Skip to main content

Lyd Explains: Basics for Cooking at Home

This post is a boiled down version of all of my shopping tips. Understanding how to cook and shop can save money, time and lead to healthier eating habits.

Today I am sharing my tips on cooking at home! This will include:
  • How to build a shopping list
  • Saving money when shopping
  • Cooking efficiently at home
  • Limiting food waste
Fun Fact: In the US, an average of 1 lb of food per person a day is wasted. This can add up to costing a family of 2 about $750 per year or of 4 about $1,500 per year. That money can be spent on car repairs, maintaining the home or even a vacation! The cost of food waste can be a large expense for a low and even medium income level family.

Cooking efficiently is important to me. Here are my favorite tips to keeping the time required to cook per meal low.
  • When you cook a meal, cook enough for 2 or more dinners. I only cook 2 to 3 times a week and reheat items on non-cooking days.
  • Cook some basics in advance. I will often bake 4 to 6 chicken breasts then store them in the fridge to eat over the week. The cooked chicken can be used in lunch sandwiches or even for a quick dinner. My other pre-made staples are soups, I freeze the soup in quart bags.
  • When cooking dinner, I like to only use one pot that everything can be cooked in. Depending on the meal components they can be cooked together or one item at a time. This will also cut down on the dishes you will have to clean up!
    • Try this 1 pan trick in the oven! This provides a full meal but also time to do other things while it bakes. For a quick clean-up, I put parchment paper in the pan.
  • In my cooking efficiency focus I like to be aware of food waste, below are my steps to limit it.
    • If you don't want to eat the leftovers for dinner again, take them to lunch or freeze them
    • Keep meat in the freezer, not in the fridge unless it is cooked, or you plan on cooking it the next day. This will stop it from being forgotten about and spoiling.
    • Firm Rule: I don't cook unless there are no leftovers in the fridge to eat.
    • A basic understanding of food safety can help you judge if food is still good to eat. Check out the links at the end of this post to learn more about those dates, what they mean and general food safety.

My key to cooking is planning meals to guide my shopping trips and also having shelf stable basics. I buy a lot of shelf stable, versatile and frozen items because they either last long or can be used easily in recipes.
 Having a diverse pantry of basics will allow you to get creative or even "just throw something together".

Pantry basics/staples: These items I keep well stocked and re-stock as needed each shopping trip. 
  • Seasonings, rice, assorted cans of beans/veggies, stock (liquid or bouillon), bread crumbs, oatmeal, flour, sugar, salt
  • Eggs, onions, lemons, green peppers and mushrooms
I keep onions, peppers and mushrooms because they add so much flavor to recipes with a quick slice or dice.

Breakfast: I keep milk, breakfast cereal, breakfast bars and eggs in case I want breakfast. On average I eat breakfast once a week. Since I eat it so rarely I don't buy perishable items that can only be used for breakfast.
  • Tip: I buy eggs by the 18, if you get fresh ones they can last more than a month in your fridge. 
  • Also different types of milks have different shelf-life in the fridge. An example is almond or oat milk will keep longer vs cow milk so I buy oat milk if I know I'm not going to use the milk quickly.
Lunches:  A quick salad is my favorite lunch so I meal prep salad mix-in! I'll meal prep some meat and pasta then make sure I have lots of veggies prepped to add in. 

Dinner: My starting point for dinner is to build a 3-part meal meaning the meal has a protein, starch and veggie. But this is flexible, I have meat-less meals often. 
  • Meat: I love to meal prep 2 types of meal for the week, like roasted chicken breast, sausage or steak. 
  • Veggies: I use frozen veggies a lot, a 16 oz bag is enough for 1 or even 2 meals. I also get fresh veggies. Squash keeps for at least a month in a cool dry place so I like to stock up on them when they are on sale.
  • Starch: My favorites starches are rice, potatoes or pasta. These can be found in various forms and varieties and I keep my pantry well stocked with these. 

Let's talk about tips to save money while you shop. I use various techniques to be aware of the cost of items. 
  • Look through your junk mail and use those local fliers from your preferred store to keep an eye out for sales, B(uy)O(ne)G(et)O(ne)s are my favorite!
  • Some stores have shopping phone apps and rewards programs, I love taking advantage of them. The savings will add up!
The 2 top tips are using sales and unit prices. I am also going to talk about a few common topics of saving money on food too
  • Review unit prices of different brands of the same product to find the better deal.
    • A unit price is the cost of the item per unit or oz of product, this is found on the label with the price.
    • This allows you to compare the value of products by comparing them on the same level, example per unit or per oz.
    • A unit price can be different between different brands of the same product or even different sizes of the same brand. This is when savings can be seen when buying in a larger quantity, or in bulk
    • Sometimes even when an item is on sale it may not be the better deal. This can be checked by calculating the unit price.
  • Often the generic brand of the same item will have the lowest unit cost. Buying generic food brands has saved me a lot of money. The name brands often make the generic brands so buying generic can save yourself some money on the same exact thing. Check out the link at the end of this post for some facts on generic vs name brand foods.
  • Coupons can provide nice savings and can be found in paper fliers, online, store apps and even in store. Just make sure you don't by something "because" you have a coupon. That brand might not be the cheaper option in the aisle even with the coupon
Pro Tip: If buying meat in bulk break them into "per meal" portions when you get home before you freeze them so you can only thaw what you need to cook.

I also like to take advantage of shopping for groceries online then using the store's grocery "pick up" program. It allows me to do my shopping at home, whenever, then spend only 10 minutes picking up my order groceries.

I often shop at different stores for different items to get the best price. Check out stores for bulk shopping, online, farmers markets and even discount grocery stores. When shopping at different stores, keep in mind the difference in prices to help you in future shopping trips. 

The only concern I've had with shopping discount stores is that the produce isn't always as fresh as the main stores so the discount store produce may not last as long. If you are keeping produce for some time you may see a difference but if you are cooking it the same day enjoy those savings!

Thanks for reading! I hope this post has given you a lot of information on how to be a better home cook and a smarter shopper. Being mindful and aware of my food habits has saved me so much time and money. I have been able to spend the saved time and money on things I am really excited to do like travel and try new activities. I hope you can too!