Meal Planning to save money, time, and cut back on take-out

Guest post by Maggie A

Freezer Meals
By: Kathleen FranklinCC BY 2.0
A few months ago during our monthly “family business” meeting (where we decide what bills to pay and budget out for the next month) we realized we had a bit of an addiction to convenience food and take-out, and it was costing us more than we were happy about. So we made the grand resolution and promised ourselves next week would be different.

We went to the grocery store and bought ingredients to make lunches and cook dinners. And then predictably on Monday we were too tired to cook so we grabbed take-out, Tuesday we worked late, and I’m not even sure what happened on Wednesday but we didn’t cook that day, either. By then we had given up. Saturday I was standing in front of a refrigerator full of spoiled vegetables and realized that we had wasted even more money than the week before. So I did what any reasonable woman of the world with an internet connection would do and I went to Pinterest.

That is when I discovered Once a Month Cooking

It was a revelation, I was sure we were saved. I spent more time than is really reasonable planning four whole weeks worth of what we’d eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I carefully planned my trip to the grocery store and adjusted the meals based on what was on sale and then I spent ALL weekend cooking, packing things into Tupperware, wrapping them in foil, and tucking plastic bags into my freezer. It was jam-packed full of food and I was exhausted.

It worked! We ate from the freezer and saved money, but when the next month rolled around and the freezer was empty I had no desire to repeat that process again. It didn’t seem worth the time I was spending, my entire weekend once a month was consumed by meal planning. I enjoy my weekends too much to make that kind of commitment. That’s when it finally occurred to me that I could make a plan for a week at a time and it would be less overwhelming.

Here’s what I do now

When we’re ready to go grocery shopping, I hit up Pinterest or Google around for whatever is striking my fancy and pick five or six meals for the week. The prep for a week’s worth of meals is way less daunting than an entire weekend consumed by chopping, cooking and freezing. This works a lot better (for us).

We prep (chop, marinade, and precook) for an hour or so on Saturday or Sunday and it makes cooking for the rest of the week easier than ordering out or picking up take-out. Plus you’re already kind of invested personally because you chopped the onions or pre-cooked your rice ahead of time. (TIP: When reheating rice, don’t use the microwave; throw it in a saucepan with a few tablespoons of water.)

Here’s my advice if you’re trying to break a convenience food addiction

Cut yourself a break — Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you order take out one day because its easier that’s fine — there were six other days of the week that you didn’t, good job!

It’s tempting to pick a bunch of new recipes each week but I caution you against this because you might not like it or it might be more elaborate than you realize and take up a lot of time. I try to get one or two new recipes a week and then rotate through a bunch of our favorites that I know are easy to do. It strikes the balance of keeping things simple without getting sick of the menu and abandoning it.

Lastly, get other people involved. Because I was a slightly better cook and enjoyed it more than my husband, I had just taken it over (especially during our once-a-month cooking experiment). I had pretty much kicked him out of the kitchen, and that was stupid of me. He’s a pretty good prep cook (he chops a mean onion) and, as an engineer, he’s pretty good at following a recipe exactly. It’s also kind of fun to cook with another person, but beware of the possible “how salty is too salty” or “how spicy is too spicy” argument.

Another bonus to this whole meal planning process was a little weight loss and overall more healthy eating. It turns out if you eat take-out five days a week it’s not a balanced diet — even if there are vegetables in your fried rice.

Comments on Meal Planning to save money, time, and cut back on take-out

  1. My hubby and I had the same problem, we ate out at least 3 nights a week, lately he’s gotten obsessed with cooking, and we’ve been eating at home every night. It’s been weeks since we’ve gone out. The big bonus is that on our tight budget, instead of eating cheap fast food, we can afford to eat italian, greek, chinese, all our favorites, with real, quality ingredients and dessert to boot! I’m so glad we’ve switched!

  2. One thing I like to do is cook a whole chicken in the crock pot on Sundays. I then take it out, shred the meat up and set it aside. Meanwhile, I steam some broccoli, cook some rice, and divide it all up into bowls. A whole weeks worth of lunches for 2 people for around 10 dollars.

