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Frugal & Healthy Tip – Learn To Cook

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frugal healthy tip learn to cook

Pineapple Fried Rice is tasty and very easy too cook

Food takes up a huge chunk of everyone’s monthly budget and the easiest way to reduce that expenditure is to cook at home. I came home today to find Mrs. RB40 stabbing a potato while complaining  that a baked potato costs 6 bucks at the cafeteria! $6 for a baked potato? That’s ridiculous. It’s a good thing she knows how to make a great baked potato.

I was lucky that I learned to cook in my parents’ small Thai Restaurant. Well, to tell the truth it sucked to be working at the restaurant every night when I was in high school, but I picked up an invaluable skill set. I can cut up and disjoint a whole chicken into bite-sized pieces. I can prep vegetables quickly. I can make many Thai dishes like chicken curry, pineapple fried rice, Thai beef salad, and other dishes they don’t even serve in restaurants.  Once you get a few basic things down, you can cook many more dishes from recipes. I started off cooking Thai food and then gradually expanded to other cuisines. Now I can make great bleu cheese burgers, steamed mussels, pizza and more. I still hate washing dishes though, it’s a good thing I have a wife.

Learning to cook is not easy, but anyone can do it. You just have to cook frequently enough so you get the hang of the basics. You can start by cooking a few times a week and gradually your dinner will get better and better. These days, it’s easy to get recipes for anything that you like from the internet, so give them a try.

Cooking at home is also a lot better for your health. Do you notice any problems when you go out to eat? The portions are huge.  I don’t eat a lot normally, but if you put a big plate of Macaroni Grill’s Chicken Scaloppini  in front of me, I would eat as much as I can. At home, I can control the portion size much better and it makes a big difference. Restaurant dishes are also high in sodium and fat. That’s why restaurant food tastes so good. Salt and butter make everything taste better. I love going out to eat as much as anyone, but as I get older, I am more conscious about what I put into my body.

I’ll make a prediction and say 90% of us will have to modify our diet for health reasons at some point. Last year, I had a bit of problem with my inner ears and the nutritionist put me on a small meal plan to keep the sodium level steady. I now eat 5-6 small meals throughout the day and it would have been a huge adjustment if I ate out every day. However, since we mostly cook at home, it was pretty easy to pack smaller meals in my lunch box. We just had to buy a few more small Tupperware containers.  It is so much easier to modify your diet if you cook at home. In the long run, cooking at home will keep you more healthy and reduce heath care cost.

Cooking at home is frugal and healthy. That’s two birds with one stone. How can you beat that? What do you think? Do you cook at home or do you think eating out is worth it? Do you have any experience with diet modification and how do you deal with it? We do like to go out, but we’re limiting it to only once per week.

frugal healthy learn to cook pizza

I cheat and buy the dough from the pizza joint around the corner. :)

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{ 69 comments… add one }

  • Money Infant February 6, 2012, 4:58 am

    Not only is cooking frugal and more healthy, but it can be a great stress release as well. I didn’t learn to cook until I was in college, but since then I’ve never looked back. I try to improve my repertoire of dishes and love to experiment. Sometimes when I’m in the kitchen it seems almost zen like and time can pass without my having noticed it.

    One of the only things I haven’t learned to cook is Thai (and Indian and Japanese), but since we are in Thailand now its not such a big deal as all three cuisines can be had easily and relatively cheaply. My wife makes some killer Thai dishes though and I may take the time to watch her more closely and learn to do it on my own.

    • retirebyforty February 6, 2012, 8:37 am

      If I live in Thailand, I probably wouldn’t cook too much either. It’s so cheap to eat out there. It’s probably a bit more healthy to eat at home since the restaurant foods are more salty.

      • Money Infant February 6, 2012, 5:34 pm

        Yes a lot of msg and fried foods out there, but healthy choices are available as well. Breakfast and lunch we do ourselves, but dinner we probably only cook 3-4 times a week depending on what’s happening.

