Guest Post: Mrs. Herb from Herb on Herbs – Saving money by cooking at home

Mrs. 1500 here.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a blog I love, called Herb on Herbs. While not a personal finance blog, they write about food, providing recipes to go along with amazing photos of tasty-looking dishes. This is a great site to visit when menu-planning for the week or month, because you may hit a brick wall when trying to decide what to eat. This site can help you save money by inspiring you to stay home and cook, rather than go out to dinner when you can’t think of anything to make.

Without further ado, here is Mrs. Herb, from HerbonHerbs.com.

Shortcut Asian Chicken Teriyaki and Rice

Shortcut Asian Chicken Teriyaki and Rice

I get it.  You just spent the day hard at work at your job or perhaps taking care of your screaming, demanding children, or maybe even a combination of both! You’re tired and hungry while the kids (including your spouse!) are whining to be fed. You are tempted to appease them by going to the nearest drive-thru. After all, it’s not like you have anything at home that you could fix!

But the reality is, when you choose to eat out, you most likely are over-SPEND-ing and over-EAT-ing. A double whammy to your wallet and your waist. Or, for those of you working toward FIER (Financial Independence Early Retirement), you can think about it like this: you are adding extra mandatory workdays to your career!

Beef Taco Skillet

Beef Taco Skillet

Let me be realistic for a moment. I am not trying to convince you to NEVER set foot in a restaurant again. I am only suggesting that you make these visits less frequent. As much as Herb and I like to cook, we still enjoy eating out with friends and family or on date nights. We make conscious decisions to eat in as much as possible, which makes it that much more enjoyable when we do eat out and I don’t have to do the dishes!

I also realize that for families with picky children (or spouses!), cooking can be even more challenging. Or maybe you’re single and just never really learned to cook anything beyond Ramen noodles, and the thought of cooking intimidates you.

Whatever the case, I’m convinced that EVERYONE should learn to make at least a few basic meals that you and your family can enjoy. It doesn’t have to be worthy of a 5 star restaurant review for it to be satisfying for you.

Shortcut Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo

Shortcut Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo

Since this is a personal finance blog, let me just say that this is one area I feel that many families can improve in. Do you realize how much money you’re spending on eating out?

When I first started learning about personal finance and tracking my spending a few years ago, I was astonished at how much I was spending per month (as a single person!) on eating out with friends. It didn’t seem like much at the time: ten bucks here, twenty bucks there. But it added up to some serious cash each month. If you haven’t done this yet, try tracking just for one month how much you spend on dining out. It may be an eye-opener for you.

Mrs. 1500 recently shared a post asking how much people spend on groceries. Herb and I average around $250 a month in groceries for the two of us. I just checked our budget, and for 2013 it looks like we are actually averaging closer to $200/month for groceries (yay!) And it’s not like we’re starving ourselves by any means. This amount includes all the delicious meals that we blog about over at HerbOnHerbs, and I feel like we eat very well most of the time!

Breaded Ranch Chicken Tenders

Breaded Ranch Chicken Tenders

My main “secret” is that we try to limit our grocery visits to once a week. We usually do one larger grocery run per month to stock up on staples (Costco/Sam’s Club are great for this), and then 2-3 other grocery visits throughout the month to get items like fruit, vegetables, and milk.

Another “secret” is that the staple items are part of planning ahead for recipes. I know that if I have a few certain ingredients in the house, I can whip up a quick meal without having to run to the grocery store. Also for these items, I have a general idea of what they normally cost so that if they go on sale, I can stock up.

10 staples we always have on hand:

-Flour
-Whole grain instant rice
-Pasta
-Olive Oil
-Canned and Frozen Veggies**
-Frozen chicken breast tenders**
-Garlic and spices
-Shredded cheese
-Canned soup – tomato, broccoli cheese, cream of chicken, etc.
-Hunts tomato sauce

**These are my two favorite secrets. Chicken breast tenders can be bought on sale at around $1.99/pound. I stock up and freeze them, 6-8 tenders per bag, then put them in the fridge to thaw the night before I want to use them. Steam-in-the-bag veggies are super quick and easy and only $1-2 per bag. Just throw them in the microwave for a few minutes and they’re ready to eat as-is or to use in a recipe.

You can make a number of great meals from the few ingredients listed above that are healthy, cost-effective, and don’t take all evening to make! In fact, I’d say the majority of the meals we make at home come from these core ingredients.

Need a few ideas?

Like Asian food? Check out our Shortcut Asian Chicken Teriyaki and Rice

Mexican? Beef Taco skillet

Italian? Shortcut Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo

Have children? Herb and I don’t have any kids yet, but we hear from other parents that it’s great to get the kids involved when cooking. For one thing, it can be fun, and for another, if they’ve helped prepare the meal, they are more likely to eat it! There are a few fun recipes that I imagine would be kid-friendly.

Why not try breaded ranch chicken tenders? They will feed the whole family, and let’s be honest: they are healthier than the pink slime in your children’s chicken nuggets!  Let your kids get their hands dirty and dip the chicken tenders into the butter and then roll them around in the breading.

Like pizza? Make it a fun event for the whole family, and let your kids add their favorite toppings, like the 1500’s family pizza night.

The list goes on and on. There are so many quick and easy recipes to tempt your palate!