  3. I love the idea of scheduling a specific day of the month to cook as a team. My husband and I were just complaining that we bought a deep freezer that we used a lot for pre-prepared meals when our kids were first born that now collects dust.

  4. For all those tempting new recipes I set aside Saturday (or Sunday, if we’re out of the apt on Sat) for trying one new recipe. It gives us something to look forward to without disrupting our habits. I check it with my partner and then pick up the uber high quality ingredients on the day of cooking. And if some ingredients are too much for just one dish then I set aside a month or season. For example, in the Fall I make Indian dishes every weekend just so I can make full use of my thai chiles and curry leaves.

    • You should do a guest post on the Indian dishes you make! Do you grow your own curry leaves and thai chiles? Tell us more!

      Indian dishes are vegetarian dishes that my husband (omninivore) actually finds tasty and satisfying, so we try to cook a lot of them. Most of them have so many ingredients, though, so they are intimidating. I’ve just started to figure out which spices or spice mixes are “close enough” to get roughly the same flavor, but it’s not authentic.

      • Aw, thanks! I do grow my own thai chiles, but curry leaf plants are rumored to only really thrive in Florida and California. However, I’m working on a way to cultivate it here in D.C.

        I’m not sure what’s post worthy but here are some things I picked up as I learned as an American trying to learn how to cook Indian food:
        1.) Show Me the Curry is pretty awesome if you’re nervous about a new recipe/technique. Pinterest has a lot of ideas too, but the links are hit or miss for instructions.

        2.) Understanding how to properly cook with oil and butter (specifically ghee) will make a universe of difference in how the food tastes. When I first started I kept adding the food before the oil was properly heated. Now I wait until it’s aromatic and then toss a wee bit of water onto the pan. If you’re not interested in risking a burn, try mustard seeds. They’ll pop once the oil is hot enough. Once the oil is ready you can add your spices to help bring out their shiny seasony goodness or your onions.

        3.) Spices are incredibly easy! Really! When I first had homemade Indian food I asked the cook how she did it. Over and over. And she would look shocked and say, “I just put in what I like.” At first I thought this was a cop-out, but I think she’s right. I mean, we don’t have just ONE way to make spaghetti sauce, do we?
        3a.) Get thee to an Indian grocery and grab a small bag of the basics. If you’ve got the patience for toasting and grinding grab seeds when you can: cumin, coriander, red pepper (not cayenne), mustard seeds (black or white), cinnamon, and cloves. Curry leaves are a hit or miss. Do not use curry powder! It’s just a mish mash of the above.
        3b.) Once you’re comfortable with those try these: fenugreek, turmeric, hing/asafoetida, fennel, garam masala, and cardamom (funny story! no one told me there were two types; black cardamom is a smoky flavor and gross in chai, green cardamom is more like what you normally expect). Hing has a pungent smell that most people find gross, but I adore it and it really makes other spices pop out.
        3c.) Experiment with combos by cooking veggies you like (cabbage, cauliflower, and potatoes are forgiving). You may find you really, really, really love one spice and it’ll impact your cooking. I personally go 1TB coriander, 1TP cumin, 1TP red pepper, 1TP mustard seeds, and a pinch of hing as my default. I hate fenugreek though and omit it even when the recipe calls for it.

        4.) Live by the onion. For me, the dishes I prefer the most tend to use an onion/garlic/ginger base. The level of how cooked depends on the dish. But the hardest part is the paste. Just like with the oil, learning how to cook them into a soft texture will make a huge difference. The easiest for me is to let it cook at a medium-low heat until they’re super soft. I never caramelize it, but that’s probably my preference than authenticity. That paste then acts as a base for your sauce and gravy. Kadei paneer is a great beginning recipe that let’s you practice this and doesn’t take long to cook.

        5.) Again, this might be just my dishes, but a lot of them seem to do well in slow cookers, steamers, or low heat cooking methods. Chicken korma, kashmiri, masala, and tikka come to mind. With these I typically sear the chicken, add the base, and then cover to cook for about 30 minutes. I cook dal in a slow cooker for six hours until the lentils have fallen apart and become creamy. A lot of dishes take time and patience. I think it’s worth it though.

