by Mira Reverente
Americans love to eat AND eat out. That’s according to the results of a national dining trends survey, conducted by Zagat in 2015.
About 10,000 diners across the country were surveyed. The results are fascinating:
$39.40 – how much an average American spends per meal when dining out
4.5 times a week – how often an average American dines out
That’s $177.30 per American or $709.20 for a family of four per week. Let me repeat that–per week! I’m astounded at how much dining out can add up.
Like everyone else, I enjoy dining out, just not that often. I did take my daughter to her favorite restaurant chain the other day because it was her birthday. But more often than not, we eat most of our meals at home.
Eating at home takes careful planning. Weekdays are busy with school, after-school activities and the many challenges of parenting solo, but we make it work. Batch cooking has helped me immensely because it eliminates the temptation of eating out and running to the grocery for last-minute items. The savings are significant, plus our days run more smoothly because we have meals covered.
Here’s how I make batch cooking work:
- Designate a day. I prefer Sundays, because it makes me feel better to start the week right, knowing our meals are covered. With careful planning and excluding the trip to the store, it only takes me a couple of hours to cook a week’s worth of meals.
- Research. I look up recipes. Some recent favorites are DamnDelicious.net (easy-to-follow recipes with results looking exactly like the photos – promise!) and ThePioneerWoman.com (good photos with the step-by-step instructions). I haven’t perused the site yet but have heard good things about supercook.com (searchable recipes by the ingredients you have handy at home).
- Set yourself up for success. After doing research, make a list of all the ingredients you need. And shop when you’re full! This is a tried and tested strategy. I can’t count the number of times I put an unnecessary and expensive item in my cart because I was famished. I’m looking at that unopened bottle of white balsamic vinegar right now.
- Use what’s in season. It’s cheaper. Period. Better yet, head to your nearby farmers’ market. You’re not only helping local farmers by giving them business but you’re also taking advantage of fresh, in-season produce.
- Mix and match. I don’t necessarily make seven dishes on Sundays. It could be three carbs: brown rice, pasta and a potato dish plus three meat dishes: fish, chicken and beef. If I’m feeling energetic, I’ll add two veggie dishes or have a salad bag on stand-by during the week. The brown rice can go with any of the meat dishes, ditto with the pasta. They don’t necessarily have to be thrown in together when you cook, only when you reheat.
- Get organized. After you’ve been doing batch cooking for some time, you’ll discover the “hits or misses” with your family. Save the “hits” on your phone, iPad, index card or a binder for easy reference. After you have about 20 to 30 recipes saved, rotate them. It will also make your next shopping trip a breeze.
What are your favorite recipes for batch cooking and which sites do you like to use? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook.
Mira Reverente is associate editor of CVH and a longtime journalist whose work has appeared in many local publications. Her first book on money came out last fall. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, for more money savviness tips.