Recession Eating: Save Money by Cooking and Eating at Home

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Busy and hectic lives cause many people to rely on processed and ready-to-serve foods or eating out as the way to quickly get a meal together for their family. The costs of these types of meals tend to be high and the nutrition many times is inferior to home cooked alternatives. Tough financial times require many of us to dig down and find creative ways to continue living our life to the fullest.

You have heard that increased intake of processed foods and eating out have a negative affect on weight and health. These types of foods also have a negative affect on your budget when it is tight. Purchasing less processed and ready to serve foods and eating out less in favor of making more foods from scratch can be a great start to stretching your food budget further. Do you know how to make the switch?

My mother taught me a great deal about being creative and living well on a budget while I was growing up. Her cookbook of choice for our family of six was the More with Less Cookbook. As I have struggled with hectic schedules and providing healthy meals for my family over the years, I discovered how beneficial my slow cooker can be. I also found a helpful cookbook called Fix-It and Forget-It. As we learned last week, pre-planning helps ensure that we have the ingredients we need on hand which can also save money. Putting everything together in the slow cooker the night before allows you to pull the crock out of the refrigerator in the morning on your way out the door so it can cook all day while you are away. When you get home you can have a healthy dinner on the table in less than thirty minutes or feed your family in shifts if sitting down together isn't in the schedule.

Transitioning from dining out or processed meals to cooking at home doesn't have to be an overwhelming process. Keep these principles in mind when seeking to make the switch.

Start small - Pick one or two days in the week you can commit to cooking a meal at home. Plan ahead and make sure you have what you need when those days come. As you master one or two days for a couple weeks in a row, stretch it to three days and then stretch to four.

Start simple - Picking Chicken Cordon Bleu as one of your recipes initially is probably not a great way to get started. It doesn't have to be fancy to be a quick and well balanced meal. Trying to be too fancy can sabotage your best intentions for change.

Start with a safe recipe - Pick easy recipes with basic ingredients. Ask a friend or family member for their favorite quick and easy recipe if you don't have one of your own. The fewer the ingredients the better when you are first getting started. The more success you have with basic but delicious meals at home, the more likely you will be to continue.

Start together - Involve the entire family as much as possible. It doesn't matter whether you let each member of the family pick a night for their favorite home cooked recipe or all sit down together to plan the menu for the week. Whatever system works for your family is fine as long as you remember that 'buy in' many times leads to success. Likewise, teaching children to cook at home will go a long way to healthier lifestyles for them as well.

Improving your food budget doesn't mean total sacrifice so be sure to plan meals out or your favorite processed meal into your weekly meal plan. This helps the family feel positive about the small changes they are making without having to feel like they must give up everything all at once. Whole grains, lentils, and dried beans can become staples when eating at home and are cheap and readily available. Don't be afraid to try new foods during your journey of cooking more at home. You just might find your waist line shrinks as well as your food costs.

Share your favorite quick and easy cook-at-home meal ideas.