        6.) This ties with the spices, but collect at least 3 versions of one dish. Then evaluate to see what the similarities are. This helps you determine what are the essential components.

        EDIT: Oh. Uhm. I guess I do have a lot to say about this!

        • Thanks for all the tips! You do have a lot to say!

          There is an Indian grocery store in my city, but they don’t have hing by any name! I wrote it down and showed it to the clerk because I don’t know how to pronounce anything. They were very helpful, and the spices are so much cheaper there than the exact same bag at the chain grocery store. That is a good idea about multiple recipes and seeing what they have in common. Maybe it won’t matter too much to my taste buds if I leave it out.

          I did know that curry powder is a mix. I never know how much it matters to a recipe WHICH curry I use though, so I will take your advice and just use what I like! Garam masala is also a mix. If someone will like Indian spices at all, this is a good one to start with. The Indian store I go to has one pre-mixed that I like, so I don’t make my own.

          My brother in law got us an extensive cook book on Indian cooking by a famous Indian chef- I can’t remember her name right now. The recipes we’ve tried have been phenomenal, but incredibly time consuming, so we save those for special occasions.

          • If only I tackled work with the same zest!

            Yeah, I learned the hard way that garam masala is a mix (though oddly it still shows up in some recipes with other spices?!). I hate cinnamon and the mix I bought just overwhelmed anything I ate. As for hing, try Amazon if you find yourself wondering, “What if…”

            Is the cook Madhur Jaffrey by any chance?

        • I cook a lot of Indian too – these tips are right on!

          Show me the Curry is a great site, but my personal favorite is Edible Garden (http://www.cookingandme.com/) Her instructions are very easy to follow and my dishes always come out awesome! (And BTW, I’m not Indian, so I did not grow up cooking this cuisine).

          I also think a pressure cooker is a beautiful thing for weeknight one pot meals. IT’s so fast and you can do some nice stuff like easy biryani and such.

  5. We recently checked out our food budget after getting our heads above water after Babysaurus Rex made her grand appearance.

    Holy.poop. We were spending more than our rent on take out. RIDICULOUS.

    So, we’re 3 weeks into strictly eating at home. It was kind of difficult to get into, but I’ve started utilizing all of those stupid appliances made for convenience that had previously only been cluttering up my counter. And, strangely enough, cooking has become more convenient!

    I, too, grocery shop only once a week. I can’t plan that far ahead without getting overwhelmed and my love for frozen stuff/leftovers extends only so far.

    I think I also resigned myself to not always having these amazing, different, expertly cooked meals. Most of the time, it’s just going to be crock pot this, microwaved/steamed that, raw something else. It gets the job done. And, with enough salt, well, everything tastes good.

  6. We’ve started doing this for lunches. Even with hubbie and I eating very different lunches (teriyaki chicken for him, quinoa salad for me), I’ve gotten a routine down on Sundays that fits in with doing laundry and even having people over to game. And then I’m only packaging up a few snacks each weekday morning; everything else is all ready to be dropped into lunch boxes in a matter of minutes!

  7. I started meal planning a few years ago and it’s great cause I don’t have to think after work. I usually try to do one new recipe a week, but no more than one new recipe. I also do crockpot once a week pretty often and the nice thing about that is I’ll make extra meat in the crockpot and use the leftover meat in another meal (fajitas, shredded in sandwiches, pasta, salad, etc.)

    Meal Planning Level Two – use a spreadsheet to keep track of what meals you like. That way when you’re stumped for what to make, you can look at the list. I eventually added categories (meal type, what kind of meat, etc.) so if I already have something of x type I can filter it out of my options.

    BUT – for those of you just starting out, it’s okay to just plan one meal in a week. Then work up to two. Then three in a week. Baby steps!

  8. Lunches are my nemesis! I’ve gotten pretty good at planning dinners in advance, but for some reason making a lunch for myself or my husband is such a pain (unless it’s leftovers). What works best for me as far as meal planning is before I go to the grocery, to look in my fridge and pantry and make a list of any meals I can make with the ingredients I have on hand. Then I look to see what meals I would be able to make with just one or two more ingredients. That’s the only way I can make sure I use what I have.

