Want to Really Save Money? Learn to Cook

I was struck a little dumb after reading the following from an article in the Globe and Mail:

A new report has found the number of home-cooked meals Canadians are consuming has dropped steadily in recent years. NPD Group Inc., a global market research firm, said Canadian households consumed 380 homemade meals on average in 2009, a significant decline from 398 the year before and 423 meals in 2003.

At the same time, the report found that the consumption of frozen food rose 15 per cent since 2004 to reach the highest level in a decade. More than 75 per cent of meals and snacks Canadians ate last year were prepared in 15 minutes or less, NPD group reported.

For a point of reference if you eat three times a day you should eat 1095 meals per year.  So on average a Canadian home-cooked 35% of their meals in 2009, which leaves the other 2/3 to eating out or prepackaged food.  Is it any wonder than that this country is getting fat and our debt loads are going up? Yikes!

Out of point of comparison I would guess that we are the complete inverse of that ratio, about 2/3 of our meals are home-cooked (if not more than that).   It’s not like it takes much time or anything.  A double batch of muffins on the weekend will provide breakfast for a week and can be done in 30 minutes and then frozen.  Then heating up a couple in a microwave takes all of 20 seconds.  Not to mention the savings our food budget is about $300/month for a family of four while our eating out budget is another $60/month.

For lunch and supper you just need to buy a 30 minute cookbook.  Heck if your time during the week is that tight for time you can even cheat a bit and pre-cook a batch of ground beef and onions on the weekend.  That way your can drive you cooking time down towards 20 minutes.  Same idea applies to other meats if you are really that rushed.

Perhaps the only thing required of people when the cook home-made food is planning.  Take 15 minutes on Sunday night and get a small whiteboard and write out what you are cooking each night.  That way you can put meat in the fridge the night before to defrost and you avoid the last minute “Oh, what are we eating?” rush that drives a lot of people towards convenience foods.  I always find our week flow so much smoother when we remember to plan out the meals in advance.

Also keep in mind it is ok to use some convenience foods.  It’s completely fine in my mind to eat a frozen pizza on Thursday night if you know you have swimming lessons for the kids at 6:10pm. The problem occurs when you are doing that every night.

So in conclusion, with a little bit of planning and a small amount of cooking skills you can easily drag up your home-cooked to 50% of the time.  Then from there you can get better at cooking and drive that percentage up.  As you go you will likely notice a drop in your grocery bills and your waist line.  So how does your family do for home-cooked meals?  Are you closer to that 35% or up towards 50% or higher?

7 thoughts on “Want to Really Save Money? Learn to Cook”

  1. The temptation to use convenience foods comes in when you are very busy. We’ve found that making a large slow cooker on a Sunday night with beans, stew, pasta sauce, chilli – whatever – makes it much easier to avoid eating out or eating junk food throughout the week. You have easy to take lunch or a quick dinner ready to be heated up. Also, whenever I take the time to cook something, I make extra. I either package or freeze the extra for later meals. Adding some different frozen veggies, or a new sauce to a simple dish and reheating it can make it seem less like leftovers, and more like a new meal.

    This way, I eat healthy food that tastes great, and the occasional time that I eat out (or order in) seems like more of a treat.

  2. I don’t know about the stats – a single girl I used to work with (who made far less $ than myself) would eat a fruit and yogurt at work for breakfast, buy her lunch every day, and said in the evening she’d heat a can of soup or similar. So by their definition, would any of her meals be home-cooked?

    I’m more along the lines of blondheretic and ate out for lunch once a month, if that. In case I didn’t have something available for leftovers, I kept a supply of a few cans of soup at work.

    Our eating out budget is less than $100/month and it’s only that high because if we go out, it’s often to a nicer place as a real treat. Cooking something at home quick is faster than take-out or drive-thru. But part of that is because hamburgers etc. from fast food places taste like crap to me.

    I also have a rule of ‘no cooking on Friday nights’, in which case I throw some frozen chicken wings or a frozen pizza in the oven. It works out well, since when I was working, Sunday would be my big cooking day when I’d prep everything for the coming week and the goal was to run out of the pre-made (by me) food by then.

  3. When I worked full-time, I ate out for lunch nearly every day, so my EO-percent was 5/21, or 24%. I rarely, if ever, ate out for dinner.

    Once I started working P/T in 2001, my EO percent dropped because of more lunches at home. Now that I am fully retired, my EO percent is neglible, maybe 2%.

    For dinners, even if you buy an expensive cut of meat, the cost of a home-cooked meal is much lower than anything similar at a restaurant. I almost always make enough food for a few days so I can nuke the leftovers for a quick and equally cheap meal.

    I make boneless chicken a lot, but I buy lots of it when it is on sale (often 50% off) at the supermarket so I can save $20 every time I but many packages of that at once. I then freeze what I don’t use right away, sometimes for a few months.

  4. I love to cook at home. Once a week, I’ll cut up loads of veggies (onions, mushrooms, peppers, garlic, etc) and aside from that meal for the day, I’ll already have pre-cut veggies ready to go for the next two days. That way, a nice stir fry or porc tenderloin for supper can be prepared in relative short time.

    I think preparation and cleaning can be time consuming for people, particularly those who have crazy schedules. I find this trick works well and saves time for a few days in the run of a week and it is healthy.

    When I travel, I also pack a few all-bran or kellogg’s bars so that if I get a snack attack or there is a delay or something, I’m not itching to scoff down a large deluxe burger, fries n gravy and a couple draught of beer!

    Nice thread. Totally different topic that I’m not used to seeing!

  5. @Tim
    Last time you wrote about your food budget, you made me think that I haven’t made bread for a while…

    Well, even if my husband prefers the industrial bread, I chose to start making bread for myself and my daughters… they really like putting ingredients by themselves in the machine and watching some parts of the process!

    I am now thinking about buying a yogurt machine to make my yogurt by myself… it will cut my yogurt costs in half. And slowly but constantly, I put more beans and yes, some tofu in my recipes 😉

    I am not surprised that canadians are eating more and more like americans… if your parents never showed you how to cook and you were not interested in it… you are more likely to eat easy ready to heat processed foods, as your children will do, etc… with all consequences on health issues that we know. Sad but true.

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone. I think Mama Zen’s comment hit it on the head with “if your parents never showed you how to cook and you were not interested in it… you are more likely to eat easy ready to heat processed foods, as your children will do, etc… with all consequences on health issues that we know. Sad but true.”

    So perhaps that should be part of my goals for my kids. They should be able to cook, clean, and save money before leaving home. Given I can’t keep my youngest out of the kitchen when cooking this should be easy.

    Tim

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