There was a time in my life when I ate restaurant meals every night of the week. Shoot... I lived in a dorm in New York City for a summer! What alternative did I have?
Later on in my adult life, I would sometimes opt for take-out just because I was too busy or too lazy to cook. I can honestly say that I almost never do this anymore, and eating at home 95% of the time has been one of the most powerful changes I've made in how I eat. Plain and simple, it's nearly impossible to to know what you're putting in your body when you're eating in restaurants.
I often get asked how I find the time to cook at home most nights. It's something that has come about in my life over a period of years... up until I moved to Madison three years ago, I was still eating in restaurants 2 to 4 nights a week. Then even after I did move here, Sean and I would often eat Tasty Bite (packaged Indian food which, by the way, has the cleanest ingredient list I've seen on a prepared dinner...so it's not a bad choice in a pinch) a couple nights a week because I didn't have anything prepared or planned and I also had no time.
Gradually over the last year or two, I've transitioned to cooking dinner from scratch at home pretty much every night. If this is something you're interested in doing, it can be done even with a very busy life! Here are the factors that I think made the most difference for me.
Plan ahead. There absolutely will be nights when you arrive home stressed and exhausted. Be ready. Plan out your meals on a day when you have more time (for me that's Sunday). Consider looking up online meal plans that help you reuse the same ingredients in different dinners throughout the week. (The Fresh 20 service has been a huge help for me). On the nights when you know you'll be getting home especially late, plan to have leftovers so you can eat homemade food without having to cook.
Consolidate your shopping. Shopping around for the best price is great... unless you're pressed for time... which I always am. Time vs. money is always a trade-off in life. I do my shopping at Whole Foods because they have the best produce and I don't want to take the time to go to multiple stores. Then 3 or 4 days later, I stop at Super Target to get the items we need more than once a week. But if convenience is what you're after, don't drive yourself nuts clipping coupons and searching out the best deals. I guarantee that even if you pay a premium for your groceries, you're still paying less than you would for take-out.
Find your go-to weeknight recipes. Cooking at home is much easier when you don't have to reinvent the wheel every week. I have a taco recipe and a pita pizza recipe that I make pretty much weekly. We usually have some sort of roasted fish with veggies once a week as well. Recipes take longer the first time we make them; for me at least, it takes several tries for me to learn a recipe so I can remember the quantities and steps and don't make mistakes or have to keep referring back to the cookbook page. Don't despair! Home cooking gets faster if you just keep at it, and having recipes you make more than once is a big part of this.
Consider foods' shelf life. Have a recipe or two whose ingredients will "keep" long enough for you to shop ahead of time. Then you can use them in a pinch, or even keep them in the fridge over a weekend away and have them there when you get home and need a quick meal to make while unpacking. For me, this is often a sweet potato with ground beef (which I always keep in my freezer), kidney beans (canned), homemade BBQ sauce, and kale. Making meals (such as chili) ahead and freezing them for later is another way to keep yourself prepared in case of a close call.
Practice. Any new skill we learn requires more effort and attention at first. If it feels like you have two left feet in the kitchen, I promise you it will get easier! Even just reading a recipe and getting the pacing right, so all the parts of the meal are ready at the same time, or so you have time to chop what's needed for the next step of the recipe before your garlic burns...there's an art to all of this! Be patient with yourself. If you keep at it for a year or even a few months, you'll be a pro.
The bottom line is that I make it a priority. Yes, cooking takes up an hour out of my day (or two...especially if you consider the dishes and prep work for lunches for the next day). But the way I see it, there's very little in life that's more worthwhile than taking care of my body by preparing healthy food, and taking good care of my husband by cooking healthy meals for him. So this is one of my top priorities every single day. There are plenty of other areas in my life where I cut corners. We can't do everything, so we just have to choose. This is an area where I choose not to cut corners (well, beyond what's mentioned above).
Have you been talking with anyone lately who has expressed a desire to find time for cooking at home? Please consider sharing with a friend if you think it might help them.
Want to learn more about the eating plan that helped get me cooking at home almost all the time? I lead groups through this program each month. Check it out