After a long day at work, most people do not have the energy or brain capacity to plan meals. Although I’ll admit, I sometimes spend more time watching cooking shows on the Food Network than cooking my dinner.
Andrew and I end up eating out or ordering in often because it’s more convenient. Unfortunately, it became a costly habit. After looking at our restaurant budget, we needed to figure out how to make it easier for us to cook at home. Here are some things that worked for us to make dinner easy.
Making Restaurant Quality Meals at Home
Instead of running out the door to a neighborhood restaurant, what if you could cook a gourmet meal at home? After buying all the ingredients, it sometimes costs more than eating out until Plated and Blue Apron came along.
Its mission is to help people cook better, healthier, and cheaper meals in their kitchen. Each week, they have chef-designed recipes featured on an online menu. In addition, there are meat, fish, and vegetarian dishes available. The ingredients are packed fresh and pre-portioned to cut back on waste.
Choose a delivery time that’s good for you, and voila! All you have to do when your box arrives is cook your meal: no thinking, no shopping, no measuring.
Plated also tells you what basics you’ll need, like salt, pepper, and oil, and what equipment to use, like sizes of pots and pans. Both have pictures of the ingredients for each recipe. I have never used some of the elements before, so it’s helpful.
The calorie count for each meal is on the recipe card that comes in the box. It will cost you about $10-12 per plate of food. Fresh Direct also offers ‘Ready cook” meals, including simple and smart kits under 500 calories, stir fry kits, marinaded meats, and kebabs.
I found this to work great for me. I sit down with a pen and paper and write down what we are going to eat daily.
Breakfast is leisurely, with some fruits, eggs, yogurt, etc. Lunch is pretty simple too, and I get some stuff for salads and sandwiches. Dinner is the kicker. I usually head for the internet and look for recipes under 30 minutes that are quick and easy for weeknights.
I try to find recipes that use similar ingredients, which helps with waste. I only buy what I need. You don’t need everything that’s on sale.
I used to buy too much produce, and it would go wrong and end up in the garbage. So I sometimes cheat with Fresh Direct sides in a snap. You throw them in the microwave, and they steam in 2-3 minutes.
I try not to go to the grocery store anymore to shop. Instead, I order all my food from Fresh Direct, and I love it. Besides not carrying ten bags of food up to my apartment, I also save so much money because I don’t impulse shop. There’s no temptation to buy things because it’s a good deal.
Here are some cool meal planning apps to also help get you started!
• Pepperplate – organizes your recipes, plans your meals based on those recipes, builds out shopping lists, and helps you cook the recipes you want to try.
• Cook Smarts – Plan out your weekly meals, learn to cook, explore new recipes and eat more healthy, homemade food.
• Plan to Eat – Simple to use. Just drag and drop from your recipe list onto a calendar, and it will automatically generate your shopping list week by week.
The Slow Cooker Is Your Best Friend
There seems to be a slow cooker craze in the last few years. Up until then, I thought they were old-school kitchen appliances that took up too much space, and I didn’t need one. So I put one on my bridal registry because why not? And I’m glad that I did.
It’s a great way to make cheap and healthy meals. Slow cookers are cheap to buy and cheap to operate. If you live in a small apartment as I do, it doesn’t turn your kitchen into a boiler room like an oven.
Also, it will cut your grocery bill significantly by allowing you to buy cheaper cuts of meat. Slow cookers tenderize them over low heat for a longer time. Most slow cooker recipes are not difficult to prepare and require zero culinary skills. You have to layer your food into the pot, set it, and forget it!
Put everything inside in the morning before heading off to work and come home to dinner that is done and ready to serve. It is that simple. If you are unfamiliar with the slow cooker, try this easy recipe first. It was my first, too!
Three ingredients for pulled pork – Put 2 lbs of pork loin and a can of root beer in the slow cooker for 6 hours. Then drain liquid, shred the pork and mix with BBQ sauce. Delicious!
Cook one day, Eat for 10
The idea behind once-a-month cooking, aka OAMC, is to spend a set amount of time prepping and cooking, resulting in having enough meals to last you through an entire month.
These recipes usually involve freezing the meals until needed. Spending a few hours on the weekend preparing food makes it so much easier to put together a quick, cheap, healthy meal during the week.
You will only have one mess to clean up by making several meals at once. Buying in bulk saves money, and cooking yourself will make better nutritious meals. If you plan and prep ahead of time, you will only need to heat up or add some finishing touches to your meals.
Casserole, lasagna, and soups are easy to store in the freezer. The slow cooker will also come in handy for many of these recipes—Cook big batches of grains, prep meats, and chop fresh produce.
Follow your recipe measurements and put all the ingredients in a gallon-sized freezer ziplock. Ensure to let the extra air out of the bag before sealing it to avoid any freezer burn.
Before cooking the meal, let it defrost in the fridge for about 24 hours. There are so many websites to teach you how to cook in bulk, and they have great, tested recipe ideas. Onceamonthmeals.com has some great ones.
Planning is the key to making eating at home more likely. That little time you spend making a game plan can save you so much time and money. As much as I enjoy eating out, cooking my food is healthier for my body and wallet.
Challenge yourself to cook all week and treat yourself to a nice dinner on the weekend.