Home cooked meals are the best in terms of taste and money-savings, but they can also be a lot of work. How can you make it easier to cook at home? Let’s look at some key strategies for the best home cooked meals as well as some fan favorite Good Cheap Eats.
Whether you stir up a pot of our Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup or try your hand at homemade Fried Chicken Sandwiches, cooking at home and making your own favorite comfort food recipes can be a great way to save money, especially in these days of shrinkflation.
I think it’s pretty common knowledge that home cooked meals taste better and are easier on the budget than most take-out or pricey convenience foods. It seems like a no-brainer to cook at home, right?
Maybe. Sorta. Yes?
The thing is that cooking seven days a week can become tiresome.
Even if you have nothing to do all day, to head to the kitchen three times a day to prep food, serve the meal, and clean it all up? Well, it feels like a game of Chopped combined with Groundhog Day.
There has to be a way to make our meals and enjoy it, too! Learn to make Home Cooked Meals easy on you as well as your wallet.
Whether you are just now joining the Cook-at-Home Club or simply need a refresher, this post is for you. These are my go-to strategies for getting home cooked meals on the table without a lot of hassle. I hope they work for you, too.
Plan simple meals.
If you’re not in the habit of cooking on a regular basis, don’t start dreaming big dreams when it comes to menu planning. Simple is best. Simple recipes that take few ingredients and that are quick to make are your very best friend. Be sure to check out our 30-minutes meals.
- Make breakfast for dinner. Self-Rising Flour Biscuits are super easy to make!
- Stir up this quick Creamy Chicken Salsa Verde.
- Make a Pasta Salad Bar.
You don’t need to get all tricked out when it comes to meal prep. Think about the things that you get for take out. A taco? Burrito? Cheeseburger. Simple.
Do some meal prep.
Meal prep doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to require a lot of cute containers; it doesn’t have to require cooking all day.
If you’ve got a few minutes in the morning or even at night before bed, do some meal prep. You can cook breakfast sausage in advance or make a few batches of Overnight Oats with Water.
By chopping, shredding, and dicing in advance or maybe even cooking beans or chicken in the crockpot, you make dinner assembly and service so much easier on yourself.
Use the slow cooker.
Did you know this small kitchen appliance could be your very best friend?! Fill it in the morning and you will come home to dinner already cooked.
There are so many easy slow cooker recipes, you could use it every week without getting bored.
Fill the freezer.
While there’s nothing wrong with stashing a few bags of frozen burritos or boxed frozen pizzas in the freezer for busy nights, you can just as easily make your own and save some money!
Whether you follow a freezer cooking plan or simply load up on your favorite meats, fish, and breads, using the freezer as your longterm food storage can really help you out on busy nights.
Consider making a double batch the next time you make dinner and stash half in the freezer for later. You can very easily freeze marinara sauce, enchiladas, pulled pork, shredded chicken, taco meat, lasagna, soup, cooked beans, muffins, scones, waffles, pancakes, and quick breads.
Get help in the kitchen.
There is no reason you should do all the work. It’s important for other members of the household (partner, children, roommates) to help out. You aren’t a short order cook, are you?
Get help in the kitchen from the other members in the household. You can work together, talk, and enjoy the fruits of your labor more easily and quickly.
Young kids can help wash produce and arrange veggie and fruit trays. As they grow, teach them basic knife skills and you’ll work yourself out of a job.
If you don’t already have a kitchen chore rotation at your house, consider if now might be a good time to implement one. Able humans, from about the age of five are eligible.
Make your meal plans happen.
It’s easy to buy, download, or make a meal plan, but putting it in action is where people fall short. There are a few things that you can do to make your home cooked meals happen.
- Check your meal plan daily. Put reminders on the fridge or program them into your phone so that you don’t forget to thaw or start cooking a necessary ingredient.
- Pull all the nonperishable ingredients out onto the counter in the morning so they are ever before you and a reminder to get cooking in a timely manner.
- Start early on meal prep. It almost always takes longer than you think it will. And if you end up eating dinner early? So much the better! Enjoy a family night with your peeps!