And when all else fails and you’re at a loss for what to cook, you can always just Google the ingredients you have at the house and see what comes up.

You can improve your health, and your finances, by learning to cook a few simple recipes. And you may even find that you enjoy it!

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17 Responses to Guest Post: Mrs. Herb from Herb on Herbs – Saving money by cooking at home

  1. Michelle says:

    All of this food looks so yummy! We eat at home a lot now. We are healthier and saving money.
    Michelle recently posted…Are you spending more? Better off today than before?My Profile

  2. Thanks for the food ideas. As a semi-pretired stay-at-home dad, I now am in charge of the cooking. Unfortunately I don’t really know how to cook so it’s been a challenging time. But this is exactly what I need: ideas for cheap, easy and healthy food.
    Pretired Nick recently posted…Wasting your money on fireworks is for suckersMy Profile

    • Mrs. 1500 says:

      Here is a tip from me, a mom who is currently battling picky eaters who don’t like it today, but loved it yesterday. Only put healthy, natural foods out for them to snack on. We went through a phase where everything came out of a box. Now struggling to get back to the healthy foods.

  3. Great post! Eating in is key to saving money and I’m lucky my husband is such a fantastic cook. I would like to be better and have a few go-to meals that I can whip up when he’s not feelin’ it, so I’ll have to check out your blog for ideas! I also like using leftovers for lunch at the office — saves loads of money on eating out during the day.
    Kendal @HassleFreeSaver recently posted…Cutting Expenses: The Pixie EditionMy Profile

  4. It’s been a slow process, but I’m learning step by step to cook more from scratch. The only annoyance is that a lot of the vegetarian cooking bloggers use super fancy ingredients that can be tough to find. But I’m getting better at it and aspire to someday cut out more of the premade sauces and shortcuts that I use. =)
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted…Reader Question: 100 Boxes. How Many Would You Open?My Profile

    • Mrs. 1500 says:

      I have found that co-ops are great places to find those special ingredients. When we lived in Madison (the hippie capital of the world) they had a wonderful co-op. I haven’t found one here in CO yet, but I am looking. Good luck!

  5. cj says:

    Great ideas, Mrs. Herb. We are not as proficient in the kitchen as you, but we were able to invent very simple, inexpensive meals that we love and it keeps us eating at home the great majority of the time. We’ve lost over 40 pounds combined and are saving over $60 a month on food since we developed our at home menu. Have a groovy gravy day!!!
    cj recently posted…The Lean CleanMy Profile

    • Mrs. 1500 says:

      I would love to hear about those recipes that are easy, and help you lose weight. Use the Contact Me page on my site if you would like to guest post.

  6. Cooking at home is also a great way to increase time well spent with family, if everyone pitches in.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Great tips — especially the staples to keep on hand! I stock up on frozen vegetable mixes when they go on sale, and they’re a life-saver on a hectic day. I also keep portions of frozen grain (rice, millet or quinoa) for a quick side. I also keep lentils in the cupboard because they cook up quickly for a protein.

    Lately I’ve started slicing up chicken before freezing it so I’ve got quick stir fry fare.

    • Mrs. 1500 says:

      Thanks for the frozen grain tip. I have been meaning to cook up a big batch of rice and freeze it, I just haven’t been able to get to it. It takes so long to cook when you are just cooking it for one meal. I prefer regular rice to minute rice, but I find myself making minute rice all the time…

  8. Mrs. 1500 says:

    Jake, the key to weaning off processed foods is to add a new, unprocessed recipe from time to time. If you can find two recipes with similar ingredients, even better. You can make a lot out of ground beef/turkey/chicken and vegetables, with minimal extras.

  9. Tara says:

    I’ve started making meal plans so I know when I need to take things out of the freezer so they’re ready in time.

    I also keep a few instant meals on hand. My fiancee is SUPER picky about food (complete opposite of me, I’ll eat anything!) so I always keep some ready made foods like Steak-umms or Udon noodles (all purchased at Costco) that he’ll eat if what I’m cooking is not up to his snuff. I also recommend having some good snack foods on hand (chips salsa/cheese dip, carrots, etc) that are cheap but can hold people over until the dinner is ready.

    • Mrs. 1500 says:

      A great tip my mother gave me when she was helping out with the first baby 1500, is to know what you are going to make for dinner in the morning. Also, carrots keep almost forever in the refrigerator, so we always have some in there for a quick side dish.

  10. The Recovering Coupon Queen says:

    Totally agree with you. As a parent of five children I know first-hand how enormous the difference between eating out and in can be. We can eat healthy meals in for an entire month or we can eat out junk-food style 10 times for the same cost.

    Another tip is having some of those last-minute prep or reheat meals be items that are not always on the menu… special treats for last minute meals. That helps make the decision to bypass the drive-through even easier 🙂
    The Recovering Coupon Queen recently posted…The Focus on Savings vs IncomeMy Profile

  11. Food looks amazing in the photos, sure makes me hungry. I agree that when we do happen to eat out its a double whammy. The amount of money we spent vs if we just made it would be crazy. But sometimes you need to just go out and relax and have fun. Since we cut back on eating out though our pockets and waistlines have improved.
    Thomas | Your Daily Finance recently posted…Damn Kids Are Expensive and Eating All My FoodMy Profile

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