Everyone, no matter your situation, is always looking for ways to simplify or reduce our cooking budget, our time in the kitchen and better our health. The easiest way to do all is to cook your own food, from scratch. Yep not from a pretty box or package. In fact I spend less time in the kitchen with scratch cooking then I did when I used mixes or shortcuts. It may take time to hone the skills but in time it will all come together. You’ll e in the kitchen less, have healthier food on your plate, and more time to spend on whatever you need it for. I won’t overwhelm you with grass fed, organic, etc now. Let us just focus on real food, the kind without pretty or flashy labels, or extravagant health claims. You want whole foods, single ingredient foods, or if there are more than one, make sure it’s still real food like pasta for example.
I’ll cover the basics of how to plan for meals, share my budget, a few tips to reduce your budget, and what sites and cookbooks I utilize when I need a recipe.
With 101 we will just concentrate on one meal, supper, but the system works the same for every meal & snacks.
If you have never cooked from scratch, no fear, it really isn’t that hard and most of our favorite dishes are easily prepared with a few simple ingredients. The first step of planning is simply looking at what you like to eat, and your family too. Make a simple list with things everyone likes, and go ahead and make a list of dislikes. These dishes will make up the bulk of your weekly menu, and in the beginning only do a week of planning at a time. Sure a month sounds wonderful but until you get the hang of meal planning I’ll advise you to stick with a week.
So now on your list you should aim for 10 dishes, if not more, that everyone likes. Why ten (10) or more instead of seven (7)? Well I don’t know about you but I like variety and I might go a bit cuckoo If i had to eat the same thing everyday of the week. However if that doesn’t bother you or your family it’s OK too!
Now that we know what everyone loves, and loathes, we can take it a recipe at a time. Whether you use a recipe book, the internet or a hand me down recipe, it doesn’t matter as long as it is from scratch. Once you have your recipe (I will recommend websites and cookbooks at the end) chosen for each dish make a copy of it for your records. Now you will do this for every recipe you have in your column. Out of all your recipes, do this as a family and it can be turned into a game & pick your meals out of a hat, pick out seven (7) recipes. These are your recipes for the week. If, for instance, you only need five (5) because you won’t be home for two (2) days, then just pick five (5) out.
Now take each recipe and write down what you will need for each recipe. If you are a seasoned cook you’ll know how to cut costs in recipes, but for those of you just beginning here are a few tips (If any of my readers have tips please let me know!):
- Shop for meat on sale
- Shop for meat on days your supermarket marks meat down. Usually its last day to be sold.
- Choose a cheaper cut of meat, or a less handled like a whole chicken.
- Buy the best you can afford
- If you don’t eat meat see below
- Choose vegetable sides that are in season
- Choose frozen veggies over canned, you get far more for roughly the same price per ounce
Meat is hands down one of the more expensive aspects of scratch cooking but as a dedicated omnivore with allergies to wheat & soy, not to mention my political views on grains, meat is and always will be apart of my diet. If it does not bother you or if you prefer for your life choice, meat can be substituted with Mock Duck (Seitan), Tempeh, and Tofu (organic please).
So now you have your shopping list for your week, a menu plan for your week, and recipes ready to go for the week. Discouragement is one of the largest downfalls to scratch cooking. Keep telling yourself that you can do it & you will succeed!
I sit down and sort everything out once a week, when my store flyers come out so that i can cook with sales. This saves me more time and money than I ever thought possible. For years I was a slave to boxes and packages, no more, and I had NO excuse to be cooking that way, I am and have been since starting an excellent cook. You may also want to use a meal planning template like this one at The Project Girl. She did a wonderful job with laying everything out together. Using tools like this really simplifies the process but use what works for you.
Monthly Budget for a family of 5: $450 for scratch cooking, 65% organic
Monthly budget for a family of 5: $800 for convenience cooking, not organic & we typically went over EEK
Those budgets cover all meals plus snacks and nothing not edible!
It took me 2 years to get my budget to where it is now, and I’ll admit some months we go over still but I’ll talk more about budgeting another time.
My favorite recipe books & Websites
- All Recipes
- Food Network
- The 1960-70 versions of the Betty Crocker Cookbook
- Bubba Gump Cookbook
- The Little House Cookbook
- The New Yankee Cookbook
- Le Cordon Bleu Cookbook
- Various blogs I read
I also use Google a lot if I can’t find what I’m looking for but most of my cooking is from memory or experiment now-a-days. Cooking can be as hard or easy as you make it. Even simple food can be full of flavor, just as the most difficult dish can turn out bland. If you are very new to real cooking start simple and experiment with spices or spice blends. Try an old favorite with a new twist, like I did with Macaroni & Cheese ala Heather. The possibilities of good food, at a good price is endless, and it will take you to new places without leaving the comfort of your kitchen. Can you say that about a box?
Next time, Part 2: Meal Planning & The Budget
Good Luck to you all, and as always if you have any questions, or suggestions, please let me know!