If You Can Read, You Can Cook…

(Guest Post by Edward Antrobus…who got riled up at all of us who said we “couldn’t do it” to last week’s No Restaurants in November challenge ;))

veggie food faceAccording to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, the average American family spends over $2600 per year dining.  That number doesn’t include tips or the cost of travel, which puts the number closer to $3000.

When looking at just singles and younger couples, that number jumps to nearly $3000 PER PERSON.  So if you are under 30, chances are you are shelling out close to $60 a week eating out every two and a half days. If you are single, you are probably spending over $100 each week getting dinner out almost every night.

On the surface, this probably sounds like like a good deal, most people are spending $20 or less a meal when we all know it’s really easy to go way over that number. (a recent trip to Olive Garden to celebrate a promotion cost us almost $70!)  But the chicken alfredo that I had, I could have made myself for under $5. So every meal you eat at home could be saving you $15. By cutting just two meals out a week, you are saving over $1500! What could you do with an extra $1500? Contribute to your retirement accounts? A nice vacation? Pay off a credit card?

Excuses, Excuses

The two most common excuses for dining out instead of cooking for yourself are “I don’t know how to cook” and “it takes too long.” If you’ve ever said one of these things, you are wrong.

For the first issue, yes, you know how to cook, even if you don’t realize it.  I have yet to meet a person who has never made boxed mac & cheese, ramen noodle soup, or cooked a hot dog. Each one of these is a food I’ve seen prepared by a person who claimed they couldn’t cook while they were doing it!  The response there is, “Well, you’re cooking right now.” Of course you know how to cook; if you can read a recipe, you are halfway there.

The second issue is poppycock as well. Enter “30 minute meals” in Google and there are 885,000 results. Don’t have 30 minutes? It will take you longer to drive to the restaurant, get a table, order, and receive your meal. 15 minute meals has 591,000 results. So there are almost a million and a half meals that take less time than dinging out.

How to fix this

So here’s what you do.  Pick you meal at least a day in advance. This will give you time to thaw out any frozen ingredients or stop at the store on your way home to pick up something you’re missing. If it’s a slow cooker meal, put it all together in the morning, otherwise, make sure perishable items are ready in the refrigerator and non-perishable items are waiting on the counter.  When you get home, do your prep work and cook your meal based on the recipe you found or change it to suit your needs.  Cook extra so you have leftovers for a quick meal later in the week or to take to work for lunch!

And all you single guys, get yourself a lady and cook for her. Not only will you save a ton of cash from not eating out all the time, but you’ll look like the most romantic dude ever!


Edward Antrobus is a twenty-something blogger, amateur cook, online-college founder, cookbook writer, and full time job seeker. He claims that if he “had a nickel for every time I’ve heard my mother say, ‘If you can read, you can cook,’ I would have been in J. Money’s millionaire club by age 10.”  He writes about cooking at If You Can Read, You Can Cook – check it out.

(Veggie Face by katerha)

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  1. Sunshine November 11, 2010 at 9:05 AM

    Thanks for this post. It got me thinking and gave me a second thought on cooking.

  2. Philip November 11, 2010 at 9:12 AM

    I use the last comment that you gave as my excuse. Don’t care enough for cooking for just myself. If I do eat at home most the time for dinner it is slap together a sandwich. But yes, I agree, I can read a recipe and cook most of the meals without too much of a problem, not much for improvising though.

    Guess I gotta make a trip to the grocery store tonight.

  3. Ariella November 11, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    I recommend the site cooks.com for finding recipes quickly and easily. Many of them are quite simple, requiring only a few ingredients, no fancy stuff. Now there are even reviews that let you know how real people found the recipes.

  4. Matt November 11, 2010 at 10:03 AM

    My wife and I make sure we take 30 mintues every week to meal plan the next week. We don’t always stick to the plan, but having a plan and everything we need to cook on hand has saved us a lot of money and eliminated over half of the eating out we use to do.

  5. Christine November 11, 2010 at 12:27 PM

    My bf likes to go out, and I like to cook…so we end up cooking on the weeknights and going out on the weekends. Though I wouldn’t mind cooking lavish dinners on the weekend! And we do 100 dollar meals every now and then…but just as a treat. It’s fun to cook cause it’s hard to go wrong unless you don’t taste your food while cooking!

  6. Edward - Entry Level Dilemma November 11, 2010 at 1:19 PM

    @Sunshine – You’re welcome!
    @Phillip – I’d suggest going with some slow cooker meals. Most can be thrown together in 5 minutes in the morning and ready to eat when you get home.
    @Ariella – Cooks.com is a great site; I’d also recommend allrecipes.com I like Allrecipes because they have an ingredients search where you can enter up to four ingredients you have/want to use (and another four you dont want, useful for food allergies if you don’t feel up to modifying recipes).
    @Matt – That’s a great tip, especially when you plan your meals around sales at the supermarket. We do the same thing but don’t decide on which meal from the menu until the night before.
    @Christine – My wife and I are the same way, only in reverse. I just think that eating out frequently makes it less special. My favorite thing about cooking is the experimentation. I kind of see myself as Glen from the movie Accepted.

  7. Jenna November 11, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    I like knowing what is actually IN my food. Yet another reason to make your own meals. Make something in bulk on Sundays, have solid lunch meal for the week, and add “flair” with fruits and side salads or rolls.

  8. Molly On Money November 11, 2010 at 7:47 PM

    Just over a year ago we were spending $1200/month on eating out. We cut back to $220/month. I don’t cook but my husband does. I spent the first few months crying and whining (and writing posts on how my husband was torturing me by not letting me go out to dinner). A year later I’ve learned to cook, I eat healthier and don’t miss eating out!
    One thing that helped is that I took up cooking as a hobby and made it something fun rather than something I detested.

