For the most part, I cook everything we eat from scratch. At the moment, the only prepared foods in my house are Boca burgers, a Kashi frozen meal, a frozen burrito, a few boxes of Zatarain's black beans & rice, Tofurky, a box of Kraft mac & cheese, and an assortment of condiments.
There are several reasons for this: GMO/processed foods freak me out, HFCS is the devil, real food tastes better than processed food, it's healthier, and cooking from scratch is usually less expensive.
Working fulltime, combined with a preference against dining out for the same reasons mentioned above means that I have to be extremely organized when it comes to menu planning and food preparation.
Here's how I do it:
- I set a menu of at least five dinners of varying degrees of complexity from simple to simple-intermediate, and make sure I have everything on hand and ready to go. I save new recipes and the really tricky stuff for the weekends.
- My plan is flexible...I see it as a pool of meal options that I choose from based on how much time I have, how tired I am, and what we feel like eating. If traffic was light and I'm home on the early side, I'll make something a little more complex. If traffic was a nightmare and I really need a cocktail and some downtime, I'll cook something simple. Mercifully, most weeks are a mix of crazy and not so crazy days :)
- I try to prep things as soon as I buy them. Meals come together much more quickly if everything is chopped and sliced ahead of time. Who needs Dream Dinners?
- I make sauces and salad dressings ahead of time and store them in mason jars in the fridge. They're ready to go and I'm not tempted to buy pre-made.
- On Sundays, I make a batch of lunch food for the coming week. Chili, soup, a beans (or tofu) & rice dish, quiche, or some sort of wrap filling or salad are my favorites. I pack individual portions in mason jars, and we have lunches through at least the middle of the week. When it runs out, we eat dinner leftovers, or sometimes buy lunch (not more than 1x/week).
- Sundays are also baking day! I make muffins, coffee cake, or cornbread for breakfasts, and and cookies, a cake, or a pie for snacks (and because it's fun).
- I keep homemade hummus in the fridge. It's a healthy snack with cut veggies or pita chips, and can also be the foundation of a delicious veggie wrap.
We live in a fairly upscale area with grocery prices to match. To save money, I drive across town and buy my groceries at Price-Rite and the asian grocery and produce stores. The only things I can't get there are specialty items like tempeh, soy milk, TVP, Tofurky, and tahini, so once in a blue moon, I'll swing by Trader Joe's or Whole Foods.
I'm not too cool to pick my groceries off of pallets and bag my own, so my grocery budget for two weeks, including pantry stocking is about $60.
With a little planning and prep, I can cook dinner at home from scratch in about the same amount of time it would take me to order and pick up take-out. The cost savings is significant, and I know exactly what we're eating.
Labels: food, frugal living, simple living