      • theFIREstarter February 12, 2014, 2:30 am

        I would wager most dishes at restaurants in Thailand are a lot healthier than pretty much any restaurant in the US or UK. Lots of veggies and nuts etc in most of the dishes. I love Thai food! :)

  • Hunter - Financially Consumed February 6, 2012, 6:17 am

    You worked in a Thai restaurant! If I lived close by I would have been one of your best customers. We’re teaching ourselves to cook Thai cuisine, definitely one of ur favorites. Plus, preparing a meal together on a Friday or Saturday night is a fun social activity…the weekdays are usually a little more frantic.

    Grilled kangaroo is still one of my favorites :)

    • retirebyforty February 6, 2012, 8:38 am

      I haven’t had kangaroo. 😉 I didn’t see it in the menu when I was visiting Australia. We’ll catch up at Fincon 12 and maybe I can give you some tips!

      • My University Money February 6, 2012, 8:52 pm

        They claim that Kangaroo meat is actually much more environmentally sound than beef. Cows stomachs apparently produce much higher levels of methane. Some companies are even doing experiments to graph kangaroo digestive systems into cows!

        • retirebyforty February 7, 2012, 9:21 am

          Grafting digestive systems? That sounds nasty. If there is only some way to recapture those methane. :)

          • Hunter - Financially Consumed February 7, 2012, 1:57 pm

            That’s very interesting MyUM. Kangaroo meat has a slightly stronger taste than beef, a lot of people liken it to deer. From a health perspective, it’s a very lean meat. Have you ever seen an overweight Roo? The downside is they can’t be farmed because it’s impossible to build fences to contain them. Hunters have to drive around shooting them, and this increases the risk of becoming flyblown. Kind of gross, but the high temps are perfect for flys and they’re always looking for a place to lay their eggs.

  • Michelle February 6, 2012, 6:33 am

    I’ve been learning to cook and it has helped us a ton! The food tastes better, we are full longer, it’s cheaper and the list goes on!

    • retirebyforty February 6, 2012, 8:39 am

      The health benefit is often overlooked, but I think we all really need to cook more at home. Eating out everyday is the ticket to obesity.

  • YFS February 6, 2012, 6:41 am

    Cooking is easy it’s the damn preparation that gets me every time. It takes too much time and thought. I rather either let someone else cook, eat plainly or eat out.

    • retirebyforty February 6, 2012, 8:39 am

      That’s true. I’m quick with the prep so it’s not a big deal to me. Mrs. RB40 takes a lot of time, but she has been getting better and better.

  • Thomas - Ways to Invest Money February 6, 2012, 7:23 am

    $6 for a .25 cent potato is just crazy but hey i guess they say if you crazy enough to pay for it we will charge you for it. The pineapple rice looks delicious. I dont think cooking is hard but many people are just to lazy to cook even if they know how to. Thats way food costs so much because they know you dont want to do it yourself so they charge an arm and a leg.

    • retirebyforty February 6, 2012, 8:40 am

      Yeah, that’s nuts. It’s a lot of work to prepare food and there are tons of overhead cost. That’s why restaurants can’t stay in business.

  • Dollar D @ The Dollar Disciple February 6, 2012, 8:04 am

    I love home-cooked food! We love to do batch cooking over the weekend so we don’t have to cook so much during the week. For that, our crock pot is definitely our best kitchen gadget.

    I will admit that eating out is our highest “entertainment” expense but it’s something we’re working on!

    • retirebyforty February 6, 2012, 8:42 am

      I’m not very good at batch cooking. Once in a while I would make a big pot of curry or stew, but usually I’ll make just enough for dinner with left over to take for lunch. I need to learn how to batch cook a bit better.

  • PKamp3 February 6, 2012, 8:48 am

    Was it Meniere’s? It runs in my family – a few of my relatives have completely cut out caffeine to avoid the symptoms.

    My diet avoids sugar and starch – which would be incredibly hard to do eating out (well, outside of a steakhouse!). I definitely agree on the 90% figure!

