I've had several conversations with people lately on the subject of eating out too much and trying to cook more meals at home. We all agree; eating out drains the budget like nothing else. You can easily prepare a meal for two for less than $10, but you're likely to spend 4-5 times that at a restaurant. Yes, cooking at home means lots of planning and effort, but if you want to save money, this is a good place to start. Here are some tips for making home cooking more manageable.
1. Plan your dinners for the coming week. Plan for leftovers too! Keep the list somewhere handy like on your refrigerator. This helps communicate to others in your household also. That way, when the temptation arises to just go out, it's like saying, "We already have plans, sorry." Make sure the list is manageable and full of simple recipes and favorites.
2. Try to food shop during off-peak times (day time during the week or early mornings on the weekends). This saves a lot of time and frustration.
3. Stock up on your staples. To keep from having to food shop every couple of days, buy items you use all the time in bulk. For me, this includes rice, beans, and vegetable broth.
4. Involve others. If you live with someone else, and if they consume food, then see if you can work together or take turns preparing meals. This includes kids! It helps me a lot when my boyfriend is able to get things started before I even get home.
5. Join a CSA. Generally, you pre-pay for the deliveries or set up automatic payments. Trust me, you'll be excited to see what you get each week, and having a closer connection to your food source makes you appreciate the food that much more. You won't want it to go to waste, and you'll be eager to try everything.
6. Don't forget about lunch and breakfast! I tend to forget about these meals. Pack a lunch for yourself--maybe it'll just be leftovers from the night before. I find bento boxes to be the cutest things ever for packed lunches (even though I mostly eat lunch at home).
7. Use time-savers. A slow cooker, freezing meals ahead of time, and recipes that take less than 30 minutes will help keep you from feeling too drained at the end of your day to cook an elaborate dinner.
8. Learn how to cook your favorite restaurant meals. If you go out because you feel like your meals just aren't that good or you're tired of the same ol' thing, then teach yourself some new tricks. I've recently endeavored to start making pizza at home. You could also mimic the restaurant experience by using your "nice" plates and candles to make every meal feel special.