|Aiden learning to make a healthy version of Chocolate Cake|
In this post I am going to focus on cooking and eating at home. I love to cook and create tasty meals for my family. I am blessed to have had a Mum who let us help her in the kitchen from a young age. She was not much of a cook when she first got married and was still learning while raising us. She had a tight budget and few of the luxuries of today, but she managed not only to feed us good healthy meals, she also managed to raise 3 children to be really good cooks themselves.
Sadly I meet a lot of people who cannot say the same thing. Too many women I talk to about the home will confess that they can barely put a meal together, never mind make healthy nutritious food from scratch. Feeding their families is a chore they would rather avoid, so avoid they do. Instead of simple but delicious food cooked at home they resort to take out, frozen convenience foods and the most expensive of them all, eating out. Many of these same women also confess to a longing to be homemakers, but cannot afford to give up paid employment. It is to these women (who are sadly too many in number) that I dedicate this particular post.
If you can find a way to control the spending on food life on a single income becomes a lot more possible. Glean what information is useful to you and your circumstances and let the rest be. Below are some of the things that have made living on a single income while still enjoying good food possible for our family.
Set a budget
This may seem simple, and in many ways it is. You might be surprised at how much money you will save just by setting a budget for food/groceries and then sticking to it. We currently have a monthly budget, but there were times it was fortnightly, as that is how often my darling husband gets paid. Once the budget is spent then no more trips to the store until the next allotment comes around. Now that we have children to consider we make extra effort to not run out of budget for the essentials like milk or eggs.
Become a copy cat
Learn how to make your favorite restaurant meals at home. I have found Allrecipes.com a great resource for new recipes. Then there is always a Google search for the recipe of a particular dish. The Internet is full of people ready to share recipes they have made or found that taste just like that dish you always have to have at your favorite restaurant.
This is a big one in our home. My husband and I both enjoy really good food, and really good food starts with really good ingredients. There are many areas in our life where we are willing to cut corners, but quality of food is not one of them. We both would rather have less quantity lying around our pantry in favor of better quality. It will also help remove the temptation to eat out more if the food at home tastes really good.
Buy the best quality ingredients your budget will allow for. It really does make a difference to the taste. Growing up in Scotland meant that grass fed and finished meat was just ordinary meat. It took me a while to realize that one of the reasons beef and chicken both tasted so different to me was because they were corn fed. We are slowly switching one food item at a time to a better, healthier variety. We recently switched our beef to grass fed and finished. We can only afford to do this by purchasing half a cow at a time, as the cost per lb is significantly less when bought in bulk. My next target will be butter from grass fed sources only. I haven't even began my research yet, but I will try to find a local source before I resort to imported Irish or Danish butter.
This is a process with a lot of learning along the way. Probably the easiest way to start is by choosing organic produce. Start with those items that are most important to you. We use a lot of potatoes and onions, and these are also 2 of the worst vegetables for absorbing chemicals from the soil. As a result we made these our top priority for switching to organic. Next we focused on "The Dirty Dozen" that we use most frequently. Once Aiden started drinking regular milk we also made sure to only buy organic milk. I would like to switch to raw organic milk, but have not yet found a source.
The Berkey Water Filter. It comes in various sizes. The filter elements are cleanable and the tank is stainless steel. Once of the sizes was priced at exactly $250 and came with free shipping. We have been using our Berkey for over 3 years and we have cleaned the filter elements twice in that time. It still works really well and the water tastes great. One of my favorite aspects to this particular filter system is that is leaves the essential healthy minerals in the water. After the initial cost it has cost us nothing and provides enough filtered water every day for both drinking and cooking.
Spend money to save money
It may seem counter-intuative that to save money by cooking at home it is wise to invest some money on good quality key kitchen items. I highly recommend investing in a few really good quality stainless steel pots, a cast iron skillet, a slow cooker and a few good baking dishes. These items are important to me because while I like to cook I don't particularly relish the cleaning. Having good quality pots makes clean up easier. Easier clean up means you are more likely to actually cook food at home. It is important to remember that this does not have to happen overnight. Use what you have and slowly replace with better quality as you can afford to.
Our most recent purchase was a stand mixer. I have wanted one of this particular brand for many years. When I first arrived we could not afford one. So I waited. After almost four years it is finally in my kitchen. Now as someone who likes to cook and bake it is not going to change what I make, but it certainly takes a lot of the elbow grease out of bread making for me.
That woman's touch!
Try to make your kitchen a beautiful and cheerful place. This doesn't have to cost much. Decluttering the counters and adding a favorite picture or photo collection can work wonders. Personally I made sure this was the room our CD player/radio was placed in. I enjoy singing while I cook, so having a source of music is important for my kitchen. More meals will be cooked at home IF you enjoy spending time in the kitchen.
We have found that keeping a running grocery list is really useful. We try to avoid going to the store for 1 or 2 items. To combat that temptation we keep a running list. When either of us notices that we are getting low on a particular item we add it to the list. By adding before we run out we are able to wait until a scheduled trip to the store before replenishing our supply. Our scheduled trips are staggered between the 3 stores we regularly use, with each one scheduled once a month. We also have a scheduled milk and produce store trip once a week that Rob will do on his way home from work. By having a list AND staying out of the stores we avoid the temptation to spend more money on items we don't actually need.
When you are cooking, make extra and freeze it for later. Rob prefers freshly cooked food and would rather take left overs the next day for lunch. However I have found that freezing side dishes works well for us. I do this with stuffed potatoes, mac'n'cheese, cooked rice, mashed potatoes, soup and stock. I'll cover instructions for these in another post dealing specifically with cooking from scratch.
The most important part of cooking and eating at home, for me, is to have fun. If being in your kitchen and preparing meals feels like a drudgery then you won't do it. If you have fun while you work, and enjoy what you do, you'll begin to look forward to meal preparations. As I already mentioned I like to sing while I cook. I will also dance to the music if I'm in a particularly playful mood, or if Aiden needs entertaining at the same time. He finds my silly dancing quite amusing and will watch and giggle while I work.
If you have made it this far you might be feeling a big overwhelmed. I never intend for these posts to get so long, but that is usually how they turn out. I'll leave the details of how to cook from scratch for the next post. Meanwhile I hope you can start to enjoy your kitchen and make it a place where you have fun and create wonderful food for the whole family.