Let’s face it. Eating out is expensive. But who wants to cook dinner every night after a long day at work? And yes, it’s true that cooking and eating at home takes work. However, it will save you so much money that you can use for other important things, like building an emergency fund or saving for a down payment on a house.
There are many ways to make cooking at home easier and more enjoyable so you can continue to eat at home. Keep reading for tips to help you feed your family at home instead of eating out.
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Eating Out is Expensive: 12 Tips to Kick the Habit
1. Make a Meal Plan
If you want to stop eating out to save money and eat healthier, meal planning is a must. I personally like to create a meal plan for four weeks at a time.
And I only meal plan for the evening meal. This allows us to complete our grocery shopping every two weeks, which works great for our family because I don’t enjoy grocery shopping.
Please don’t think you have to try to meal plan for four weeks at a time. That is just what I like to do.
However, if you are interested in learning how I do our meal planning, check out my post on how to make a monthly meal plan.
Meal planning definitely gets easier the more you do it. The first few weeks will be the hardest, especially if you are trying to mix things up and not duplicate a meal.
If meal planning is brand new to you, start small. Strive to create a meal plan for one week at a time and progress from there.
If you are still struggling to create a rotation of meals your family enjoys, try using theme nights to help with meal planning.
Head over to my post on dinner theme night ideas if you would like some help!
- Meal Planning on a Budget: The Ultimate Money-Saving Guide
- How to Create a Meal Planning Binder (Free Meal Planner Printables)
- Easy Meal Planning with Dinner Theme Nights
- Monthly Meal Planning for Beginners
If you need more help with meal planning, I have a free printable Meal Planning Guide you could use to get started. It includes everything you need to start meal planning so you can stop eating out to save money.
My free meal planning guide includes
- Tips for success
- Dinner theme night ideas
- Monthly meal plan template
- Sample monthly meal plan
- Weekly meal planner with grocery list section
- Favorite meals list
- Inventory list for pantry, fridge, freezer
2. Use an Inexpensive Meal Planning Service
If you absolutely hate meal planning or you have tried it, and you can’t seem to figure out a system that works for you, you should take a look at $5 Meal Plan.
$5 Meal Plan is a meal plan service that sends you weekly meal plans right to your inbox and the grocery list for the meal plan already done for you!
All you have to do is check off the things you already have and head to the grocery store to get the rest.
Most of the meals work out to be around $2 per person. And it’s only $5 a month!
That is only $1.25 per week to have your meal plan done for you. It’s definitely a win if you have difficulty keeping up with your meal planning.
So if you would like to check it out, they have a free 14-day trial you can sign up for here.
Then you can see how much money and time it can save you so you can stop eating out to save money!
3. Use Up all leftovers
Since eating out is expensive, but cooking at home all the time seems daunting, having leftovers are crucial. They make cooking at home so easy. I love leftover nights!
Not only is that one less meal you must come up with in your meal plan, but it also saves a lot of money.
Try eating leftovers on nights when you are too busy to cook a meal, for example, when you have an appointment, or your kids have after-school activities.
When you are making your meal plan, try to plan one meal that yields enough to feed your family a second night.
Or if you have smaller amounts of leftovers on several nights, you could have a “clean out the fridge leftover night” where everyone can choose which leftovers they want to eat.
Here are some meal ideas that I use that yield enough to feed my family of four a second night, whether by itself or combined with something else.
- Baked Ziti
- Instant Pot Chicken Tacos
- Instant Pot Ham and Bean Soup
- Mexican Quinoa
- Ham and Potato Casserole
If there is not enough of one type of leftovers for a second meal, try incorporating your leftovers into another recipe.
For example, when we have chili, there is usually quite a bit leftover, but not enough to have a full second meal of chili. So I will use that chili in a casserole-style recipe. My favorite is chili tater-tot casserole.
If you would like more ideas on using up your leftovers, check out this post.
4. Make a Complete Grocery List
There is nothing worse than starting dinner only to realize you forgot an important ingredient at the store. How frustrating!
If you want to stop eating out to save money and eat healthier, trying not to forget any ingredients at the grocery store is important.
After you make your meal plan, try to ensure you put everything you need for your meals on your grocery list.
We figured out how to prevent this from happening (most of the time!). We created a master grocery list that we make copies of and then hang it on the fridge.
On that list, you want all your regular items for breakfast and lunches each week, plus ingredients you use frequently for dinners.
As you use the last of something or notice a product getting low, circle it on your list. Circle all the items you need for your week’s breakfast, lunch, and snacks.
Then, go through your meal plan and circle everything you need for all your evening meals. If there is something unusual you will need that’s not on your list, write it in.
Then you are all set to go to the grocery store or create your grocery order for pick up (that’s what we do).
