I am going to share something with you that I’m not proud of, especially as a food blogger, but I am doing it to be transparent with my reader friends and also to tell you how I fixed it (which I am proud of) and to let you know it’s okay if you have the same habit and that anyone can change. Here’s my dirty not so little secret: For a very long time this past year, our takeout bill was as much as some people’s mortgage. (Let me give you a minute to gasp, pick yourself up off of the floor, and shake your head in disgust.) There’s a lot of people that eat out too much then there’s eating out almost literally every meal. As I took stock of a lot of things at the end of the year, I knew this was one that HAD to change. It was throwing away money that we could have spent on much more important things such as retirement, saving for that new house we want, reducing debt. Perhaps even worse, it was slowly killing us. (See my journey to be FIT by 40.) I decided no more and with a little work and trial and error I’ve figured out how to save money on your takeout bill and cook more at home.
Maybe you aren’t spending a mortgage payment on takeout, but you’re spending more than you like yet don’t know where to start to change. That’s where we were. I had gotten in a habit of loading the kids in the car and going for take out or curb side before my husband got home. We did it for so long, neither me nor my husband even bothered to say “We need to start cooking at home” anymore. Between the kids and working from home, I was worn out at the end of the day and couldn’t bring myself to cook. I wasn’t making grocery shopping a priority either so I wasn’t firing up the crock pot in the morning when I still had energy either. In short, we were a hot mess. A food blogger who was too tired/lazy to cook on a regular basis.
Then I made up my mind 2014 was going to be the year of change.
1. Make a date with yourself to grocery shop. For months I was trying to fit grocery shopping around my life and not the other way around which is how we would get to the end of the week and I still hadn’t shopped and we were still eating out. Once I started saying Monday was my shopping day and turning down brunch dates, piddling around Target or whatever thing I did instead of shopping, we suddenly had groceries in the pantry. You can’t cook at home if you don’t have groceries in the house.
2. Get yourself a list of go to recipes. Have a list of about 10 recipes that your family enjoys and are incredibly simple to make no matter how tired you are. It took me about a month to get my rotation going and to realize every meal doesn’t have to be Pinterest ready. Sometimes it’s okay to have plain old tacos or Hamburger Helper. Ask your friends what their easiest recipes are. Browse Pinterest for the simple not the gourmet. Check out blogs like Meal Planning Magic, Moms Confession, or Involuntary Housewife who specialize in simple recipes. My two simple go to recipes from here are my Foil Packet Meals and English Muffin pizzas. Keep the recipe list on your phone or on a board or note in your kitchen so you never have to draw a blank.
3. Make a plan. Once per week on whatever day works for you make a meal plan for the week. The day before your grocery shopping date would be great so you can check your pantry and fridge for any needed items. Pull your meal plan from your list of 10 (or more) easy recipes so that you know you’re making simple things you’re comfortable with. If you’re up for trying a new recipe that week, great include it in your meal plan. If you’re not then that’s okay too. Nothing wrong with sticking with the tried and true. I try to incorporate one new recipe per week so that I can share here. Meal plans take the guess work out of what’s for dinner and if you already know what you’re having at 4 PM you’re taking the takeout menu out of your own hand.
4. Keep emergency back up on hand. Life happens. Sometimes you have the best of intentions of sticking with your meal plan, but you have a sick child who needs you all day or you have a work deadline, or have had car trouble that day. When life happens, instead of dialing Chinese, have a few easy things on hand to be your back up plan. Maybe you have a favorite frozen lasagna or there’s a a lot of great heat and eat skillet bags on the market now. Even if you don’t want to eat preprepared meals, the next time you’re cooking pasta or a casserole (which I usually make on the weekends when I’m fresher and have help) double the recipe and keep one to freeze for emergencies. Taste of Home has an amazing chicken tetrazzini that makes two casserole pans already. Just keep a few things in your freezer that you can go to when life happens.
5. Your crock pot is your friend. Let the crock pot do the work for you. Put dinner on while you’re still fresh and all you have to do when you’re tired in the evening is eat the deliciousness from the crock pot. From roast with vegetables to simply dumping BBQ sauce over some chicken breasts your crock pot is invaluable at making it easier to eat at home. One of my favorite crock pot recipes is this Mexican chicken that is super easy that we serve over rice.
6. Find some products you love to be your helping hand. There are some great meals in bags out there, marinades, skillet sauces and even crock pot sauces that make cooking at home a no brainer and delicious. I have tried almost all of Campbell’s Crockpot and Skillet sauces and all you have to do is either pour the sauce over the meat in your crock pot and let it cook all day or brown the meat in your skillet with the sauce. Kraft also has some just add meat meal options or there’s great dry rubs out there too. Find whatever works for your family and their diet, but every meal doesn’t have to be from scratch every time.
7. Finally, give yourself a night (or two) off. I incorporate into my meal plan that I do not cook dinner on Friday and Saturday. Those are the ONLY two nights during the week that we eat out or get takeout. By giving yourself whatever break fits your family’s budget (maybe it’s a night off every other week) you avoid burnout and are more likely to stick to your plan. Honestly, when we plan a treat it makes us savor it all the more as opposed to it being the norm or even something we feel guilty about because we are spending too much money on eating out. It has also gotten me back to loving cooking which is where I was when I started this blog.
Find what meals work for you, and hopefully some of these tips will help. Take it from someone who was spending a small fortune on takeout, you CAN cook at home more. In the last 90 days, we’ve figured out how to save money and cut our eating out bill by 75%. Boom.
Here’s a list of 20 dinner ideas if you need a little more help.