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Just after the first of July, we came home from our vacation and I told my husband that I wanted to stop eating out for the entire month of July. We are moving, which means we simultaneously need to save money and eat up the contents of the fridge and the pantry. My husband agreed immediately, even though not eating out for the month of July is ambitious. First, it’s the month of our wedding anniversary, which happens to be today (Here’s to us on the wonderfully lucky Friday the 13th). Second, the days of the actual move will make “eating at home” difficult (i.e. Temporarily without a stocked kitchen). So tonight we went out to eat as a family (Mexican food!!) and it was spectacular. I really, really appreciated it. But we didn’t go out to eat for 10 days (no breakfast, lunch, or dinner outside of the home) and I plan on continuing this “project” for the rest of the month…that is until we are “between homes” and there’s no kitchen available.
I learned a lot of things about how my family consumes food and upgraded my skills in the kitchen. But things really kicked in when my mom came to visit to help start the packing. She saw my kitchen and said, “Can you start clearing out the top shelves of the cupboards?” I looked at her like I’d rather find the closest dentist for a root canal. Yeah, I’m lazy. But I’m so glad I listened to my mom: I found out that my pantry was overflowing with products that I didn’t even know I had and that I enjoy. I have been overbuying.
So my challenge to you is to try to eat at home for 10 days, every single meal. I’m telling you that it is hard. This is coming from someone who already doesn’t eat out that often because of not eating gluten or dairy. I’m launching this challenge on a Friday night so that you have the weekend to shop and “stock up.” At our house we are also trying to buy only necessities at the grocery store and make fewer trips, but that is because we are moving. I don’t recommend trying to draw down your grocery store and farmer’s market purchases like we are doing because that makes things even tougher. However, I do recommend doing a complete overhaul of your dry goods as well as your refrigerated items. Our CSA is over and so there are some big empty spaces in the fridge, which makes it easy for me to spot some things that are going bad and clean up little fridge messes I hadn’t seen before. Of course going through the pantry can be just as daunting (hey it’s dark in there!), but actually I think the rewards are far greater. I love getting things organized, but so rarely find the time to do it.
Let me share some of what our family learned in the past ten days:
- Saved money.
- Used up dry goods I had already purchased.
- Reduced food waste — Things that may have gone to waste got eaten up.
- Ate fewer calories — Restaurant meals are bigger and more calorie dense than what I made in my kitchen.
- Ate more vegetarian meals — We ate two vegetarian dinners two nights in a row because I couldn’t find an appropriate meat in the freezer and there was no time to defrost. First a made a risotto with chard and pine nuts and the next night I made a Pad Thai with eggs, shredded zucchini, shredded garlic scapes, jarred sauce, and two different kinds of Asian noodles I found in the back of my pantry.
- Made new and creative meals — See above. I had never made a risotto before (easy) and the Pad Thai was a huge hit with my son and the best “white girl” Pad Thai that has come out of my kitchen.
- Less travel in the car.
- Know what is in the food I’m eating — I control everything.
- More appreciation of eating out — I was so thrilled about going out and not having to cook tonight!
- Lots of dishes — Very annoying for someone like me who hates to wash dishes and unload the dishwasher (loading it is fun though!).
- Some waiting for food — Cooking takes time and my family had to wait longer than usual. For example, if my husband comes home with a roasted chicken from the grocery store (something we like to do), food is ready to go and sides are super easy for me to prepare in advance. Actually, now that I think about it that would not “break the rules” of this challenge since you would be eating at home and using grocery store items.
- Increased stress around meal time food preparation, in particular lunch — Ironic considering I made all those lunches for my son during the school year, but I found lunch was tough to throw together. Breakfast was the easiest of all.
So now you know our cost/benefit analysis — what about yours? Are you ready to eat at home for 10 days straight? I’ll leave it to you to figure out when works for you. We started on a Tuesday and ended on a Friday — only one weekend. Of course we’re back on the wagon tomorrow until the end of the month, but I think weekends are the most challenging because that’s when I want to go out as a family (more time). I’ll check back in five days and then in ten days from now.
In celebration of home-cooked meals, I’m going to be giving away TWO coupon holders from Hallmark (I purchased these about a year ago and they have been sitting on my shelf obscured — another gift of having to pack things up):
“My kids eat organic, if you count dirt and sand.”
I’d really like to give them to people who participate in the challenge, but I think that many of you may elect to participate at a more convenient time than in the next couple weeks. So to enter the drawing, you simple need to leave a comment on any of the Eat at Home Challenge posts about how you intend on participating in the challenge or how you plan on eating at home more often.