How to Make Dining In Work for You
By Jeannie Rodriguez | Dr. Budgets
Sometime after we were engaged, Daniel and I were talking about how we pictured our future together, and he told me that eating together at home as often as we could was very important to him. He said that growing up, he didn’t have many meals together with his family and it’s something he wanted for his children. I told him I could make dinner one night a week (maybe!).
Life is busy! I work, I have friends and hobbies… and it felt like planning and preparing dinners at home takes a lot of time.
Cut to today… we eat at home most of the time and I love it! It’s not something that happened overnight – we started with one night a week and gradually added more meals at home until it just became second nature. To me, making dinner at home now feels much easier than taking our toddler out to eat. And I’m all about EASY – so, here are my tips on how to make dining in work for you:
Do What Works. Every family/situation is different, so try to be realistic about what works. If your schedule only allows for one or two dinners at home a week, don’t try to force anything more. If you have a tiny apartment kitchen and shopping once a week isn’t an option, maybe you can plan meals day-by-day. A lot of people love cook-at-home meal services like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. Do what works and don’t stress about it – it’s just dinner 🙂
Meal Plan. There are lots of ways to meal plan, so (along the thread of “do what works”) here are some different methods I’ve tried:
- (Getting Started) One day at a time! When I first started making dinner (one night a week), I’d find a recipe (I like Allrecipes!), I’d print it or screenshot it and swing by the store on the way home, make dinner, and repeat the process whenever I had the time/energy.
- (EASY) Pick two meals and a “back-up” meal (see below), then generate a shopping list. I think that the easiest way to generate your shopping list is to buy or make a checklist, and then just check off everything you need for your meals, taking note of quantities (you don’t want to be short or have too much of something). Also, add what you need for staples (milk, eggs, etc.). Then increase your meals at home as you get more comfortable with this process.
- (MEDIUM) Use an app. As you start to dine in more, you might want to get your recipes and meal planning more organized – and there are lots of apps for that! One example, Plan to Eat, costs $39/year but allows you to link your favorite recipes and it will generate a shopping list for you. There are also free web pages and apps you can try.
- (INVESTED) Create a database. I could go on and on about this (and I’ve been KNOWN TO if somebody ever asks me about my fancy grocery list at Trader Joe’s!). Basically, I have a database where I manually input all my favorite recipes. Each Sunday, I pick 6 dinners, 6 breakfasts and some lunches (we often have leftovers for lunch) and my database generates a shopping list divided by sections in the store. After I go shopping, I write down the six meals on my whiteboard. I’ve also taken the time to print out all my recipes and I have them in a mini 3-ring binder (with little sheet protectors) in the kitchen so I can reference them while I cook. I don’t plan out which meals I make on specific days… I go by how much time we have or how much energy I have each night.
For more tips on how to meal plan, check out YouTube or Pinterest – it’s a hot topic!
Take Short-Cuts. There so many wonderful little helpers that I use to get dinner on the table:
- Frozen chopped onions – I hate chopping onions, but “chopped onions” is an ingredient in 90% of my recipes. I buy frozen chopped onions and measure out what I need… no tears!!
- Other frozen or canned ingredients – frozen sliced peppers, minced garlic (jarred or frozen), canned beans or tomatoes… they all exist to make life easier! Using them might cost a little more, but you’re still probably saving money over dining out.
- Rotisserie Chicken – many stores have cooked rotisserie chickens hot-and-ready. Shred the meat for soups or casseroles and dinner happens much faster!
- Slow cooker – When I use my slow cooker, dinner is basically ready when I get home. Four chicken breasts and a jar of salsa plus 6 hours on low equals some pretty yummy taco meat! Just add tortillas and toppings.
- Make Ahead – we end up eating a simple side salad with dinner a couple times a week, so whenever I make salads for dinner, I make a couple more in containers for later.
Have a Back-Up Plan. Each week, I include a super easy dinner in case I end up working late (and also to give myself a break!). Some favorites include healthy versions of: a frozen pizza and salad, turkey burgers, macaroni and cheese, a quick soup and grilled cheese, or a tortellini soup. And if the work day really goes long… eat out or get meal delivery! NBD.
Keep a List of Favorites. This is such a simple idea, but it revolutionized dining in for me (I also talked about it previously in my post about Saving Money on Groceries). Make a note on your phone of dinners and recipes you like. That’s it! It’s such an easy way to answer the question “what’s for dinner?” and helps to get out of dinner ruts. Whenever you find recipes you like, add them to the note.
What are some things you do to make dining in work for you and your family? Please share in the comments section below! Also, if you know someone who wants to shift some of their spending from dining out to achieving their goals, have them contact us today so we can help them make that happen!