Oh, and don’t forget to check Ibotta for money-saving offers! It is 100% free to download and use, and there are no subscription fees.
Plus, you can earn extra cash with special bonuses and offers in their app! You can sign up for free here.
By signing up through my link, you can earn up to $20 in welcome bonuses!
5. Stock Your Freezer, Fridge, and Pantry with the Basics
I like to keep our pantry stocked with the basics, so I don’t have to buy those things every time I buy groceries. Some items we keep in the pantry are spices, bread crumbs, oils, pasta, rice, quinoa, and canned foods (diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, black beans).
I like to always have minced garlic and eggs in the fridge. In the freezer, I usually keep several different kinds of frozen vegetables to substitute them in recipes if needed.
You can throw together a backup meal if needed by keeping your pantry and freezer stocked with the basics. Back-up meals are great if you forget one of the main ingredients for a planned meal.
Having some readily available backup meals will help you stop eating out to save money.
6. Cook Meals Ahead of Time for Busy Nights
Let’s face it. Sometimes, there is just no time to cook.
So sometimes we will make our entire meal ahead of time if we know a night is going to be crazy busy. Then all we have to do is heat it up in the microwave.
Planning ahead will help you stop eating out to save money and eat healthier. Consider cooking your meal the night before or even the weekend before you have an upcoming busy night.
If you make your meal the weekend before, throw it in the freezer (see below) and pull it out to thaw in the fridge a night or two before you need it.
Cooking meals ahead of time is also helpful if you know you are going to be working later than normal and will be exhausted by the time you get home. This will help avoid the fast-food drive-thru or a phone call to the pizza joint.
7. Make Freezer Meals
Freezer meals are meals you make in advance to put in the freezer. You can double or triple a recipe and divide them into appropriate portions for your family.
Just put them in the freezer until the night before you eat them. Pull out a meal and let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Then you have a meal you can heat up for those crazy busy nights.
8. Do Food Prep Ahead of Time
If possible, prepare some food ahead of time to help you stop eating out to save money. Prepping food ahead of time will save a ton of time, and cooking will be much easier.
The main thing we prep ahead is our vegetables. We chop romaine lettuce, green pepper, and celery ahead of time for salads and keep them in some of those green containers that help your produce last longer.
Then it just needs to be thrown into some bowls for salads when it is time for dinner.
Some vegetables can also be chopped up and frozen for easy use in recipes. Onion is one vegetable we do this with since we use it so frequently. Or you could also buy frozen pre-chopped vegetables to save even more time.
Precooking certain grains like rice or quinoa ahead of time is a huge time saver since they take a while to cook. The same goes for dry beans if you like to use them in your recipes.
9. Use Your Slow Cooker
Slow cookers are a great way to save time and make cooking easier. Just throw everything in the slow cooker in the morning, and your meal is ready by the time you get home.
We have gotten some awesome recipes from this slow cooker cookbook. They are super easy and delicious!
Tip: Use slow cooker liners for easier cleanup!
10. Use Your Instant Pot
If you have some time in the morning before you go to work, cooking your meal in your Instant Pot in the morning on a day that you know you are going to be busy after work is super helpful.
If you don’t have an Instant Pot, I highly recommend them! You can make delicious meals in it, and many recipes involve just throwing everything in the pot and setting it to cook.
It can’t get much easier than that!
If you use your slow cooker and Instant Pot frequently, or you are just thinking about getting an Instant Pot but usually use your slow cooker, you have to check out this cookbook. We have it and love it.
11. Listen to Music or the News While You Cook
Do you get bored while cooking? Keeping yourself entertained by listening to music, your favorite podcast, or the news can help to pass the time. It definitely makes cooking and cleaning up after dinner more enjoyable and tolerable. You can use your cooking time as self-care time. Just pop in your earbuds and get in the zone.
12. Get Everything Out and Ready Before Starting: Mise en place (French phrase, pronounced meez ahn plas)
I didn’t know the act of getting everything out and ready to go before starting to cook your meal had a name. Did you?
It is a huge time saver and helps cooking go much more smoothly. So you want to chop and measure all your vegetables, grease your pans, and get all the ingredients and spices that you will need.
You also want to have all the utensils, measuring cups, and measuring spoons you need ready before you start cooking your meal.
Eating Out is Expensive: Final Thoughts on Eating at Home
Cooking most of your meals at home can seem overwhelming at first. It’s so much easier and more convenient to pick up the phone and call your favorite restaurant for take-out.
However, if you are trying to live more frugally so you can spend less money, eating at home more often to stay within your food budget is a must.
If you use some of the tips I shared, you will develop a routine to stop eating out to save money, eat healthier, and reach your financial goals.
Do you have other tips to help others stop eating out to save money? I would love to hear them! Please let me know in the comments.
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