Is Dining Out Killing Your Budget?
If your family is anything like ours, dining out probably puts a real dent in your budget. Running kids to sports, helping with homework, long days at work and other activities make it seem impossible to cook at home some nights. When my husband and I saw that we spent thousands a year on dining out, not to mention it isn’t always the healthiest option, we decided to try to eat in more. Below are some easy, quick and successful recipes that we will be repeating.
Recipe # 1
Packaged Pasta and Ready Rolls
Although this might not be the healthiest option, it is quick and it can’t be much worse than fast food. As long as you only serve this occasionally, I don’t see a problem with it. Companies like Birds Eye, Bertolli, etc. now offer skillet meals that can be cooked in around 15 to 20 minutes without any prep time and minimal clean-up as they are single skillet meals. You can buy varieties like Chicken Alfredo and Pasta with Spaghetti sauce. Use coupons and watch for sales and you can buy these meals pretty inexpensively. If you have teens, the bag may say that it serves for, but it is more like a serving for two, so plan accordingly. I usually pay around $4 for the Birds Eye and about $6 for the others. I need two bags for my family. No way could we eat out for $10. The rolls will be around $2 and you’ll find them in a cellophane bag in the bakery area of the grocery. If you want them warm, nuke for 20 seconds.
Recipe # 2
Burgers, Fruit, Salad
This is my solution to healthier take out, but it is still a real time saver. Throwing a fruit salad and veggie salad together can be done ahead of time or fairly quickly. Even young kids can help wash fruit. Drive through and buy regular hamburgers and add the fruits and veggies to round out the meal. I also look for fast food restaurants that grill instead of fry or that add some toppings like lettuce and tomatoes. Burger King is a good choice. Optionally, you can also do the same thing with tacos or run to the grocery and buy a rotisserie chicken.
Recipe # 3
Ordering pizza is a favorite solution of ours when we need a quick meal or I’m exhausted and don’t want to cook, like when I painted this week. However, ordering pizza is a costly affair for my family. My oldest only likes pan crust with pepperoni, my youngest only likes pan crust with cheese, my husband is a bit easier and will eat a variety and I only like the thin crust. This means we wind up buying to much to make sure everyone has something they like. This usually costs us about $25 to $30, although we do have leftovers. Instead, I bought premade individual crusts ($2.29 for a package of 3 at Meijer’s this week. I bought two packages for our family of four.), a can of pizza sauce ($0.99), a package of Mozarella cheese ($3.00) and a new jar of Parmesan, because I was out ($2.99). Total cost was $11.56 and we’d have two crusts left over for lunch one day for me and my daughter who is homeschooled.
At home, I mixed 1/8 cup olive oil with 1/4 cup canola oil, crushed one garlic piece in my Pampered Chef press, added pizza seasonings and brushed the mixture over both sides of the crusts. I added toppings that each person liked (sauce, Parmesan, mozzarella, topping). Now, you could grill these on an outdoor grill, cook in the oven or use a mini pizza oven. I have a little pizza oven that rotates and cooks top and bottom at same time. I used that and these were delicious. Everyone liked them, which is unusual in our household. It did take some time to cook each one individually, but the prep time was minimal and I did other things while each cooked.
- Make a huge pot of beef vegetable soup and freeze in family-size portions. On busy days, unthaw in the microwave and add a salad or sandwiches.
- Get the kids involved. Older kids can make meals or get them started when you’re running late. My 15-year-old is an amazing cook and has even made Hawaiian chicken that was to die for. Younger kids can make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
- Dust off the crock pot and throw a chuck roast in it, layer potatoes and carrots on the sides and you have a complete meal that will cook while you’re gone.
- Utilize leftovers. Have a half pan of lasagna and two hamburgers left from the last two meals? Offer a smorgasbord of leftovers for dinner.
Hopefully, these ideas will give you some quick, simple ideas for busy evenings. I’m going to open up the comments section below. Feel free to share your own recipe/meal solution ideas for busy evenings. Try to stick to family-friend, low cost solutions. Let’s save money together!