I used to eat out almost every night. I felt that I just did not have the time to cook at home. If I did eat at home it was take-away from the grocery store or convenience foods purchased at a premium. It wasn’t until I realized how much money I was spending that I decided to turn things around. I was surprised at how easy it really was! If your goal is to start cooking at home more to save money there are several ways this can be achieved with relative ease. A few easy steps are all you need to guide you to saving money while cooking at home.
Step One: Make a list of the restaurants or fast food joints you frequent the most. If you can’t remember where you last ate out just look at your bank account. Chances are if you are anything like I was every third line will have the name of a restaurant on it. Jot them down. Tally up at least a month or two and pick out the ones that you frequented the most. The top three will do for now. Want to get really depressed? Add up how much you spent at the restaurants too. Yeah, I know. Pick your jaw up off the floor and go on to step two.
Step Two: Make a list of your favorite dishes at your top three restaurants. When I went to Chili’s it was always for the steak. When I went to the Thai place it was always for the Tom Yum Kung and sticky rice with mango. Chances are you have a few favorites meals ate each restaurant that keep you coming back. Write them down.
Step Three: Check for any patterns in your food choices. Do you find you order mostly chicken entrees? Are burgers or subs more your style? Are you a sucker for Italian food? I discovered that I liked places that had good salads or salad bars. I also discovered that I liked soup and frequently ordered it when we were out. Some of my choices were the result of cravings. My favorite steak at Chili’s was number one on my list when I was craving beef. It occurred to me that my beef craving could have been satisfied with a well made burger just as easily as with a steak.
Step Four: Pick out five top meals or food categories. If you discover that you love Italian food almost exclusively, or that subs are your go-to favorites focus on making those foods the subject of your first home cooking experiments. When I started cooking at home I focused on burgers, subs, salads, soups, chicken and steak. These were my family’s hands-down favorites. My daughter realized that no matter where we went for dinner she usually ordered chicken fingers. That was the first thing I learned to make. I developed a great burger recipe next, and then salads and soups, and I’m still working on creating the perfect steak!
Step Five: Gather recipes and experiment. Now that you know what it is you go to restaurants for you can start to provide yourself with those treats at home. Surf the internet for recipes to try. Look for simple, quick foods at first. Chances are you will discover that your favorite foods are actually very easy to prepare! If you are focusing mainly on Italian don’t try chicken parmesan right out of the gate. Start with something easy and tasty. The boost of confidence you get when you master it will propel you to great heights later on! I love allrecipes.com for recipes. You can focus on the ones with the highest ratings (five stars) to make sure that you have an excellent chance of making a real crowd pleaser. Get to know a few of the celebrity chefs and see if you can find one who has the same style you do. If you like to keep meal prep to 30 minutes or less try looking at a few of Rachael Ray’s cook books or her recipes on foodnetwork.com. They are also rated with stars so you will be able to pick out the cream of the crop. Remember to always read the reviews before preparing any new recipe. I always find helpful advice that usually saves me time and money and helps me make the dish right the first time. If you’re like me an love fried foods you can try a healthier option such as an oil-less fryer.
Step Six: Make a family cook book by printing out all the recipes you have tried. That way you can have a handy reference tool to grab for a quick meal any day of the week. Take note of what your family liked, didn’t like, and what you would like to change next time you prepare it. That way if you don’t make it again for a while your last cooking session will be fresh in your mind. Finally …. I realize that one of the main reasons people eat out is that it is convenient and there is no clean up afterwards. It isn’t just our lack of cooking skills that drive us towards the drive-thru window, it’s sheer exhaustion. So let me give you one more thing to ponder. If you eat out because you are tired of working too hard get organized and educated enough to start cooking at least one or two meals at home each week. Funnel your savings into paying down a few debts. Then you won’t have to work so hard to make money and can actually work less. When you work less you will have more free time to cook more. This will net you more money to pay down more debts. This will in turn mean you can work less! Get the point? You don’t have to jump into cooking at home with both feet right away. I would guess though that if you find a way to start freeing up even some of the money you spend eating out you will be so pleased with the results you will want to do what is necessary to free up even more money! Who knows, you may find you have a real knack for cooking and discover that you actually enjoy it! Give it a try – I know you can do it!