Cooking from scratch hasn’t always come easy to me. I had to get past the convenience food mentality to make healthier food choices for my family. Here are some tips from my own experience for when you don’t know where to start to cook meals from scratch.
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Eating out gets expensive, and frozen, store-bought meals, while convenient, are far from healthy. Preparing dinner at home is the best way to save money and provide a healthier meal while still enjoying time with family.
In Erin Odom’s book, More Than Just Making It, Erin (i.e. The Humbled Homemaker) admits she didn’t know how to cook from scratch when she got married. She talks about having just three recipes that she knew how to make, and each one included processed ingredients, like frozen pie crust and canned soups.
That’s pretty much how I cooked when I started living on my own and early on in my marriage. I used to buy pre-made frozen dinners or boxed meals for easy dinner options. I also bought baking mix for making pancakes and biscuits. I felt like I was “cooking from scratch.”
Fast forward several years. One of my favorite ways to eat healthier and save money is to prepare my own meals from scratch. When you prepare meals from scratch, you know what ingredients you are using and can control how healthy your meal really is.
Here are some tips to get started cooking from scratch.
1. Pick 1 unhealthy food item to stop buying.
Look around your house and see what items you can easily replace with a healthier (and often cheaper) version.
If you buy baking mix, you could decide to quit buying that and find easy recipes for making pancakes and biscuits from scratch. If you already have flour, baking soda, baking powder, butter, and oils, you can make pretty much anything the baking mix would have been used for. Looking back, it never really made sense for me to use baking mix when we always had the necessary ingredients on hand to make the same products from scratch.
If you buy pre-made hamburger patties from the freezer section of the grocery store, it’s really easy to make your own hamburgers using just hamburger meat.
This one might be more of a challenge, but could you quit buying pre-shredded cheese? You could buy small blocks of cheese and shred what you need for a meal and put the rest of the block in a sealed bag in the fridge until you need to shred or slice some more.
2. Pick 1 healthy food item to start buying.
Are there fruits, veggies, or meats that you enjoy eating but you just don’t buy? Things like apples, zucchini, potatoes, or chicken breasts are great foods to have on hand to use in meals.
A helpful way to make meal preparation easier is to buy more ingredients and fewer pre-made foods.
3. Use Pinterest for recipe inspiration.
I have a board on my Pinterest account called Healthy Dinner Recipes. Feel free to start there for recipe inspiration.
You can start with just a few recipes that your family enjoys, and then rotate through those meals. Gradually add new recipes that use simple ingredients, and over time you will have a collection of recipes to cook most of your meals from scratch.
I use slow cooker recipes a lot since I work outside the home. I am fortunate that my husband cooks a lot of meals too. He has learned over the years to cook more from scratch just like I have.
Casseroles are also an easy way to add multiple food groups to a single dish. Here is an easy tuna noodle casserole recipe that can be completed from prep to serving in just 45 minutes.
4. Buy fresh produce when it’s in season and on sale.
If you have room in your freezer, stock up on fresh produce when it’s on sale to freeze and use in future meals. I have a few tutorials for how to freeze strawberries, how to freeze corn, and how to freeze tomatoes.
Buying frozen vegetables is healthier than buying canned vegetables because frozen vegetables can be preserved without adding salt and other preservatives. Frozen vegetables can usually be used in recipes the same way canned vegetables can be, and you don’t have to drain them.
5. Keep side dishes simple.
Apple slices can be a side dish. Frozen peas cooked in a pan on the stove can be a side dish.
Making a full meal doesn’t have to be time consuming or involve lots of ingredients.
6. Prep ingredients ahead of time.
I like to chop a whole onion at once, and keep it in a sealed container in the refrigerator to use in recipes throughout the week.
When cooking hamburger or ground turkey for taco meat it is just as easy to cook two pounds as it is to cook one, and freeze the extra for a later meal. In fact, ground turkey is significantly cheaper than ground beef, so you could use a pound of each and not even taste that it is not all ground beef.
Making my lunches in the mornings for work becomes easier when I do some veggie prep early in the week. On Monday mornings I usually pre-tear lettuce and pre-shred carrots for salads for the week. All I need to do is add dressing later. I also keep boiled eggs in the fridge all the time. I just peel one and stick it in my salad bowl the day I need it.
I am so glad I made some simple changes to cook more from scratch. Not only do we save money on groceries, but we also eat much healthier now. I know it is not always possible to put a home-cooked meal on the table every night.
If you can add just one more home-cooked meal per week and start adjusting your grocery shopping to include fewer pre-made foods, you will be making a big difference in the health of your family.
More Than Just Making It
If you are feeling financially frustrated, the book More Than Just Making It by Erin Odom of The Humbled Homemaker offers encouragement and practical tips. I received an advanced reader copy of this book as a part of the book’s launch team, and I have found it to be inspiring. I also paid to pre-order the actual published book.
In this book, Erin tells her family’s story of being on public aid. She offers tips for budgeting, cutting spending, and meal planning with examples of how she has applied those tips in her own life. That is where I find the most value in this book. I recommend taking notes as you read and picking out the things you can apply to your own life.
I love how Erin included a list of her own budget categories to give readers an idea of things they may not think to include in a budget. She also identifies what expenses her family has decided are wants and which ones are needs.
One thing that really got my attention was the idea of shopping from your closet when she talked about ways to save money on clothing. This is not a new idea, but the way Erin goes into detail on how this worked for her made sense to me. I had never heard or understood how shopping your closet really worked before.
Erin’s insecurities about her family’s financial situation show through strongly in this book. She talks about what it was like for her to apply for Medicaid, WIC, and food stamps, and the shame she felt, all very candidly. Through her story, she encourages us all to cast no judgment on others and to make no assumptions because we don’t know what situations others are facing.
Order the book here: More Than Just Making It on Amazon