In today’s busy world, mealtimes are an important time to unwind, connect, and reflect on your day with your partner. Cooking at home is not only usually healthier and less expensive than dining out, it can also be a bonding activity for you to enjoy together. Cue Lady and the Tramp spaghetti scene.
But budgeting for, buying, planning, and cooking meals at home can feel overwhelming (and get exhausting, if we’re being honest). What if you buy too much food, and some of it goes to waste? What if you get sick of your ‘world famous’ scrambled eggs, and crave the variety of your favorite food hall? Whose job is it to plan meals and make sure there are groceries in the fridge?
Here are our favorite tips for making quick, easy meals for two on a budget.
Establish a (realistic) grocery budget
It’s impossibly easy to overspend on food, especially if you don’t have a budget. If you have two people making buying decisions, it can get even more complex (and therefore prone to error!). Americans spend more on food than on almost any other line-item in the household budget (about $7,900 per household per year in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).
If you and your partner are both contributing to the ‘food’ expenses, but you haven’t talked about an overall budget, it’s time to chat about how much you actually want to be spending on food!
Here are some questions you can use to get started.
- How much do you each of you spend on groceries for yourself in an average week?
- How much do you spend on dining out in an average week?
- Do you enjoy dining out, getting coffee out, or other food-related expenses outside the home?
- Do you have any dietary restrictions that affect your budget?
- How much time do you want to invest in budget meal planning?
- How much can we afford to set aside for groceries each week? What would a ‘budget-friendly’, ‘comfortable’, and ‘luxurious’ budget be to you?
Money and food are both topics that can be emotionally charged for some people, so remember to be gentle with your partner. Upbringing, cultural heritage, personal experiences, and other factors can all come into play and impact our feelings in conscious and subconscious ways.
While cooking meals at home is a great way to save money, it’s important to take the social element of dining out into consideration as well. Perhaps your partner, an extrovert, really values lunches out with coworkers as a chance to enjoy their company and get to know them better. Maybe that fancy latte once or twice a week is one of your favorite forms of ‘me time’.
You might save a few bucks a month by cutting either of these ‘indulgences’, but you might be happier overall if you can simply budget for them instead. Just be sure to discuss which types of purchases should or should not be considered ‘shared’ expenses—maybe you’ll decide their weekly lunch, or your latte breaks, should come from your individual accounts, while groceries and meals you have together will come from your shared budget.
Once you have your budget established, you can put it into action with Simple! If you have a Shared Account with Simple, you can create an Expense in your Shared Account just for your shared grocery budget.
Divvy up meal prep and planning responsibilities
Sharing household responsibilities is widely regarded as a good move, as far as relationship satisfaction goes. Even if one of you is a budding amateur chef and is happy to do all the meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking—there are still ways for the other to contribute. If you aren’t culinarily inclined, you can support your partner by carrying grocery bags, cleaning dirty dishes, or planning date nights when you do decide to go out.
You can also learn how to cook some basics so that when your partner is busy, or isn’t feeling well, you can relieve them of the burden of cooking.
Maybe neither of you is particularly into cooking. And yet, you both need to eat. If this is the case, you can take turns (by day or by week) for being ‘responsible’ for planning and making meals. Or one of you can do the planning, and the other can be responsible for picking up ingredients on their way home from work.
Figure out what parts of meal planning and prep each of you enjoy and don’t enjoy, so you can divvy up responsibilities in a way that feels fair to both of you.
Tip: Use a shared note to manage your grocery list!
Use a shared note in your favorite notes app to keep track of your grocery list with your partner! Whenever you run out of something, add it to the list on your phone. Then, when you’re at the grocery store, you’ll know exactly what you need to get.
Find some easy weeknight dinners you both enjoy
You and your partner have many years of weeknight dinners to enjoy together: It’s important to keep it simple so you don’t burn out! Figure out what your ‘house specials’ are: Those delicious, reliable favorites that you can get on the table in less than 30 minutes.
Ideally, they don’t dirty too many dishes, and use mostly inexpensive ingredients that you keep in your pantry or fridge. Think: Frozen turkey meatballs + jarred marinara + whole wheat pasta. Whenever you discover a new ‘house special’, add it to a list that you keep somewhere visible, like on your fridge.
Before you go to the grocery store, check to make sure you have the ingredients you need for your house specials!
Rely on store-bought shortcuts
Rice that cooks in three minutes in the microwave, store-bought roasted chicken, jarred pesto, oh my! There are many store-bought shortcuts that can help you get dinner on the table quickly. Although you might pay a little extra for the convenience, you’ll still save money compared to ordering takeout! Plus, it’ll hurt a little less when you know you’ve planned it into the grocery budget!
If you’re not a very experienced cook, store-bought shortcuts can help you put seriously good food on the table without having to enroll in cooking classes.
Invest in the right meal prep tools
When it comes to meal prep for two on a budget, in advance and in bulk, the less chopping, slicing, and dicing you have to do, the better. Food processors and blenders are two items that allow for quick preparation and a little less elbow grease on your end.
When looking for a blender to make smoothies or purees, it’s wise to purchase one that is easy to clean and provides at least two blades. For food processors, you’ll find that the bigger they come, the more expensive they are. That being said, consider your meal-prep needs. An 11-cup processor might be all you need to create your meals.
Stock up on eco-friendly storage containers
If you plan on cooking often, and especially if your goal is to make large amounts of food to freeze for later, glassware in a variety of shapes and sizes, preferably a set that comes with lids for easy storage, is very useful. Also, consider purchasing a glass baking dish that can be stored in a portable pouch, so your leftovers can be easily taken to work. Although they might cost a little more upfront, quality reusable (glass) containers will last you for years (compared to plastic containers that will need to be replaced more frequently).
Freeze leftovers for quick meals later
There’s nothing worse than getting home after a long day to find an empty fridge. Whenever you cook a soup, chili, or stew—anything that can be frozen—double the recipe and freeze half! Be sure to use freezer-safe containers, and clearly label your leftovers with the recipe name and date.
If you’re using a shared note on your phone to keep track of your grocery list together, you can also use it to keep track of your freezer inventory. Whenever you add ‘ready to eat’ meals to your freezer stash, add it to your note so you remember it’s there!
Follow budget-friendly accounts for inspiration
If you don’t want to have to flex your creative muscle every time mealtime comes around, don’t! There are literally thousands of budget-friendly, healthy food bloggers and influencers out there doing this work for you.
Spend a few moments with your partner discovering a few new accounts to follow on Pinterest or Instagram. Whenever you see a recipe that looks interesting, share it with your partner, or save it for the next time you’re doing some meal planning.
Make a shortlist of cheap meals to-go
Finally, even the most passionate food bloggers get sick of cooking sometimes. In these instances, many of us turn to food delivery services, which can quickly get expensive, especially once all the taxes and services fees are added to your total.
Save yourself some cash (and keep more money in your wallet!) by making a shortlist of budget-friendly meals that you both enjoy that you can pick up from places near you. If you know you aren’t going to feel like cooking one night, you can use this list to find an answer to, “I don’t know, what do you want to eat?” before either of you gets “hangry.”
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Disclaimer: Hey! Welcome to our disclaimer. Here’s what you need to know to safely consume this blog post: Any outbound links in this post will take you away from Simple.com, to external sites in the wilds of the internet; neither Simple nor our partner bank, BBVA Compass, endorse any linked-to websites; and we didn’t pay/barter with/bribe anyone to appear in this post. And as much as we wish we could control the cost of things, any prices in this article are just estimates. Actual prices are up to retailers, manufacturers, and other people who’ve been granted magical powers over digits and dollar signs.