August 14th, 2013
We all know that one of the best ways to save money is by eating at home and bringing in your own lunch.
But how can you do it when you’re exhausted, and you forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer? And even if you didn’t go to culinary school, you can still make a really good meal by learning some basics and have some simple, inexpensive equipment.
Be prepared to amaze yourself and your family.
Simply put, meal planning is sitting down during the weekend and figuring out what you’re going to eat during the week. You don’t have to be rigid. If you planned on making lasagna on Monday and chicken on Tuesday, and just felt like chicken on Monday, swap them out.
The key to meal planning is to make sure you use up what you have by the end of the week.
Take into account if you will be eating leftovers at lunch. Also, look carefully at the recipe’s yield. You may have four people in your family, and the recipe produces six portions. If three of the people look like professional football linebackers, then you may not have anything leftover. If on the other hand, everyone eats like a bird, you may want to look into freezing half of the amount for two to three weeks down the road.
Keep a list of what you have in your freezer. And make sure you take it out in enough time to thaw. If it hasn’t thawed, you can place the item under running water in your sink, or figure out how to make do with what you have.
Pressure cookers are your friends. Especially the new electric ones. They can take the frozen chicken and turn it into dinner in less than an hour. You can find a lot of resources on the internet and cookbooks in the library.
Slow cookers can also be extremely useful in having a meal ready when you get home. You can look for one with a removable insert, and prepare the dish the night beforehand. If you’re cutting up celery and onion for that night’s meal, cut up an extra one and toss it in the insert. Then the next morning, set up the slow cooker. Like pressure cookers, you can find a lot of recipes online or cookbooks in your local library.
One really good knife will make prep work seem easy. If you’re always fighting when cutting up vegetables, you tend to avoid it. Another idea is to buy the pre-cut vegetables to make cooking faster and easier. They’re not as inexpensive as buying the vegetable whole, but if it keeps you home and cooking, it will save you money in the long run.
Always keep some eggs in the house. There’s nothing wrong with having breakfast for dinner, or even having a fried egg sandwich.
Look at all the leftovers you have and think about putting together a quick casserole, hash, or scramble with them.
Put together a large salad and use hard boiled eggs or tuna or other leftover protein as a part of the salad. Always have a bag of cleaned lettuce on hand.
If you have nothing, zip to the store and get a bag of lettuce and a rotisserie chicken. Most supermarkets have them for less than what it would cost you to buy and roast the chicken. You can shred the chicken and put it into tacos or enchiladas. You can add it on top of a salad. There are websites and books devoted to what to do with rotisserie chickens.
Don’t expect perfection right off the bat. Plan in a meal out on occasion to enjoy the time off. Find different recipes in your cookbooks that you’ve always wanted to try and plan a day to make it.
And don’t hesitate to ask other family members to help out. It’s good for kids to learn their way around a kitchen too.