Cooking Dinner Made Easy



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Cooking Dinner Made Easy – Make Life Easier Without Eating Out

I have been saying this for years and I just heard it on Oprah so I’m sure that makes it true! Going out to eat is one of the biggest mistakes people make with their money. Most people would experience a radical change in their finances if they would cut back on eating out even a couple of times a week, let alone all together. I think that the main reason that people go out to eat is for the convenience. I hope to show you how eating at home can be convenient, too.

We seem to be people of extremes and that definitely spills over into our thoughts about meals. We have the idea that there are only two choices when it comes to providing dinner for our families. The first is to go out to eat and not lift a finger. The second is to become Betty Crocker, an Amish grandmother and Martha Stewart all rolled into one. Oh! And don’t forget to roll in Mr. Clean for the clean up!

It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing situation. For those of you who are extremely frugal, some of these suggestions might seem wasteful, but if making everything homemade is overwhelming to the point that you won’t be able to keep it up, try some of these suggestions to make dinner easier without eating out.

  1. Make meals easier by using convenience items. Even if you use nothing but convenience items for your entire meal, it is still less expensive than going out to eat. You don’t need to make homemade bread, muffins, biscuits, or cookies. Buy them already made. You can even buy things like French bread, already sliced and buttered and ready to heat. It’s perfectly OK to use bagged lettuce, baby carrots, or anything frozen.
  2. Keep it simple. Our grandmothers didn’t spend as many hours slaving away in the kitchen as we think they did. Instead of homemade bread or yeast rolls, the everyday meal included store-bought white or wheat bread on a plate with butter and jam. Grandma would open a jar of applesauce, a can of green beans or a jar of assorted pickles. She would toss a simple salad and have all her side dishes for that meal prepared quickly.  For years our family raved about my grandmother-in-law’s great homemade noodles.One day when I asked her for her recipe, she pulled me to one side, laughing, and said “No one else knows this, but I always use frozen noodles!”

    Our grandmothers knew the secret. It didn’t have to be complicated, gourmet, or elaborate for our families to enjoy a meal. It just had to be good, there had to be lots of it and it had to be made with love. It takes only a couple of minutes to slice an orange, apple or banana and lay them on a platter. Throw in some unpeeled small red potatoes to boil, slice pre-cooked ham, heat up a box of fish fillets or lay out a variety of deli meats and cheeses for everyone to make their own hoagies. It can be as simple as that.



  1. Make clean up easy. I line almost every pan I use with aluminum foil or parchment paper, whether I’m roasting a chicken or baking biscuits, cookies or tater tots. I line every casserole dish too. Use paper plates and bowls if it helps. Use disposable pans when you can. You can usually find lots of them on sale around the holidays. Many people feel a lot of guilt connected with using anything disposable. If you are one of them, I give you permission here and now to use these things. Besides, when you eat out, just as much stuff gets thrown away. It’s just that other people throw it away for you. I would much rather see you at home using paper plates and disposable pans with your family than having to work many hours of over time to pay for dinner out. Relax, enjoy your meal. Your family and pocketbook will thank you.

 

For more practical tips and easy recipes to help you save money on food, check out the Dining On A Dime Cookbook!

Photo by: Dan Kelliher

Comments

  1. tracy walters says

    I think the new site is great
    I had a plant question Im growing herbs from the seeds and I have them in plastic contains from milk jugs cut down and they are under my skylight on my dresser
    i tryed last year and they died and this year i wonder how offen to water them they just starting to sprout i thought watering them two times a week
    would be ok the soil is kind of damp and i water a little on mondays and thursdays and i also put coffe grinds and egg shells in two of the larger containers
    I love to cook with seasoning so i thought i try to do it with fresh ones
    so if you could some how answer my question I would appreciate it thank you
    Tracy

    • says

      It sounds like they are dying from too much water. Water them only when the soil is dry. The best way to start seeds is to put them in the milk jug like you said and then water them just a bit. Then put a plastic bag over the top and put them in a warm spot. I put them on the top of the fridge. Then when they sprout take the bag off and water just when they are dry. You will have to check them every day.

