Want to improve your family’s diet? Learn how to eat at home more often to save money, control ingredients, and enjoy the meal together.
Over the last few years we’ve transitioned to eating more meals at home. During busy cookbook-writing seasons, we’d ironically have fast food 2-3 times per week. It was a sign of the crazy-busy life of years past.
Recently, I’ve worked toward getting myself more organized so we have more meals at home, more meals packed for school and work, and more things made homemade. As a result, I feel healthier; we’ve spent less money; and meal times have been rather peaceful.
Plus, my kids have eaten more carrots than French fries, so I consider that a major win.
I believe that eating at home is key to improving your family’s diet. Despite the claims of the science teacher losing weight at McDonalds, I just don’t believe that a regular diet of restaurant fare is going to make you healthy. I think it’s in our best interests (for health as well as our wallets) to avoid eating out. Love it, though I do.
Eating at home, together at the table in a relaxed atmosphere with the people that you love? I think THAT will move you in the right direction. Obviously the benefits of that scenario reach far beyond just physical health.
The hurdle, of course, is getting there. I’m sure there are plenty of us who would like to eat our family meals at the table of our own kitchens, but there are plenty of things that get in our way. Whether it’s being in a rush after school or practice, lack of organization, or fumbling kitchen skills, there’s no shortage of things to get between us and a home cooked meal.
Spinach Salad with Chicken and Strawberries
I polled the Life as Mom friends on Facebook about what makes it easier for them to cook at home. They had some great, insightful, on-target responses.
Answers included the following:
- a clean kitchen
- a meal plan
- a well-stocked, organized pantry
- freedom to cook ALONE
- enough time
- enough energy/motivation
- mise en place
- a slow cooker
- a list of go-to/backup meals
- a dishwasher
- simple recipes
- make-ahead meals
- starting early
I find this to be a fabulous, accurate list, especially the clean kitchen part. I noticed that it makes a huge impact on my motivation to cook and makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable.
How to Eat at Home More Often
If eating at home more often is the goal, then working toward some of the things on this list will help you reach that goal. Here are a few ways to check some of those off the list.
A Clean Kitchen
Each of my kids has a cleaning job in the kitchen. This has been going on for awhile now, since the oldest was about 5 and we assigned him to be “the busboy”, complete with a dishpan to carry dishes. It’s only in the last year or so that folks are really getting up to speed on the chores. And even then, it’s on par with Mom Standards when I am present and nag a little.
For those of you with little ones, yes, they might be more of a hindrance than a help, but it’s important that you take time to teach them. No mom is an island. If it’s not up to par, wipe down the counters after your kids go to bed. They need to learn. You need them to learn.
If you just aren’t in the season to have helpers, hang in there! I’ve been there, too. Often I would stay up late cleaning the kitchen. It was hard to be motivated, but the rewards in the morning were always worth it. Coffee tastes better when you’re not staring at a sink of dishes.
When possible, clean as you go and make sure the kitchen is clean when you go to bed. We do kitchen jobs three times a day. I try to “close the kitchen” between meals so that when I go to prep the next one, I’m not dealing with another mess. This only happens about half the time, but still. It’s a good goal, right?
A Meal Plan
Having a meal plan is half the battle to eating a great meal at home. Over the years I’ve varied my meal planning strategies to keep things interesting, but one thing that is steadfast is that it helps us eat well on a budget.
The meal plan has served us well. It gives me a road map to my kitchen duties for each day: what to thaw, what to bake, what to shred/chop/dice. It also helps me delegate to other people. When FishPapa and I head out on a date night, I can rest easy, knowing that my kids are able to pull off a home-cooked meal on their own. That’s a double-win.
Whether I do my meal prep work in the morning or stock the freezer with freezer meals, it’s so great to know that I have everything lined out for all the meals of the day. What a time saver!
If you’re not sure how to plan a meal, check out the Meal Planning 101 series on Good Cheap Eats. Or, you can grab one of 40+ FREE weekly meal plans that are available here on the site. Desire a little deluxe help? Check out this month’s current meal plan in my estore.
A Well-stocked, Organized Pantry
Every January for almost a decade, I have done a Pantry Challenge. Each time, I focus on using up what we have and rotating stock. Over time, this has helped me learn what to buy (the things we like) and what to avoid (the things that languish in the cupboard until I figure out what to do with them or throw up my hands in frustration and toss the thing.)
I learned early on that the building a frugal pantry was key to our success in eating well at home. I don’t buy whatever I want when I want it. THAT’s how I spent more money each month to feed me and FishPapa as newlyweds than I do now to feed EIGHT of us. Sheesh. Don’t do what that girl did.
Instead, build your stockpile slowly by picking up a few extras of things you know you will use when you see them at a rock-bottom price. For instance, when ground turkey goes on sale for $2.77 which is does pretty regularly around here, I buy six packages instead of two. We eat two that week, the other four go in the freezer. The next week, I might buy pork shoulder at a similar price. Slowly, I build up our reserves so that we have what we want when we want it — at a price we can afford.
A List of Go-To/Back-Up Meals
A couple years ago, I sat down and brainstormed a list of the meals that I can pull together in a short time with ingredients that we normally have on hand. I called this 12 Meals to Make when There’s Nothing to Eat because, really? I often think that we have “nothing” even when I’m staring at a full fridge.
This list (and the grocery list I created with it) has been invaluable to me as it serves as a back-up when I just can’t think straight, and my regular dinner plan has gone south. One week I think I made everything on the list. That week was clearly not obeying me.
As you know, I love make-ahead meals, particularly those that are freezer-friendly. It’s so freeing to be able to do my homecooking when I have the time so that we can enjoy the meals later when time is scarce.
Whether you make the lasagna in the morning or the month before hand, it’s so nice to be able to pop that sucker in the oven and not worry about a mess to clean up. Plus, it’s far tastier and better for you than a Stouffer’s frozen lasagna.
Freezer cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as easy as prepping some meats as soon as you get home from the store. I took an hour one day and prepped meatballs, taco meat, marinated chicken, and poached chicken. In an hour! If I can do it, so can you. (Get the Protein Power in an Hour cooking plan.)
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You can do this!
The other night even though I had chicken thawed and ready to go, I found myself contemplating a run for take-out. It had been a long week, and I was late getting dinner ready. I pushed myself and just went ahead and made dinner.
Was it the best meal we ever ate? No. Did it fill our bellies? Yes. Did we eat at home and avoid high prices and dubious ingredients? You betcha!
You might have to push yourself. You might need to ask for help. Even though my family thinks they would like take-out every night of the week, if pressed, they would admit it just doesn’t feel good afterward. It’s better to eat at home, for your health and for your wallet.
This post was originally posted on January 12, 2014; updated August 8, 2016.