Enjoying home cooked meals doesn’t have to be a feat worthy of an Olympic medal. Make it easy so you can enjoy positive results in your relationships, diet, and budget.
Check out these classic comfort food recipes to make at home. They’re so much better than what you might get at a restaurant or the grocery store frozen section. Cheaper, too!
This post was originally published on August 22, 2015. It has been updated for content and clarity.
A little pantry and freezer planning can go a long way to help.
I occasionally sit down and make a list of dishes we like made with our usual proteins; ground meat, cooked chicken or roast are very versatile. But it is nice to do a little brainstorming of your options for those times when you are tired. the list includes the easy options and the ones we have less often. I really don’t like to always have the same thing, but don’t always have the energy to think of all the options when I am tired and rushed.
I second the recommendations for a stash of cooked meat in the freezer. Whether it is meatballs, plain or seasoned ground meat, diced meat such as chicken, turkey, roast beef, roast pork. Shredded pork or other meat would work also, but I really like diced better than shredded meat.
Cooked meat added to sauce for pasta, rice or added to gravy and served with potatoes all work. I usually keep jars of marinara type sauce and boxes of broth to make gravy and soup. I also always have eggs and cheese available.
Canned chicken and salmon are other things kept in the pantry and very handy.
I suggest finding a couple of ideas and getting comfortable fixing them. When you are tired and rushed, you need something you are familiar with to fix. One of my favorites is pasta salad with canned chicken added. I always have the dressing ingredients available with pickles or relish and a frozen veg that can be added. I don’t think my husband has figured out that I generally only fix it when I am tired or rushed, but I have fixed it often enough that it takes little effort. While the water heats and the pasta cooks I can open the can of chicken, save the broth in the special container in the freezer. microwave the veg and be ready to stir and serve.
It is equally easy to heat the frozen meat in the pasta sauce with the spaghetti or macaroni cook.
Frozen ground meat will thaw quickly to be used for pizza or other dishes as well and a stash of real bacon crumbles in the freezer is useful for adding to scrambled eggs or other dishes so I don’t have to cook it at the time. I usually buy them off the salad bar at my local grocery, It is the best price per pound for me and they are handy when kept in a zip bag in the freezer.
Great strategies, as always, Alice!
A giant batch of frozen meatballs is my lifesaver. I freeze them flat on trays, then put them in a container, so it’s easy to just get out what you need. A quick go in the microwave and you are ready – meatball & gravy roll for lunch, cook some rice or pasta and add a tin of tomatoes & herbs (or add your own) and a hot comforting dinner is ready in no time. Even better if you use the rice cooker, then you don’t have to watch it. I also pop these in the kid’s lunchboxes with BBQ sauce and toothpicks – they are good cold too.
I love having homemade meatballs on hand, too. One of my favorites!
Thank you so much for this post! I am slowly getting there with how to get meals on the table for my family and not break the bank nor lose my sanity. These tips and tricks are so helpful and are a reminder that I Can Do It! It has taken me a long time I’m sad to say to really get this since I don’t love to cook. I always wanted to play with my kids after working and picking them up from daycare rather than cook. You are a wonderful inspiration and I just love reading your blog. Your ‘take aways’ are always helpful and practical and make my life easier on a very regular basis. Thank you for all of your ideas Jessica.
If you don’t really love to cook, then more credit to you for trying. This grandma thinks that is special. I hope you learn to love cooking more as time goes by and it gets easier. May I add that even I who love to cook do not always want to do so on a day to day basis.
I’m sorry I didn’t respond earlier to this post, but have had a hectic couple weeks that included lots of leftovers, help from the freezer and meals that were just sandwiches and baked potatoes from the microwave. I’ve posted my suggestions separately, but wanted to reply to your post also.
