Cooking for Divorced Moms, a.k.a., How To Balance the Family Budget

At this point, I know a lot of divorced Utah moms. More than I would care to admit, in fact.

Couple constants with these ladies: (1) there's never enough time, and (2) there's never enough money.

I've written about money and budgeting before (for example, here, here, and here), but I've never written about food and cooking as a component of money and budgeting. Let's fix that.

FAST FOOD, MONEY, AND TIME

I read a lot, and I love food, so I read about food. A few years ago, I read a few studies about why people who make less money tend to eat less healthy food than people with more money. The idea was poorer people don't eat as well because it's cheaper to eat fast food all the time, which is chock full of calories.

As I was reading, I remember thinking, "This is pure crap. It's not cheaper to eat out, and it doesn't take less time."

Thankfully, economists are beginning to see the error in those early studies. But this should have been obvious from the outset to anyone who cooks and eats food, and here's why:

1.         Fast food is about convenience, not low cost.

Think about what you get from McDonald's (one of the lowest-cost options). A quarter-pound hamburger, fries, and a Coke. All that costs about $6. The ingredients in that meal cost, maybe, maybe $2 (and that's being generous). So, you're paying $2 for the food, and $4 for the beef rancher and his employees, restaurant upkeep, the cook's salary, and the CEO's benefit package. There's no way that massive system of cost saves you and your family money.

(Oh, and the gas to go pick up fast food every day starts to add up after a while as well.)

2.         Fast food is about convenience, not less time.

Sure, there are times when driving home with all the kids in the car, you stop at Chick-fil-A and buy a meal. That's convenient and saves you some time.

That, however, is not how dinner works most of the time. You end up driving home, then driving to get food, then driving home after. When you think about the driving, ordering, and eating time associated with fast food, it doesn't actually save time over cooking and eating at home.

For example, crockpot dinners take almost no time to prepare and (depending on what you cook) are incredibly nutritious. Seriously, they take maybe ten minutes of prep in the morning, then they cook without supervision, then you eat them. It's the most convenient food on earth.

 COOKING, NUTRITION, AND FAMILY BUDGETS

Cooking is the way to go to save money, save time, and eat nutritiously.

When you cook your own food, you control the ingredients, which means you get to add things like vegetables, unprocessed meats, and legumes, instead of processed sugar, processed meat, and holy unnatural oils (who on heaven's green earth has ever heard of corn oil in nature?). Cooking your own food almost always leads to eating fewer calories, eating healthier food, and spending less money.

Crockpot meals

One primary suggestion I have for my clients is to cook crockpot meals. There is almost no prep and no supervision. It's the ultimate in set-it-and-forget-it cooking. And, best part, you don't even need a recipe.

All you do is cut up some vegetables, put them in the crockpot with your favorite meat (chicken and pork are my personal favorites) and some beans, and add salt and pepper. Turn it on. Walk Away.

That's it. You don't even need to add a liquid because the vegetables and meat give off liquid during the cooking process.

When you want to eat, eat. There is nothing simpler or less time consuming on the earth.

And let's think about my hypothetical crockpot meal described above. If you used zucchini, bell pepper, carrots, sweet potatoes, chicken, and black beans, you would have a nutritious meal that contains minimal amounts of sugar or anything processed. Total cost for a family of four would be, at the high end, around $10. If you wanted to make extra so you could use it for lunch the next day, it would cost around $15-$20.

Compare that to eating at McDonald's. Three kids' meals at $3 each is $9, plus an adult meal for $6, totals $15. That's a full 50% more than the super convenient and health $10 crockpot meal. And McDonald's is the cheap-end version. Eat at a higher quality fast food joint like Chick-fil-A, and the difference will be even more pronounced.

Other Meals

You don't have to cook crockpot meals, though. You can cook any number of dinners within thirty minutes. Almost all of these will be cheaper, less time consuming, and more nutritious than eating out.

(FYI: I have started a Pinterest board collecting the type of recipes I'm describing. It's titled "cooking for divorced Utah moms." Check it out.)

Batching Meals

I alluded to this above, but one great way to save time and money is by batching your cooking.

What I mean is you cook one meal and then use it over time. One dinner can become two or three meals over the ensuing days.

This seriously cuts down on the amount of time spent cooking and preparing meals over the course of a week.   

Bottom Line on the Family Budget

Nothing will break your bank quite like eating out too much. Conversely, almost no single thing will shrink your family budget more than cooking at home.

And since cooking at home is way more nutritious than eating out and takes less time, there's really no downside.

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