People eat at restaurants for many reasons. Sometimes, folks dine out for social reasons. At other times, they head to a restaurant for entertainment. Quite often, however, people eat out for the sheer convenience of doing so, as the thought of at-home meal preparation can seem time-consuming and difficult.
At the same time, however, eating out is incredibly expensive. According to Zagat’s 2018 Dining Trends Survey, Americans eat out 4.9 times per week, on average. That means they eat 16.1 of their 21 weekly meals at home. The American household spends $4,363 on food eaten at home, on average, and $3,365 on food eaten out per year, according to 2017 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Thus, you can extrapolate that the average family meal eaten at home costs about $5 while a family meal eaten out costs about $13.
Obviously, cutting back on dining out would do you a lot of financial good. One effective way to convince yourself to eat at home more often is to simply remove as many of the barriers as possible. Here are five strategies you can use to make dinner at home after a busy day a whole lot easier.
Plan your meals in advance. Simply sit down on your day off, plot out what you’re going to have for each meal this week, prepare a grocery list from that meal plan, then go to the store to buy those needed ingredients.
Doing this all at once reduces the thought you have to put into preparing meals throughout the week, as you already have a meal planned and the ingredients on hand for it. Knowing that everything’s ready at home for you — both the recipe and all of the ingredients — makes it a lot easier to just go home and prepare it.
Have a meal-prep day. Once every few weeks, spend an afternoon preparing meals in advance for your family. Simply prepare meals to the point that they merely have to be heated to finish, then freeze them. Fill up your freezer with these home-cooked convenient meals, then move them to the fridge a day or two before using them.
Doing this meal prep reduces any meal to merely tossing it in the oven or microwave for a while until it’s good to go. Many meals work extremely well in this fashion, particularly casseroles, soups and stews.
Put an evening meal in the slow cooker in the morning. When you’re getting ready for work in the morning, spend a few minutes putting a simple “dump” meal in the slow cooker and turn it on low. When you get home, your meal will be almost ready to eat. You might need to add a last-minute ingredient or two, but that’s it. No meal prep work is required after a busy day.
There are slow cooker versions of many meals that you’ll love. Meals that turn out particularly well in the slow cooker include soups, roasts, casseroles and stews.
Always have plenty of ingredients on hand for a simple meal or two that you like. What are your favorite meals that are really easy to prepare? Perhaps you enjoy a simple pot of spaghetti, or maybe you really enjoy soup and salad or a grilled burger.
Whatever simple meal you enjoy, ensure that you always have the ingredients on hand to prepare it and rely on that meal when things don’t go quite as planned. Crazy day? Come home, boil some water, toss some spaghetti in it, drain it, put some of your favorite sauce on it, and enjoy.
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Do as much of the meal prep as you can the night or morning before. If you’re making something a little more complex or want to add a flourish to a simple meal, do some of the meal prep the night before or the morning before you leave for work. Do the vegetable chopping and store it in the fridge. Cook some of the meat and put it in the fridge. Assemble a full casserole, so it just has to be baked.
That way, when you come home, the meal is pretty much ready to go. Plus, knowing that you have those ingredients on hand can encourage you to simply go home to eat instead of eating out.
Practice in the kitchen, so the tasks don’t feel intimidating. As you do these things and prepare simple meals, the tasks that seemed intimidating and hard in the past get easier. You’ll master cooking ingredients in a skillet without making a mess. You’ll have dishes down to an exact science. It just won’t feel intimidating any more.
Once you’ve reached that point, the “convenience” you associate of eating out will fade, and that will save you a lot of money.
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