In many ways, my family is the average American family. We’ve got a couple of kids, a dog, a house in the ‘burbs, two cars, and two incomes. You know the drill.
My wife is a nurse and works from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. That means that she leaves the house around 6 a.m. and does not get home until after 8:00 p.m. Parenting is a tag team affair for us. When she gets home, I leave for work and vice versa.
I often say that we operate as two single part-time parents. It’s not that our lives are any tougher than that of other families. It is just structured differently. One of the negative side effects of this structure, though, is the lack of time to prepare meals.
It has taken us a long time of trial and error along with an infinite amount of tweaks to fit the square peg in the round hole and be able to provide a home cooked meal for our family on a regular basis.
To be honest, we still do not have the formula completely nailed down. It’s a work in progress but it’s better than it’s ever been. After six+ years of working on this, I believe that we are finally at a point where I could provide some advice to couples in similar situations who are just starting out.
Below, you will find some tips. If you have any that you would like to share, please do!
Precook in bulk
One of the biggest time and money saving changes that we made was to realize that there were certain items that we could make in advance and freeze. For example, I will make a giant pot of marinara sauce on a Sunday and then put it in pint-size containers and freeze it. If you buy and freeze some fresh pasta, It will take you about as long as it takes water to boil to make your meal. Just leave the sauce out on the counter the night before to defrost, or defrost it in a saucepan as you are boiling water.
Another good thing to make in advance and freeze is soup. You can make various stocks or heartier soups (tomato, potato, etc.) and store them in quart-size containers.
Order groceries online
One of the biggest reasons that we ordered out so often was because we never had time to grocery shop. When a weekend finally rolled around that my wife was off, we would then be stuck realizing we had no money left to grocery shop. Ordering online was a big problem solver for us.
ShopRite is one of many grocery stores that offers a delivery service nowadays. At the recommendation of a neighbor, it is the one we chose to use. Before this neighbor raved about it, we felt weird about ordering online. It felt lazy. Then, after she talked about it, we realized it was a lot lazier to order delivery from a place two blocks away than it was to do this.
You can create an account on their site, sign up for their rewards card, and digitally coupon clip within a matter of minutes. One of the nice features of the site is that you can create savable shopping lists. We have one for regular groceries (perishables), monthly items (cleaning and paper products) and then one for miscellaneous items. In one click, you can add an entire saved list to your cart. You can pay through PayPal or pay in person when the driver shows up. Deliveries can be scheduled for the same day or for a future date.
It took less than five minutes to login, fill up my cart and check out today and now we have groceries to last two weeks.
ShopRite is always running specials that allow you to save a good bit of money by ordering online too.
Plan light meals in advance
Salads, sandwiches, and grilled foods are very easy to prepare and cheap to make. They may not always be the most appetizing options (especially if you are like me and came from a big Italian family that considered dinner to be an hour-long, four-course affair) but, if you state that a certain day will be the day you have salad for dinner, it takes out the guesswork. Grilling chicken, for example, only takes six or so minutes to grill and it is a very hands-off meal. The night before, you can put the chicken in a plastic bag with a marinade and then throw it and some vegetables on the grill and have a delicious, healthy meal in under 10 minutes.
Make peace with the crockpot
I cannot help but thumb my nose at crockpots. To me, buying food to unattendedly let burn and dry out over the course of a day in those culinary death traps is the equivalent of showing up to a winery with a box of Franzia. That is just me, though. Some people are capable of making good meals in a crockpot. I’m not. Despite growing up in an Italian kitchen and cooking for a fine dining Italian restaurant, I find this machine tedious. At some point, though, you have to give in to the need it fills: providing a (debatably) fresh, hot meal when you walk in the door. So, suck it up and look online or ask your friends for some recipes. It will pay off in the long run.
In the near future, I will update this post with hard numbers but, for now, I can tell you that making simple changes like the ones mentioned above have been incredibly beneficial in numerous ways. We have saved hundreds of dollars, eaten much better food, and have become a healthier family as a result.