Once in a while, I take my family out for dinners at restaurants. My wife can take a well deserved break, and we spend some quality time together without thinking too hard about our finances.
And no, we don't go for Michelin restaurants where they serve exquisite dishes like foie gras or Kobe beef.
But it has been nearly a year since I stepped into any restaurant. This recession has really tightened our belts and cooking at home has proven to be an effective way to save money. If nothing else, you are already spared from all the tips and expensive drinks.
A lot of people don't realize that the secret to solving money woes lies in the kitchen. While value meal deals costing $2 and cheap upsizes in fast food restaurants make prepared food look expensive, the truth is that eating in is always better for your budget and health.
An Indian curry meal with ingredients and rice may cost $20, but don't forget that we can easily extract four portions from that $20, with extra ingredients left over in the cupboard. The next time I cook an Indian dish, it will be "free," so purchasing ingredients are definitely better investments than eating out.
And on days with special sales, we can even squeeze in fruits or fruit juice from the $20 food budget, which makes the meal more nutritious.
If you are ready to step into the kitchen, here are some tips to prepare you for your home cooking:
1. Focus on healthy dishes for mealsTry to avoid popping cakes or cookies into the ovens every day. To eat in a healthy and frugal manner, we should first take care of our core nutritional needs for breakfasts, lunches and suppers.
If the fridge is already stocked with a few days of food, then celebrate by cooking something special, brownies or muffins, say.
2. Never Do Without EggsEggs are the "great equalizer" for those who are pinching their pennies. While eggs are way up in price, they're still great value for money. Eggs contain high level of proteins but go easy on the egg yolk which contains chlorestorol.
Try to fit in eggs for one night a week eggs. It could be supper or breakfast. Trade off making omelettes, scrambled eggs, fried eggs, frittatas, more. We keep our kitchen well-stocked with eggs as they are just so many ways of cooking it and they blend well with any ingredients.
3. Don't Get Confused By Long Lists of IngredientsGetting a recipe book will be cheaper than ordering pizzas, provided you don't cook gourmet meals.
Choose a basic cookbook to begin — for example, Australian Women’s Weekly range, or you could even try this bestseller: 4 Ingredients by Kim McCosker and Rachael Bermingham.
There are more than 340 recipes using four or less ingredients. This is now our kitchen bible, just imagine how much money and time we save by focusing only on four ingredients?
4. Extract all the valueWhenever we cook, there will always be leftovers or by-products. Say, when we cook bacon, we save the fat in a jar in the fridge - it adds great flavor to stews and eggs. Another example is leeks. After whipping up a delicious plate of leeks with braised meat, we save the unused green parts to make our soup of the day.
On another day, we may have roasted chicken for dinner, and for supper, we just dump the carcass into a pot with sliced onion, celery, carrots or potatoes to make chicken stock. If everybody is feeling full, then just save the carcass for another day. Place it in a freezer bag and freeze for cooking on the weekend.
5. Eat for freeGet one more meal from what's on hand. It might well be an odd meal, it might even not be that tasty. But it's 'free' because if we shop and refill the fridge before all those odd bits are gone, chances are, they'll go to waste.
There are more money management tips but for now, take the first step and try out home cooking for a week and see if your family finances improve.