"Cook at home, cook at home!" We constantly hear that one of the key methods of saving money is to whittle down expenditures in the food/restaurants/groceries department. However, that's easier said then done for many people... in fact, the non-cooker or recent college graduate might certainly comprehend that she would save money by eating in more often, but if she's standing in front of a refrigerator that contains only yogurt, beer, french onion dip, a carton of milk, and eggs that under happier circumstances would likely be hens by now, the situation is indeed dire -- with a high likelihood of producing a few cries of "woe is me!" and then a quick run to Wendy's instead of any actual options for a home-cooked meal. Even under a slightly better-case scenario, where the refrigerator might contain an actual onion instead of the onion dip, and a few oranges or a bag of slightly wilted spinach too, the frustration would probably be largely the same. A person can only eat so many spinach-and-onion omelets before breaking down and going out for a three-course meal...
In any case, grocery bills can add-up horrendously, especially during that space of time when a person takes his or her own nutritional welfare firmly in hand for the very first time and decides to make a go of "that cooking thing." In fact, this one pretty much comes down to being one of those ironic situations where you must spend money in order to save money. So! To begin. Students of frugal living, please ready your pencils.
No matter where you are in your kitchen-skills evolution, the first thing you will need to do is to make yourself a meal-guide overview for the upcoming week or two. Start slow in easing away from the more expensive/unhealthy habits you might have, making choices according to your priorities. For example, if every day you're unhappily handing over money at a food court for lunch, resolve to bring it from home the next Monday and Tuesday (starting out strong early in the week, before you can lose your enthusiasm...) and decide what will be easiest to prepare and transport without boring yourself to death with a PBandJ. Or, if you went to great lengths to avoid admitting to your coworkers at the Christmas party that your idea of cooking is EasyMac, then maybe you will choose to focus on finding some healthier options in the frozen meals / pre -prepared food category, while tentatively experimenting with cooking a few simple meals a week. A word of encouragement: "Recipe" is just another word for "directions" -- I promise! You obviously can read, as evidenced by your presence on this blog, so the most difficult part is already mastered... ;)
Or perhaps you are slightly further along in your kitchen development.. If you already do a bit of cooking and sometimes remember bring your lunch from home, but generally find your kitchen shelves naked and depressing, and yourself aimless and uninspired when dealing with them, then the next step is to go online and click around some recipe sites. Your goal is to make a Master List of Ingredients for four or five recipes in particular... Preferably ones that overlap, at least when it comes to the perishable ingredients that might otherwise spoil forgotten in the back of your refrigerator. Begin by purchasing the ingredients for just one of the recipes, and then proceed with strategic grocery shopping to gradually build up a pantry of things that will actually be helpful to have on hand.
Once you have figured out your priorities for the week and have done any necessary recipe-research, create the meal-plan that will support your efforts. Don't view it as a strict guide, or as a taskmaster, but simply a tool to keep you aware of what food is readily available to you... hopefully helping to avoid both waste and the desperation-fueled purchase of Double-Stack Cheeseburgers at nine o'clock at night. When possible, shop sales to supplement your growing master list of ingredients, and frequently recycle these ingredients into new recipes as well. Keep the recipes that you have tried and liked in a centralized location... and if you are really inspired, develop a repertoire of four or five quick recipes that you could pretty much make in your sleep.
This approach to kitchen-life obviously requires you to sit down and do a few minutes work, and then muster the self-discipline to follow through with the plan you develop, but the nutritional and financial paybacks are well worth it. Keep it up for long enough, and it will become second nature… and French-onion-orange-yogurt omelets will thankfully become a thing of the long-forgotten past.
For anyone who might think this post looks vaguely familiar... I wrote it originally a couple of months ago, but it kept begging me to give it a bit more polish and some air, so here it is again. ;P And hopefully the fact that my writing nags me doesn't make me any more certifiable then usual...
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