Not everyone likes to cook or has an instant knack for it. If this sounds like you, there is hope. I came from a family where Pizza Hut was on speed dial. Nowadays, if I do not cook it, I rarely enjoy my meals. I am not saying that you have to become a restaurant quality chef, just that there is hope for you.
Granted, learning to cook does take some time, if you keep at it though, you will get there. In the meantime, if you need some money off that food budget, here are some ways to save with minimal cooking skills.
If time is the biggest issue for you, prepping your meals ahead of time is the key. Now, you could use one of those meal services but they are costly and the whole point here is to save money.
Take one day a week, Sunday works great, and prep the basis of your meal. The biggest time suck in meal preparation is meat but you can cook a whole weeks worth of meat and just freeze it. Chicken and ground beef are the most forgiving meats to cook for novices.
Cook your ground beef on a skillet until it is just well done, no pink, and be careful not to cook it too much. Drain the beef and let is cool slightly. Then divide it into meal portions of 1/4 pound per person. So, if you have a family of four, make one pound packs. If you have a vacuum packer, that works the best for preserving your meat, otherwise just use one gallon ziplock bags. Be sure to squeeze as much of the air out as possible and put them in the freezer.
On the day of your meal, you can simply take the meat out and defrost it in the microwave. Then you simply add a few seasonings or sauce to the meat and you have your meal. Here are just a few possibilities for cheap and easy meals.
Add a packet of taco seasoning to your meat and simmer a few minutes. Then just serve with tortillas and some canned refried beans.
- Sloppy Joes
Add a can of Sloppy Joe sauce and you have an easy sandwich. Serve it with chips or baked frozen fries.
Simply add your meat to a jar of spaghetti sauce and cook a pot of your favorite noodles.
- Hamburger Helper
Yes, even hamburger helper can be good and easy with pre-made meat. Add frozen veggies to fancy it up a bit.
- Hamburger Pizza
Heat and serve pizza crust topped with a bit of pizza sauce, some mozzarella and sprinkled with hamburger meat. An easy home made pizza in 10 minutes.
You can use boneless skinless but chicken thighs work best because of the extra fat content. They are much easier to work with and they do not dry out. Plus, they have much more flavor.
You can bake a whole weeks worth of chicken thighs or breasts in no time. Use a simple seasoning of salt and pepper. When they are done, freeze them whole or shred them.
When it is time to make your meal, now all you have to do is thaw the meat in the microwave. With thawed chicken there are a lot of meals you can make with a little seasoning or sauce. Here are some quick examples.
- Chicken Tacos
Just add shredded chicken to a packet of taco seasoning. Simmer for a few minutes and then serve with corn tortillas and some canned black beans.
- Barbecue Chicken
Heat up chicken and add a BBQ sauce of choice. Use shredded chicken for BBQ chicken sandwiches. Serve with chips or a simple frozen vegetable seasoned with salt and pepper.
- Chinese Food
Instant rice plus your choice of sauces such as sweet and sour.
- Chicken Alfredo
Heat up your chicken and place it over pasta with a jar of Alfredo sauce. Place a few pieces of frozen french bread in the oven and you have a meal.
On days when you do splurge and dine out, be sure to take advantage of these meals as much as possible. Since most restaurant entrees are oversized, you can easily turn them into another meal on their own.
If you order a pasta entree, set aside half of the meal and take it home with you. If free bread is served, grab a few pieces as well. Take it home and freeze it or better yet, use it the next day for dinner or lunch. If you get bored easily, you can jazz up an old pasta dish by adding a variety of frozen vegetables. Just heat them up in the microwave and them mix them in with your pasta. Peas and mushrooms can take an Alfredo dish to the next level. Likewise, peppers and onions can spice up a red sauce based dish.
Burgers and steaks can also very easily repurposed as tacos. Chop up your steaks or shred up those burgers and add a little taco seasoning. Throw in a few tortillas, shredded cheese and sour cream and you have a nice lunch.
Chicken meals are a no brainer. You can take that meat and make tacos, a nice sandwich or simply serve it as is with some vegetables.
Another option for just about any protein is to turn it into a salad. Stores sell ready to use salad mixes for one or two dollars a bag and a bag will make several salads. Just add the dressing of your choice, your protein and possibly some croutons or a bit of cheese. Instant cheap and healthy meal.
Don’t look down on the humble sandwich. There are a lot of easy and cheap ways to jazz them up. The sandwich is the most versatile of meals and can be served at any time of day.
The breakfast croissant is a great example. Just fry up an egg and top it with a slice of ham or bacon and you have a cheap and easy meal. You can even skip the egg if you really don’t want to cook at all and it is just as good. Buy croissants from the bakery and then freeze them. When you are ready to use, pull one out and you will find that they thaw in minutes by themselves. Hint, slice it in half while it is frozen for an easy cut.
Lunch & Dinner
The key to making a sandwich a meal is to use good toppings and good bread. If you want to make it fancy, put away the Wonder Bread and splurge a few cents extra on a nice rye, sourdough or baguette.
Then, top the meat of your choice with a good cheese and then lettuce, tomatoes, olive, etc. Whatever strikes your fancy. Go to any sub shop and you will see that the meat is nothing special. What makes a sandwich is the toppings and the bread.
Serve your sandwiches with chips, heat up some fries in the oven or microwave a bowl of canned soup. You will then have a healthy, cheap and easy meal.
There are a lot of ways to prep tasty and affordable meals at home, even if you hate to cook. Doing so can save an average family of four an easy 400 dollars a month which is almost 5000 dollars a year. If you think that you can’t do it, you just lack confidence. So many people are nervous about cooking and they shouldn’t be. Sure, you might make some mistakes along the way but you will learn from them and before you know it, you might just be a good cook.