    • That’s a great idea about seeing what you have on hand already. That tip is great for people with small kitchens!
      My husband finally convinced me how great it is to eat the same thing for lunch every day (half a peanut butter and jelly, greek yogurt, and a piece of fruit). It sounded terrible to me at first since I like variety, and took a little tweaking to find a good combination. It just becomes part of your morning routine, so you don’t have to think about it. It’s the part of the grocery list that I don’t have to think about. And I like it during the day because your body knows exactly what it is getting and when, so you aren’t distracted by daydreaming about lunch. I also lost about 10 lbs doing this without changing anything else about my diet (it was something I wanted to do at the time but I know weight isn’t important to everyone.)
      Dinners are for variety! I plan each week, always with leftovers for the next night’s dinner of course because I don’t have time to cook something new every day.

      • I eat the same thing pretty much for lunch every week. A PB&J, chips, a fruit cup and something sweet. Because I’m a 5-year old, clearly. LOL.

      • My lunch is no-prep-required, ready-to-eat things that can be quickly shoved into a lunch bag — generally yogurt, sliced fruits and veggies, some nuts, a few chips, maybe a slice of cheese or a bit of meat, occasionally a sandwich if I have an extra two minutes.

        I end up packing small portions of a number of different things (I think I’ve been inspired by bentos). I like variety, and I’m more likely to eat all my veggies if I have three baby carrots, four slices of cucumber, and four cherry tomatoes than a baggie of ten baby carrots.

      • This sounded like a great idea. One less thing to think about. Then I realized I work some 12 hour days and pack breakfast, lunch and dinner for work in one day and got stumped….
        Most days I am packing multiple meals and a snack, ideas to make the same meal work?

        • I did the packing 3 meals a day thing 3 times a week during grad school. I would get really bored if I tried to eat the same thing for every meal in one day and takeout was tempting. What worked for me was having some overlap – yogurt with granola for breakfast and then yogurt with fruit with dinner, salad for lunch and dinner but two different dressings, even having cold chicken on a sandwich and microwaving it on it’s own for dinner. It cut down on the amount of stuff I was carrying around and every meal was some assembly required.

    • Lunches are my nemesis too! I manage to remember planning dinners, but always forget lunches for me. Luckily, my hubby eats lunch at work (one of the mechanics is a former cook, and cooks lunch for all of the guys there), so I don’t have to worry about him.

      Lately, I’ve been having a lot of salads. Leftover taco meat? Toss on a salad and voila taco salad. Leftover bbq? same thing.

      Also, leftovers are awesome. I keep trying to reuse leftovers in every way possible. I think its called piggy backing? Like use leftover roast chicken in a chicken salad sammich, or leftover chinese in a rice bowl.

      Lastly, the bento box is awesome! I’ve found them online for about $8, and at Five and Below for $3 – $5.

      I think it would be beyond awesome if we had a place where all the offbeat homies can swap recipes or meal ideas. Just saying… =)

  9. A week or so at a time works for me — I find that I am continually updating the menu based on whether we have leftovers or are invited out spontaneously, or around what’s on sale (although I do try to set my menu after looking at the weekly grocery specials). It’s okay if you don’t stick to the plan completely! Maybe the pasta stays uncooked in the pantry, or you freeze leftover meatloaf for later instead of eating it the next night. That’s not wasteful; it’s just adapting.

    Also, if you have freezer space (somehow we make this work in a 3/4 fridge with a top freezer, but a chest freezer is on my wishlist), lots of stuff can be saved for later without going bad. I like to chop onion in advance and freeze it in ziploc bags — only one bout of crying involved for several meals. And you can stock up when meat goes on sale, and always have something ready to pop in the slow cooker.

  10. Speaking of the freezer and crock pot, I love this article: http://whoneedsacape.com/2012/11/crockpot-freezer-cooking/

    I’ve only done a handful of the recipes myself, and some where “too salty” for my taste, but all were tasty and easy. My husband didn’t think any were “too salty” which just goes to show you…

    I also love these Anchor Hocking Glass Containers from Amazon. I’m a little squiky about plastic in the microwave, but I LOVE leftovers, so these oven/freezer/microwave safe containers have been really handy for me personally.

