I’ve struggled with the habit to cook and eat at home most of my married life. It’s always easier for me to pick up some take out and call it a day.
It takes 20-30 minutes, has minimal clean up (a plus for me) and I don’t have to think about it.
But, here’s the thing. It costs money…thousands of dollars in just a year. Imagine several years? That’s a small fortune that we end up spending on eating out.
When we were going through our debt payoff journey, we decided to reduce our food budget by cooking more at home. It was a huge part of our expenses and it was one of the areas where I had the most control to change.
It was also one of the most challenging habits changes. Eating at home was time consuming, labor-intensive, and the food never quite tasted like all the yummy food we were eating out.
But, I knew that cooking at home would help us save money and pay off debt faster. I had to figure out a way to make it work for my busy lifestyle.
You see, I’m a busy mom. I work a full-job, run a full-time blog business, and run my home, complete with teens, a husband, an endless pile of laundry and everything else that comes along with life.
I needed something that was simple. Something that would make eating at home worth my effort.
I tried a lot of methods make this work, but I had to adjust a lot over the span of about a year to get my routine to work well with my schedule and my energy level.
Here are Ways for Busy Moms to Cook at Home
1- Plan Your Menu
When you plan out your menu for the week, you’re more likely to cook and eat at home.
If you take just 10-15 minutes per week to plan out your meals can save you from the dinner scramble that often happens when you’re hungry and trying to figure out what to eat.
Your dinners don’t have to be elaborate. It could be as simple as a ready-made pizza and hot wings that you just pop in the oven after work, or breakfast for dinner.
The more you keep the plan simple, the easier it is to cook at home, even if you’re busy.
2- Have a stocked pantry
When you’re a busy mom, having a stocked pantry will be your saving grace. You’ll be able to quickly whip up an easy dinner on a weeknight if you have pantry staples like rice, pasta, frozen veggies and a protein…even if this protein is turkey deli slices or hot dogs.
You can make a quick, filling meal if your pantry has what you need.
There are many times when I’ve been too busy to make a proper dinner and I end up making tuna noodle casserole out of a box of elbow pasta, canned tuna, cream of chicken soup and some cheese.
Tuna noodle casserole takes about 15 minutes from start to finish. And I always have those ingredients on hand, so it’s the recipe I tend to fall back on when I’m busy and forgot to prepare ahead of time.
3- Get your family involved
I can’t tell you how helpful it has been in the last few years to get my family involved in the meal planning process. Sitting down and having each person pick a meal they’d like to eat that week means I don’t have to choose all the meals by myself.
It also means that my kids and family will EAT what I make since they chose to add it to that week’s menu.
Getting your family involved in the cooking and meal preparation is also a great way to cut your time in the kitchen and increase your time together.
That’s a win-win in my book.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention…get them involved in the after-dinner cleanup session too. My kids clean the table, bring the dishes to the sink, and put away the leftovers.
So, my only job after dinner is to clean the dishes.
4- Batch cook on the weekend
This was one of my biggest helpers when I was too busy during the week to cook. I’d spend about 2 hours on a Saturday and I’d cook 5 meals.
Four of those meals would be for the weeknights and one would be for Saturday’s dinner.
I’d turn on all the burners, the oven, and sometimes the crockpot.
The great thing about batch cooking is how much you can get done in a small window of time. And the best part? You clean less.
I’m not kidding! I’ll explain.
In my family, we eat a lot of stewed dishes, with meat and vegetables and tomato sauce. These dishes take about an hour of low-and-slow cooking.
This is a popular dish in my house, meatballs and potatoes over rice. Yum!
Our stew meals always start with the same base ingredients. They call for onion, some garlic, and tomato sauce.
I chop all the onions in the food processor at once, same with the garlic.
I make great use of my cutting board and prep all my veggies on one, meat on another, and chicken on another.
Then, I’d start stewing my meals in their respective pots and while I waited, I cleaned up.
Here’s the thing- you cook once and clean once.
I only have to clean my small appliances once per week, it saves so much time.
The process made it super easy for me to keep my kitchen tidy and organized and I spent much less time cleaning up.
The day of the dinner, while my dish reheated for 10-15 minutes, I’d spend that time making a side of rice or pasta. The vegetables were already in the stew so nothing else was needed.
And voila! A balanced dinner was on the table in 15 minutes or less on a weeknight!
5- Let your appliances do the work- crockpot, instant pot, stove, air fryer
I reserve stove top cooking when it’s something that really needs my attention. Otherwise, I use alternative methods to cook my food that are low maintenance and don’t need my constant attention.
Leave the stove top for stews that will cook on low for a long time. That way, your stove works for you, not the other way around.
Let your appliances do the work while you relax or catch up on one of your other chores. The latter is probably more realistic, haha.
Use an air fryer or bake your food in the oven until crispy.
Instant pots and slow cookers are great for tender meat and they’re great for busy nights.
If you’re away for most of the day, let your slow cooker make dinner for you.
Your house will smell delicious when you come home and all you need is a side dish. Easy-peasy.
Use what you have to cook more effectively, so you’re not standing around waiting for your food to cook.
Set a timer and come back to check on your meal when it needs your attention.
This will free up more time for you to do other things.
6- Use disposable plates and utensils
If you’re really busy and hate cleaning the dishes after dinner, this is an easy fix. It’s better to eat homemade dinner on paper plates than it is to eat takeout on paper plates.
You’ll still save a lot of money by eating at home and you’ll have a much healthier meal with your family.
7- Prep for 5 minutes the night before
You don’t need to do a ton to prepare to cook at home.
Take a few minutes the night before to thaw out your meat, cut your vegetables, or lay out your ingredients on the counter.
That way, you’re ready to cook at home without scrambling around when you’re hungry.
It’s a simple thing that makes a big difference. Each small task you do the night before saves you time the next day.
Every small step counts.
Eating at home doesn’t have to be difficult
Even if you are not a person who likes to cook at home, you can still create simple meals your family will enjoy.
Use these tips to use your time more effectively, so you don’t feel the need to grab fast food in lieu of making your own.
The most important thing to keep in mind, cooking at home depends on your process. Take small steps every week to build habits that support your intention to cook at home, so you can do it more often.
Plan ahead, stay organized and keep your family involved. Every step you take is one step closer to eating more meals at home without spending hours in the kitchen.