Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

How to stop eating out as much

10 Tips to eat at home more often

If you’d have asked me a couple of years ago whether we eat at home more or eat out more, I’d have told you that we eat at home more. While that’s probably true, I realized it wasn’t nearly as true as I thought when COVID struck. In the couple of years since then, I’ve learned more about how to stop eating out as much. We still do eat out, but it’s usually just a meal or two a week.

Combining my 12 years as a mom, 22 years as a wife and 2 years during the pandemic, I’ve learned a few tips for how to stop eating out as much. We enjoy eating at home more now than ever. In fact, I’ve had more times that I chose to eat at home rather than eat out!

1. Don’t feel pressured to cook big meals every day.

Once my kids were old enough to eat meals with us, I started feeling the pressure to have a plan and prepare a specific meal for us all every night. If I didn’t feel like or was unable to cook for whatever reason, then I was stuck on what to serve and more inclined to order pizza or go out to eat.

I quickly realized, though, that my husband and children really didn’t care if I spent an hour in the kitchen preparing dinner or if I spent 5 minutes slapping together peanut butter sandwiches or — gasp! — pouring bowls of cereal. Let go of the pressure to cook big meals every day. It’s not necessary.

2. Keep easy options in stock.

Another way to stop eating out as much is to keep easy-to-make options in your pantry or freezer. One of my easy go-to meals that I try to always have around is premade pizza crust. For our family of four, I make two 12-inch pizzas by putting toppings on and popping them in the oven. My son and husband usually have pepperoni. My daughter and I usually have barbeque sauce with chicken and onion. I used the precooked grilled chicken from the refrigerated section to make prep easier.

Other things I like to keep on hand and rotate through include Spaghetti-Os, bagel pizzas, frozen french toast stick bites, salad kits, frozen fajita chicken mix, frozen pizza, cereal, instant oatmeal and frozen waffles or pancakes.

When you have a busy night or a night you just don’t feel like cooking, having quick and easy items on hand can make it easier to eat home rather than ordering out or going out to eat.

3. Find a good way to meal plan.

I’m guessing you aren’t surprised to see meal planning come up in this post. But, it really does help! I typically do meal planning on Sunday evenings and pick up groceries on Monday afternoons, but find whatever time works best for you. I’m a big fan of keeping things simple. Often I use a list to write down what meals I have planned for the week. Recently, I’ve gotten back into the habit of planning what night we’ll eat what meal, but that’s mostly because our schedule has been busier lately.

Find a system that works for you that you can easily use, and stick with it. Meal planning helps reduce food waste and gives you options for what to make for dinner when you are too tired to figure it out at dinnertime! (Don’t miss this additional tips for meal planning made easy!)

4. Try new recipes.

Making food at home can end up with you getting stuck in a rut and rotating through the same recipes. And that makes you feel more inclined to want to eat out (or at least it does me!). Instead, try new recipes regularly. In fact, in these past few months, I average two new recipes each week. Using meal kit delivery services initiated that change, and I’ve stuck with it.

One eye-opener for me is that I don’t have to always prepare meals our entire family will like. My guys are more particular eaters than my daughter and I are. So when I try new recipes, I usually make sure most of them will work for all four of us. I also try new recipes that are easy to customize for the guys. For example, next week we are trying asparagus spaghetti carbonara. I’ll keep the sauce and pasta separate and let my guys have spaghetti with traditional sauce from a jar instead.

And then sometimes I make recipes only my daughter and I will like and plan to do something from the super easy list for the boys like grilled cheese, toasted peanut butter sandwiches or bagel pizzas. Recently I made this super easy baked chicken recipe for dinner that became one of my favorite meals of all time!

5. Involve your family.

Getting your family involved with what to cook at home is another great way to stop eating out as much. If you’re all excited about what’s in your own kitchen, then you’re less tempted to want to eat out! My daughter is the one who initially had our family try meal kit delivery services. But even before that, I’d ask my family as I was meal planning what sounded good to them.

And when making new recipes, I’ll ask their opinions oftentimes about what sounds best to try between two choices. Knowing my family is on board for the night’s dinner plan makes it easier for me to want to cook at home as well. Even better are the times when somebody helps me in the kitchen. These past few months, my daughter has done that most and has learned quite a few new cooking skills. I’m quite proud of her!