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I love cooking for my husband and kids, I can control the ingrediants and its so much healthier and cheaper to eat at home, even before the recession, we didnt eat out alot. Report
Because I only have my husband and me to cook for, I love to cook meals at home. This is because then I am the one controlling what ingredients I use and will know exactly how many calories each recipe contains. This also allows me to use reduced fat ingredients where possible and feasible. I try to pre-plan the weeks menu ahead and leave one day for "leftovers". In this economy, with increased food prices, I realized just how much food I was wasting. Also, I regularly review what meat and other items are in my freezer and build the weeks menu around what I already have. We then eat out maybe twice a month as a treat. It takes work to do this but in the long run the benefits far outweigh any time you might feel you lose. Report
Thanks. Report
this last week i sat down and planned out my meals for the week and i ended up feeling so much better and spent less money. It was great, and I know now that i definetly need to keep planning in advance. Report
Soooo true!! I find that I save money by cooking at home. Plus what I cook is more healthy for the family. I get the kids to eat more veggies at home then if we were to eat out. And when I think about it.. it only takes half an hour to an hour to cook a great meal. Report
I so enjoy cooking at home. I can experiment with so many flavors and textures while leaving out all the salts and fats. I cooked professionally for a while and I'm quite good at it. Report
Just ordered the More with Less Cookbook, I found nothing but good things about it on line. Looking forward to trying it out. Report
In addition to BEHAPPY0201's warnings about bacteria, putting your crock pot in the fridge and then directly into the heating unit can cause the ceramic crock to break. For best results, put the items into a container that holds the same amount as your crock pot and put IT in the fridge. In the morning you can simply transfer the contents from the container to the crock. This will eliminate bacteria worries as well as keep your ceramic crock from cracking. Report
I agree with the principals of this article, but have to warn...the article says prepre your meal in the corck the night before and then just pull it out of the fridge in the morning. Do not do this! If you read up on slow cookers the container will not get as cold as the refrigerator. This then doesn't keep your meat at the proper temperature and can lead to bacteria growth. Yuck! Report
Great tips for those just starting out - we cook and eat at home 20-21 meals a week, so they're not so new to me. I would add the suggestion to buy local and seasonal - don't start with a cookbook, start with the local, seasonal food you have and work from there - cheaper and healthier that way. Report
I like to cook a big family size container of hamburg often with onions added and divide it up into freezer bags with about 2/3 a pound of hamburg (or ground meat of any kind) per bag. Then I have meat ready to make into many different things in the time it takes to thaw and then reheat.

Examples: chili, my own kind of hamburger helper which is hamburg, can of tomatoes, elbow macaroni and either cheese or spices or both, add to cans of tomatoes and cook up to add to pasta for spaghetti, fake lasagna (ravioli layered with ricotta and tomato sauce covered in cheese), sloppy joes (spices and tomato paste), even something as simple as hamburg gravy over whole wheat toast.

I used to shop more often and I found that the thought of shopping then cooking would overwhelm me. Now I know that I can just go home and fix something from my freezer and pantry and then restock on the weekend.

I also like to buy frozen chicken breasts (usually with the bone in to save money). I will cook up extra in the oven to shred and use for another meal in a day or so.

Barley, beans, lentils and potatoes have lots of fiber. If you fix them without a lot of butter and fat they are healthy choices assuming you are not on a low carbohydrate diet.

Going vegan for a few days a week to even a few weeks a year is another great way to save money assuming you are willing to eat the carbs and use vegetables that are in season or that you put up in the freezer or canned yourself. (Or like me, don't mind canned veggies from the store.)

When in a rush, there is always eggs. They are a great source of protein and nutrients and are less expensive then meat. Report
I was taught as a child how to make a meal stretch. One of the benefits of traditional Italian cooking. Besides pasta meals and scrape the pantry meals, I have a few favorites...
I get a 7 lb chicken oven stuffer. The first night I make the chicken roasted in the oven. The next morning I make a stock from the bones for soup that night, the third day I use the rest of the leftovers in a stir-fry or a pot-pie.

I also make a meatloaf one night then the next night cut up the leftovers into bite size pieces and add it to sauce for pasta.

Another I do is make a big london broil with potatoes and veggies. The next night I use leftover meat for a stir-fry and the next night I use the rest of the leftovers (potatoes, veggies and meat) and make a hash or egg pie.

That's 7 day's worth of meals for the price of 3. Report
I love to use my crockpot to prepare soups and stews. I'll freeze half in individual serving size containers so I can just pull one out for a quick meal.