    • retirebyforty February 6, 2012, 1:34 pm

      They didn’t diagnose it completely. It seems everything is lumped under Meniere’s.
      I think we’re a lot better off starting our diet modification somewhat early in our lives. It’s much more healthy in the long term.

  • Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog February 6, 2012, 9:00 am

    That is cool that you worked in a restaurant – it’s something I’ve always been wanting to do just to get some more cooking skills. I worked in a sandwich shop for a while in HS and learned a few things, but a real restaurant would be nice too.

    • retirebyforty February 8, 2012, 4:17 am

      Working in a restaurant would be fun for a few months, but it’s hard work. It’s always crazy during dining/lunch hours, pretty stressful.

  • Leigh February 6, 2012, 10:06 am

    I love this tip! I do go out for lunch, but I’m working on not going out for dinner. What I’ve been doing is cooking a TON of food on Sunday nights and then eating that last week. I now have a couple of chicken recipes and a meatballs recipe.

    I don’t know how much money it is saving me exactly, but it’s certainly saving me some stress and time!

    • retirebyforty February 8, 2012, 4:18 am

      That’s a good plan if it works for you. We are not very good at batch cooking, but it sounds like a great time saver.

  • Sustainable PF February 6, 2012, 10:32 am

    We loooove to cook. Added financial bonus is the creation of leftovers (extra portions) on purpose to avoid eating out during the work week @ lunch!

  • FG February 6, 2012, 11:27 am

    I love cooking, and my girlfriend REALLY loves it. Also gotta consider the savings but at the same time it can take up some time.

  • Miss T @ Prairie Eco-Thrifter February 6, 2012, 11:39 am

    We also love to cook. Not only does it save money and help keep you healthy but it also fun. We love experimenting with different recipes and ingredients. We even have themed dinner parties so our friends can join in on the fun.

  • Sandy - yesiamcheap February 6, 2012, 12:22 pm

    Mmm, mm, pineapple fried rice. All you need is an egg on top of a side of ham and I am SO there with you.

  • Dave Hilton February 6, 2012, 12:32 pm

    My wife REFUSES to learn how to cook. I’ve offered to take classes with her, show her how to cook some things myself or show her where to watch videos online. The only thing she seems to know how to make are desserts…and, of course, they’re really bad for us!

    I don’t mind doing most of the cooking (a big thanks to my Grandmothers for showing me how) because she does most of the yard work. I used to make all of our meals for the week ahead of time (on Sunday)…but she complained about the food not tasting as good reheated, she stopped eating it & we wasted food.

    Because I have a weird schedule & she doesn’t cook- we spent close to $900 a month eating out (it was down to $600 in January) in 2011. Seriously, we could hire someone to come in & do the cooking for us for $900 a month!

    Any suggestions on how to, gently & lovingly, convince her to learn to cook? I mean, I can do yard work if she asked me…

    • retirebyforty February 6, 2012, 1:31 pm

      I don’t like making the meals ahead of time that much either. I agree with your wife on that.
      How are your health? That might be a good selling point. Talk to the doctor in detail next time you visit.
      I’m sure they will help you convince your wife to cook at home more. Eating out all the time is bad for your weight too.

      How about signing up for a short cooking class together like you suggested? Find something that you both really love, pizza for us, and see if there is a short class that you can both attend. Valentine is coming up. :)

  • MoneyCone February 6, 2012, 1:32 pm

    Don’t know if you are mocking me by saying pineapple fried rice is easy to make! :) The presentation is mouth watering and a great picture BTW!

  • krantcents February 6, 2012, 5:18 pm

    Although my cooking ability is very basic at best, I can survive. My wife on the other hand is remarkable. We eat very healthy and have very interesting menus. We even have at least one vegetarian meal a week. You are right, it saves money and it is healthier. We constantly take leftovers for lunch.

    • retirebyforty February 7, 2012, 9:09 am

      I like the vegetarian meal per week idea. I think we probably do it once every two weeks and need to increase the frequency a bit.

