You’re going to hear me talk a lot about eating at home. It’s true. I cook 7 nights a week. I pack lunches for my husband 5 days a week. I send 5 lunches to school with Celia. And Cora and I make lunch as part of our homeschool. I even make my own baby food. Why, you ask? Am I a crazy over-achiever? Eh. Perhaps. More realistically, I started cooking at home as part of improving our family budget, and I found that I actually love it. Cooking is a de-stressor for me. And honestly, it is so stressful to take 4 kids under 10 to a restaurant, that I’d rather be eating in my kitchen anyway.
So what made me get on the crazy-train of non-stop cooking? Funny story. And not funny haha. After getting a big promotion and moving to Nashville (and by big promotion I mean, my salary almost doubled), my hubby and I sat down to review our expenses and look at our overall budget. I was shocked at how little discretionary income we had. Seriously, I had just gotten an ENORMOUS raise, and had almost nothing leftover to show for it. So, being the Type A people that we are, we analyzed where all our money went (well, he analyzed. I cried and drank wine and couldn’t believe we didn’t have more money), and found that more than 80% of our discretionary income was being spent on ready-to-eat food. Some of that was fast food, some of it was lunches at work, some of it was date night, and some of it was just picking up dinner on the way home from work every day. I was shocked. In my time as a single mom, I learned to live very well within my small means, and I was so disappointed that I couldn’t live within significantly better ones. So call it an aha moment. I resolved to be different.
What I found in that resolve was that I am not a typical cook. I’ve always loved to cook, but I’m not a huge fan of recipes. I do much better with my trusty spice wheel (knowing what seasonings work well together with specific foods) and a little inspiration from various cooking blogs and magazines. If it has too many steps or too many ingredients, I’m not going to do it. By the time I got home from work, I needed meals that were easy and fast to put together, were clean and healthy for my family, and didn’t require me to make 90 sides. It took some time. I tried a zillion different things. I cried at my failures. I made some really crappy stuff. But then, miraculously, I got the hang of it. And then I enjoyed it. I was actually proud of myself and the sense of accomplishment that came with putting dinner on the table. And it wasn’t as hard as I thought it was.
Do I think you can do it? I absolutely do. So in case you’re wondering, here are my tips for getting started:
- Get yourself a white board and write a menu. White boards are a Godsend in this house. If it’s out and in front of me, I can’t hide from it or pretend it doesn’t exist. And when it comes to making dinner, I can’t handle the stress of making it up as I go. I have to know the plan.
- Write your grocery list from the menu. Trust me friends. Shopping for staples or getting ideas for what you’ll cook this week while you’re at the store is a recipe for failure. I always overspent my budget, wound up buying takeout, and got stuck with a fridge full of rotten stuff that I never actually worked into recipes.
- Know what you like. Yep- we’re clean eaters. But biting off more that you can chew can be disastrous. So if the best thing in the beginning is to buy a rotisserie chicken and work it into a pasta or a salad, go for it. That’s way better than buying $400 worth of produce that sits and rots while you spend that much eating out.
- Keep staples on-hand. Aside from important ingredients, like olive oil, flour, eggs, and wine, you should also have some healthy shortcuts available for those times when cooking isn’t going to happen. My go-to’s are tomato soup and grilled cheese, homemade pizza (I just make a bunch of crusts in advance and freeze them), and the necessities for making burritos. Seriously- know what you and your peeps will eat and let the faves be your backup plan.
- Prep ahead. Nothing is worse than coming home from a long day’s work (or being home all day with the kids for that matter) and having to spend >30 minutes prepping for dinner. We stick to a solid routine- grocery shopping on Friday after school, Farmer’s Market and washing veggies on Saturday after baseball, and chopping/bagging/freezing on Sunday after church. Then during the week I’m literally taking foods out of the freezer for lunch boxes, using chopped onions and peppers etc in dinners, and pulling homemade baby food out for the wee man with little to no effort. Those few hours on the weekend make all the difference in how my week goes. If I spend more than 35 minutes total on dinner the night of cooking (and that includes both prep and cook time), I’ve spent too long.
- Last but not least…baby steps. If you aren’t a fan of cooking now, aiming to eat at home 7 days a week is probably a bit overreaching. I cried into my supper too many times to count because I didn’t build my way into a routine that I could love- it wasn’t pretty. Feeding your family should never make you feel like a failure. If you truly want to cook at home and reduce processed foods or eating out, set small, reasonable goals.
Sound doable? It is TOTALLY doable. If I can do it, anyone can. It has been truly transforming to know what I’m feeding my children and my husband. On top of that, we’ve made amazing memories cooking together and talking around the dinner table, and even used this time to instill some serious cleanup routines in the kiddos. Whether it’s clean-eating, veganism, or just eating together that motivates you, you can make it happen. Baby steps 🙂