      With seeds right now I would start them outdoors in a pot. Water everyday if it’s warm and they are dry. If they aren’t dry don’t water them. After about 10 days you should have sprouts.

      I hope that helps. Tawra

  2. meripng says

    I really, really appreciate this article. I did both of the extremes you have mentioned in your article. When I was newly married with no money, I cooked everything from scratch Martha Stewart style. Then I had kids, and my husband got a raised and he started to take me out because I was so tired. I knew I could buy bread, and even frozen entrees, bur I thought if I didn’t make it from scratch it wasn’t good enough, so we started to use too much money on eating out. And the clean up groan, makes me groan to think of it.

    This article gave me the freedom to use paper plates if I need to, and to buy prepared food for emergencies. Just having a freezer to stick in teh oven or microwave when I am too tired to make a meal is really helping us so we don’t go out to eat as much.

    I think balance is the key word. As you said we don’t have to be all or nothing.

    Great article. Thanks

  3. elizabeth says

    Another awesome article. I would like to be home but following dh’s wishes that I work. I am a teacher and over the summer I stock up on paper goods, foil, etc. When I go back to work it makes my life so much easier on those crazy nights. I want to have as much time as possible with my kids and still save $. I also always have frozen pizzas on hand when they go on sale, it is way cheaper then ordering most times. And faster too. I also try to make part of another dinner each night. Like if we have pasta with sauce one night, I will boil extra noodles to make into cold pasta salad the next night. Chili on one night becomes taco salad the next night. Sometimes we moms think we have to reinvent the wheel! :))

    • says

      You are so right Elizabeth, I just read a book which said the average person who cooks at home spends 2 hours cooking and cleaning up each meal. I’m not sure what they are cooking but if I spent 2 hours with each meal I would never get out of the kitchen especially when my kids were little and I fixed things every morning like pancakes, bacon etc. There is no way meals have to take that long to prepare and clean up which is why I’m working on another article on how to trim down meal time even more and some of the things I was going to suggest were the same type of things you mentioned.

  4. says

    I am not always up to cooking every night even though I am home all day. So days that I have the energy and my hands work properly I make up a huge amount of macaroni. I divide it into 2 serving packages and keep them in the fridge.
    One night it is a macaroni salad with mayo. Another is macaroni vegetable salad. I am big on salads and my husband isn’t so I make several for each meal and they last a few nights and lunches for me when I am by myself and he is working.
    I make about 3 types of coleslaws and lettuce salads.
    We eat a lot of buffet type meals I have it all on the counter in containers with lids to be put back on to go back into the fridge. Makes clean up easier and we only take what we really want.

    There is always meat with every meal except mac and cheese. We eat a lot of fish chicken and beef but in the summer is is all bbq’d no heat in the kitchen and if you do extra you can use the left overs in salads or just cut it up and stir fry it for another meal.

    I use those baskets for french fries a lot. They hold a sandwich or two and veggies sticks or french fries and fish.
    For something that might leak through I line them with wax paper for dry things I just use a paper towel.
    No dishes to worry about. Just empty them and put them back in the freezer.

    They also hold toast strips for when you have boiled eggs and toast. I line one with a paper towel and the egg shells go into it. The only dishes are the egg cups and a small plate for each along with a knife and spoon.

    When I know that we are going out of town the night before for supper I cook steak or pork chops or chicken. I take the meat and cut it into strips and they make a nice sandwich or just finger munchies for the car on the trip. Healthier than chips or fast food and tastier. Restaurants are few and far between in the winter where we live. A fair number for when tourists are traveling but not so many when tourist season ends.

    The other night I did something I have never done when we had friends over for a bbq. We had planned to eat outside so I had paper plates and then it got windy and rainy. We still had the bbq but had to eat inside. I was tired and thought about the clean up after so we used the paper plates. It was such a nice relaxed evening with only coffee cups and wine glasses to wash later. I think we may do this more often.
    Yes convenience foods are great.

  5. Monica says

    Honestly, my only problem with the article is that I would increase my bills if I lined everything with parchment, aluminum foil etc. or used paper products. We only order in pizza about once a month and eat out lunch once a month.

