With 25% of us eating some type of fast food every day and choosing to eat “convenient” packaged food like microwavable meals around 30% more often than fresh food, it is safe to say that Americans don’t cook at home as often as we did a generation or two ago. When families consisted mainly of a dad who worked outside the home and a mom who worked as a homemaker, home cooked meals comprised the majority of our diet. In today’s world, however, most of us eat out more often than we eat at home, and many of us are unfamiliar with the basics of preparing meals at home, or aware of how much money could be saved if we did. One of the easiest ways to put more money back in your pocket is by revamping what you spend on food.
Fast food, restaurants, and convenience foods are actually pretty costly when compared to buying fresh ingredients at the grocery store or local farmer’s market and preparing meals at home. Yes, there is prep time and cooking time involved, as well as cleanup when eating meals at home, but when you consider the gas used to travel to a fast food chain store or restaurant, the time waiting in line to order, the time waiting while your meal is prepared, and the long-term increase in health care costs, the savings in time, money, and doctor visits avoided by eating at home can be substantial.
So how do you get started cooking meals at home if you don’t know how? A great first step would be to check out Real Simple’s 59 Simple 3-Ingredient Recipes. With just three ingredients, you can make a plethora of tasty dishes from simple appetizers like grilled teriyaki wings and easy main dishes like creamy pecorino pasta to mouthwatering desserts like naked dark chocolate peanut butter cups (bonus tip; pop these babies in the freezer and enjoy them for days, if they last that long!). We’re talking some seriously delicious food, here!
Another easy way to get started saving money is to discover the joys of crock pot cooking. For around $30 (less if you get one used) you can easily find a large crock pot. Recipe books and websites for slow cookers abound, but one good place to find a variety of simple crock pot meals is Crock-Pot.com (well, yeah…) where you can find recipes by meal, by main ingredient, by flavor, or even by regional cuisine. You can take a look at what other people have created in their slow cookers, which may inspire you to experiment, too. You can also sign up to receive emails featuring community recipes, quick meal ideas, and more.
Slow cookers are not just for soups, stews, and chili (although they are great for all three), and you might be surprised what you can whip up for your family without spending a lot of money. You can cook almost any kind of food in a slow cooker, from ribs and roasts to pasta or rice-based meals, even desserts. And what could possibly be more time saving than popping a list of ingredients into a crock pot, setting the timer to low, and letting your meal practically prepare itself while you’re at work all day?
If you live alone or have a smaller family, and a crock pot full of something is too much for you to consume all at once, you can break the meal up into individual serving sizes and freeze them for later. Do the work one time, reap the benefits for days. Now that’s saving both time and money!
Do your body and your budget a favor, and start preparing meals at home. They’re healthier, cheaper, and a much smarter use of your resources than eating out.