    I’m working on this myself, and these are the things Pinterest showed me!

  11. I’ve been doing this for a few months now for dinners, and for the last month since I opened a daycare in my home, for lunch and 2 snacks a day too. The only day that my husband can usually be guaranteed to be off work is Sunday, so every Sunday, I spend a bit of time making a grocery list and planning meals for the week. With a gazillion little kids running around my house all week, I don’t have time to go poking around in the fridge every day to try and figure out lunch and snacks, and if dinner for that night needs some prep, I have to plan it into my day. Then whenever I’m on pinterest and find a good recipe, it gets added to the next week. I try to do 1-2 new recipes a week, depending on how many new ingredients I’ll need to buy, time constraints, and frankly, how confident I am that I can pull it off and that everyone will like it. If it’s a bit of a stretch in either of those categories, I tend to play the rest of the week pretty safe, to make up for it in case it doesn’t turn out:)

    I am by NO means a chef, or usually that organized, but once I got into it, the routine is pretty easy to maintain. The stress it takes out of the week is beyond worth it, too. Bonus: it stops all the kids from trying to convince me to make what they want for lunch. I have a small weekly planner on the fridge with everything written out for the week, and every morning I transfer that day’s snacks and lunch on to a whiteboard on the kitchen wall. When the kids ask what’s for lunch, we all consult the board. They still haven’t caught on that it’s me writing it. Apparently, once the all-knowing board makes it’s decision, that’s that. Awesome.

    • Haha, I love that you have an all knowing board! I can just see you all consulting it earnestly. šŸ˜‰

  12. We menu-plan every week, mainly to make the process of coming up with something to eat every night less painful. Also, I work on a vegetable farm, so it’s nice to know in the morning what veggies I should be bringing home. Planning on a weekly basis works well for us, because I generally know by Saturday what is likely to be in season in the next week (well, we had the first few zucchinis this week, so next week we’ll be swamped with them…), so we can plan accordingly. It’s a flexible plan (we scrapped several meals the other week when there was a heat-wave and I barely felt like eating, let alone cooking), but it also gives us a chance to sit down every Saturday morning and assess what our week is going to be like. We don’t tend to do any pre-work on meals, but we do try to cook large quantities throughout the week, so that we have leftovers for lunches, and sometimes cook super-big batches of stuff that freezes well (my husband recently made an octuple batch of our favourite chickpea curry).

  13. I definitely need to get better about planning my lunches, and I wish I could convince my husband to eat lunch at home more. He works from home though, and going out to get lunch every day is the only time he sees anyone other than the cats till I get home, so I can understand why he holds onto going out. But we’ve come up with some nice ways to eat dinner at home much more often. Someone on another thread here suggested Blue Apron (a service that sends ingredients for 3 meals each week for 2 people) and we tried it out and loved it. So 3 nights/week we get to try something new and not have to think about what to make. The other nights we make our old favorites, some of which make enough to freeze leftovers so that next time we want it we don’t have to make it from scratch (like sloppy Joe’s or taco meat). Another thing that has helped our planning is Pepperplate.com where you can do a planning menu, input all your favorite recipes, create shopping lists, etc. And there’s a smartphone app so you can easily take your list with you.

  14. After our son was born, we caught a Groupon for Fresh20, a meal-planning site. We get a shopping list and recipes for 5 dinners every week that share the same 20 main ingredients. (The site assumes that you’ll make a favorite meal or eat out or have leftovers 2 nights a week. In practice, we generally make 4 of the 5 and are set.) It’s been really nice not having to make too many meal decisions, and because there’s usually only 2 of us eating a dinner for 4, it takes care of lunch too. Side bonus: It’s super-easy to have a couple of people over for dinner.

    • We’ve actually been trying out Fresh20 the past few weeks two – the recipes are really easy to half. And I love that the ingredients are seasonal!