    • says

      Yes, it would increase your grocery bill but only by pennies. Considering that the average family spends thousands of dollars a year eating out it’s a BIG savings.

    • says

      What happens Monica is that most people would be willing to cook at home if they didn’t have to spend so much time cleaning up afterwards. They arrive home tired or haven’t figured out what to have for dinner so they go out to get something to eat or grab more expensive convenience foods for dinner. So if using a little foil will help with clean up it will save in the long run.
      Plus I can get foil so cheap that I have to consider on some things how much water, SOS pads and soap will it take for me to clean this badly burnt and food stuck on it pan compared to one small piece of foil.
      Then I too have always worked at home doing other things so I have to think which earns me more money – me spending 15 mins. scrubbing this pan or working that same 15 mins. on parts making $5 for that 15 mins. worth of work.
      I always factor in everything to see if I am really saving or spending more.

  6. Mrs Ash says

    I have used my parchment paper again and again when I am making cookies, with no negative results to the paper or the cookies.

  7. Allison says

    Fabulous article! I am so grateful to you 2; you keep me going!( And don’t forget the slow-cooker as a lifesaver, too.)

  8. Peta Emes says

    I’m finding your website and the Hillbilly Housewife’s most interesting and discussing things people here don’t.
    I keep a section of a cupboard for quick meal ingredients, small quantities for me. Then when my mind has been on other things and i want something quick and easy i know where to go and put whatever i fancy together.
    Canned salmon, sardines, various veges, creamed corn asparagus, various beans, noodles, cous cous, fine spaghetti, brown rice pasta, precooked brown rice, vegetarian sausages, nutmeat, refried beans, mexe beans.
    When put together with some raw veges and previously baked bread or brown rice from the fridge these provide a quick easy meal with little cleanup.
    If i’ve been home it’s easy to chop a few veges and cheap cuts of meat from the freezer ( think to put it in the fridge the day before ) and braise them together while i’m doing something else such as this. With one pot to wash i just run hot water into it a leave it to soak overnight. An easy wipe next morning and it’s clean.
    I do use rice bran, brewers yeast and nutritional yeast with the white wheat products for better nutrition and fibre. The yeasts can substitute for bullion cubes.

  9. Sarah Godwin says

    I love the permission to use some convenience items! I like to cook from scratch, but sometimes there isn’t time to do it all. I recently broke down and bought boil-in-bag brown rice for the first time–more expensive than the regular stuff, but a nice option when you don’t have 45 minutes and way cheaper than eating out, which we don’t do much. I love that my husband offers to get take-out when I am busy and tired, but I rarely take him up on it. I take pride in putting nutritious and cost-effective meals on the table, and it is nice to know that it is okay to take some shortcuts from time to time. I berated myself for “cheating,” but my husband and a wise older friend assured me that I was just using my time wisely.

  10. Mary Jane says

    Years ago, I visited my sister, who was a single Mom, and worked long hours at a minimum wage job. She hated cooking large meals and was often exhausted, but understood that good nutrition was vital. She lived in the city, and had no vehicle, but was within walking distance of a good supermarket. She kept her fridge stocked with inexpensive fresh fruit and vegetables (some of it slightly bruised, and discounted). Every few days she bought milk and various breads or muffins (usually from the discount rack) for her and her son. Four or five times a week, she made a full fledged meal in the evening, but most breakfasts and lunches were from the stock she had in the fridge and cupboards…things that really didn’t need to be cooked. They ate well, and were healthy.

  11. says

    Thank you for this post! I realized I am one of those who feels like a failure if I don’t make everything “homemade from scratch.” I can use some convenience foods and still be feeding my family healthy, well-balanced meals. Thanks for taking way some guilt!

  12. Keni-Lyn says

    Good article. I do a lot of these things already. One of my tricks is to make double on some things and freeze the extra for those busy days. For example,it doesn’t take much longer to make 2 trays of lasagna as opposed to 1, use the disposable aluminum trays and then wrap the second in foil and freeze it. On that crazy day pull out that second tray in the morning and when I get home pop it in the oven while I’m taking care of the other tasks and paper plates and plastic silverware that night clean up is a breeze.

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