Kit Report
I have a friend who gets each member of her family to cook one night a week as she has a home business and is often working right through meal time! It is an inspiration to me . . .however, I must admit I am not really willing to hand the kitchen keys over to my teens quite yet . . .! Report
The World Community Cookbook Series (More with Less, Extending the Table, and Simply in Season) is my favorite cookbook series. In addition to good recipes, they are a great read. Also, the Fix It and Forget It series has a Fix It and Forget It Lightly and a Diebetic version which both give some nutritional information with the recipes. All are staples of my cookbook self! Report
I love More-For-Less and its sequels Simply in Season and Extending the Table! Report
I cook. When my son was in high school, I would buy groceries, and freeze much of it in individual servings. I got to be the Queen of impromptu cooking... I never knew whether I would be having one or five for dinner!!! It's really not difficult with a little bit of planning! (Throw some pork chops in the electric skillet, add some onions and tomatoes.... fix some rice.... some broccoli and viola... a meal!) Report
I love to cook at home and experiment with recipes, and now that I am alone I still cook for myself. I usually freeze the second serving for later, or eat it the next night depending on how much I like it. I don't like to go out to eat alone, but do with family but still prefer to cook at home. Report
We eat 99% of our meals at home so I enjoy the 1% time that we go out to eat! Restaurants now a days have healthy choices & you can always find one that has reasonable prices too. I cook healthy meals but sure do enjoy getting out for a meal now & then!! Report
Another good way for those of us that hate to cook is trying a "raw" diet a day or two a week. It works great for me. Report
Sorry for my previous typo, I meant to say Make-A-Mix Cookery, not Max-A-Mix! Report
Eating home cooked food is a winner on lots of levels! I love using the Make-A-Mix book by Karine Eliason, Nevada Harward and Madeline Westover. I can spend a day making mixes and have meals partly prepared for the couple of weeks or longer. The book has 3 types of what they call Master Mixes, dry mixes, semi-dry mixes and freezer-refrigerator mixes. I make breakfasts, lunches and dinners from these master mixes. It saves lots of money, time when you're busiest and teaches your children that cooking really is fun and creative. I still have my old copy of Max-A-Mix Cookery which was published in 1978, but the new book has all of the old recipes plus lots of tasty new ones. I think I'm going to buy a copy of this for each of my grandchildren for when they're all grown up- I have 10 so far, so this will be a bit of an investment! I'm sure it will help them. Report
Cooking at home is an art, and I love it!! Talk about selection, you can make whatever you want so it's more diverse than what's on the menu. Report
I would really like to get into cooking a veggie and then seasoning it like hos those Viola meals come in the freezer section. So all i would do it pull it out and reheat this is convient becasue i am a single mom so i can eat nutritionous but dont have to worry about cooking when i get home from work Report
We have spent SO much money eating out over the years that my dh says he could retire in comfort right now if we'd only cut it in half! I'm not kidding! It was just so easy to grab a burger when the kids were involved in sports and we were always coaching or helping somehow. I seldom had the time and energy (at the same time) to prepare meals ahead of time.

Then, we'd always go out for lunch after church on Sundays because that was when we had time to visit with friends. Our house was way too small to invite people over (a 10' x 50' mobile), so we'd go out--to the tune of $50 or more. I'm afraid we instilled some bad habits in our kids by doing that, because they all LOVE to eat out. Now our home is built and we have plenty of room to have the whole family and friends over, and we do, but I'd sure like to have some of that money back that we spent on restaurants!

I have the Fix It And Forget It cookbook and love it! Even if I'm home all day, I still don't always want to have to stop what I'm doing to make dinner. My kids and grandkids all live close, so I never worry about too many leftovers. They always seem to disappear. Report
Great blog!
I learned to cook at the tender age of 3 - OKAY, so it was 'just' stirring, but it is a start!
By the time I was 7, my Sunday morning task was to make my mom & dad breakfast in bed. I could cook up crisp bacon, squeeze fresh orange juice, flip and over-easy egg without breaking the yolk yet having the white done, and warm toast.
I "LOVE" to cook - it is my creative outlet. And having to figure out what I need to cut back on for my husband is a REAL education (HBP, T2 Diabetes, High Cholesterol ...) and requires some fancy creativity! I don't use cookbooks - I'm more of an inventor in the kitchen. But I have learned with the SparkRecipes calculator that so many things are 'hidden', even in fresh foods (ie - sodium , HELLO HBP!) I never make the same thing twice, there is ALWAYS a variation - that's the beauty of cooking! :0) Report
Does SP get a commission if we follow the links and buy the books from Amazon? I hope they do. Report
I use the Fix It and Forget It cookbook often -- and I don't say that about many cookbooks. It has many uncomplicated recipes. Love using a slow cooker.

