Okay. 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 a meal at home 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 with going out to eat being one of the top three causes of credit card debt and child obesity and diabetes on the rise, I think we need to start reconsidering cooking at home. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
One of the biggest reasons people hate cooking at home is their kitchen is such a disaster area. Take the time to clean and organize that one room. If you need to get some help, then do, even if it 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 to 20 minutes to clean up after each 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.
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, too. This will help reveal what you have too much or too little of and what you need to use or buy. This will also 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 Dining on a Dime Cook Book
). 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.
In a notebook, write a week's worth of menus. You only have to do this for three weeks. At the end of that time, you will have 21 menus. You now have almost month's worth of menus. 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 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 menus in categories like elaborate (for the days you have more time) and quick (for those "nothing has gone right today, so what can I fix when I am blurry eyed and have only five minutes" days). I usually make about three to four menus in each category.
Be flexible. If you get to the grocery store and they have some thing unbelievable on sale, then adapt your menus accordingly.
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.
Prepare as much as you can the night before or first thing in the morning. Clean carrot sticks and veggies and make Jell-O, pudding or desserts. Fry 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, which is the busiest time of day (when everyone is tired, fussy and needs your attention). Besides, it is easier to concentrate on fixing two or three items ahead of time instead of trying to take care of five or six things all at the last minute.
Give yourself a break. You will be saving a great deal by eating at home, 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.
Jill Cooper raised two teenagers alone on $500 a month income after becoming disabled with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She is the co-author of Dining On A Dime Cookbook with her daughter Tawra. To read more of Jill's articles and for free tips and recipes, visit LivingOnADime.com.
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