6. Change your mindset.

Remove eating out as an option in your mind. It sounds overly simple, but it works. Once you know that in order to eat that evening, you’ve got to figure out something at home, then you’ll do so. Whether you need to change up your budget to reduce how much money you have for eating out or work with your spouse to keep yourselves accountable, figure out what works best for you.

During these past couple of months, my daughter has had an activity most weeknights from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m. I knew if we were going to eat, I’d have to have the food ready to go early, and we didn’t have time to even consider eating out. I’ve also found that eating at home more is not only better for the waistline and the wallet but it’s usually less stress. We get to visit with each other more and be more relaxed. Determining that eating at home is the only option most of the time really has helped me make it a reality.

7. Make sure you have what you need.

This kind of goes along with meal planning, because part of meal planning is making sure you know what you’re making and also what ingredients you need. To stop eating out as much, make sure your kitchen is stocked for the week (or however long you go between grocery store trips). If you don’t have the ingredients to make something you were planning to, then you are more likely to give up and order in or go out. (Been there, done that!)

Keep regular items well stocked. I have some shelves in my garage where I can store non-perishables and a chest freezer to store extra frozen food. Both of those help me keep stocked. There are many items that I always have an extra one on standby. For example, I love Honey Nut Cheerios. I keep an extra one on my garage shelf. When I run out inside and go get that extra box, then I add it to my grocery list and replace it. That way I don’t run out. This has become even more important for me during recent years when some items were harder to come by. That way if I wasn’t able to find something in stock during one grocery shopping order, I would have at least one more time to try and get it before we ran out.

8. Keep a list of meals for the week handy.

My head is full of so many things that I can easily forget the meal planning I did on Sunday by the time Wednesday evening rolls around. What’s for dinner? Uh. I can’t remember what I have ingredients for! So to stop eating out during these times, I find it helpful to keep a list handy of the meals I have food for during the week. I have posted it on my fridge, kept it on my phone digitally and written it in a notebook. Do whatever works best for you, whether you are planning specific meals for specific days or just maintaining a list of what you have to cook throughout the week.

9. Print out your recipes for the week ahead of time.

If you’re trying new recipes (and why wouldn’t you?!), then make sure you print them out or save them on your phone as you’re meal planning. I don’t like to use my phone for recipes because it’s too easy to get messy. So, I still print recipes. When I’m meal planning, I print them out and then store them in a folder in a drawer in my kitchen island. All I have to do is open the drawer and pull them out when it’s time to get dinner made.

It’s a small thing, but it’s helpful and one less step to bog you down in the fray of dinnertime. And one less stop bogging you down means you are less tempted to just order in or go out.

10. Allow for DIY dinnertimes.

I have days when thinking of making and cleaning up dinner are just too much for me. I’m too tired physically and emotionally and all of it. I’ve learned that my family can do DIY dinners and not complain. Utilize leftovers, easy prep foods or whatever it takes. My son loves frozen bagels. He can heat one in the microwave to thaw, pop it in the toaster and mostly spread the peanut butter on himself. Being older, my daughter can do even more.

I sometimes keep “special” cereal on hand for a DIY dinner and enjoy a bowl of Froot Loops with a side of toast spread with strawberry jelly. It works!

If you’re looking for some easy, delicious family dinner ideas, check out these recipes!

8 Pizza recipes your family will love

Easy baked quesadillas

The best slow cooker potato soup

2-ingredient meatball pockets

Easy pizza subs

Taco cornbread bake

BLT pizza

Meal planning made easy

7 Ways to make meal planning easier, faster and more practical for your family

Every single day my family needs to eat. And they insist on three meals a day plus sometimes snacks as well. It can be a lot. The biggest challenge for me is figuring out what to make. By the end of the day, I’m tired and usually my brain is on overload. That’s where meal planning comes to the rescue.

Through the years, I’ve tried different strategies for meal planning. Unfortunately some of them made me feel like a failure. Others just didn’t work. And still others took too much time that I didn’t have. For the last few years, my simple meal planning strategy has worked well for my family.

During these last few months of being at home and only picking up groceries once a week, I’ve had to be even more intentional with meal planning. It keeps my family fed and me sane!

