Egg prices cracked a new ceiling in 2022, rising a record 32.2 percent over the previous year's price. While the 20-year historical level of retail food price inflation is 2.0 percent per year, last year inflation across almost all food categories shot up nearly 10%.
Never mind the cost of eating in restaurants — cooking at home is as expensive as it has ever been. Good home cooking allows home cooks to simplify meal preparation, produce tastier food, and save money. As an added benefit, home-cooked food tends to be much healthier than restaurant or takeout food, since the cook is in complete control of the fat, sugar, and salt content.
Learning basic cooking, choosing the right ingredients, and planning meals can help anyone be a better home cook.
Learn To Cook the Basics
In an age where convenience is king, learning to cook the basics can save hundreds of dollars each year. Shoppers should stock up on staples like rice and whole grains, beans, and frozen vegetables, ensuring they’ll always have the essentials for a healthy meal in the pantry or refrigerator. Experts at the USDA recommend people strive to include a green (or any vegetable, really), a grain, and a protein with every meal. Keeping basic ingredients on hand makes eating healthy easy and accessible.
Canned beans are great for their convenience, for example, but for cooks who want to take things one step further and save on their grocery bills, learning to cook dried beans from scratch will take their skills a level up. A bag of dried beans costs less than a dollar per pound in some places, and once cooked, will yield enough beans to replace three cans. Cooking dried beans from scratch only takes about an hour, and most of it is hands-off while the beans are simmering. And no, it isn’t necessary to soak them overnight. As an added benefit, adding aromatics, like garlic and bay leaves, adds flavor, and the home cook is also in control of the amount of salt that’s added to the beans.
Whether it’s beans, lentils, rice, or whole grains, learning to cook the basics from scratch means cooking meals that are friendlier to the wallet and better for your health. According to the British Medical Journal, two extensive European studies have linked the consumption of ultra-processed foods, such as ready meals, soup mixes, and more, to a range of health concerns, including cardiovascular disease and death. Cooking meals at home is one way to ensure a well-balanced diet.
Lean on the Freezer
Cooks who think frozen food is low quality should think again. Frozen foods, especially fruits and vegetables, tend to be harvested at peak freshness and then flash frozen, leading to the preservation of nutrients. This means that frozen fruits and vegetables are as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, if not more so. With frozen vegetables tending to be much cheaper than fresh, this is a great way to ensure those vital five servings daily without breaking the bank.
The freezer aisle is hardly limited to fruits and vegetables. It’s also a great way to get good quality protein, like frozen salmon, seafood, or poultry, at a lower price than fresh. Like vegetables, fresh meat and fish are flash-frozen immediately upon processing, preserving nutrients in a like-fresh state.
Skip the Takeout
It’s tempting to order takeout on a busy day. But, with a few exceptions, takeout is expensive and can be loaded with salt, fat, and added sugars. The average takeout meal is about 1,000 calories, and portion control can be difficult.
Fast food is also expensive. According to The Barbecue Lab, the average American spends about $1,200 a year on takeout. The nation spends about $110 billion a year on fast food. The Barbecue Lab estimates that much money could end world hunger for three years.
By contrast, cooking dishes like an authentic massaman curry at home guarantees fresher ingredients, less salt, less added fat, and fewer preservatives than ordering in. As a money-saving benefit, home cooks can batch-cook their favorites, stashing extra portions into the freezer or packing them for school or work lunches.
With the rising cost of groceries, the time to start cooking at home is now. With a few tricks up their sleeves, like knowing how to cook dried beans from scratch, shopping the freezer section, and making their own takeout, home cooks can save money, eat healthier, and ditch the takeout habit for good.