Learn to Love Cooking – It’ll Save You Money & Make You Healthy

Eating out is a nice luxury every now and then, but that’s what it is, a luxury.  And luxury = expensive.  It’s also generally not good for you.  And although it’s getting better, good vegan and vegetarian options are really hard to come by in most restaurants.

If you are serious about being healthy and living more frugally, one of the most important things you can do is cook for yourself.  Instead of viewing it as a chore, learn to appreciate cooking as a fun, fulfilling hobby.  Here is how I’ve been able to make cooking healthy, budget-friendly, and FUN:

Step 1 – Plan your meals
If you’re like me, you are BUSY.  Time is short, especially during the week.  At the end of a long day, the last thing I want to do is start thinking about planning meals, going out food shopping, or much of anything really.  So either on Saturday or Sunday, my wife and I will plan out our meals for the week.  Usually about three to four recipes per week will be enough to make lunches and have dinner for the week for the family.  There are a few benefits to planning ahead:
Better meal quality

There are so many great resources online, there is no need to resolve yourself to either making the same few recipes you learned to make from you mom growing up or even worse, just eating microwave dinners and prepackaged foods.  And don’t get me started on these meal kits.  They’re crazy expensive and horrible for the environment (all that packaging, yuck).  Although we pull recipes from a variety of online resources and cookbooks, a site we’ve been coming across a lot recently in our search for delicious vegetarian-friendly recipes is The Minimalist Baker.  Leave the recipes to the experts.  They go to school for it.  They train and slave away for hours to perfect their recipes.  I know my skills, and developing recipes isn’t one of them.

Some of the cookbooks my wife has brought home from her office over the years (she works in food media):

Our recipe book collection

Save time

Relying on somebody else for your recipes saves you time because you’re not trying to figure out what you should have for dinner every night and you’re not wasting time in the supermarket not knowing what to buy.  Once you have built up some common staples, like cans of beans, rice, grains, and a great spice collection, your shopping trips could end up being lightning fast, just picking up those extra few ingredients for the recipe of the week.

Save money

Planning out your meals in advance also saves you money because you’re not buying superfluous items while you’re at the supermarket.  You know your game plan, and if you stick to it, you’ll just end up with the essentials.  You won’t be throwing food away that goes bad either!  It hurts to even think about throwing food away.

Eat Healthier

And finally, planning your meals out in advance will make you healthier.  When it comes to game time decisions, our hunger (or laziness) gets the best of us, and we pick up that carton of ice cream on our way out of the supermarket.  By sitting down and making the plan ahead of time, we can avoid those urges and in many ways force ourselves to eat right.  If you know what meal you’re cooking that night, it gives you something to look forward to, and should get you excited about cooking and less likely to pick up fast food on the way home.
Have fun

What do you REALLY want to eat?  Think about it, if you could eat anything right now, from anywhere in the world, what would it be?  Great, you can make it!  This is the best part of learning to cook for yourself.  It’s extremely rewarding to find a new recipe, give it a try, and have it end up tasting delicious.  I haven’t made the same meal twice in over two months! 

Step 2 – Walk to the supermarket
Now that I’ve got my fun new recipes in hand, the next step is to walk to the local supermarket.  Now, you may not live in an area that makes this possible, and I do feel sorry for you.  This is a topic for another time, but if you’re serious about saving money and getting healthy, I would consider living in an area that doesn’t force you to rely on your car for everything.There is a small grocery chain local to NJ that’s roughly a 10 minute walk from where we live.  We recently purchased a small personal rolling cart so the groceries are easier to carry back to our house.  And since we’re buying for only a week’s worth of food at a time, the load is never too heavy anyway.

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According to the Mayo Clinic, there are lots of health benefits to walking long distances (duh).  Walking to the supermarket is a good excuse to get out of the house, get some light exercise, and spend some quality time with your significant other (or some much needed alone time).  With a destination in mind and the end goal of a delicious home-cooked meal, it’s always rewarding.

Step 3 – Cook and Enjoy!

This is the best part.  Bring your haul from the grocery store home, put on some music, and cook you and your family some delicious, healthy, budget-friendly meals.  Enjoy each other’s company, learn some new skills, and eat healthier and tastier food than you ever have before.

And you could throw a potluck dinner and show off your new skills.  Next time your friends invite you out to eat, ask them if they want to try a new home-cooked dish instead.

Note our vegetarian contributions of Cauliflower Bites and Pumpkin Lasagna
Hopefully I’ve inspired you to plan this week’s meals, hit the market and cook something great tonight.  Enjoy!

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