One of the keys to healthier eating — and saving money while you do it — is preparing meals at home. However, it can be difficult to find the time to make meals and enjoy them.
There are a number of benefits to cooking at home beyond just improving your health and saving money. According to many studies, there are relationship and other benefits for sharing meals at home with a family.
If you want to improve your meal situation, here are 5 ideas for making time to prepare your meals and eat at home:
Schedule in the Time
Sometimes, I waste time. We all do. But you might b surprised to find that you have more time than you think. Take a look at your schedule, and determine whether or not you have been wasting time. In many cases, all you need to make dinner is 30 to 60 minutes. Could you find 30 to 60 minutes a day to cook dinner? Chances are that you can.
Plan Your Meals
The easiest way to avoid the last minute rush for take out is to plan your meals. Figure out what you are going to eat for dinner most nights of the week. In our family, we plan meals for four or five nights, which covers all of the work and school nights. We still have room for spontaneity on the weekend, but planning helps keep us on schedule, and ensures that we have healthy options.
We also plan to have various ingredients on hand so that we can make things quickly and simply. Pasta (we enjoy organic brown rice pasta), food staples, frozen soups (some of them homemade) and even some minimally processed frozen meals provide us with ways to quickly prepare meals without resorting to less healthy options.
Often we make a list of items needed to create our meals. We go to the store on Tuesday, after our produce box has been delivered. Sticking to a list ensures that we get what need to keep with our meal plan, and it can save money.
Make it a Shared Activity
One of the things my small family enjoys about meal time is that we all help. My son is 10, and we began basic cooking lessons last year. While we don’t put him in charge of anything major, and while he is never unsupervised, he can still help out. My husband and I frequently prepare meals together, with our son doing his part as well — even if it’s just tearing up lettuce for salad and setting the table.
When you do it together as a family, it’s easier to make the time for it, and you’re making good memories that are often more fulfilling than vague memories of sitting around the TV.
Learn to Use the Slow Cooker
For some families, the time just isn’t there. But that doesn’t mean that you have to forfeit home cooked meals. This is where meal planning comes in to help the situation. I match up the meal plan with our schedule. On days that I know we’ll be busy, I plan slow cooker meals. I usually prepare the crock pot the night before and refrigerate it. The next morning, all I need to do is pull out the food, turn on the slow cooker, and let it go all day. When it’s time for dinner, five minutes to prepare a salad and cut up some fruit is all I usually need to complete the meal.
30-Minute Meal Cookbook
Another kitchen item I enjoy is a cookbook full meals that take less than 30 minutes to prepare. Many of them can be prepared in 15 to 20 minutes. As long as we plan ahead, and make sure to buy the necessary ingredients at the store, there’s no reason for this to be problematic. You might be surprised, after looking through such a cookbook, at the variety of reasonably healthy dishes you can prepare relatively quickly.
If you want healthier meals prepared at home, there are ways to accomplish this. From more conventional methods of cooking and making time, to unique solutions like choosing to focus on raw foods, there are ways to eat better and enjoy time with your family.
It would be ideal to plan for your meal for the whole week. We do that at home. That way, we can save time in shopping for the ingredients and we can a lot the necessary time for each meal. Helps us manage our time and money well.
It really is amazing how much time and money you save when you plan out your meals. Plus, you waste less food due to spoilage.
Meal planning is important when it comes to eating at home. It’s so much easier to give up on your meal plan if you come home from a long day and have to go grocery shopping because you didn’t make a proper meal plan. Also, the slow cooker – great point! It saves so much time.
I love the slow-cooker. Even though I work from home, the slow-cooker has been a lifesaver on a number of occasions. And you’re about having to add another trip at the end of an already-long day.
We meal plan on the fly which I think is why our food costs are so high. Frankly right now between work, commute and school I do not have time to sit down and plan out my meals for the week. I would also like to use our slow cooker more but the highest setting ours has is 8 hours and we are gone from the house on work days for close to 11 hours. By then the food tends to be a little over cooked.
That is tough! When I was in the situation where we were both in grad school and busy, we made time twice a month to put together meals and then freeze them. It was a frugal (and fun) way for us to spend our Saturdays twice a month.
Freezer cooking is a great way to eat at home. Choose one day a week or month, and cook multiple meals to freeze and reheat later. Spending one day cooking can free your nights up, especially those nights when everyone has some place to be and none of them are close.
A quick check on Pinterest yields an entire page of recipes with pictures and ideas for freezer cooking.
Great point! Thanks to the Internet, there are a number of great resources available for preparing meals.
Great tips, Miranda! I like to keep previously cooked chicken strips in the freezer for all sorts of quick meals. It’s my own healthy “fast food!”
I’ve heard that you can put all the slow cooker ingredients, except the meat, for a recipe in a freezer bag. Then it’s easy to put the frozen ingredients in the slow cooker along with any meat quickly before you go to work. Easy!
We need to start using our slow cooker more. Need to break that baby out! 🙂
Great tips Miranda! I agree we often say we do not have time to do something, especially cook the meal, but if we organize our activities well, we have more than enough time to do them.
I remember the shock I felt when I began keeping a time diary. We all waste more time than we think.
Picking up dinner takes time, too! Doing once-a-week or once-a-month cooking is generally faster than eating out. 🙂
I’m a big fan of writing out a menu. I only have to cook for myself, which means I can stretch leftovers to two or three meals total. I figure out how many servings my dinners will prepare and plan accordingly, either taking leftovers to work for lunch or having the same dinner back-to-back nights, which I don’t mind.
-Christian L. @ Smart Military Money
We use leftovers, too. Since our family is relatively small, we usually get a couple of dinners out of one cooking session. And, like you mention, it’s often possible to at least get lunch the next day.
Slow cookers are phenomenal! The flexibility is crucial for those running on a tight schedule who still want to cook for themselves. Great post, Miranda.
One advantage of single income family is you get to taste home cooked meal all the time. I am proud my wife is a great cook!
There have been times when I have utterly adored my slow cooker. These days I don’t need it as much because my kids are enough older that I can take the time to cook most days, and I work from home, so the rush to get things done is easier to manage much of the time. But there are definitely days when the slow cooker is a must so that I can get a home cooked meal on the table despite the chaos.
These are awesome tips,and I go through phases. I always find that planning meals ahead and incorporating the slow cooker makes my life so much easier. It is especially hard with 2 little ones. It’s worth it!
I tend to keep kosher and my city does not have many kosher restaurants. That’s why i make time to cook every night at my apartment.