Ditch the take-out habit
Your wallet – and your health – will thank you
PAULINE MILNER SPECIAL TO SALTWIRE
Are your slow cooker and the timer on your stove starting to wear out from over-use? The majority would surely say “no,” while others would ask, “What timer?” or, “I think I got a slow cooker for Christmas once.” Our lifestyles have undergone dramatic changes over the last 40 to 50 years. With today’s go-go-go world, homemade meals eaten around the dining room table have been transformed into occasional holiday meetings when families come together for a meal, leaving everyone to fend for themselves the rest of the time. But this can come at a cost. If you were to look through your monthly bank statement to find out how much money you spend on take-out food, you would likely be surprised the amount is higher than you thought. Fast food has simply become a recurring expense in many budgets, and with inflation, the cost of it has been steadily climbing. Tweaking your schedule and that of other family members, you can find a way to eat more home-cooked meals, which will benefit both your budget and your health. HOW TO DO IT Let’s get you started with some advice on how to eat at home more often. Ensure your kitchen always has these staple ingredients: milk, bread crumbs, chicken and beef stock, eggs, tomatoes, pasta varieties, sour cream, onions, butter, shredded cheese (cheddar, mozzarella or a mixture of both), sugar and flour. In the freezer, you can keep homemade tomato sauce and meat sauce and a couple of packages of chicken and hamburger. If a supply of any staple ingredients dwindles, be sure to add the items to your shopping list for your next stop at the grocery store or market. START SLOW Brenda Cameron of Halifax, N.S., advises “starting slow with some easy meals so you won’t get frustrated and end up ordering take-out.” Purchase a simple cookbook with basic but flavourful recipes. In order to learn new techniques, check for instructional videos on YouTube and watch some food shows designed for amateur cooks. “Make two lists,” says Cameron. “One for take-out, delivering and eating at restaurants, and one for groceries. If you make it a habit to write down the amounts you spend, it forces you to look at the reality of how much you are actually spending on food.” Ultimately, she says, it will encourage you to save money by eating at home. MAKE A PLAN “Food preparation is one of the most challenging aspects to ditching the take-out habit,” says Cameron. To make this part of cooking less daunting, set aside a couple of hours on Sundays for dicing and slicing. When prepping ingredients such as an onion or green pepper, if you only need half, cut it all up and put the unused portion in the refrigerator. You will be more likely to use vegetables that are already chopped so you’ll avoid doing the time-consuming prep phase of making a meal twice. “Cut up vegetables to be used for snacking as soon as you buy them,” says Cheryl Throop of Darlings Island, N.B. “Put snack-size portions in sandwich bags so the kids can grab them from the fridge for a snack or take them to school as part of their lunch.” Throop also suggests, “Do your meal planning for the week on Sunday, a time when you will likely know your schedule for the week.” MAKE WORK EASIER Take advantage of ingredients by making enough for two different meals, Throop says. For example, cook a double batch of rice and use it in stir fry or make a rice pilaf for the next day’s dinner. Another example is to double the amount of hamburger you cook and use it the next night as an ingredient for nachos, chili or spaghetti sauce. Utilizing your stove timer and slow cooker lets you come home to dinner almost being ready – all you need to add is a quick tossed salad or rolls. TEAM EFFORT Invite your other family members into the kitchen to cook with you – even very young children can wash vegetables perched on a stool in front of the sink. If you have more than one child, spend a special couple of hours cooking one-on-one with each of your children. There’s a spin-off bonus here, too, because kids are more likely to eat what’s for dinner if they helped prepare the meal. TRY NEW THINGS If your family gushes about a new meal, take note and put that recipe into a regular rotation, but don’t be afraid to experiment with new recipes and techniques to use in the kitchen. If you mess up a dish, you can always fall back on pizza delivery. Ask family and friends for any old recipes they might have. Cooking has changed over the years with the ability of stores to order more produce from different parts of the world, but the fundamentals will always be there. “For me, I always feel that security when I smell the familiar aroma in my home or taste a particular dish that my mother cooked during my childhood,” says Cameron. OTHER BENEFITS Eating at home comes with additional benefits, such as the opportunity to learn new skills and avoid highly processed foods that could lead to health issues. In addition, you have nearly complete control over what to feed your family and can adjust the seasonings and sauces you use. “When families eat at home, they know everything that has been included in their meals and can be assured of the cleanliness of their own kitchen. Moreover, you know if the food was washed and cooked well,” Cameron says. Instead of thinking that home cooking is too much of a task, try looking at it a different way. Start having some fun in the kitchen. Turn up your favourite music or podcast and consider your time cooking as a stress reliever.