How I Saved 8 Hours A Week Cooking 7 Dinners for Under $100

by VK

As mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been streamlining my domestic duties lately. Four of my most time-consuming tasks involve feeding my family: planning a menu, clipping coupons, going grocery shopping and then, of course, cooking. Altogether, those tasks account for over 8 hours out of my week. That’s an entire workday!

But what if I could streamline those tasks? Maybe I could use the extra time and energy to accomplish some of my other household chores, the ones that tend to slide more often because they don’t involve cranky family members and their growling stomachs? And what, in the process, if I could save money, too?

First thing to go was menu-planning. That was the hardest task to surrender: I enjoy cooking dinner since I always begin by pouring myself a glass of wine and turning on some music. (Granted, sometimes dinner doesn’t take as long to cook as my family thinks.) But changing the menu weekly prevents us from saving money by buying in bulk. Plus, it means that I’m always carting home new ingredients and constantly adding to what’s already on hand.

After coming up with a weekly, recurring menu, I changed how I use coupons which had started to determine the purchases we made, not vice versa. A coupon for $1 off Ragu? I’d add it to the list. But buying plain tomato sauce and onion, and using the spices I already have in my drawer, actually costs less than the discounted bottle of Ragu. I knew that — and knew we liked homemade sauce better — yet my desire to feel like I got a bargain often trumped common sense. (Our dinner menu appears at the bottom of this entry.)

Which prompted the third change: I turned over grocery-shopping duties to my husband. Since it doesn’t involve cleaning, he’s happy to head to the store once a week with the grocery list — made simple now that we eat the same things every week — and an envelope of coupons attached. And since he’s not tempted to change dinner plans by the sight of fresh herbs or juicy lamb chops, we actually save money. (My husband realized that shopping on Wednesday afternoon also means saving extra money since that’s when meat is often discounted, plus he says the stores aren’t as busy so he’s free to stand there comparing prices between items.) He knows to buy what’s on the list, and only what’s on the list, so help him God.

As for how I simplified cooking, it just sort of happened. Knowing what we’re going to have for dinner every night of the week makes it easy to prep ingredients ahead of time. Rather than spending 15 minutes or more each night grabbing, washing and chopping ingredients, I now spend one hour on shopping day to do them all then store them in the fridge or freezer as necessary.

For instance, when my husband comes home from the store, I whip out my Vidalia Chop Wizard and carrots, celery, seeded cucumbers and bell peppers, then wash the lettuce in my salad spinner. I separate that into plastic containers and, voila, the salad for the week is done. Then I rinse the chopper and move on to making fruit salad, which I toss with freshly-squeezed lemon juice to prevent browning before storing it in plastic containers, too. Finally, I chop the onions for the week (although I know cooking enthusiasts who’d have a fit about that) and store them the fridge.

The result? I’m not doing labor-intensive cooking each night so much as I’m assembling. It’s easier, faster, less-expensive and just as flavorful. And that means I have more time to enjoy my nightly glass of wine and music, without all of the stress of wondering what to serve for dinner.

Our Weekly Menu

Wednesday: Baked salmon, brown rice tossed with chopped fresh baby spinach, fruit salad.

Thursday: Meatloaf, tossed salad, baked potatoes.

Friday: Pork chops, Texas-style pinto beans, fruit salad.

Saturday: Chicken piccata, brown rice pilaf, mezza salad.

Sunday: Ground turkey chili (on top of leftover rice pilaf), gluten-free cornbread.

Monday: Beef stew, the last of the tossed salad, and the last of the fruit salad.

Tuesday: Oven-baked chicken breasts, Southern-style green beans, mashed potatoes.

7 Responses to “How I Saved 8 Hours A Week Cooking 7 Dinners for Under $100”

  1. Maybe I missed this, but are you going to rotate these meals monthly? Or eat the same thing every single week?

  2. We’ll change them out every couple of months, particularly once March rolls around and local produce becomes available again. Then I intend to plan our menu based on the season.

    I know eating the same thing every week for a couple of months isn’t enough variety, but we get our variety at lunch. (My husband has sandwiches from his office building’s deli, my son eats whatever’s on his school lunch menu, and I usually eat a late breakfast so I skip lunch.)

  3. Cool. Let us know how it goes. I do a 7 day menu here, but like you I end up with a bunch of stuff I only use once for a recipe.

  4. I clicked over to read this because I’ve been trying something similar (since beginning of the month) with a two-week rotation of main dishes (with Fridays being “unscheduled” so I can try something new). I still spend about half an hour menu-planning for side dishes and lunches, but that’s a definite improvement from the two hours a week I was spending before just planning a menu/shopping list (not including shopping!). You may have inspired me to try to streamline even more.

  5. I like this, especially Corrie’s variation of using the same main dishes with different sides. I love cooking, I have worked as a professional chef, but day in and day out family meal cooking is just tiresome. Sometimes I have been too busy during the day to then deal with what was on the plan, that’s when it all goes wrong, I either call for takeout, or make something less complex from some combination of ingredients, which then leaves me without something for another night, but with some other leftover special item from tonight.

    The prep you are doing is how professional kitchens are run. In fact, depending on the sort of kitchen it is, some ingredients are bought already prepped by the wholesaler. I ran a small kitchen with constantly changing menues, I couldn’t have offered as wide a variety as my employer’s wished if it weren’t for all the pre-cut vegetables I could buy. I’m pretty fast with my knives, but the volume needed & time available didn’t always allow me to do it myself.

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