There is also a Fix It and Forget It Lightly cookbook, but I don't own it. Report
I found this article very helpful and informative. At present I am lokking for ways to motivate myself in the kitchen, and I have begun inviting a friend over to have dinner with us as it gives me the boost required to cook a decent meal. We are both hoping to loose weight and think that more home cooking will help. Report
This was a great article. I recently retired and this will help us save money. Report
I save much more money by cooking at home instead of eating out. And I get to try all kinds of fun new recipes. And eat healthy unprocessed foods. And teach my son to cook. The list goes on... Report
I enjpy cooking at home----it really saves money for me. Report
buying healthy foods and cooking at home is going to be better for you, but I think the cost will be lower to go out to eat! food prices are already high and if you read labels and buy healthy you are definitely going to pay more! Report
If you have a newer crock that heats chicken fast enough- some great easy recipes are: put chicken in, pour salsa or barbecue sauce or spaghetti sauce over it- cook all day. Shred and put on buns, tortillas, wraps, over lettuce, over rice... etc. you can do that with beef, too. cheaper cuts cook tender in the slow cooker- so save more money! They are great for cooking beans/bean soup. Report
I batch cook whenever possible to save time. Also, when cooking, I do the prep work the night before (after dinner) so the following day, I can just throw my meal in the oven after work.

I have cooked with the book More with Less! Great recipes! Report
Great info, thanks for sharing. Report
Definitely keep leftovers! Now I have ziplock boxes to keep leftovers and take to work for lunches, but when I was a kid we also kept leftovers in any plastic, glass, or metal container that was itself a leftover from purchasing its contents. Cool Whip containers were a number-one choice, but also margarine, spaghetti sauce--anything with a lid you can put back on. Just be careful when re-heating. Some of those containers don't do so well in the microwave. If the container melts, the food shouldn't be eaten. Report
I use our slow cooker quite frequently. I am the designated cook. I find if I spend one day cooking we only need to put one of the meals in the microwave and we are ready to eat. Report
Being supported by a disability pension, I find it much cheaper to eat at home. I love using my crockpot because it can cook enough for me for about 5 days. I've got my parents into the habit of eating at home as well as they are now supported by a pension and not dad's income - he retired. Report
When our budget became very tight I started cooking at home. We even made the switch to organic. This is costly yes, but still less expensive than going out to eat. My family has not been sick once since this switch and we all have more energy! Report
I just bought a slow cooker and have only made chicken curry so far. I love to read cookbooks and will definately be checking out "Fix it and forget it". Report
I've been using these principles outlined in the article over the past 6 months and it's worked wonders. In fact, I started cooking with "Fix It & Forget It"! It's one of my favourite receipe books. I've just recently moved onto more complex slow cooker recipes, but IMO, the slow cooker is one of the best ways to prepare healthy meals when you're a working parent. Report
I love my "Everything Slow Cooker" cookbook as well. It has never steered me wrong. Crockpot cooking is one of the easiest changes to make in order to eat healthier and cheaper. I love mine! Report
Growing up there was no eating out. Nothing was wasted. I'm still like that today. My left overs are called "MUST GO'S!" They must go before they are no good! Report
I use the slow cooker a lot mostly in the winter. I got a recipe from Spark "Slow Cooker Creamy Italian Chicken" so easy to make and everybody loved it. I loooove Sparkpeople. Report
I would really like to learn to cook with a slow cooker. I'm just afraid that I will burn the house down if I leave the house while the slow cooker is on LOL! For big meals that last a few days, I love to cook healthy vegetarian or ground turkey chili. I think I got that recipe from spark! I really need to go back to planning meals for the week though. Maybe go through my cookbooks on Saturday and plan a big shopping day on Sunday. I don't think I could eat the same meal all week though. Maybe do enough batch cooking to last for a few different meals. Report
I'm glad to hear someone else uses the More With Less Cookbook. I used it a lot while raising my kids. I agree that a slow transitgion is the best route. I did my best to get my kids used to whole grains, etc., but it was a challenge because they were getting processed foods at school and at friends' houses, etc., and they preferred processed over whole grain. I had my kids helping with choosing menus, grocery shopping, cooking, and clean-up. Have yet to see if any of it took effect. Report
I like trying new recipes, so that cooking at home does not become such a chore. I really like sparkrecipes, because it gives you healthier alternatives to favorite dishes. Report
We eat dinners at home 6 days out of the week and then go out once a week, with an additional lunch out on Sundays. It really does save money, and since we plan out the menu for a week in advance, it makes shopping so much easier! Report
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