One of the leading causes of food budgets getting out of control is eating out too much. That $12, just-for-you, pasta plate from the restaurant could have been made at home for the entire family for about $4.
There are two main reasons that I’ve found (at least in my own life) that cause us to not want to cook at home and go out to eat instead. No time, or too tired, to cook and delicious meals.
That’s where these tips come in.
Grow Your Own Vegetables
This was mentioned as one of the unconventional ways to save on groceries, but I wanted to go a little deeper into it here. While this may not be a year round thing for many of us, growing your own vegetables is a great way to guarantee that you have the freshest product on hand. I know for me, I love a good homegrown tomato with a little bit of salt on it. And my younger daughter could eat a pound of Cherry Tomatoes in one sitting!
One reader suggested on Facebook to check out a local seed library to get local seeds. Much like the book version, seed libraries allow you to “check out” seeds and then deposit some of the new seeds back in the library after your vegetables have grown. What a great way to start a garden!
Here are a few resources to help you get started. They list some of the easiest vegetables to grow at home and some tips on putting them in our garden,
Prepare Freezer Meals
Freezer meals are a delicious option that takes a little bit more time on the front end. However, preparing them and putting them in the freezer for a weeknight where you don’t have much time to prepare the meal (much less cook it), is a great way to keep from going out to eat.
The bigger obstacles in actually making a meal at home for many people (myself included) is actually preparing the meal. If it’s already prepared for you, and all you have to do is pop it in the oven, a lot of the battle is won already. I encourage you to plan ahead when planning your dinners.
Many freezer meals take about 30 minutes or more to cook, but that’s ok! You can use the time to actually unwind from your day before sitting down to a delicious meal. This blog post I found has pretty much everything you want to know about freezer meals plus over 70 recipes!
Use a Slow Cooker
Slow Cookers are unique because they actually solve both problems mentioned above! They take care of not having time because they do the cooking for you, and the meals are almost always delicious!
My wife and I love our slow cooker. Not only are they a relatively cheap appliance, there are sites dedicated to slow cookers! There are probably millions of recipes on the internet that you can use. Most taste as delicious, if not better, than a restaurant. You can also take the little bit of time to get the crock pot ready the night before, turn it on when you leave for work in the morning, and then had a delicious meal waiting for you when you get home.
Some of our favorite slow cooker recipes only require 3 ingredients. The Swedish Meatballs are especially delicious! If you are looking for easy crock pot recipes, look no further than these two lists I found. Both are from a blog called Totally the Bomb. Enjoy!
Plan Meals That Are Quick to Make Once or Twice a Week
This is something we do almost every week. These meals take little effort to cook and are quick to get on the table. We also try and focus on quick meals that are satisfyingly delicious rather than something like boxed Mac N Cheese.
Once a week we make eggs/omelets for dinner. It literally takes minutes to cook and you can throw other things in them like peppers or tomatoes (from your own garden!) to spice up the flavor. A favorite for my kids is scrambled eggs topped with some shredded cheese and bacon bits. I like to add a little hot sauce to mine. Delicious!
Sometimes we will make Chicken Nuggets for dinner. They cook in about 12 minutes in the oven. Instead of just making them the same old way and dip them in ketchup, I like to toss them in some buffalo sauce for a deliciously spicy meal!
Another quick meal when you aren’t up to cooking is simply hot dogs. You can cook these on the grill, or for a super easy version, you can microwave them. 30 seconds in the microwave, place in a bun and top with some delicious toppings and you’ve got yourself one of the quickest meals on earth! Feel free to splurge on the Vienna all beef version if you don’t mind eating a little bit unhealthier every once in a while.
One last suggestion for a quick meal is toasted sandwiches in the oven. These are so simple to prepare. While the oven is preheating to 375 degrees, you place two pieces of bread side by side on a cookie sheet. On one piece of bread you place one slice of your choice of cheese, plus two thin slices of your favorite deli meat. On the other piece you place 2 to 4 more slices of your favorite deli meat and then leave open face as they are. Cook in the oven for about 9 minutes and you have yourself a delicious toasted sandwich. Leaving the sandwich open faced while cooking allows it to cook more evenly as well as letting you add any type of sauce or vegetables after the sandwich is cooked. You will want to make them all the time!
As I mentioned, we try and plan meals that will solve both of the main problems I see with eating out too much and blowing your food budget, having no time or being too tired to cook, and not having delicious meals. Even the quick meals that we prepare we try and make very satisfying so we’re not scrambling for junk food later in the evening. Obviously having a budget for both going out to eat and for groceries is the way to go. But these tips will help you to not blow your money on either one.
So what do you do to keep from going out to eat too much and actually staying in to eat? I’d love for you to comment below with any tips you have!