I recently opened up about my rather embarrassing habit with takeout. My roommate in college actually taught me a lot about cooking (because before then I did not know steaming broccoli in something other than the microwave was an ~option~), but after I graduated, I was just overwhelmed with New York and all the convenient delivery options available. I really leaned into my Seamless app and all its novelty, but eventually, that novelty wore off when I took a good hard look at my bank account.
Though I still order food delivery more than I’d like to, I am admittedly much better about cooking for myself than I used to be (with credit in no small part to my current roommates and boyfriend, who are all willing co-chefs and joys to cook/eat with). I found that it’s a lot easier to want to cook when I’m actually excited about what I’m making. For me, it was this eggplant baked ziti that got me into making cooking a bigger part of my life. All my favorite foods can be described as “heavy” and “comforting,” and baked pasta is a giant wool blanket in food form. Not only is it super easy to adapt — everything in it is already cooked when you put it in the oven, so you’re not going to undercook anything, which is one of my biggest fears — it also contains my go-to pasta sauce recipe. It’s also a great thing to make when you want to entertain people but also want to have hella leftovers for yourself, because it makes a giant batch, and I personally think it’s just as good reheated.
All you really need to get excited about cooking is one fail-safe dish. I found that if this one recipe I was really into was this inexpensive and made this much food, I could of course find other recipes that fulfill that same criteria. Now my arsenal is full of stews, bakes, and one-pot pastas that I return to time and again. I took some time to ask a few of my friends about the recipe that got them into cooking, or if there’s a way they save money on food otherwise (while also procuring permission to call each of them “queens”), and here’s what they had to say. I’m very excited to steal their ideas.
1. “I like this Swiss dish because it incorporates food that has ‘gone bad’ and typical household ingredients that I’m sure to have on hand. This dish is made best with a stale loaf of grainy or sourdough bread that you forgot to use up before it got a little firm. After slicing the bread into squares, I cook it in some oil and, once crouton-like, I pour leftover white wine on top of the bread. Once the bread is saturated in the wine, I crack some eggs in there, throw in some cheese and, if I had them on hand, add some sautéed onions or meat or sauerkraut. It takes 20 minutes tops, and is easy and delicious!” – Anne
2. “I used to be wary of buying fresh food because I didn’t want to just let it go bad in my fridge because I didn’t have time to prepare it. But recently, I’ve started buying salad ingredients that are much more hearty, like kale, because they last a lot longer in the fridge. You can also get a lot of great canned food or vacuum packed products, so waste is less of a concern. Also, I don’t look up recipes very much. But I do watch YouTube videos on how to prepare different foods, and then just spice them up how I like or add them to other dishes.” – Jake
3. “I think I spent a solid paycheck on ordering Asian food during my first year in NYC, so in an attempt to waste less money, I now make some Asian-inspired dishes myself! My favorite is this Moo Shu pork recipe that I made with my roommate. It’s not very quick, but it made me realize how much better home cooking can be than delivery!” – Hailey
4. “I was never into takeout, but I would make gross concoctions with mac ‘n cheese all the time. Then I discovered the Skinny Taste stuffed pepper soup recipe and I figured out it was easy to not be a blob.” – Kylee
5. “I was recently single, and on a nightly basis I faced the decision of cooking the same boring chicken + sauce with rice and a vegetable that I could actually bring myself to cook, or I could get something more interesting with takeout. I wanted variety in what I was eating, but I didn’t want to go through the trouble of actually grocery shopping for different ingredients all the time. Of course, the takeout added up over time, so I knew I needed to figure out a better solution. I saw an ad for one of those ingredient kits in a box. You know, they send you everything you need for a few meals, you just have to do it, and it sort of changed everything. For $10 a plate I was able to eat something different every week. I’ve been doing it for over a year now and I can’t recommend doing it enough if you’re looking for good, different meals on a budget.” – Peter
6. “My mom’s fresh salsa and guacamole is what got me into cooking healthy foods for myself throughout college. I’d help her make them, and it was so simple I knew I could do it on my own. I still eat guacamole at least once a week.” – Marissa
7. “A go-to recipe for me is pizza rolls, which are pretty cheap and easy to make. You just use the Pillsbury (or generic) crescent roll dough, add a cheese stick and pepperoni (if you are into that kinda thing), and roll it up and melt butter and garlic together to put over it. It takes about 10 minutes in the oven. I got the recipe from Pinterest and loved it. It stopped me from just ordering take-out because it was so much easier and faster than ordering. It also got me into other recipes from Pinterest that were easy and delicious.” – Brittany
8. “My home-cooking bent is owed almost entirely to a website called Budget Bytes. On it, each recipe is broken down by overall cost and by cost of individual ingredient. It’s really helpful to see the full breakdown of what I’m spending. Beth, the author (who also has a cookbook), is also great about providing substitutions and letting you know what can be skipped, if the recipe is too pricey. It’s also helped me build up my supply of ‘weird’ ingredients — like fish sauce and masala powder — which were not really part of my diet before, but which I now use regularly. Beth cooks pretty much everything, so there’s always something that looks good.” – Laura
Holly is the Managing Editor of The Financial Diet. Follow her on Twitter here, or send her your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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