I love dining out; it’s probably my biggest vice. But eating out on a regular basis, as you can probably imagine, gets pretty expensive, and is usually what gets me into trouble when we’re trying to save money. So, I’ve developed a process that helps ensure I cook at home more often and keeps more dollars in my wallet: I create a weekly menu and a shopping list based on it. I’m sure I’m not the first and only person to do it but it’s a good process and it works, for the most part. There are always challenges. I mean, this is life we’re talking about here.
The general process goes a little something like this: I find recipes I like, make a grocery list, go shopping (once a week) and then cook at home each night.
Each weekend I make my grocery list. You can always tell because you’ll find me on the couch, or sitting at the dining room table, or standing at the kitchen counter surrounded by food magazines, a notepad, pages of recipes that have been ripped out of other magazines, my calendar, and my computer. Sometimes I’ll even pull out my little wood recipe box that has hand-written recipes from my mom and mom-in-law.
I pick out about four to five recipes from my collection that have a nice variety: chicken, some fish or shrimp, lean ground beef or steak, and plenty of veggies. We’re not vegetarians and Nick refuses to convert, but I try to include at least one vegetarian meal each week. Sort of like a Meatless Monday except we can do it any night we want 😉 My favorite recipe sources are Skinnytaste.com, a website that features delicious, healthy, low fat, family-friendly recipes; Clean Eating Magazine, which cuts out processed junk and emphasizes food in its most natural form; homemade recipes from my little box; and of course, Pinterest! Once I’ve decided on meals, I make my grocery list. This is where Nick says I need improvement because I’m supposed to check for the all ingredients we may already have to prevent us from buying more but, sometimes, I overlook things. And by sometimes I mean, like, pretty much every time. And it’s usually cheese or chicken stock. We ALWAYS seem to have a ton of cheese and chicken stock on hand! Hey, I’m only human and nobody’s perfect. You could even take it one step further and plan your meals around the ingredients you already have on hand. This is what I should probably be doing to use up some of that cheese, but let’s focus on one thing at a time.
Having the list is super helpful at the grocery store because I know exactly what I need and I don’t have to wander around each aisle. When I was in college, I never made a list. I just went to the supermarket and bought a bunch of crap and, when I got home, there was nothing there that would make a complete meal.
So, I’ve got my list and spend less time at the grocery store, but what I’ve found to be extremely helpful is assigning the meals to specific days, which is why I keep my calendar handy. Some meals take a lot longer than others to prepare so I save those for weekends or days I know I’ll have more time to devote to them. Some nights of my week get really busy so I try to plan the quick and easy meals for those nights. I’m more likely to actually cook on those late nights when it doesn’t require much effort. This also helps remind me to take the chicken out of the freezer to thaw. I hate knowing I have a delicious meal on the menu but I get home at 7 PM and realize the chicken is still frozen solid. So, I assign a meal to each night, throwing in veggie sides, and list a few breakfast, lunch, and snack options. This way I get all of the thinking over with in the beginning of the week and can just follow my menu the rest of the week. I told you it was brilliant!
We don’t always stick to this plan 100% it may not be perfect, but it’s pretty damn close. There are long nights now and then where the thought of cooking makes me want to punch a squirrel. So out to eat we go. And the weekends are pretty notorious for restaurant eating, as well. But for the most part, we’re saving money and eating fresh, healthy, home-cooked meals.
If you’ve been struggling with saving money due to eating out too much, try this method. It’s a lot of work, especially in the beginning, but you’ll get used to it and maybe even start to enjoy it. I suppose there is something gratifying about the whole thing because I’m sticking to a budget and cooking up new and delicious meals. But try it out and let me know if you like it. And if you can think of ways to improve it, I’m all ears!