Monday, August 22, 2011

Cook ahead to save on food

On top of our $25 grocery budget we also tend to prep food in advance to keep things cheap and going smoothly.  We often will make a big pot of brown rice on Sunday night which will provide the carb for dinners and lunches for the next couple days, leaving us to only add veggies and protein and heat on a week night.  When we grill, we prep enough veggies to cover the entire surface.  Sometimes I'll make a big batch of lasagna or beans and rice or banana bread and pop it in the freezer.  Why do we do this when we're only two people? Because batch cooking can be a great advantage when you're battling a busy schedule or temptation to eat out and want to keep your eating at home and in budget.  Cooking ahead allows you to:
  • Prevent food spoilage - We got a great deal on tomatoes last week but they were very ripe and I knew they wouldn't last.  So I turned them into a big batch of pasta sauce with other veggies we had on hand.  We ate a portion for dinner tonight, some will go in lunches tomorrow and I froze the rest.  We'll have some easy pasta topping two nights this week or next and I effectively extended the life of our tomatoes; they won't go bad or unused now.
  • Buy in bulk - If I know I'll be prepping a big batch of something for the week, I don't hesitate to buy in bulk when I'm at the market where sometimes I can be a bit leery about things getting used.  Normally I'm more aware of the detriments of buying in bulk than the advantages since there's only two of us but cooking ahead gives me a chance to use it as a savings tool.
  • Spend less time cooking  - Cooking one cup of brown rice takes practically the same time as cooking three.  Cooking ahead can allow you to be more efficient with your time in the kitchen and if cooking takes less time then you're more likely to actually do it.
  • Stick to your budget - You can use this technique to concentrate when you need to have grocery will power.  Prepping several meals at once can reduce trips to the store for forgotten ingredients and can make executing a meal plan easier. 
  • Avoid take out temptation - With at least part of a meal already prepped and ready to go at home, especially since it will often be the time consuming half, the temptation to eat out or grab some take out will be a lot less. Plus it will also be a lot harder to justify the slip. 
  • Cook when you have time - By cooking ahead you can choose when you have to get down and dirty in the kitchen.  You don't have to feel pressed to turn out a meal on a super busy or stressful night.  Instead, you can cook on, say, a Sunday afternoon when you don't have to rush. When my SO and I have both pulled 10hr+ days at work plus commute time, the last thing we want is to cook or argue about which restaurant or take out place we want to patronize.  Instead, we dig around in the freezer and can have a simple, nutritious meal ready in ten minutes.
Each of these areas of success enables you to feel better about cooking and eat more home cooked meals with less stress.  Eating your own cooking is great for your budget and waistline and cooking ahead of time can enable those benefits.

Do you cook meals ahead of time or in large batches?  What are your tricks to make home cooked meals easier?

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  1. I love this idea but I haven't been able to convince my wife to hop on board, even if I offer to help. Hmmm maybe if I offered not to help she'd be more enthusiastic *lol*

  2. I don't necessarily cook ahead, but as you mention if you're making some, it doesn't take any more time to make more. For instance, if I'm cooking 1/2 box of pasta, I'll just cook the whole box and use the rest later on in the week for another meal or make soup for lunch. I tried to do the freezer meals but for me, that just doesn't work.

  3. Freezer requires too much planning ahead as far as I'm concerned (got to get it out and into the fridge by breakfast if I don't want to end up nuking my food in the evening just to de-ice it). I am, however, a BIG fan of cooking up to 5 days ahead, especially with the kind of dishes that tend to improve if you give the spices more time to do their work, such as chili. I eat the stuff about every other day and it only gets better. Rice with cooked chicken are also among my prepped standards, but they do make it into the freezer for obvious reasons.

  4. These are great tips. The biggest thing I struggle with is food spoilage. I bought baby carrots on sale and froze one bag (I love carrots dipped in hummus!) Turns out you can't freeze baby carrots; they absorbed all the water when defrosting and went all squishy and bad. It would have been better to just leave them in the fridge!

  5. This is a really good idea, and one that I've been wanting to implement for a while. I think your tip on waiting for a day when you actually have time is smart. My obstacle has been wanting to allocate time to other priorities, and other days are too time compressed. Maybe a weekend day would do the trick.

  6. I love batch cooking. If I didn't do it, I think we would eat out every night. (Not really, but I'd want to :))