When my first two kids were quite young, I wasn’t much of a cook — at t least not on a consistent basis for weeknight dinners. My husband would typically work late, and the kids had the palates of, well, young humans. Partially my fault, of course, as you reap what you sow when it comes to feeding your children – a lesson I learned a bit late in the game.
I vividly recall gathering for frequent play dates with good mommy friends and listening, partially in awe and definitely with shame, as they discussed their dinner plans, recent recipe successes, etc. To me, that lifestyle was simply a foreign concept. Instead, I kept a supply of kid-approved items in the house, and sometimes cooked something separately for us parents to eat later. Or, all too often, I sent the ‘let’s order out’ message. A bad habit for our household overall, and certainly for the finances.
The value of cooking at home
Somewhere along the way, aided by the pediatrician’s advice and fueled by a desire to nip the pickiness in the bud (because it was so irritating), we overhauled meal time. There were tears, hunger, and frustration on both ends, but it paid off.
For one thing, I only had to cook one dinner, which enabled me to take more time to plan and prepare our food and thus enjoy the process more. We broke out of the rut of take-out food, tried new recipes and expanded everyone’s palates. Yes, some finickiness remains – the word ‘soup’ strikes terror in the hearts of two of my offspring – but we’ve come a looooong way, baby. When I gather with my girlfriends, we often share recipes, and I am just as frequent a contributor as they.
There is a TON of research about how important it is to share dinner with your kids. You are modeling healthy eating habits, for one. For another, you are spending quality time together that you cannot replicate in any other way by virtue of its consistency. I direct you to my favorite site on the subject, Dinner: A Love Story, which speaks eloquently, yet oh-so-realistically, on the subject, and also has some truly tasty recipes. (The book is outstanding.) For those of you battling picky eaters, Ellyn Satter is the top-notch resource my pediatrician recommended.
How to save by cooking at home
But we’re here to talk about money, right?
Beyond saving money on take-out, transforming our dinner routine has reaped many happy rewards on our bottom line.
First of all, I feel confident in planning meals ahead, so when original dinner plans get derailed, I still have something on hand that works – and it’s not a bag of nuggets or a frozen pizza (usually).
Read more: 21 ways to cut your grocery bills in half
While we still often indulge in weekend lunches out – which are typically fairly inexpensive – we very rarely eat dinner out anymore. Perhaps above all, I have become a master of using leftovers. Sometimes merely for my own lunches, but I also have learned to incorporate them into another dinner later in the week. It’s become a bit of a game to me to use up the food in our fridge and freezer – significantly more fun than the guessing games I used to play when working around choosy children!