Monday, February 2, 2009

How Do We Avoid Eating Out?

We have heard a lot about ways to save money lately. It seems like even the news stations, like CNN and MSNBC, and newsmagazines like Time are doing stories about how to save money. Things like brewing your own coffee, brown bagging your lunch and cooking dinners at home get mentioned all the time. So we all know that one of the best ways to save money on your food budget is to eat out less.

But we are so busy!! My family is typical - Monday is play practice, Tuesday is play practice, Wednesday is piano, dance lessons, church youth group and play practice, Thursday is girl scouts and play practice, Friday is play practice (oh man, will I be glad when this play is over - except for it ends just when track season starts!). How do we find time to cook a full dinner?

The sad truth about my family is that we almost never go out to eat. My kids think they are deprived but with a family of 6, eating out, even at Taco Bell, is expensive! During my month of nothing I was limiting myself to $50 a week for groceries (and eating pretty well I might add), we splurged and went out to dinner with some friends to Red Robin. Even with sharing entrees our bill was $38.00! Well over half what I was spending for a week's worth of groceries!

But with a busy schedule, I've had to come up with ways to make dinner time easy - and have to have a few tricks up my sleeve for those really crazy nights! Here's what works for us:

Menu Planning

I cannot tell you how planning my meals helps me not go out to eat. On Sundays I sit down and plan meals for the week. I make my shopping list from this list of meals. When I go shopping on Monday, I get all the things I will need for the list of meals. For the rest of the week, I have all the ingredients for those meals. At least I can make those meals!

I try to look at my list of meals in the evening, I like to get an idea of what we will have the next day. That way, if I need to defrost something, or put something in the crockpot in the morning, I'm prepared. Thinking about dinner before 4 pm is essential!

Mega Cooking

I did a couple of posts about mega-cooking last week, but I wanted to mention it again because it is one of the best ways to keep us from going out to eat. Knowing that there are meals ready to be thawed and heated, keeps me sane!

I have several meals that only require 15 minutes in the microwave and they are ready to eat. These are my life savers. Several more need a few minutes of fussing then 45 minutes in the oven - leaving me time to fix a quick salad, slice some fruit and put my feet up for 15 minutes.

"Fast Food Meals"

We have a couple of super quick meals that I almost always have the ingredients for and take 20 minutes or less. One-Eyed Egyptians are one of these. Burrito Bowls are another.

Burrito Bowls

Cook enough rice for your family (brown rice is best but white rice cooks in 20 minutes). When the rice is done and still hot, toss it with butter, lime juice, and salt. I use the lime juice in the little plastic limes, I just keep one in my refrigerator.

Meanwhile, open a can of black beans. Pour them into a bowl and add some cumin and some garlic powder. Stir and microwave until the beans are hot. Set aside.

Grate some cheese. Chop tomatoes if you have them. Get out the sour cream and the salsa.

Line up all the ingredients on the table (we do it on the counter and do it buffet style). Give everyone a plate and let them pile them on. We do it in this order: rice, beans, cheese, salsa (tomatoes), sour cream.

My family loves this meal! You could dress it up with cooked chicken or beef, or taco meat, but we really like it just like this. You do all the beans and cheese in the time the rice cooks and the whole meal is ready to eat in 20 minutes.

You should try to have at least one meal that you always have the ingredients and everyone will eat, that only takes 20 minutes. Some ideas: pancakes, waffles, microwaved baked potatoes with canned chili and grated cheese, toasted cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, spaghetti (sauce from a can). I'm sure there are others. What do you use for your super quick meals?


Having a meal in the crockpot when I get home means that I won't have to go out to eat. We have a couple of really great meals that we like, but I really need to expand my crockpot list of meals - have any good ones? I need to go to Crockpot 365 and check it out.

Putting a meal in the crockpot does take some planning ahead but it saves you so much time in the end that it is worth it. You can even put it all together in the crock the night before and put it in the fridge over night. That way all you have to do in the morning is plug it in and plop the crock on. Ta-da! Dinner is done!

Sometimes it is a hassle to make dinner instead of going out. Sometimes I think that I "deserve" to go out to eat. But when I get to the end of the month and there is still money left and I'm not stressed out about finances? That sense of peace is what I really deserve!



momstheword said...

I have three evenings a week where I am out in the late afternoon and don't get home till about 5:45 p.m.

On those days I try to either use the crockpot or plan ahead by cooking a bigger meal and serving leftovers. Sometimes I will pop a casserole in the fridge before I go and have someone stick it in the oven later.

You are right about the menu planning. I am finding that we are saving money by doing that. That way I am not so tempted to pick up a pizza on the way home or stock up on convenience foods.

Alison said...

My super-quick meals are:

1. 'breakfast for dinner' - fried eggs and toast with cut-up oranges. I'll add homemade hashbrowns if I'm not super tired.

2. bean & cheese burritos or quesadillas (similar to your burrito bowls, we'll have to try that one). Open a can of refried beans, heat in a pot. Grate some cheese. Heat a tortilla in a non-stick frying pan w/cheese on one side. Add beans. Add whatever toppings -depends on how tired we are & what's fresh- sometimes only salsa, sometimes, rice, cold veggies, veggies or chicken sauteed in chili powder, cumin, garlic, etc.

3. Spaghetti (sauce from a can) w/sauteed veggies and sweet Italian sausages.

4. Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. (crock pot soup if I've been dilligent with my meal planning, from a can when not).

Nancy said...

Like you, I find that menu planning is my best defense against eating out.

My go to meals are:
1. Eggs - omelets, scrambled, breakfast burritos.

2. Waffles or pancakes.

3. Mexican pizzas - I've done this recipe w/out the meat and it still tastes great.