In 2007, the average household spent $3,465 on meals at home, and $2,668 on meals away from home, according to the national Consumer Expenditure Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When you take into consideration that the $2,668 spent on meals away from home only accounts for about 30 percent of meals (according to historical data), that's about $8 per meal outside of the home, and only about $4.50 per each meal made in your own kitchen. You do the math!
Along with affordability, other studies consistently show that eating at home is healthier and a source of valuable family time. Most people agree that they should be eating at home more than they do, but the question is: Why is it such a struggle to make meals at home and what can be done to encourage this habit?
To better understand the solution, let's take a closer look at the 5 most commonly stated reasons why cooking in the kitchen can be frustrating:
- TIME: "Who has time to plan meals...not to mention cook them!"
- MESSY KITCHEN: "There's not enough kitchen space to cook and sometimes, when I have to clean the kitchen first to cook something, the hassle factor is just too big."
- FOOD ON HAND: "Whenever I feel like making something, I never seem to have all the ingredients that I need on-hand!"
- DIFFERENT TASTES: "I can't please everybody if I make this meal...and there's nothing worse than going through all the effort only to have the food not get eaten!"
- MONEY: "Grocery shopping is expensive...I can't afford healthy foods!"
It's clear that a perceived lack of time and resources are major deterrents in the amount of meals being cooked in the home, but food & home consumer experts will tell you that if planned in the right way, eating at home will actually save you both time and money!
Making mealtime a snap is simply a matter of following these seven principles:
Principle 1: Use A Consistent Meal Planner System
There are a number of different approaches to meal planning but the key, according to experts, is to use one that works for you and which can be used consistently. A number of simple meal planning systems can be developed using templates, paid online services, and software programs. Choosing an option that is quick and easy is most likely to lead to long-term usage.
Principle 2: Use A Shopping List From A Weekly Meal Plan
If meals are planned out on a menu planner, incorporating these into a grocery shopping list is essential to making sure that the right ingredients are on hand when you need them. This process of developing a shopping list from your menu plan can take about 5-10 minutes to do by free-hand or even seconds, if using the right electronic tools that are now available
Principle 3: Use Dove-Tailing Strategies
Dove-tailing is a recent trend which is becoming popular for a reason. Rather than looking at one meal in isolation, a dove-tailing approach entails looking at your weekly menu plan as a whole and could include making extra chicken from a stir-fry recipe one night to use in your chicken tacos the next day. These sort of strategies save both time and money, and many menu plans with dove-tailing tips can be found online.
Principle 4: Get The Entire Family Involved
The process of menu-planning can become much easier with input from the entire family. Even though Andy may not be a big fan of Amy's spinach casserole recipe she suggested for Tuesday, at least he will be excited for Wednesday night's homemade chicken barbeque pizza because he chose it. Children are also more likely to be willing to help with the meal itself and the preparation if it was "their meal choice."
Principle 5: Keep Kitchen Area Clean And Free From Clutter
If you think your kitchen is too small, you are not alone! While this article cannot recommend busting out walls to expand space, the easiest way to avoid feeling cramped is by keeping papers and other non-essential cooking tools away from the kitchen. Even recipes, if not organized, can add to this cluttering and therefore, an appropriate first step in cleaning and preparing the kitchen for more consistent cooking is to organize your recipes. Many have found that doing this on the computer or mobile device is the easiest way.
Principle 6: Don't Try To Become A Chef In One Night!
Many of us feel we have failed if the beef isn't as tender as it was at the restaurant the other day or if the stew looked nothing like the recipe picture from which it came. Cooking is a learning process just like playing an instrument, a sport, or developing a skill in any other hobby. Don't expect perfection, especially when starting out, or the desire to cook will begin to fade. Make cooking fun by trying new recipes and finding them in a variety of cookbooks or e-cookbooks.
Principle 7: Take Advantage Of Cooking Software Options
Many of these recommended principles can be streamlined into one simple process by using a cooking or recipe software program that encompasses meal planning, grocery shopping lists, nutrition analysis, and the organization of recipes into electronic cookbooks with chapters. Not only can this save time and money, but it helps make cooking fun again!
This year Americans will spend over $110 billion on fast food which is more than they'll spend on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music combined. Many will die this year from health problems associated with these lifestyles. While cooking at home and having meals as a family may at times feel like a burden, it is certainly do-able and worthwhile in the long run. In many cases it simply takes the right tools and simple planning to implement. Without such planning you may find truth in Yogi Berra's famous words: "You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going, because you might not get there."