Monday, April 23, 2012

Frugal Luxuries: Cooking Versus Take-Out

NOM - frozen pizza...
Yes, I'm still going on this Frugal business. Once I started thinking about it (and doing it) the ideas just kept flowing...

Cooking at home is way cheaper than eating out. If you don’t believe me crunch the numbers. We were eating takeout for several lunches and dinners through the week, and even occasionally breakfast (both of our offices have cafeterias). That makes for an expensive habit!

Making extra of dinner and bringing leftovers for lunch, or making a giant crock of soup or stew and portioning it out for the week’s lunches is easy.  There are tons of articles out there on how to make cooking easier. You still have to put in time and effort, but a lot of it is prioritizing. What’s the most expensive thing and how can you do it for less? What just isn’t worth the time (either to make it or wait for it)? For example (of the not worth it), chopping or shredding carrots is an absolutely dreaded chore for me that I decided was not worth the kitchen time, but I hated the idea of spending that much more per pound when I could do it myself. I’d buy whole carrots and have them wilt in the drawer, waiting for me to chop them, which is just silly and wasteful. I finally gave in and bought precut matchstick carrots (with the excuse that Max likes them) and it was so worth it.

The most expensive things we eat and our two major dinnertime hang-ups: pizza and Chinese take-out. I already make a good pizza, I just needed to make it more convenient – enter flatbread. My fried rice was lacking, but I spent some time last week perfecting my method (including time spent researching other recipes and consulting a friend) and now have a good system, start to finish is all of 15 minutes!

Sunday I spent a huge amount of time in the kitchen in the name of quick and convenient. J Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? In reality, the time spent in the kitchen was relatively minimal – it’s not like I stand and watch the bread rise, I do something more productive (or relax, it is my day off after all) during those 45-60 minutes. But the kitchen was busy all day to make:

Chicken Broth – see the tutorial here, this time I added thyme and tarragon to the mix for added flavor. This is the base for my daily lunch of soup or stew.
Frozen Individual Pizzas – make a flatbread (I like this recipe), top with pizza sauce and shredded cheese. Freeze individually on a square of parchment paper, when frozen stack them (still with the parchment paper) in a gallon freezer bag and put back in the freezer. Reheat in the microwave approx 4 minutes (careful, it’s hot!) or in the oven at 425-450 for 8-10 minutes or until done. Hubby lives on frozen pizzas for lunch, and these are much cheaper than the $2.50 apiece he normally pays for the “healthy” kind that are full of sodium.
Naan flatbread – again, I like this recipe. We use some store bought sandwich bread, but frankly all of us prefer the Naan for our bread needs, especially Max who will eat a whole piece on his own in record time.
Rice – 12 cups of it (cooked). We got a bag of rice at our favorite bulk store quite some time ago and it’s high time I used it. Between fried rice, and hubby likes to eat plain rice drizzled with a little sweet and sour sauce, I’m keeping this staple ready to go in the fridge.

The fridge/freezer is now stocked with frozen pizza, rice, bread for sandwiches, soup, and the regular staples like milk, eggs, cheese, fruits & veggies. That’ll take us through the week, and for less money!

(BTW, I recently started Atkins, which out of all of the above things only the broth applies. I’m still figuring out how to do the diet as inexpensively as possible, I’ll keep you updated. In the meantime, at least my boys eat frugally!)


LuLu Kellogg said...

We have a grocery budget of $50.00 a week. (2 of us). To me it's always like a game trying to see how much we can get for our $50.00!

Love your tips!!


WolfSong said...

Oh, I *have* to try that naan recipe! It looks wonderful, and I am all about bread. I love breads! ;)