      • I will say, we’ve found the promise of “seasonal” to be somewhat loose. We live in New England, and it felt like every week in January the recipes called for red bell peppers! But my husband has gotten very good at substituting based on what’s actually available. (And jars of roasted red peppers will substitute for fresh red bell peppers in almost anything.)

        The things we really like are about Fresh20 are:
        (1) There’s a vegetarian plan. (And gluten free if that’s your need.)
        (2) Other than some pantry staples (e.g., tomato paste), it doesn’t use prepared food. (No more casseroles based on canned soup!)
        (3) If you do the weekend prep that they advise, each dinner really can be made in about 30 minutes.

        • I’ve never heard of Fresh20 but it sounds similar to a service I’ve used called emeals!

          Emeals.com does the same thing: Pick a plan type (they have several, including Paleo!), get 7 meals and the corresponding shopping list emailed to you, rinse and repeat the next week.

          I had it via a groupon for a year and loved it. Should have used it more, but oh well. It really solved the problem for me of what I should be eating, since I rarely have the time to do it the way my mother does – sitting down once a week with your cookbooks and making up the list by hand.

          Bonus! Emeals now has an app, so its easier to take it with you to the store, and they also let you choose between 2 person and 4 person menus!

  15. I’m getting rid of my gallbladder on Friday, so this could not be more timely for me.
    My biggest challenge is when I make a whole bunch of food, I get stuck in a “Waaaaah I don’t want any of this because I’m a big, picky baby” rut. I can’t really cook a lot of different meals because our freezer space is pretty limited. How are you guys getting maximum variety vs. space?

    • Sorry to hear about your gallbladder!

      Only use square or rectangular containers in your freezer, and make sure you fill the the whole way. Round and half full containers waste space.
      Use a basket (!) to corral the bags of frozen stuff so it doesn’t slide around.

      Piggy backing meals helps maintain variety. Other comments above talked about this a bit. For example, if I make chili, Day 1 is straight chili, Day 2 is chili over baked potatoes, Day 3 is mixing the chili with rice as stuffed pepper filling, Day 4 could be some sort of pasta bake, etc.
      My schedule allows me to cook 2 days in a row, so I can at least alternate leftovers the rest of the week. For a little more variety, you can rotate through simple side dishes like roasted carrots or salad with different dressings and toppings.

      I have a very veggie-heavy diet, so I always wonder if people find my food suggestions helpful or unrealistic, haha.

    • You can also freeze things in zip log bags laid flat – this works really well for soups and sauces – it takes up a lot of room while its freezing but once its all frozen you have skinny bags that are really easy to stack.

      • I’ve tried this and am embarrassed to say that I failed. They never ended up perfectly flat, and they would slide around and attack me when I opened the freezer door. Maybe if I had used a magazine file or something to hold them in place- I’d have to check the size of my freezer.

        I had some with veggie stock that worked, except the one that leaked before it was frozen, but things with lumps don’t flatten out well for me!

  16. This is an awesome idea, and pretty much how our household operates. We’d gotten good at picking recipes on Friday nights and grocery shopping on Saturday or Sunday (warm weather means Saturday morning farmer’s market run), but then my husband had the idea to create meal plan charts. He made a simple spreadsheet with space for the week’s date, recipe titles, cookbook, page number, and servings. (We keep it on the fridge and fill it in by hand, but you could just as easily do it in Excel.) It’s made a huge difference in how efficient we are at meal planning and prep. As vegans, we cook A LOT already, so planning our weekend kitchen-fests so we can relax and eat leftovers all week is great.

  17. Five or six meals… a week? That’s like a two-three week span in my house. I can’t imagine cooking enough for five different meals a week. My usual plan is two-three meals a week that are big enough to carry on for several days. And I eat a lot!

    • I used to do this too, until I moved in with a man. I could get three meals out of one batch of fried rice….now there are NO LEFTOVERS, so five or six meals a weeks no longer seems unreasonable. *sigh* At least he cooks a couple of times a week!

