8 Ways to Save on Dinner — No Meal Planning Required


Do you find yourself barraged with advice about the money-saving power of meal planning, but lack the ability to stick with it? You're not alone. By the time Wednesday rolls around, you may not be feeling energetic enough to whip up that recipe that is on the menu board. Instead, there is the temptation of takeout. But that's where we blow the food budget, folks. It's really hard to stay on track if you give up on cooking. Instead, try these eight cost-cutting meal ideas and tricks to give yourself an "out" if you need to veer off the meal-planning track.

1. Have Breakfast for Dinner

Rough day? Throw on your sweats and fry some eggs. Kids, just as much as adults, love the comfort factor of brinner. They'll be happy with pancakes and bacon, but if you need a little more adult fare, whip up an omelet to serve with crusty French bread. Pair with a glass of white wine. Enjoy!

2. Get Weekly Meals in a Box

Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Home Chef and Plated are a few of the new meal-prep services. If making it through the week on your own meal-planning power is proving to be too much, try the treat of having a few meals a week delivered. It will be a healthier option than fast food, cheaper than ordering in from a local restaurant, and there is an element of fun involved in unpacking those boxes. (See also: Are Meal Subscription Boxes Worth It?)

3. Join a Meal Planning Service

Some enjoy finding fun meals to try on Pinterest or in magazines, but for others, that isn't a fun pursuit. Solution? Try a meal-planning site. There are free ones, like mealplannerpro.com or eatingwell.com, as well a low-cost ones ($4.95 a month) like 5dollarmealplan.com, which will even make your grocery list for you.

4. Check Your Grocer's Freezer

Last night, thanks to Safeway's excellent frozen food section, I whipped up a very passable Chinese dinner for four for just $14.88. That's hard to beat! The days of Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes are long gone, as today's frozen foods are very good and easy to reheat.

5. Cook Once, Eat Twice

Tonight I'm making a pot roast. The leftover meat will go into a stroganoff on Wednesday, and the rest of the meat and potatoes into a hash on Friday. Those second and third meals are much easier to make, too. Try picking up a rotisserie chicken for one night, and use the extra chicken to make chicken tacos, and maybe make chicken soup toward the end of the week.

6. Create Your Own "Fast" Food

Do your kids want hamburgers or pizza? Make some frozen turkey burgers. Pizza is fun for kids to make, and it's really easy now with ready-made crusts (Pillsbury has a whole-wheat artisan crust that is pretty good). Let the kids add their favorite toppings, toss a salad, and save the cost of going out.

7. Stock Your Pantry

Keep some good staples on hand in your pantry and freezer, and dinner will go together quickly. With spaghetti, bacon, peas, cheese, and cream, you can whip up a fast carbonara. Canned beans, veggies, and tomatoes can become an instant vegetarian chili.

8. Invest in Quality Appliances

Maybe it's time to try using a slow cooker or a pressure cooker. With a slow cooker, you can toss everything in before you go to work, and come home to a piping hot, delicious meal. I only recently purchased a pressure cooker, and now can make chili, spaghetti, or even ribs in less than 30 minutes. (See also: 12 Instant Pot Recipes That Will Save You Money)

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