It’s easier than most people think to make quick and easy home cooked meals! You can save money on food and your family will enjoy better meals! Here are 9 easy ways to make quick meals!
9 Ways To Make Quick And Easy Home Cooked Meals
OK — There’s no way around it. Just accept the fact that tomorrow your family will eat three meals — again. People have been doing it since Adam and Eve started munching fruit in the garden of Eden. Burying your head in the sand and not thinking about it will not make it go away. I know that even the thought of making home cooked meals strikes terror in some of your hearts and the only reason the rest of you aren’t feeling terror is because you are probably so tired you can’t feel terror or any other emotion. But considering that going out to eat is one of the top 3 causes of credit card debt and child obesity and with diabetes on the rise, I think we need to start reconsidering cooking at home. With a little preparation, it’s easy to prepare quick and easy home cooked meals.
Here are a few easy suggestions to help you get started making home cooked meals:
- One of the biggest reasons people hate home cooking is their dirty kitchens. Take the time to clean and organize the kitchen. If you need to get some help, then do, even if that help means hiring someone to help you get it organized. In the long run, it will pay for itself (probably after the first one or two weeks cooking at home).
- Once your kitchen is clean and organized, keep it that way. When your kitchen is clean it should only take you about 15-20 minutes to clean up after each family meal. For the $40 or more you would have paid plus all of the time you would have spent going out to eat, keeping it clean and organized is time well spent.
- The evening or day before you go shopping for groceries, clean out the fridge and check your pantry. Remember that once it has been organized, if you do minor cleaning and organizing weekly, it won’t take much time. Plan a leftover night that evening (and use up that leftover roast), too. This will help reveal what you have too much or too little of, what you need to use or buy and empty the fridge so you have room for the new groceries.
- Make a week’s worth of menus. Sit down with grocery ads, your recipe file and your favorite cookbook (hopefully that is our Dining On A Dime Cookbook ;-) ). This is a good time to throw in one or two of those new recipes from magazines that you have wanted to try. If you get stumped or you need help to get you started, flip through your cookbooks or recipe files. You will be surprised how much this will help motivate you to make delicious home cooked meals!
- In a notebook, write a weeks worth of menus. You only have to do this for 3 weeks, because at the end of that time you will have 21 menus. You now have almost months worth of planned menus for quick and easy meals (since most people will go out at least once a week to eat and have a leftover night once a week this helps to fill in the days for the rest of the month). You can then just use these same dinner menus over and over.
- Don’t restrict yourself by saying that you have to have fried chicken on Monday, roast on Tuesday, etc. Instead, list the meals in categories like elaborate (for the days you have more time) and quick meals (for those “nothing has gone right today, so what can I cook when I am blurry eyed and have only 5 minutes” days). I usually make about 3-4 menus for meals in each category.
- Be flexible. If you get to the grocery store and they have something unbelievable on sale then adapt your menus to save money on groceries.
- Plan what you are going to have for dinner the night before or first thing in the morning.
- Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand and take out anything that needs to be defrosted from the freezer.
- Prepare as much as you can the night before or first thing in the morning to make it quick and easy when you need it. Clean carrot sticks and veggies and make Jello, pudding or desserts. Brown hamburger for a recipe or even make a whole casserole so all you have to do is pop it into the oven. It is much easier and less stressful to do as much as possible ahead of time than to try and do it at 5 o’clock — the busiest time of day (when everyone is tired, fussy and needs your attention). Besides, it is easier to concentrate on preparing 2 or 3 items ahead of time instead of trying to take care of 5 or 6 things for your family meal all at the last minute.
- Give yourself a break. You will be saving a great deal of money by eating home cooked meals, so use some convenience foods like bagged lettuce or sliced and buttered French bread. Line your pans with aluminum foil and don’t feel guilty about using disposable pans or paper plates. We are funny creatures. We don’t feel guilty spending money to go out to eat (where people throw away the trash for you), but feel awful about buying much less expensive disposable pans and paper plates. Go figure.
- Don’t forget the meal is not finished until the kitchen is clean and left ready for the next meal.
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About the expensive conveniences. I used to diligently stay away from the steam in bag vegetables, but then I realized that making the crazy decision of running out for fast food or picking up something from the deli was much more expensive and not nearly as healthy. So don’t overlook those. I also will carefully serve right from the bag rather than “waste” dirtying another dish.