  18. I meal plan using using a few basic guidelines:

    1. Compare grocery flyers to find better sales.
    2. Plan for meals with common elements.
    3. Make one new recipe per week.
    4. Roast a chicken once per week. Leftover chicken: a million other meals, and soup stock. Now that it’s summer and too hot to keep my oven at 400, we buy a rotisserie chicken every week. Not quite the same, but it works.
    5. Stock the freezer. I use our leftovers to make homemade microwave meals in single-serve portions. Perfect for lazy days or days when our schedules don’t exactly mesh.

  19. We too found that we were eating out a lot or eating convenience food (like pizza or chicken nuggets and fries), and it was costing a lot of money, especially for lunch. So now we have a weekly meal calendar that we use to plan our meals for the week on Sunday. Lunches are now leftovers from supper the night before!
    We also have a binder that has the recipes that we’ve tried and like in it. So it’s easy to go to the binder and pick out the recipes that we have most of the ingredients for already.
    Also we have dubbed Saturday as “new recipe night”, so we can experiment with new food and not get bored with eating the same old stuff all the time (I have a restricted diet so it’s easy to get bored of eating the same stuff all the time. )
    The next step I would like to take is to use my slow cooker more and maybe put together slow cooker recipes and freeze them so in the morning I can just pop them out of the freezer and into the slow cooker. It would be great to come home to supper already being cooked!

  20. For me, prepping makes all the difference. I might not have time to chop and cook one evening. But if all the chopping is done, I will come home and cook even when I’d rather get take out. I don’t want my time spent chopping to go to waste.

  21. I’m coming in late to this article, but it is so great! Before I was married, I barely cooked. After we got married, I suddenly decided we had to eat like normal people and set about learning how to do it and plan meals. Everyone in my family is a gourmet so I felt like an odd duck not being a cook. My husband is a very picky eater and can cook only a few things, so I let him cook one of his standbys once a week or so, and have taught him how to make pizza and roast a chicken because those are his favorite meals. He does the dishes and helps with prep if I need it, so it’s pretty equitable. I do all the meal planning, but I only plan for 3-5 meals a week and let the rest be his day to cook, leftovers, or we go out. I do all the food shopping and he does all the snack shopping.

    Things that helped me go from no cooking to loving cooking (most of the time):
    1. Start with simple recipes and work towards the complicated stuff. Keep a file of recipes you want to try and introduce them as your confidence grows. Take notes on the recipes you use and keep them in a binder.
    2. Buy a couple of cookbooks for basics, or get some checkstand recipe magazines at the grocery store (they usually have 5-ingredient 30-minute meals or the like).
    3. Get a farm box! Community Supported Agriculture is great because it supports small farmers, but I love it because it makes planning meals easier and I eat tons of seasonal veggies. I also try new vegetables and fruits I never would seek out. When I get my email every week letting me know what’s in the box, I plan my meals around the vegetables.
    4. Be open at the grocery store. I go with a list for meals I have set, but usually have a meal or two unplanned so I can see what’s on sale or what’s fresh, especially when it comes to fish, which I like to try and eat once a week.
    5. Buy a few staples you can freeze. I usually have some chicken and sausages in the freezer and frozen veggies for when I didn’t plan right or something comes up.
    6. Prep for tomorrow’s meal while you’re cooking tonight’s meal. A lot of meals involve periods of waiting. Since I’m already in the kitchen, I use that time to clean up the dishes, wipe down counters, and prep for tomorrow, especially marinades and things like that. It’s great to come home from work and just have to pop your marinaded chicken in the oven.
    7. Pizza! I know some of you can’t eat it, but you can make it much healthier than it would be from delivery or frozen, and it’s so much easier than it sounds. Allrecipes.com has some dough and sauce recipes that are pretty easy. Get a stone and a pizza peel and you’re set. We double the dough recipe and have enough dough to make 4 small pizzas, we freeze the other 3 and have an easy meal with our frozen pizza dough. You can also make sauce and shred cheese ahead of time and freeze it. It only takes 15 minutes to get it in the oven and 15 minutes to cook.

  22. I double my recipe, especially if it’s something like soup, and freeze that other half. It takes almost the same amount of time to cook, and no kitchen work but reheating when I’m too lazy.

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