You might try some of the cook ahead ideas that are floating around for freezer meals or just make ahead meals to prepare on the weekend and serve during the week. That way you could play with the kids while dinner heats for all of you. If the kids are old enough I encourage you to involve them in the meal preparations, such as setting the table or whatever. When they are older, they can learn to help you cook. My own love of cooking goes back to baking and cooking with my mother when I was young. I think I grew to love cooking even more than she did, I think she preferred baking goodies to meal prep, but I grew to love experimenting with recipes and seasoning. I have also posted suggestions for my tricks for quick meals but
Thank you all for sharing what has worked for you. I really, really struggle with cooking even though it’s healthier and cheaper. I often feel like others make gourmet meals every night and I’m doing good to make something with directions on the package. Thank you for sharing simple suggestions and developing a repertoire.
Making something is still one step closer. Baby steps are okay! It sounds like 30-minute meals might be right up your alley! I’ve posted some of my favorites here: https://goodcheapeats.com/tag/30-minute-meals/ They really are 30-minutes. I timed myself. 😉 They are super simple, so I’m pretty sure you can do them. Let me know how it goes!
I’m sorry I didn’t respond earlier to this post, but the last two weeks have been very hectic. Believe me even good cooks who are grandmas have stretches when we fall back on simple, easy, very basic meals.
May I second Jessica’s comment that making something, even from a box is a step in the right direction. You might keep an eye out for recipes for one-pan or one-skillet meals. I would suggest finding some fairly simple dishes and making them first on weekends, perhaps when you have less stress and more time. If I am tired and in a hurry, I make something easy and familiar. New recipes or more involved ones are saved for when I have more time and no deadline. I’ve posted suggestions on a separate post, but wanted to reply to your post and try to offer encouragement.
I always, but always, have something in the freezer, that I can defrost and put a meal on the table within half an hour if necessary!
It might be some haddock and a bag of French fries, it might be bolognese sauce with spaghetti from the pantry. It might even be eggs on toast but there is always an easy backup meal available.
I wasn’t always as organised but after 50 years of putting dinner on the table, I just know it makes sense.
Great strategy! For me, an emergency meal is a bag of potstickers and some stir fry veggies.
Simplify! After 18 years of marriage and motherhood, I am convinced having a large repertoire of recipes is not necessary. Learn how to cook a handful of dishes really well. Good recipes stand up to repetition. Do your kids get tired of fast food hamburgers and chicken fingers? I have a list of my top 10 recipes and include them in my dinner rotation every week. In a month that means each top 10 is served at most 3 times per month. Will anyone complain about eating your luscious spaghetti Bolognese or marvelous meatloaf three times a month? This really simplifies meal planning and grocery shopping.
Exactly. Thanks for saying what really needs to be said in the food world.
I buy 4-pound packages of chicken, cook it, and freeze it in 1-pound portions. A pound of shredded meat fits nicely in sandwich zip bags and they stack flat in the freezer without taking much space. I started it as a frugal measure so we would cut costs by not eating more than one pound of meat per meal. But it has become a life saver during a very busy time of life for us. Anyone in our household can pull out a pound of precooked chicken and throw in a few ingredients to make a meal – maybe bbq sauce to serve as sandwiches with buns, or adding veg and sautéing to save with rice, or using the chicken to add beans and make chili. We even serve it just heated plain with a couple cans of baked beans on the side to fill out the meal. I keep the freezer stocked with bags of frozen veg and we cool one of those every night for our side dish. It makes for super easy suppers when we need easy. We have found that it just feels so much easier to prep a meal when the meat is precooked. An added benefit is that it cooks pretty quickly even from frozen, so no worries when we forget to thaw it earlier in the day.
Great suggestion. Thanks!
You are so right about keeping to simple meals. It’s no accident that most of what we think of as comfort foods are simple to make — mac & cheese; pot roast; spaghetti and meatballs; chicken and dumplings; or grilled cheese sandwiches with a creamy bowl of tomato soup. I would also add, do not cook what you do not like to eat — you are not running a restaurant and it is hard to get excited about cooking something you do not want to eat. This was a conversation I had with my husband when we were still newlyweds.
Great suggestion about sticking to favorites! Thanks!