I agree, I love the steam in bag veggies and also the ones with rice. I always keep an eye out for coupons for these and then when our Kroger store has them on sale for 10 for $1 I stock up. I usually find .40 cent off coupons and Kroger doubles so I end up spending .20 cents a bag and I just can’t feel guilty about that;-)
I always am reminded that something cooked at home, however easy and convenient, is probably cheaper and more nutritious than fast food
Our family has actually found we eat a lot more vegetables with the steam bags. I get them very inexpensively with coupons as well.
My boss gave me this inexpensive and very stretchable meal. Take a red rice mix, throw in some sausage, chicken, a little ham, or keilbasa, whatever you have, add some more regular white rice, and this stretches really far, with super leftovers. I watch the mixes, as they have lots of sodium, but once in a while is fine, quick and makes a big batch.
I used to have a pantry full of canned vegetables, but since my divorce and the only income being my SSD, we had to really cut costs. Since we live out in the country, we have to have a small dumpster, and it is only emptied every two weeks. Those cans can add up quickly, and since my young son and I never finish a can of veggies, I decided to try out the frozen ones. With my coupons, we are paying less for a 1 pound bag of frozen veggies than we did for most the canned veggies we were buying. And since we only use what we need and put it back in freezer, we have reduced our trash quite a bit. Now I only buy frozen veggies, the only exception being the tomato products. And we are also eating healthier as we can control what is in them.
About a year ago my husband bought me a family size steamer machine.
It has two pots at the bottom for potatoes or rice and one for vegetables. On top of that it has a shallow plate for fish or chicken.
This has not only cut down on left overs since it has room for the meat for only two servings and the steamed vegetables and herbs are eaten but the rice does two meals.
But it has cut down on the weight of both of us. Less fats and sauces and smaller portions of the fish and meats. Less clean up at the end of the meal and less prep time.
So it is a win win situation.
He also bought me a really good meat slicer. I can cook hams and roasts and cut it thick for the original meal and then shave the left overs for sandwiches in his lunch. I hardly ever buy deli meats anymore, I slice it then freeze it in 2 sandwich portions and pull 2 packs out in the morning for making his lunch for each day.
I also use it for making coleslaw and slicing onions for onion rings. Saves a lot of money for us as I roast onions about 4 times a week and if I had to buy the onion rings for each meal instead of buying the vidalia ones by the bag it would be a killer for the budget.
So when you are looking to save money on food try looking for gadgets that will help when they are sale. It might seem to be a lot but the savings in money and time are great.
Thank you!!! Your info is very helpful. May I ask what the brand name of your family size steamer is? I am guessing it was purchased on amazon?
I’ve tried the steam in bag vegetables, and I don’t like them for 3 reasons:
They have less in them than the regular frozen vegetables, but they don’t have as much in them, and they’re priced higher per pound.
When I cook the regular frozen vegetables which I buy in 1 pound or larger bags, I can cook as much or as little as I need. I use microwave safe cookware that goes in the dishwasher or be hand washed.
I can also cook them as little or as much as I want. I find that the ones in the steamer bags are too hard if I follow directions, but they’re chewy when I cook them more.
I like Birds Eye “classic” vegetables because they don’t add any salt, but I’ve found many store brands that are good, too.
Yeah, I don’t get the steam bags either. It seems wasteful when I have dishes in my kitchen that would do the same job, which I can pop into the dishwasher like you. We’re a family of 6, so those steam bags we sometimes need 1.5-2 of to fill our plates. Or I can go old-school and do it on my stove-top with the little steamer basket that fits inside my pots.
I just buy very large bags of frozen veg (usually 2kg’s for most veggies, although some we’ve discovered we need to spend a it more to get the “premium” frozen ones) and then I can cook as much or as little as I want. I stock up on a good variety when they’re on sale, but you have to watch. For example, frozen broccoli is usually about $2.50 a bag here (we eat obscene amounts of broccoli here) for around 400g for the good ones (one veggie where cheap isn’t as good). But I can buy a big bag of FRESH broccoli 1.36kg already washed and cut for about $7-8 (depending on the season). That’s about 63 cents per 100g for the frozen, but I can buy the fresh for 51-58 cents per 100g, even in the dead of winter. And really, how hard is it to cook broccoli especially since it’s already cleaned & cut?
I make my own steamer bags using storage or freezer baggies or even microwave safe dishes. Put in your own blend of veggies and seasonings and/or sauces. For the dishes just cover with plastic wrap and don’t vent.
4small small onions, grated
1 cup (250 mL) dry breadcrumbs
4tsp (18 mL) Worcestershire sauce
4 tsp(18 mL) Dijon mustard
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1 tsp (5 mL) pepper
4 lb (1.8 kg) lean ground beef
In bowl, beat eggs; mix in onions, crumbs, Worcestershire, mustard, salt and pepper. Mix in beef. Shape by level tablespoonfuls (15 mL) into about 150 balls.
