Better Budgeting: Easier Cooking for Easier Living

Easier Cooking for Easier Living

Simple Times (featured column)
by Deborah Taylor-Hough

I first started cooking ahead for the freezer because of the time saving benefits, it helped bring our family together again around the table. But I was quickly surprised by another benefit that I didn’t foresee. Our grocery bill went down by almost $400 per month. I couldn’t believe it!

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Some of the money we saved was due to the fact that we'd been eating out quite frequently, quickly running down to the corner for 59 cent tacos because I didn’t have time to cook dinner. Now we always have time for dinner at home -- we eat out when we want to, not because we feel we have to.  Going out to eat has become a special treat rather than an expensive and unhealthy way of life.

By cooking ahead, I was able to begin buying commonly used items in bulk. I was also planning my menus ahead of time. Just the planning ahead and bulk buying saves a lot of money. But $400 per month? Wow. And that was the average I was shaving off our grocery bill each month. Sometimes we saved even more than that.

This method also eliminates waste, and because I don’t go to the store nearly as often as I used to, it also cuts down on those expensive impulse buys at the market.

I can take full advantage of sales at the grocery store, planning menus around the weekly specials. If ground beef is on sale, I’ll buy a large amount and then prepare a quantity of ground beef recipes and put them in the freezer.

Rather than doing a full month of cooking, I’ll often do what I refer to as a "mini-session." This involves preparing a week or so of, for example, ground beef recipes to intersperse with the chicken or tofu recipes I prepared during an earlier chicken or tofu mini-session. With a combination of these mini-sessions, I can stash away enough Frozen Assets to last for the next two or three months.

But in addition to the time and money saving benefits, I discovered many other freezer-meal perks:

Hospitality

Frozen meals can be used for hospitality and outreach. Dinner parties are a breeze. If we want to spontaneously invite people over after church, it’s not a difficult ordeal. I know I have things in the freezer that I can quickly and easily heat and serve.

You can have meals available for the sick or for people in need. Bringing a couple of frozen meals to a new mother or a grieving family can add a touch of sanity to an otherwise stressful time of life. I don’t even have to think about it or plan for it. I just grab something from the freezer and go.

Financial Freedom

Not only did cooking ahead solve the meal planning issues and time restraints, it also provided me with a way to help our family’s financial situation. Money was tight and I'd been thinking of getting a part-time job to help make ends meet. I found cutting back a bit on what I was spending on groceries could mean the difference between remaining at home full-time with my children or going back to work.

I didn’t cut back on the amount of food we ate so we still ate well, but by being conscientious about meal planning and buying on sale, we shaved sizeable amounts off our monthly food budget. Saving $400 each month from our approximately $700 per month food-related budget became my part-time job. Over the course of five years, I spent $24,000 *less* on groceries! ($400 x 12 x 5 = $24,000!)

No More Kitchen Slavery 

During those rare times when I run out of my stash of Frozen Assets, it’s a rude awakening to see just how “daily” food preparation is in a busy home. As I often say when teaching workshops: I love cooking... I just don’t like doing it every day!

Between all the planning and actual preparation for each meal, it can begin to seem like the kitchen is a harsh taskmaster, not even allowing time off for good behavior. The daily-ness of cooking wears us down quickly. By having meals ready to go in the freezer, I find that the joy of cooking has been restored for me.

When I do decide to cook a special meal, it’s a joy again and not just another chore to be accomplished as quickly as possible. I also have more time and energy for fun cooking -- baking cookies with my children or making fresh, hot gingerbread on a cold winter evening.

Restoring the Family Dinner Hour 

Recently, there was a story in my local newspaper about the disappearance of the family dinner hour. With more and more double-income families and children involved in numerous after-school and sports activities, the family dinner hour has gone the way of the dinosaur. Yet my family sits down together for dinner at least five times each week.

How often do you sit down as a family at the table for a leisurely meal? Four times a week? Twice? Once? I’m not super woman; I’m simply someone who discovered a way to reap the benefits of advanced planning and preparation. Now these benefits can be yours. If you’d like to restore this time-honored tradition in your home, cooking for the freezer can be the solution.

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Copyright © 2004 by Deborah Taylor-Hough. All rights reserved.
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