Learning to Cook at Home: A Valuable Investment

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Cooking at home can save a lot of money as opposed to eating out all the time. We all know that, right? If not, here’s a big green chart to drill it in, taken from How Much Money Do You Save by Cooking at Home? by Wellio:

Here’s what that means on a monthly basis:

Being a good home cook should be viewed as a valuable skill – one that takes an investment of time and effort, but can pay dividends forever. You may not eat at a restaurant or do meal prep every day, but I know that some of you dual-income high-earners are dropping around $1,500 a month on food. That’s closing in on $20,000 a year. Your grandparents probably spent a fraction of that. Converting even a couple of those meals a week can multiply into real money. (Not to mention that home-cooked meals have helped with my weight loss and health goals. Eating out a lot seems to always correlate with weight gain for me.)

The problem is that if you haven’t developed the skill, it’s just too painful. You work hard and are exhausted at the end of the day, why tackle another difficult project? For me, if I have to make an extra stop at the grocery store, I’d rather just stop at the korean BBQ place and buy it ready-to-eat.

If you are just starting out, you can’t expect to be able to whip up a nutritious and tasty meal with the ingredients in your pantry in 30 minutes. You need to set yourself up for success. You need to divide and conquer. On the weekend, you should pick out one or two “easy” recipes that look appetizing to you and buy all of the ingredients that you need. Don’t wait to “pick it up on the way home”. Buy it on the weekend, and carve out 30 minutes of prep time on two weekdays. Remind yourself that it takes time to prepare a meal prep kit too, or even drive somewhere to get take-out. (Okay, Uber Eats and Grubhub are pretty darn convenient. But those delivery fees and tips add up fast!)

This is summarized in my Cooking at Home Flowchart:

dinnerflow2

Once you have some “go-to” weekday meals, you can schedule them and rotate as desired. Once you get a lot of recipes into memory, then you can start to improvise. I’m sorry, but newbies can’t go straight into thinking of recipes as Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Maybe if you were the culinary equivalent of Beethoven. I’ve made hundreds of sheet-pan dinners (I like Melissa Clark recipes) and one-pot meals and I still get stuck if I don’t have things thought out ahead of time. If you learn to prep, then that one weekend grocery stop can equal 5 weeknight meals.

Wellio is a food prep company that offers to help you out with recipes and shopping lists. I haven’t used them, but I like that they are trying to attack the pain points in home cooking. I’ve mentioned them previously in Which Meals Offers The Most Nutrition Per Dollar?

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Comments

  1. In your monthly expenses graphic, why are you assuming only 2 meals per day?

  2. Healthy cook says:

    Cooking and basic nutrition should be taught in middle and high school…it’s a necessary life skill. (as is personal finance, too). I took cooking in 7th grade and it was a valuable foundation.

    When you cook at home, always make twice as much….then you have leftovers to take for lunch or for another dinner. It’s hardly any extra effort when you’re cooking the meal. If you can get your spouse or partner or child to cook with you, it’s really enjoyable and gets the meal on the table more quickly.

  3. The Frugal Millionaire says:

    There are two commodities in my life that I never have enough of; and that I hate to waste…time and money. Here’s a tip for each category I hope you will find to be helpful.

    Saving time: Back when I was working, I would routinely cook five pounds of boneless chicken breasts every Sunday. Sunday dinner might be a sit-down meal with a starch and veggies, and the rest of the chicken went into the refrig. That week’s dinners might include chicken with broccoli in a stir fry, diced chicken over salad with Caesar dressing, chicken and Ramen noodles with peanut sauce, shredded chicken warmed up in wing sauce and served on a hoagie roll with lettuce and low fat blue cheese dressing (Yum!), and chicken served either over rice or pasta with fresh or frozen veggies, or cut up chicken added to your favorite canned soup. There can be a lot of variety using one basic ingredient as a foundation.

    Saving money: Here in NJ grocery stores publish sale circulars every week, and have websites offering online specials as well. Sale items are routinely offered at half price, usually every three or four weeks. ( I routinely find the chicken breasts mentioned above for $1.99/lb.) The only 100% foolproof way I ever found to double my money was to take advantage of these sales at every opportunity and stock up. Then you have enough to last until it (whatever) goes on sale again. Today I shopped for groceries, spent $51.00, and saved $54.00 by using the sales, coupons, and loyalty program card.

    Turning $51 into $105 beat my portfolio return last year, and does not take as much time as you might think. You’ll quickly learn to spot the cycle of how often certain items go on sale. Good luck and bon appetite!

    • Cooked meat should only be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. Don’t put your family’s health at risk just for the sake of saving a few minutes.
      https://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/meatinrefrig.html
      I’m not a vegetarian, but if you really want to save on food costs, reducing or eliminating meat can have a significant impact.

      • I think he probably freezes the chicken.

      • The Frugal Millionaire says:

        Hi, Scott, and thank you for your polite and informative reply. Properly wrapped, I store my cooked chicken in the refrigerator from Sunday evening until Friday evening, that’s five days, which is a day longer that recommended on the website you provided a link for. I can only speak for me and my family, but we have been doing this since 2006 with no adverse effects. (Personally, I feel the gov. site has to be on the conservative side, and also that their one to two day limit on raw poultry is overly cautious…but to each their own!)

        Secondly, I only buy the boneless chicken breasts when they are $1.99/lb., as mentioned in my second paragraph above. You are correct in that there are cheaper sources of protein, but the extra buck a day I might spend returns so much more in culinary delight, allowing me to create restaurant quality meals. The original post was comparing home cooking to restaurants, and I am happy feeding my family for a week for about/less than the cost of one nice meal out.

        Again, thank you for your reply. Best, Mike

  4. hi jonathan what’re your thoughts on eating at home with kids? I’m increasingly finding eating out with kids is easier because they sit down longer and the mess is made at the restaurant. At home they can focus on eating for some time, then it becomes a loop of eat one bite, run around, eat another bite, throw some food, protest against putting food away. Just wondering if you have any thoughts as a parent of 3 🙂

  5. I’m the type of person who eats same food every day. I know the ingredients I put in and the essential nutrients that my body needs. Plus I don’t have to waste time thinking what I should eat.

    Instant Pot and a Bullet blender, a spoon, a fork and a knife. Satisfy my basic requirements. What drives this behavior ? Living w/ a cancer patient. I control the ingredients, min batch cook time for a week and periodic blood lab tests, that show if I’m in line. My labs during pizza time about 10 yrs ago made Docs scream I take statins, lipids, glucose, ALT/AST, and BP were out of control. Always tired and mood swings. I was in my 20s.

    I partially follow nutritionfacts.org. I basically buy food that has no ingredients listing, get the joke !? By the way, I did do 23andme (just used fake credentials), learned a lot. No, I’m not all figured out, constantly learning through pubmed.

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