Place 1/2 inch (1 cm) apart on 4 large foil-lined rimmed baking sheets; bake, 2 sheets at a time, in top and bottom thirds of 450°F (230°C) oven, rotating and switching pans halfway through, until no longer pink inside, about 10 minutes.
Let cool for 30 minutes; refrigerate until cold. Freeze in single layer until solid. Transfer to 4 resealable freezer bags; press out air and seal. (Make-ahead: Freeze for up to 1 month.)
Makes about 150 pieces, enough for 4 meals of 4 servings each.
I make the balls about 1/2 the size they use here. Easier to eat and if you want to use them for appetizers they are the rule of one bite per appetizer.
here is one recipe on using the meat balls.
1 1tsp tsp(5 mL) (5 mL) vegetable oil
4 4cups cups(1 L) (1 L) sliced mushroommushrooms
1 1small onion, chopped
2 2cloves garlic, minced
1/2 1/2tsp tsp(2 mL) (2 mL) dried Italian herb seasoning
1 1can (28 oz/796 mL) can (28 oz/796 mL)diced tomatoes
2 2tbsp tbsp(25 mL) (25 mL) tomato paste
1/4 1/4Freezer Meatballs Recipe, frozen
In saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat; fry mushrooms, onion, garlic and herb seasoning until mushrooms are golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Stir in tomatoes and tomato paste; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened and sauce can mound on spoon, about 20 minutes.
Add meatballs; simmer, stirring often, until hot, about 20 minutes.
Grizzly Bear Mom
I thought all frozen vegetables were in “Steamer” bags! You poke them with a fork a couple times and nuke them in the bag.
In Canada they are not.
The regular bags are made of plastic that is not microwave safe.
The ones that you poke are marked steamer bags.
very unhealthy to just poke the others.
My DIL gave me a quilted bag for christmas. When I finally asked what it was found out it is a root vegetable bag for the micro wave. I gave it to my son since I never do root vegetables in the micro wave.
he loves it.
does anyone use them or has anyone heard of them?
I have heard of them but have never used one because I am not sure what the point of using one is or how it helps cook them. I rub a little butter or shortening on my potatoes and wrap them in a piece of wax paper to cook in the microwave and they turn out nice so I’m not sure what a bag would do different.
You do have to be careful because if you don’t use 100% cotton for the bag and the batting it will catch on fire. Some have used oven mitts and tea cozy which are made out of 100% cotton.
I still like my potatoes best nuked in the microwave for 2 mins. or so then I put them in foil and finish baking them in the oven at about 375 – 400 degrees. This only takes about 20 mins because they are already partial cooked and then you get the quickness of a microwave but the good flavor and texture of being baked in the oven.
That’s a great idea!
I am a huge fan of the Dining On A Dime cookbook. I also love fixing ahead for meals. The other day my grandaughter chopped up a big bag of Romane lettuce, red, yellow and green peppers, and I boiled some chicken breasts and chopped the chicken and put in a bag. While boiling chicken i cooked a pound of ground beef with Rotel and taco flavoring. Put on a pot of lentils w/more ground beef, and mixed up two doz. corn muffins. Today I used the chicken and peppers for chicken tetrizini cooked a pot of navy beans in the pressure cooker. I have the whole week covered and the rest of the time for whatever I need. The taco meat makes GREAT taco salad. Also made the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies from the Hillbilly website. Great!!! I can’t tell you how much easier life is when all the cooking is done in a day.
Here’s my favorite cooking hint; cooking for the freezer. Last week, when cottage cheese was on clearance, I made lasagna–not just one, but six pans (I’d purchased the noodles and tomato sauce on sale in past months). Now I have 5 more meals (pans of lasagna) that I can defrost and bake at a moment’s notice when I’m gone all day or just don’t feel like cooking.
I cook “extra for the freezer” almost every time I cook; right now I have at least 30 meals in the freezer. These include tater tot casserole, several different kinds of meatballs, salsbury steak hamburgers (I’ll just add some onions, broth, and cream soup to make gravy), breakfast casserole, etc.
I stock up on the basic ingredients for our favorites (like bread crumbs, tater tots, veggies, etc.) when they’re on sale; they’re non-perishables so they can be kept until the more expensive ingredients (like cottage cheese) are on sale, or until I’m ready to spend some extra time preparing the meals.