  • Andrea @SoOverDebt February 6, 2012, 5:33 pm

    I’ve been a lot better about cooking since I started working from home, but it does take dedication. The things I cook taste good; I’m just not very inventive – I need an exact recipe and I don’t tend to deviate from it. It doesn’t help that my mom and grandmother taught me to cook, and of course since we’re from Kentucky that means copious amounts of bacon grease, salt, butter, and Crisco (I’ve never been able to bring myself to use lard). I’d love to have someone come to my house and teach me to cook healthier stuff – I’ll keep dreaming!

    • retirebyforty February 7, 2012, 9:11 am

      You can always buy some recipe books and try cooking new dishes! I know you can find any recipe on the internet now a day, but a cook book is still a lot easier to learn from.

  • UltimateSmartMoney February 6, 2012, 6:01 pm

    You’re right about home cooking saves money and makes your family healthy. We also try to go out once a week for dinner.

    • retirebyforty February 7, 2012, 9:13 am

      Once a week is just the right amount for us. It’s a lot more difficult to go out with a baby too so we are doing more take out these days.

  • Shilpan February 6, 2012, 6:20 pm

    I am learning how to cook. And, it has been a fun experience. I am vegetarian so I love Thai food. But, paying $8 for lunch is bit much. So, I’ve made up my mind to prepare my own lunch daily. So far, I only know how to cook rice and some vegetables. But, I will me a master cook soon. :)

    • retirebyforty February 7, 2012, 9:14 am

      That’s great to hear. Good luck! I need to learn to cook more vegetarian dishes as well.

  • Lisa @ Cents To Save February 6, 2012, 6:46 pm

    We use menu planning…. most of the time to keep our food costs down. For the most part it helps… but sometimes we will hit a drive thru. Just because :)

    • retirebyforty February 7, 2012, 9:15 am

      Menu planning works really well, but recently I’ve dropped the ball. My mom is visiting so she is cooking a lot too and so we are not planning the menu as much.

  • Kanwal Sarai @ Simply Investing February 6, 2012, 7:04 pm

    I love to cook at home and try out different recipes. If I had more time, I’d probably never leave the kitchen….maybe when I retire! :)

    I agree with you cooking at home is not only cheaper, its also healthier.

    • retirebyforty February 7, 2012, 9:16 am

      It’s a lot of fun isn’t it? Recipes are available at the tips of our fingers and it’s great to experiment in the kitchen.

  • Aloysa @My Broken Coin February 6, 2012, 7:23 pm

    When I was single and living by myself, I almost never cooked. It was not fun. But when Beaker moved in, it became much better and then he took over all the cooking. He is such a great cook! And a frugal one! :)

    • retirebyforty February 7, 2012, 9:16 am

      Great going Beaker. :)

  • Maggie@SquarePennies February 6, 2012, 7:33 pm

    We try to eat at home as much as possible for health as well as to save money. As you say, it’s mostly a matter of getting some experience with cooking. I’m always on the lookout for great tasting recipes that are healthy, inexpensive, and quick!

    • retirebyforty February 7, 2012, 9:17 am

      Once you learn how to cook a few dishes, it become a lot less intimidating.

  • Jeremy @ Personal Finance Whiz February 6, 2012, 7:58 pm

    My wife is an excellent cook. I’ll pick her cooking over any restaurant. But – dining out has one big advantage – we don’t have to do the dishes. That’s usually the only reason we go out.

    • retirebyforty February 7, 2012, 9:18 am

      Wow, you are a lucky guy! My wife cooks some dishes very well. We do like to go out sometime to try new dishes though. I hate doing dishes too.

  • Roshawn @ Watson Inc February 6, 2012, 8:24 pm

    Wow, I just give you a few hours, and you go and get several dozens of comments before I can submit mine. :)

    Like any good husband, I will say that my wife can throw down in the kitchen. I can definitely attest that this indirectly ends up being frugal. Primarily, we do it for health (me mostly). As someone who has weighed 40+ pounds more, I always have to be mindful of what I take in. It’s a lot easier to control if we’re preparing it and can substitute some “bad stuff” for some “good stuff.”