  9. Jaime November 11, 2010 at 10:25 PM

    Great article.

    When I want to cook at home, I usually make a menu and then buy those items. I like to use my crockpot because cooking & cleanup is easy peasy. I’m thinking of buying a George Foreman grill too because grilling seems easy. I do think having a plan at the grocery store helps.

    I used to go to the grocery store with no idea what I would cook, I would buy random groceries with no idea what I would do with them, and spend $70-100 each week, problem was some of my food would spoil because I didn’t want to eat it that week.

    I eventually bought the home and garden cookbook, its huge and there are so many recipes. When I want to cook, I go through that cookbook then get on Google and see what other recipes are out there. Having an idea of what I want to cook, helps me stay organized and I spend less money at the grocery store.

    I also try to cook a meal ahead of time, like I’ll try to make dinner before I go off to work, so when I come home I don’t have the excuse “I’m too tired to cook.” I also think it helps to know your habits, if you’re the type who wants to treat yourself and your family on the weekends, you should do that.

    When we buy groceries we only buy enough for 4 days, Fri-Sunday we do like to eat out.

  10. Edward - Entry Level Dilemma November 11, 2010 at 10:44 PM

    @Jenna – Knowing what is in your food is especially important when you have food allergies. Mushroom isn’t a common allergy so restaurants don’t always tell you when they add them to a dish.
    @Molly – Congrats on cutting out almost $1000 per month. That’s huge!
    @Jaime – I love my GF grill. I’d recommend getting the one with removable grills even though it’s a pricier model, because the integrated grills are a pain in the butt to clean. I grew up on the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, the “plaid cookbook” as I called it as a child.

  11. J. Money November 12, 2010 at 12:50 AM

    Thanks again Edward for sharing! It’s a nice break from my stuff since I never like to write about cooking and/or saving money while eating ;) It’s the one area I allow myself to splurge! haha…

    @Sunshine – Glad you liked the post!
    @Philip – Haha… you’re a riot dude.
    @Ariella – Never even heard of that, I’ll have to check it out too – thx :)
    @Matt – That’s smart. I’d like to say we’d try that but I already know it’s not happening… If I ever make it blogging on my own though, you better believe I’ll have to cut back on everything!
    @Christine – That’s the truth! Esp if we’re talking cookies and/or brownies ;)
    @Jenna – I just look the other way and fill my belly, haha…
    @Molly On Money – WOW. That is absolutely amazing! That’s like getting rid of 90% of your budget!!! Well well done my friend.
    @Jaime – I think if I had to eat/cook at home I’d go that route too. Eat smart M-Thurs and then allow some going out on the weekends. Nice balance between it all.

  12. Nicolette @ {Momnivore's Dilemma} November 12, 2010 at 2:02 AM

    J Money-

    I’d take this a step further and say people should meal plan once a week, and stick to it. Good for your budget and waistline. I shop for mostly organic foods and spend between 100-125 a week for a family of four. Whole Paycheck is in everyone’s reach, if they fail to plan, well, they may as well toss the groceries out the car window on the way home.

  13. Lindy Mint November 12, 2010 at 2:22 PM

    First, let me say I agree with this article and all of these comments. BUT, the fact that I can read a recipe does me no good when,

    1. I get distracted and burn something,
    2. I modify the recipe to meet my family’s needs/likes and it comes out tasting like poop,
    3. I use a recipe I found online and it goes all wrong (usually things that are supposed to thicken, don’t). Or, it tastes like poop.

    The bottom line, it takes a lot of time to find the right recipes, and then a lot of trial and error to get them right. It can be done, but not overnight.

  14. Edward - Entry Level Dilemma November 12, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    @Nicolette – planning is key! But it’s still a good idea to plan in some flexibility. I always have spaghetti and sauce (or gravy as they call it in Sicily) on hand in case I just don’t feel like making the planned meal.
    @Lindy – I’ve only burnt something twice in 20 years of cooking, although I did boil a pot of water dry twice in the last year! I usually set a timer for the low end of when I expect it to be done. For more temperamental things, I don’t leave the kitchen at all. When things don’t thicken, they are usually just to warm, give it a few minutes to cool and it should thicken up.*
    As far as tasting like poop, sometimes when you experiment, it will go wrong, but that’s half the fun! You learn more from mistakes than from things that go right,

    *There was a humorous incident when I was 14 and my cousin and I decided to make hamburger helper after walking home from baseball practice. It looked too thin because he hadn’t let it set, so we stirred in some corn starch. That, of course, over thickened it, so we poured in more milk. Too thin, more corn starch. By the time we were done, we had a gallon of hamburger helper… from one box!

  15. DebtFreeDaniel November 13, 2010 at 2:04 PM

    It’s true that dining outside is very convenient than cooking at home where you are no longer to do a messy chopping, cooking and washing dishes. But what others do not know is that they don’t save money on that strategy, only the effort of cooking. We can also taste that delicious food at home if we cook it our self, anyways there’s too many websites that post different recipes and taste good too. Imagine how much money you spend dining outside where you can cook it and can be enjoyed also by the members of your family instead of eating that alone.

  16. J. Money November 14, 2010 at 11:34 AM

    @Nicolette @ {Momnivore’s Dilemma} – I agree meal-planning once a week would be good! If you can pull it off, more power to ya :)
    @Lindy Mint – Haha… are we the same person?! I’ll have to second that motion ;)
    @Edward – Entry Level Dilemma – I used to LOVE hamburger helper. Now the mere thought of it makes me gag a little – for similar user error in making it.. *shiver*
    @DebtFreeDaniel – Love eating with family and friends myself, just not cooking for them all ;)