Cooking 2, 3 or more “extras” takes little extra time, and means cleaning up only once! I have my own home business and my husband has his own business, too. Our daughter is a senior in high school and son is a sophomore in college. On any given evening I can have one person for supper, or 8 (if both kids are here and bring friends).
If the thought of multiplying ingredients by 6 or 7 intimidates you, challenge yourself to start by making just 1 or 2 extra casseroles next time.
When I started doing this several years ago I splurged and bought about 10 glass pans w/tight fitting lids. They’re the perfect size for casseroles for our family; I can adjust the amount of ingredients I put in to serve just the three of us at home, or pack it to the top to feed 6 or more. The pans go from freezer, to microwave (to defrost) to oven, and they stack in the freezer.
I also freeze many things in ziplock bags (which our local grocery store has on sale every few months; last time I got them, by using coupons, for 25 cents/box). I fill the bags but just take out the number of meatballs or meat patties we need for a particular meal, depending on how many people will be eating.
It is much easier to pass up fast food or take out when you know it will take only minutes to go to the freezer, choose a meal, and prepare it!
That sounds smart! Thanks
Did you ever live in Texas? Your name sounds so familiar?
I enjoyed today’s edition as usual. I just wanted to add that when I get out menus and grocery store ads to make my grocery list, I also have my coupon box so that I can match sales with coupons for extra savings and also get new ideas for meals.
I recently compiled two months worth of menus for my family. I had been creating weekly menus for a long time and started saving them. When I had a bunch, I sat down at the computer and entered all of them, then I organized them into two months of meals. My plan is to rotate one month after another so that we don’t eat the same stuff too often. We just finished up the first month, and I have already noticed a big difference in stress levels being lower and grocery bills going down. Even if it didn’t save money, its just nice to know what to cook for dinner without having to think about it! We are flexible with it, because sometimes it just doesn’t work to make what I planned on the menu, but we just switch things around or if there’s a new recipe to try, I just do that and add it to the list of possibilities for next time I do organizing.
Good article! practical! Thank you.
I’m going to print this whole article out and put it in my kitchen!!
grandma .. my brother and sis in law used to have one of those tiny meat/cheese slicers when their kids were little .. they used to save alot using it .. i asked her (recently) if she still had it .. she said she hasnt seen it since my brother died (which was in 2006) but since its only her and the youngest son at home (and he’s practically out on his own now, he’s 21) .. she doesnt need it ..
but those slicers are awesome .. on of my friends, she used to buy a small package of the turkey that was in the case near the deli dept .. and ask them to slice up the meat .. same with the cheese too .. it was cheaper than buying the meats/cheese in the deli cases (for xxx amt per pound) ..
I really enjoy your emails and Dining on a Dime Cookbook. It is very helpful. I had noticed in todays post you mentioned that you were gluten and sugar free. I am free of the same. Do you have any ideas or recipes for those of us that are free of the same? It is so expensive to eat this way, but sometimes you don’t have a choice.
Thanks in advance
You ought to think about a cookbook for people that are gluten free and sugar free!;)
Thank you Sandi. We have been asked to write a book on gluten free and sugar free before but we also have people who want us to write one for diabetics, egg free, milk free, wheat free, meat free, yeast free and that is just the beginning. As you can see it would be hard. One thing many have found is Dining is one of the easier cookbooks to adapt many of the recipes for these things.
I use a web site called HowDoesSheDoIt.com for menu planning. I found it on a tip web site and it is great. It’s free and you can store your own recipes on it as well as fin new ones. You can make up your weekly menu and print a shopping list and check off what you have on hand so that you don’t buy extras. I have slashed my groceries by 35% so far. LOVE it!
We have a local TV station that features receipes from the community on Saturdays. I have not tried this one yet but it sounds good!
Loaded baked Potatoe Salad (This makes right much but I am sure you can cut it in half)
4 lbs of potatos boiled with skin on untill tender
4 ozs of soft butter
1 cup of chopped onion including the tops
2 cups of grated cheddar cheese
16 oz if sour cream
1 Tablespoon of black pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
cut cooked potatoes in small pieces remove some of the skin but not all
add remaing ingredients and toss to combine
you can top with extra cheese and onions to garinsh if you like
Serve hot or cold
I totally understand! Do you have any tips for those of us that are gluten free for saving money?
I’m not sure how to answer this because even though you have to eat gluten free you are still eating veggies, fruits, meats, things like potatoes etc. so saving on those would be no different then we all have to do. That is a whole lot of foods you can eat that you can save on.
