Anyone who knows us knows that we eat out. It’s just what we do. When dinner time comes around we just ask our two year old if she wants Cafe Rio or In-N-Out. Some nights she says pizza and other nights it’s Panera. Really, we’ve been in a sad state of affairs, but probably not unlike plenty of other people. We’re tired when we get home from work, hungry right away, and the thought of cooking and then having dishes to wash is enough for us to own stock in our local Wahoo’s because we eat there so often. Not to mention, I go out to lunch every single day.
We don’t spend a lot when we go out. We split a burrito three ways, or use gift certificates and coupons, so it’s not like we’re eating at The Ritz every night. However, whenever I look at our bank account online almost every transaction is food related.
So, a few weeks ago I suggested to Hubs that for 30 days we cook every meal at home and only go out if we have gift certificates to cover the full cost of the meal. Little did I know how much this would revolutionize our way.
The hardest part for me was packing my lunch. I work in a small office and it’s nice to get out and go somewhere during the day, to sit and read without hearing a phone ring, or meet friends for lunch…just something to break up the day. I’ve never been one to eat at my desk. I lose focus and the day turns into a blur of non-productivity. If this whole idea to not spend any money at restaurants was going to work I had to plan ahead.
Aside from bringing my lunch, which usually consists of left-overs or a baked potato, I had to plan dinners ahead of time too. This has always come and gone in waves for me. I go from being super-motivated and planning a month of meals at a time, to getting home, looking in the fridge, and suggesting we go out. This month I had to focus.
I wanted to do a sort of “cook from the pantry” challenge, and clear out some of the pasta packets and beans that have been hiding in the back of our cupboards for, let’s be honest, years. If it was no good anymore than we were going to find out once I cooked it, and either eat it or toss it and wait for me to make something else.
We’ve only had to run to the store a few times to get a couple basics we ran out of (milk, tomato soup, and hamburger buns), but other than that I’ve been able to successfully feed the three of us (and an occasional parent or two) by just using what we already had on hand and we’re about three weeks in.
There are a few things that make this much, much easier, almost to the point of feeling like I’m cheating. First, we’re part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) through South Coast Farms in San Juan Capistrano, CA, so every three months we pay a certain amount of money to buy a share of whatever produce comes off our local farm for that quarter. We pick a basket up every other week about a mile away from our house full of fresh, organic produce picked that morning. If not for that I would definitely have to run to Grower’s Direct for our fruits and veggies. We decided not to renew for the upcoming quarter because I’m planting a garden and hope to get most of our produce from my backyard. If that’s not an option for you, I love the CSA and highly recommend that you look into whether or not it’s a viable option for your produce needs. I’m happy to answer specific questions about it since we’ve done it for years.
The other thing we did a couple months ago really helped us in the “prepare-for-the-unexpected-without-knowing-it” category. We purchased a quarter of a side of beef from my uncle’s ranch in Idaho. This is the real deal, grass fed, organic, hormone/antibiotic free beef that we got for a steal, and my dad and brother drove to pick it up. After pitching in for gas, the total came to $3.60/lb which is amazing for this area (compared to places like Whole Foods), and we got all sorts of cuts of meat…tenderloin, steaks, ribs, ground beef. Not to mention, I know where it came from which is really important to me. So, instead of running out to the store for a protein to include with our meal, I just decide which of the 100 lbs of beef I’ll pull out of the upright freezer in the garage. I can guarantee that the produce from the CSA and the stockpile of beef in our freezer makes this 30 days a whole lot easier.
The one thing I expected was that we would save money. And, we have. Lots of money. Now I look online and don’t see one single restaurant related transaction, which has never happened in the ten years we’ve been married.
What I didn’t expect was that I would fall in love with nourishing my family with real, whole food. I’ve been doing things like making our bread for a while (separate post about that), but now I’m making homemade corn and flour tortillas because they’re so darn easy. I just tried my hand at homemade bagels a couple days ago, so those will last for the week, and we have frozen homemade gnocchi in the freezer for a quick dinner. I’ll do separate posts on all those things sometime, but I realize that making things from scratch doesn’t usually save time (unless the supermarket is really, really busy that day). In most cases it has saved us money, but in all cases it gave me control over what’s going into the food that we’re eating. Being frugal means making conscious decisions to live with intentionality, to consume with a purpose, and that includes the type of food we eat.
I don’t want my daughter remembering her family dinners as getting in the car and going somewhere. This has been such an enriching time for us, and we had no idea when we started that Hubs would get laid off a couple weeks in, so now we’re better prepared to make this a normal part of our life instead of a 30-day exception to the rule.