Decide how often you’re going to the grocery store

The first step for meal planning is deciding how often you’re going to the grocery store. Whether you go once a week, three times a week or once every other week is going to make a difference in what you buy.

In general, I go once a week. Sometimes I end up with a trip in between there, but my goal is once a week. That’s been even more true during this year of social isolation when I’m only doing grocery pick-up. I’ve found that knowing I can’t just pop into the grocery store and pick up a forgotten ingredient or a fresh ingredient makes a difference in my planning.

While I know not everyone is staying out of the grocery store in person like I am, keeping trips to a minimum and not having to go back over and over for forgotten ingredients just makes life easier!

Keep a running grocery list

Being able to pick up everything you need during your grocery shopping trip is also key for effective meal planning. While my grocery list includes items for specific meals I have planned, it also includes everyday items that we go through like milk, bread, yogurt, eggs, cheese, fresh fruit, etc.

My favorite way to keep a grocery list is through using an app called Our Groceries. It is connected to our Alexa, so as I’m working in the kitchen, I can tell Alexa to add items to my grocery list. The list is also shared on both my phone and my husband’s. Pre-pandemic there were times one of us added items to the grocery list while the other was in the store shopping!

My mom uses a different strategy for her grocery list by adding items to her grocery cart for pick-up. That also works as does pen and paper, which is what I did before we started using the Our Groceries app.

Think practically about what you will make

When I first started meal planning, I’d come up with all sorts of ideas. I listed recipes new to us. I planned on cooking every night of the week even though I wasn’t doing that before I began meal planning. I had high hopes, I guess.

The reality is I don’t cook every night. Some nights I need something easy to make like frozen pizza, canned soup or grilled cheese. It may be a busy day or a crummy health day. So I learned to plan a few meals to cook each week and also to plan a few meals that don’t take as much effort. You just have to be practical about what your family actually does.

Make a list

Write down what you are planning to make over the next week (or two or however long you go in between grocery store trips). Add the ingredients to your running grocery list so you are prepared.

Be sure to go through the ingredients you have already for inspiration of what to make and use. Try also to plan items using similar fresh ingredients in the same week. For example, I often do tacos for dinner one night and salads within a day or two since both use fresh lettuce. Or I utilize the ground beef with chili one night and sloppy joes within a day or two.

Also add meal ideas that you always have on hand to your list. For my family this includes things like frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, frozen or homemade waffles and homemade pancakes.

Decide what list format works for you

Perhaps my biggest meal planning secret is that I don’t plan meals for specific days. I tried doing that and it never worked well. So now I make a list and have found three ways that work well.

This is how simple my list looks.

Prior to the pandemic, I made a list that was divided in two with meals that I had ingredients for and those that required ingredients to be bought fresh. For example, if I planned tacos, I might need to buy lettuce. Or if I had my daughter’s favorite slow cooker potato soup on the list, I might need to buy a loaf of fresh french bread.

Now that I can’t stop by the store for just a few fresh ingredients, I make one big list of meals I have ingredients for. In my head, I know which of those meals have ingredients that need to be used sooner than later, but I don’t break up the list any more.

You can also add a section for meal ideas that you always have on hand. Again, nowadays, I just put it all on one big list. So part of my meal planning list doesn’t usually change. But seeing those ideas of other things we have helps me when I’m deciding what to make for dinner.

Add details if you want

You can get more detailed with your list if that helps you. You can add side dish items along beside your main dish or even in a separate section. I don’t usually do that simply because the main dish is the hardest one to pick! Once I know what it is, the sides fall into place.

You can also include recipe notes like a URL to a recipe or where you saw it. I have even printed out new recipes and kept with my list in the past. Now I have a drawer in my kitchen where I put the recipes instead.

Put the list where you’ll use it

I like having my list visible where I need it most: my kitchen. So I post my list on my fridge with a magnet. I usually have mine typed up (which is just easier for me and I can keep the recurring meals on there). I trim the paper down to the size of the list so it’s not a full sheet of paper and stick it on the fridge. As we have dinners, I mark off what I no longer have ingredients for.

The list works well because my family can also see it and put in their thoughts for dinner sometimes.

If it works better for you, keep the list on your phone. Or put it in a drawer. You could stick it in your pantry. I’ve even kept my list on Google Drive and shared it with my husband before. Find the spot that works best for you and your family and go with it!

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