to yourself make preparing meals easier and less overwhelming in the long run and save time overall. And remember—it winds up saving you a ton of money too! Good luck!