It’s a new year, which means it’s a new you, right? During this time of reflection and self-improvement, many of us will be thinking of ways to trim down our waistlines. And while that’s certainly a noble pursuit—one that I really ought to start taking seriously, like, now—I’m actually more inclined to consider ways in which I can trim a type of metaphorical fat: my monthly food budget. As a result, I began thinking about dishes I should start making at home to save more money this year.
If you haven’t quite allowed yourself to come around to this reality (I fought it for years), cooking at home saves you money over eating out. I mean, it makes perfect sense. Providers, distributors, and restaurants respectively supply, deliver, and prepare our food. They’re also all businesses and employers that need to pay staff and turn a profit. This means upcharges. So, rather than pay upcharges on the regular, which add up in a hurry, cook at home. Not only will this save you money, but it likely will mean healthier eating too. Why? Because, instead of a stick of butter, you can choose to use only, say, half. When you have control over what goes into your dish (or drink), your waistline (often, but not always) wins.
Now, before I proceed, I need to make something clear. Cooking at home requires certain things, like cookware, cooking appliances, and cooking gas or electricity. If you don’t have these things, they will cost money. That being said, it’s money well spent if you plan to use it. Before you know it, the savings of home cooking will add up, not only paying for the item you use, but saving you money in the long run. Additionally, some items require ingredients that you will be buying in bulk. Think a pinch of salt, when you will be buying a much larger container. Don’t get scared off by the initial sticker shock at the register. Just remember: you won’t need to buy that ingredient every time you hit the grocery store. This is a long-term play. Again, if you use these ingredients consistently, you’ll come out ahead. So, without further ado, here are a few dishes and drinks you should consider making at home.
There’s an old “Seinfeld” episode where Jerry explains that he gets his coffee out. For a long time, that strategy was probably fine. A bottomless cup of joe at your neighborhood diner likely didn’t break the bank. But this was before the proliferation of Starbucks and their delicious line of $5 beverages. Do yourself a favor and start whipping up your own lattes or cold brews. Not only are they pretty easy to make, they’re a whole lot less expensive.
There was a time when I was a staunch “there’s no reason to not get pizza out” kind of guy. But then I looked into what was in pizza: flour (cheap), yeast (cheap when bought in bulk), sugar (cheap), salt (cheap), tomato sauce (cheap), garlic (cheap), veggies (cheap), sausage/pepperoni (cheap). It’s a lot of inexpensive ingredients. While a nice can of tomato sauce works, if you make your own tomato sauce, it’s even less expensive. Some will say a pizza stone will help you make a pizzeria-style dough. Still, a large baking sheet, pre-heated to 500 degrees, might do the trick too. Here’s a Basic Pizza Dough recipe.
Similar to pizza, bread is made with a few simple and cost-friendly items. What’s more, have you ever tasted fresh-baked bread? It’s fantastic! Plus, when you make it at home, you skip all those pesky multisyllabic chemical-sounding ingredients. Use it for a sandwich. Use it to accompany a main dish. Use it to dip into soup (see below). But to save some coin, make it yourself. Here’s a homemade bread recipe.
I feel like a bit of a broken record. Pasta, like bread and pizza, is made from a few simple, inexpensive ingredients—flour, eggs, and salt. The from scratch stuff is a touch more tender and doughy. It also is more likely to have more texture, which is perfect for capturing sauce. Still, if you’re looking for ease and cost effectiveness, a boxed pasta for a dollar will work just fine. While you likely can save a few cents by making it yourself vs. buying some from the store, the real savings is in making your favorite pasta dish at home rather than ordering it out. Try this Fresh Pappardelle Pasta with Butternut Squash recipe.
Have you, or someone you know, ever said to yourself, “I could eat Chipotle, like, every day.” At one point in my life, I think I agreed to that sentiment. The thing is, you can make your favorite Tex-Mex burrito bowl at home for less. After all, pulled pork, rice, beans, and veggies aren’t exactly wagyu beef, you know? Here’s a link to a great copycat Chipotle carnitas recipe.
There’s nothing more perfect on a cold winter day than a cup of soup and some homemade bread (see above). If you find yourself seeking out soup or chili from your local deli, or chain-based bakery/bread shop, stop. You can make it all at home, just the way you want. There’s no reason to spend $5 (cup) to $10 (bowl) on soup anymore! Here’s a cream of chicken and wild rice recipe worth looking into.
When I go to my favorite breakfast restaurant, I’m often shocked at the bill, which sometimes reaches staggering costs upwards of $50. Whoa! Pancakes for $8.95?! Omelets for $14?!?! “No more,” I say! Make pancakes and waffles for pennies on the dollar, or fancy, fluffy omelets for a fraction of the cost of those at your local breakfast-and-lunch-only spot.
As I’ve gotten older, my sweet tooth has grown larger. On special occasions, I’ll go for pie. On regular occasions, I’m a cookies and/or (preferably and) kind of guy. Always intimidated by making my own ice cream, we just recently got an ice cream maker. I was surprised to find out that ice cream need only consist of a few ingredients (though some call for a couple more): milk, sugar, heavy cream, and vanilla. That’s quite manageable, and likely to beat the pants off the price of a pint at the local supermarket, or scoop of ice cream at your favorite ice cream parlor.
Look, I’m not saying you can’t hit the bar once in a while and sample a local concoction. But if it’s happening multiple nights a week, you may start to notice your bank account getting pretty light. Don’t worry, though! In fact, you might be better off mixing your own elixirs at home. A bottle of your favorite spirit might seem like a hefty investment until you realize you’ve been paying $14 to $20 for those cocktails out. Plus, like with everything else, you get to make your drink the way you like it!
Look, I get it. Every now and again, you’re going to go out with friends and splurge on a meal or a drink. That’s fine. I still do it all too often. But if you’re like me, and looking for a way to cut back on some cost (and calories) in the new year, consider making a few of your dining out favorites at home. Your wallet and waistline will thank you. Oh, and as an added bonus, you’ll likely have quick, homemade leftovers to freeze or enjoy later in the week with little extra work, and no extra cost. Score!
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