Food takes up a big portion of most people's budget. This is an area where many people can cut back, and still eat well. If you are taking a pay cut, you may need to stop eating out altogether. The key is to have a plan in place to use the money as well as you can. If you are spending a lot of money on eating out over the week, you may be surprised at just how much money you can free up by kicking the fast food habit. In addition to saving money, you may experience health benefits since you can choose healthier options to eat at home. These suggestions will help you kick your fast food habit and make it easier to prepare your food yourself. If you are looking for more ways to save you may consider extreme couponing.
1. Menu Planning
Planning ahead is the most important step if you are trying to stop eating out. If you do not know what you are having for dinner that night it is much easier to stop at a restaurant on the way home. Menu planning cuts down on the number of times you need to go to a grocery store during the week, saving you money at the grocery story and giving you more time to prepare food. If you plan carefully, you can plan to use similar ingredients in your menus each week. Plan your menu for the month and break it down by week for your grocery list. You can repeat your monthly menu each month without suffering appetite fatigue. Another option is to use a menu planning service. There are several available online for around $5.00 a month.
2. Make Ahead
Do as much preparation as you can before work. If you are planning to grill out you can put the meat in to marinate before you go to work. If you are planning a casserole you can put the ingredients together in the morning or the night before. If you have meals that have similar ingredients, you may prep an additional meal or two while you are making one. For example, if you are having sloppy joes, beef enchiladas and lasagna in one week you can brown the beef and prep the enchiladas and lasagna at the same time you finish up the sloppy joes. This saves time since the prep for the meals is similar. You can also chop up a batch of onions for the week or grate all of the cheese you need for the week.
3. Convenience Food
You can save money by cooking the majority of your food from scratch. It can be healthier to use fresh vegetables rather than frozen, but choosing to use convenience foods can save you money if you compare the costs to eating out. You may start cooking using a wide variety of convenience foods and wean off of them as you get used to cooking and planning. Some typical convenience foods are grated cheese, frozen chopped onions, frozen vegetables for stir fry and already cooked meat for recipes. If you are cooking for just yourself, these options may be easier than preparing an individual meal each night. Another option is to cook ahead and divide the meals into smaller portions and freeze them to use throughout the month.
4. Back Up Plan
Another trick to help you stay on track is to buy ready to eat foods for the nights where you are too tired to cook. These may be frozen meals, or meals in the bag. Spaghetti is an easy food to prepare, and to store in your pantry. Also mixes for meals can fill in the gaps. Frozen but already cooked chicken breasts or deli meat can be used to put together a quick meal or snack when you do not have enough time to cook.
5. Lunch Solutions
Many people eat fast food for lunch at work, even if they are good at cooking dinner. There are several different options to make eating lunch at work easier. If you want to get out of the office for lunch, pack your lunch and take it to the park to eat instead of going to a restaurant. Pack your lunch the night before to save time in the mornings. You can eat leftovers or adapt what you had into a unique lunch. For example you can use the chicken breasts you grilled the night before to make a chicken salad. Or you can make a taco salad out of leftover taco meat. Frozen dinners and soup are a good fallback for the days you didn't have time to prep a lunch. Learn other readers' brown bag lunch ideas and share your own.