Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Eating on the Cheap: Eating at Home.

Eating on the Cheap has inadvertently become a series of sorts for me. I've never been one of those 'foodie' types who was excessively passionate about food. Picky? Yes. Passionate? Only if we're talking about homemade desserts.

Since having kids, though, it has really hit home that we need to be more aware of how and what and why we eat. I had the benefit of parents who cooked at home most nights of the week, and who used fresh and healthy foods as much as possible. My husband's family, on the other hand, gravitates toward the meat and potatoes with loads of butter sort of meals. I'm practically a vegetarian and he could happily go weeks on end without a single veggie on his plate. It makes it....interesting...trying to balance our different likes and needs into healthy meals.

And so, we never really did. In our DINK (Double Income No Kids) days, we just scrapped meal planning and cooking and the like and went out to eat. Pretty much all the time. If we hit the grocery store more than once a month it was something akin to a miracle OR we must have needed toilet paper or apples or more frozen pizzas for the hubby.

And then, we were both in school living off one income. Then expecting a baby. And still we struggled to find a way to balance our different takes on what dinner should look like with minimal time and not much money.

Luca's a picky eater too. She started out as a wee one eating anything you put on her tray, but as she's gotten older, she has become more particular about her choices. She loves string cheese, for example, but won't stand for cheese melted inside her burrito. She likes to dip lettuce into salad dressing, but will throw a fit if the dressing is ON the lettuce. She prefers BBQ steak to BBQ chicken, though she'll eat the chicken if you make sure there are no black marks from the grill on the outside. In a nutshell, she's developed all these weird food requirements that I am convinced amount to karma coming back at me for all my picky eating habits over the years. My mom is laughing right now.

Adding Rohan to the mix didn't complicate what we eat (kid has rarely met a food he didn't love), but it did change the dynamics of how much we eat. Until Rohan came along, we'd never ordered a single kids' meal at a restaurant. Luca's appetite has always been on the small side, so we were safe ordering our own meals and sharing off our plates. Rohan threw a wrench in that. He can easily take down a whole kids' meal at most restaurants all by himself, and some days he could probably eat a whole dinner off the regular menu.

If you do the math on all these complicating factors (2 picky eaters + 2 big eaters) you quickly see why eating at home has become more and more appealing to our family. We've worked at making it a priority to eat at home most nights of the week, and to do so together. There are still nights when we grab slices of pizza and watch a movie on the floor. There are times when one of us isn't home for dinner. But more often than not, we cook something at home and eat together, and I love that this has become our 'normal'.

So, without further rambling from me, here are my Top Reasons* for Eating on the Cheap: Eating at Home.

~ I know what we're eating. As a picky eater, I much prefer to know what's going into the food we're eating.

~ I know where that food was made and how it was stored, cooked, and handled. Nothing grosses me out more than those Dirty Dining reports of black slime in the ice machine and raw chicken dripping on a shelf above the chopped veggies. I know that's not happening in my house.

~ We can cater to the whims of everyone without spending a fortune. So, 2 of us love marinara and meatballs and the other two prefer butter/oil and parmesan on our pasta? At a restaurant that's easily $8-10 per plate and you have to hope there's enough so that each adult gets one plate and can share with the proper kiddo. At home, it's a package of pasta, a jar of sauce and some homemade meatballs, and some shakes of parmesan. Cheaper and you can make as much or little of each as you need.

~ It's healthier. At most restaurants, even the most basic and standard meals are loaded with oils, fats, sodium and more. At home, we go big on flavor (seasonings like garlic, for example) and little on added fat and salt. We can even splurge on simple desserts without worrying about excessive calories.

~ There are no wimpy iceberg lettuce side salads in our house. It's all about leafy greens or spinach tossed with delicious topping. Favorites include red leaf lettuce with orange and red bell pepper strips, sunflower seeds, shredded sharp cheddar, and tomato slices or spinach pile high with fruits and berries (dried cranberries from Sprouts are a favorite) and sprinkled with feta and a bit of poppyseed or vinaigarette.

Lunch salad today. It's ok if you're envious.

Delicious, filling, and soooo good for the body (and pocketbook...those kids of salads are upwards of $6-15 at most restaurants!). Which leads me to....

~ We're cheap. And so is eating at home. If this is news to you, welcome to my blog New Reader! If you're not new here, then you already know I have the World's Cheapest Husband, and that I made some resolutions this year which I intend to break tradition by keeping. So it should come as no surprise that we enjoy saving money, but sometimes it seems unlikely that eating at home actually does save money. I used to be of the "Eating Healthy Is Too Expensive" school. And sometimes, when I'm pushing my loaded cart out to the car feeling shell-shocked from just how much of my paycheck goes to groceries, I still think, "Well, hot damn, it would be cheaper to eat at Taco Bell every day!" But the reality is, I wouldn't eat at Taco Bell every day. Going out to lunch at work means spending anywhere from $6-$20 per meal, and dinner for 2 adults, 1 toddler, and 1 two year old with a man-appetite runs us between $25 and $50 once you add in a tip.

On the other hand, if we shop weekly and make sure we've always got essentials on-hand (milk, fruit, veggies, meat, lunch stuff for me, grains), we only have to make those Holy-Shit-That's-A-Car-Payment shopping trips once a month or even less often. The rest of the time, I can run in and out in less than 15 minutes and spend under $50 to get us through the week. True story: last night I bought just what we needed to get us through the rest of this week (chicken breasts, ground beef, bananas, milk, coffee creamer, frozen pizza, asparagus, 1 liter of soda, potatoes, butter, shredded cheese) for under $45. Combined with the staples we have in the fridge, pantry, and freezer, that's enough food for the entire week. Even if we spend $400-500 a month on groceries, we would have spent (and used to spend!) much more than that going out to eat all the time.

~ Making meals with these little helpers is definitely worth the work. They love to 'help' us in the kitchen, even if that only means sitting on the counters and repeatedly turning the sink off and on (him) or informing me which of the meal's ingredients are not quite suitable to picky tastebuds (her). And I wouldn't trade that for the world. I love cooking and baking with my little ones, and I hope it's a tradition we carry on for years to come. Some of my best recipes (PS: I don't have very many 'best' recipes) were learned from helping my mom in the kitchen.

(This second picture has zero to do with making meals at home, but it's cute and this is my blog, so there you have it.)

~ My husband is an excellent cook and does most of the work. Sure, I dog his family's heavy-on-the-meat-and-starches approach, but he's great about making meals that are flexible enough that both his picky girls can eat them. And, he gets home before me 90% of the time, so he can often be found out by the grill or in the kitchen cooking up a tasty meal for our family when I get home. He also gets up early and makes killer omelettes on the weekends. Basically, he's amazing.

*This post was inspired by Agrigirl's Blog. Check out her reasons, here:

1 comment:

Tabitha said...

I love this post. This is one thing that I am really trying to drive home with my boys. We cook as often as we can at home and talk about where our food comes from and about eating a rainbow!

Miss you!


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