In the nearly twenty years (gasp!) since I graduated from college, I have worked many late hours as a public accountant, been a stay at home mom for 8 years, worked part-time, and now, I work full-time while my husband is at home with the kids. One constant throughout all these years is that a homemade dinner can be a tricky thing to pull off night after night.
Let’s face it, making dinner has a tendency to sneak up on you at the last minute, making eating out tempting. Unfortunately, eating out is not always very healthy and it can rapidly eat away at those precious budget dollars. The following are some strategies that my husband and I have utilized throughout our marriage to get dinner on the table despite whatever chaos has loomed in the background.
CrockPot. You have to love the CrockPot! This is one of my husband’s current favorite strategies and he uses it at least once a week. You can do something as simple as tossing in some meat and seasoning and let it cook all day. My husband likes to make rice in the rice cooker or potatoes on the stove top to go with the meat, but there are a lot of recipes that include potatoes or rice and vegetables all in one slow cooker dish.
Menu planning. Having a plan ahead of time is more than half the battle. Nothing drains my resolve to eat at home faster than it being 4:30 and having no idea what I am going to make for dinner. You can plan your menus around what is on sale at the store or what you have in the house, or you can plan what you want to eat and make your shopping list from the menu plan. Any way you cut it, you will save money over eating out, even if you choose not to cut coupons or shop the sales.
Utilize leftovers. Once you are in the groove of making dinner at home regularly, you can enjoy the various leftovers and put out a leftover buffet one night. Let everyone eat their favorites and enjoy an a night off from full on dinner planning and prep.
Double up. Instead of making one meal at a time, you can double the recipe and freeze one for later. You can do this occasionally, a few days a week or go all out and try once-a-month-cooking, where you can tackle a whole month’s worth of recipes in one power day of cooking. Different approaches work for different people and at different stages in our lives. Use trial and error to figure out what works for you at this stage.
Use it twice. Plan something like a whole ham for dinner one night, and enjoy Ham & Scalloped potatoes two days later, followed by Ham and Potato soup two days after that. Or freeze chopped or sliced ham to use in those other meals later in the month. Spaghetti and meatballs can turn into meatball sub sandwiches later in the week, allowing you to just reheat the meatballs and sauce, put it on a sub and add a salad.
Prep work. Precook your ground beef, drain it and freeze it in one pound servings and dishes like tacos or spaghetti just got a lot easier to pull of in a short amount of time. Cut most of your vegetables on Sunday and use them in your dishes all week long. When you buy chicken in bulk, break it into meal sized portions, add in a marinade and freeze it. While it thaws, the meat will marinate and be ready to grill by dinner time. Rice, noodles and potatoes can be made ahead of time and easily reheat for dinners during the week.
Kid food. While it may not be the most interesting dinner you ever ate, once in a while you can resort to making the kids happy and eating chicken nuggets or pizza. I try to add in some fresh cut fruit and vegetables to round out the meal. If you choose frozen pizza or chicken nuggets or corn dogs, you still will save a significant amount of money over eating out and this will be at least one dinner where the kids won’t whine about the meal. Ahhh, relative peace.
Budding chefs. Let the kids or grandkids help make the meal. Kids actually think cooking is fun and you can enjoy some fun quality time in the kitchen talking about your day together. As a bonus, the kids may be more likely to eat a meal they have helped prepare. Don’t forget to enlist their help in clearing the table as well. Doing dishes builds character.
Give some of these options a try and let us know if you have any success. Most importantly, don’t give up trying to find solutions. Sooner or later, you will find strategies that work for your family and help your budget stay on track!