Eating on a budget: cooking at home can save you a lot

Going out to eat may be super fun and pleasant, but how much of your hard-earned income are you spending just for the entertainment value? Home cooking is a good alternative to save money, but be mindful not to waste your food or money.

Plan your meals

Right at the beginning of the week, think about every meal for the next seven days. Write out a grocery list of everything you need before you go shopping. This will keep you from making multiple trips to the store and will save you a lot of money, since you’ll avoid compulsive purchases.

Bringing other people shopping with you, especially kids, can be a trap. Everyone will want something different and you will end up buying more than you should. Avoid those distractions and stick to the list!

Pack a lunch

When you’re making dinner, think about what you’re going to eat for lunch the next day. Reserve some of what you cook and put it in a container and pack the dressing separately. This can save you some money and time throughout the day.

Change the way you cook and what you cook

Tougher cuts of beef and pork are a lot cheaper than steaks and chops but they do require more time. The best way to cook tougher cuts of meat? Cook them slowly over low heat, typically for 3 or more hours, often in liquid (Braising), to make them melt-in-your-mouth tender. Depending on the size, you can even leave them cooking overnight.

Cook less meat, in general

Besides being one of the most expensive items on your grocery list, it’s not healthy to eat a lot of it. If you’re eating meat for dinner, aim for it to take up no more than one-quarter of your plate (~3 oz. cooked). Fill half of the plate with vegetables and the final quarter with a whole grain. Eating less meat is better for both your health and your budget.

Big cuts or packages of meat

Big cuts or packages of meat tend to be cheaper. Because you aren’t going to use it all for one single meal, try to use the same variety for several different meals over the week. If you can’t use all the meat within the week, you can portion and freeze any of it that is left.

Cook dried beans instead of buying canned

Usually canned food has a lot of sodium and that’s not good for you. When you buy dried beans or other fresh ingredients, you can cook them the way you want. It may require a little more preparation, but it’s worth the extra effort because you get a better deal out of it.

Cook and serve the right sized portions

When you serve big portions, part of that food tends to end up in the garbage. Pay attention to what your family throws away after meals and snacks. Adjust their portions accordingly, so you are giving them what they usually finish eating. They can always ask for a second helping if they are still hungry. According to nutrition experts a healthy serving of cooked meat is 3 ounces, or 4 ounces raw. That’s only about one-quarter of area on your plate. However, if you don’t have enough time for cooking every day, you can cook your meals in big batches and portion out the leftovers to keep in the fridge or freeze to reheat for the rest of the week.

Reduce your processed foods

Many stores cut, package, and mark up the price of some products. Buy these items whole and cut them yourself. It’s not that time consuming. Besides the price, sweets such as cookies and candy have too much sugar, and lunch meat, cheese, and other packaged meals have too much sodium in them. You should have a better understanding of what you’re ingesting.

Memberships and discount cards

Sign up for store memberships or discount cards and compare the prices for different items at different stores. Many stores will often run sales on their merchandise. Remember: there is nothing wrong with not having a brand loyalty. It gives you more options and allows you to find both cheaper and better products.

Don’t pay extra for packaging

Besides being better for the environment, refusing to buy pre-packaged products will save you a lot of money. For example, spices can be much cheaper if they are not bought in glass/plastic containers. You’re paying extra for the packaging, not the product.

Repurpose as much food as you can

You can transform stale bread into toast, rice from the day before into a casserole, vegetable stalks into delicious soups or mix in with rice or pasta. The possibilities are infinite! Make good use of the food that you buy, avoid waste and save money.

Cook wisely

Take a look at what you already have on hand in your kitchen. If you already have food at home, why buy more? Make it a goal to use up most of what you have in your pantry or refrigerator before you go shopping, and you’ll find yourself wasting less food.

Home cooking can be cheaper than you could ever imagine. Understand the value of the food you buy and cook it wisely. Take the money you save and invest it back into your life!