I don’t know this to be true of you necessarily Sandi but I am going to address it for those who need it on your comment. Be sure you really need to be on a gluten free diet and have been tested by a family doctor. We went from a nation who had never heard of gluten free anything at all to in a few years what seems like 90% of the population need to be gluten free. It reminds me of a funny commercial I saw the other day. A man sat down to watch tv and the ad came on the tv and said “Do you get headaches, stomach aches and your heart beats faster?” Then you probably have … such and such. The man changed the channel and this time it was for another medical condition and said you need to take this medication. By the time the man had sat through 4 commercials he thought he had cancer, heart disease, FB, and dementia and he had started the evening out feeling fine.
Be sure if any of you are on a special diet that you have been tested by a doctor. In the same way years ago people started following the idea that they had to have designer jeans, shoes, purses etc. I see it now happening in the health world – the same jump on the bandwagon mentality – you need to drink this energy drink, take these vitamins (all 14 bottles of them), eat this food and especially don’t eat that food. I’m just saying many of you are doing it because of hear say and not because you doctor has said you should so be careful. In the same way people years ago would diagnosis (sp) themselves and stopped eating fat because it was bad for you and after awhile of that they found out that the babies brains weren’t developing right because the moms didn’t have enough fat in their diet.
If you need to be on this diet then do it and like I said this wasn’t for you Sandi but I have had this comment so many times just today alone I thought I would answer it here for others.
I’ve been on a GF diet for more than 3 years now and it’s not more expensive. Yes, it is if you want all the fancy premade pancake mixes, cookies etc. but those can be treats and not an everyday food. You can easily sub. corn products like tortillas and chips for a lot of things. Yes, we miss bread but you don’t have to have the fancy stuff. I save those premade GF breads for times when I want to eat a poached egg or BLT but I don’t eat it every day.
Teri in Nebr.
Lazy Cook’s Meatballs
Buy a 1 pound package of frozen little breakfast sausages that do not have casing on them. Defrost. Cut into bite sizes. Coat with flour prevents them from shrinking) I add pepper and garlic salt to the flour, and fry in pan on stovetop. Add to spaghetti sauce, or make a white sauce and serve w/alfredo noodles, or add to mushroom soup and serve over noodles.
You can also mix the defrosted sausage with equal or 1/2 lb. hamburger, pkg. of onion soup mix and make your own meatballs – recommend baking these in the oven on cookie sheet so they are thoroughly cooked.
Thanks ladies, Unfortunately I am one of those that medically has to be off gluten. Do either one of you have an all purpose flour recipe you use in most recipes? I find the all purpose gluten free flour that is prepackaged to be expensive. I know alot of people mix their own using a variety of different flours.
Just look up gluten free flour mixes and start trying them. I’ve tried 5-8 so far and don’t have one yet that I just “love”.
I am also gluten free because of stomach issues. I have found that by just eating fresh, non processed foods that it is easy to avoid gluten. It is also saving me money since I cut out all the junk foods with gluten and most bread. They is good GF pastas out there now. I do keep the GF bread in the freezer in case I want a sandwich or toast. I save the heels of the bread to make my bread crumbs for recipes that call for them. If I just “have” to have something sweet the local bakery has GF cupcakes on Tuesdays! But usually if I have to drive to get it I will not go.
Most years, I have a fair amount of canning to do from my garden and my home grown rabbits. I have found that canning some things takes a little more effort at the time, but makes for real convenience later on. Canned boneless meat makes for super quick and easy meals. Canned pumpkin is instantly ready for muffins, pancakes or pies. My neighbour takes the time to peel and can the baby potatoes from her garden, because she finds them to be so convenient on a busy night. (More work than I would do). With that in mind, I would like to share an insight that a Christian woman teacher shared a few weeks back, which I think is echoed in this article that you wrote today. Just because something is harder, doesn’t automatically make it God’s will. Application: Just because some strategy is more labour intensive, doesn’t make it the “right or only choice” for preparing frugal, delicious and nutritious meals.
Very good point and that is so true in many areas.
Micah @ MicahKlug.com
I love the suggestions on this list, especially about keeping the kitchen clean. It’s true when my kitchen isn’t clean I don’t want to be anywhere near that room! Something else I also found that is a lifesaver is freezer meals. My family and I take one Saturday a month (usually the second Saturday after we get a feel for how the month is going to go) and we make 7-10 freezer meals. We use these meals as “emergency staples.” I cannot tell you how many times these yummy freezer meals have saved us from eating out on those crazy, unplanned and hectic days.