Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dining In

This morning, my husband and I discussed our budget. No, it's not necessarily fun. However, there is satisfaction in knowing where our money is going. What does this have to do with eating at home? Quite a lot actually. One of the largest expenditures of any budget is that great American past time known as eating out.

Don't get me wrong - I love to go out to dinner. Having someone else prepare and clean up my meal is sheer bliss after a busy, stressful day. But here's the deal: Eating out is not budget-friendly. Unfortunately, it's also not a necessary expense. The sad reality is I can cook more often -- for a lot less money. The up side to any meal I prepare is that I know exactly what I'm I'm eating. The down side is the time it takes to make the meal as well as clean it up. That doesn't even take into account planning the dinner and shopping for the ingredients. Cooking can be a pain.

I have a confession: I love to cook. No, I mean I really enjoy the entire prep process. And with so many cookbooks and free recipe web sites, it's a snap to find some great, fast dinners. Two of my favorite are and And it seems every "women's magazine" offers a few tips to make dinner easier - along with the occasional yummy recipe.

The problem, then, isn't access to the food or the information to prepare it into something tasty. The issue stems from time. I don't have enough of it to cook every night. I'm guessing most of you don't either. Whether it's a late night at the office or a child's baseball game, life is not designed for an hour-long evening meal.

One compromise I've made is to use a service like Super Suppers ( Most of the food can be prepared quickly with minimal effort. As a bonus, you can make multiple meals and freeze the excess. Another option is doubling or even tripling a recipe I make and freezing the leftovers (think spaghetti sauce, soups and roast beef). This works better for some foods than others. Trust me, pasta is not as good once its been frozen and reheated. Another option is to keep fresh veggies and some pre-cooked chicken (or meat of your choice) on hand in the fridge for fast salads or stirfrys. And choose whole grains that cook quickly: Quinoa cooks in 15 minutes while whole wheat couscous cooks in about 5.

Whatever your cooking method, keep in mind your fattening up your wallet and trimming your waistline. Eating in - healthily - can make a huge difference for both. Just remember it doesn't have to be a chore.

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