Welcome to Food Finances Friday! One of the easiest ways to save money on your food budget is to make meals at home. The biggest roadblock to this is that a lot of people don’t have the time to cook! Here are a few time-saving hacks that I use to make healthy home-made meals for our family.
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This post was inspired by a dear friend from grad school. She is now a research scientist at one of the top medical centers in the country. And she just gave birth to her first child! She wrote in asking how to balance working intense hours, parenting, and planning ahead to follow good financial practices. Below are some tips how my family balances it all.
Speaking of balance, today’s post is the first written by my husband!
Make a meal plan for the week
Knowing what you will be making on any given day will help reduce the time and money expended to making meals. No more “what am I going to make tonight?” You will have all the ingredients and know exactly how long each meal takes to prepare.
I will plan all meals around what is on sale (especially Buy One Get One Free offers) or items that can be used in different preparations (e.g., black beans and rice can be used for quesadillas, burritos, and enchilada soup; see How to Spend $100 per Person per Month on Food for more suggestions).
Make Some Time Each Week for Meal Prep
Just because we eat at home every night doesn’t mean we cook every night.
Make the base of your weeknight meals on the weekend and reduce the amount of time for each night’s dinner.
I’ll make chicken on Sunday with mashed potatoes and veggies. Then use the chicken the next few nights in many different ways (cut up in a wrap with humus and spinach, shredded with barbeque sauce, or added to a soup).
I’ll prepare the fixin’s for salads once a week (shred cheese, shred carrots) so they are easy to prepare in the morning. Using baby spinach instead of chopping lettuce and using grape tomatoes instead of cutting large tomatoes also reduces time. Keep a bottle of salad dressing at work to further reduce prep time and dishes.
I’ll cut carrots and make dip for a healthy snack.
The biggest time saver that I use is the electric pressure cooker! Make multiple servings then portion them out for the rest of the week or freeze them.
The Instant Pot is your best friend
It used to be the slow cooker was the best way to save time making a meal. I have found the Instant Pot to be the game changer in meal prep. It can be used to make tomato sauce, dry beans, rice, hard-boiled eggs, soups, and the most flavorful broth to use in any number of meals. I used to spend over an hour simmering and stirring tomato sauce, dried beans, or vegetable scraps making broth. But with the Instant Pot there is minimal prep and the pressure does the rest.
For tomato sauce I simmer onions and garlic with a little olive oil (directly in the IP), add a can of tomato sauce, a can of whole peeled tomatoes, spices (pepper, oregano, dried parsley flakes, a little sugar, pinch of chili flakes, and fresh basil) then put the lid on and set It for 30 minutes. That’s it! No need to stir and stir or simmer for hours. You can use it as-is. But I prefer a smooth sauce so I blend mine (as a former Ragu-a-holic!)
The sauce can be used for pasta, French bread pizzas (the bread is usually $1.00 in the bakery section), pizzadillas, or portabella mushroom parmesan sandwiches.
I have stopped boiling the water first when making pasta. Add the pasta into the pot, set it on high and it is done in 15 minutes! No more watching the pot to see when it boils.
Any vegetable scraps we have go into a container in the freezer. When I need broth I put them in the Instant Pot. You can use almost any veggies but you must have carrots, onions, and celery. Put them all into your IP with enough water to cover and a little salt for 30 minutes. Strain out the vegetables (I use a colander and then a cloth napkin) and you have a broth with more flavor than anything you can buy at the grocery store and because we’re using scraps, it costs nothing! It can be used in anything that calls for broth (soups or curries) or use it instead of water to add a lot more flavor to any dish.
Dried beans are also a snap in the Instant Pot. No need to soak or stir as they cook. What used to take an hour and a half now takes less than 30 minutes. I understand it is much quicker and easier to open a can and plop the contents into whatever dish you are making but dried beans are so much cheaper! Not to mention that you control what goes into making them (canned beans usually have A LOT of sodium). I use half of the beans for weekday meals and freeze the other half for future meals.
Mix with corn, pico de gallo (homemade), and taco seasoning (homemade) for quesadillas, burritos, or an excellent baked potato topping. Put them over rice (made with the vegetable broth) for a flavorful quick meal. Add beans into soup for a meatless protein boost!
Hard “boiled” eggs take minutes in the Instant Pot. With one cup of water and your eggs on a trivet (or steamer basket), your eggs are done in 5 minutes (for large eggs)! Put them in an ice bath to cool and they are the easiest eggs to peel and enjoy.
My daughter loves scrambled eggs for breakfast. It takes a lot to get out the skillet and scramble one egg! In order to save time and dishes, I use a coffee mug and microwave for 40 seconds. Add a little milk and pinch of salt before putting it in the microwave and they taste eggsactly the same!
I have used my Instant pot to make all of these staples in the same day! No need to have several large stock pots going for hours and standing over the stove stirring and stirring (then washing dishes).
Grab and Go
Some of the healthiest foods require little-to-no preparation at all. Keeping these foods at home or work will help save time and prevent unplanned trips to the vending machine or drive-thru.
Fresh fruits such as Apples, Bananas, Strawberries, and Grapes (keep apples and peanut butter at work for a sweet yet filling snack)
Carrots, Celery, or grape-sized Tomatoes with dip or hummus
Nuts and seeds. Just one serving of Trail Mix or Almonds can keep you full for hours. Walnuts, Cashews, Sunflower seeds, Pecans, and Peanuts are also great to keep around. Nuts can be expensive, so stock up when you find a good sale!
One last time saving hack that I have found is using Glasslock storage containers. They are made of glass and are freezer, microwave, and oven safe. They come in various sizes and can be used to store family-sized meals or take a single portion to work. No more dirtying several pots or dishes in order to heat up your leftovers! And I have been known to eat right out of the container!
What time saving hacks do you use in the kitchen?
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