    • retirebyforty February 7, 2012, 9:19 am

      Really? It’s great that you can maintain a lower weight now. It’s so much easier when you can control the food.
      Do you know how to cook? :)

  • 101 Centavos February 6, 2012, 8:41 pm

    That’s a damn fine-looking pizza.

    • retirebyforty February 7, 2012, 9:20 am

      Thanks 101C. I’m quite proud of that one. It’s pepperoni and pineapple. 😀

  • Wayne @ Young Family Finance February 6, 2012, 9:12 pm

    Great post. I like our home cooking far better than going out to restaurants. The food is healthier and cheaper. Plus, we get to make everything the way we like it.

    • retirebyforty February 7, 2012, 9:22 am

      Two birds with one stone!

  • CultOfMoney February 6, 2012, 9:59 pm

    RB40, I can certainly vouch for your story here. Yes you likely will need to adjust your diet for health reasons. When I was consulting (and eating out about 20 times a week) I was much more overweight. Found out I had diabetes and needed to make pretty radical changes. I lost about 30 pounds (of which I found 10 in the last year or two). I cook at home much more now, but part of that was a conscious decision to not travel for work. Thanks for the article.

    • retirebyforty February 7, 2012, 9:23 am

      Thanks for your comment. I really think eating out is directly tied to our obesity problems. Everyone should learn how to cook. It’s much cheaper than going to McDonald.

      • CultOfMoney February 7, 2012, 3:37 pm

        I think that when you consider the cost of quality ingredients and the time to prepare it isn’t cheaper, and that’s part of the problem. A mass-produced carb-rich “burger” and “fries” at McDonald is significantly cheaper than preparing something else. Heck, I remember seeing studies where Coke is cheaper than buying water. Now, I have better tastes than that, and so eating out is more expensive, but for large parts of the country that may not be the case.

  • AverageJoe February 7, 2012, 7:09 am

    Yum! I’m coming to your house if you know how to cook Thai food!

    I foundd another benefit of cooking at home: we seem to have great discussions and family time over home-cooked food. It’s something about setting the table together and cleaning together that seems to add to the “family” dynamic.

    • retirebyforty February 8, 2012, 4:14 am

      That’s true too. It’s a great topic to talk about. Any family is like gold in this day and age.

  • Drew @ EpicFinances.com February 7, 2012, 9:59 am

    Portions are absolutely out of control as you stated. I guess its easier to justify higher prices when you have a much larger quantity (even if you don’t need or want it). I had lunch today and it cost me $16 with tip and it about floored me. I overate, I overpaid, and I’m overly upset.

    • retirebyforty February 8, 2012, 4:09 am

      $16 for lunch? That’s quite expensive. Sorry to hear that, but hopefully you’ll be able to avoid it in the future.
      What did you have, a steak?

  • youngandthrifty February 7, 2012, 12:01 pm

    OH man it’s lunch and you got my drooling lol.

    Can you post the recipe for pineapple fried rice? It looks delicious!!

    • retirebyforty February 8, 2012, 4:10 am

      I’ll see if I can find a recipe on the net for you. :)

  • Christa February 9, 2012, 10:03 am

    I love to cook at home, too. Mostly because of health reasons, but you really can’t beat the savings when you cook from scratch! Sadly, though, I cheat quite a bit and buy some prepared foods and canned sauces. Even so, it’s much cheaper and healthier.

  • Jerry February 13, 2012, 3:38 am

    Oh! I’m jealous! I love Thai food so much. I think cooking at home can lead to spending a lot of money if you aren’t careful. It depends on the ingredients you use. For example, my wife made a bean soup last week and the whole pot of beans with all ingredients cost about $3. We ate it for 3 days for the whole family. Your insurance for saving money is using healthy and cheap whole food ingredients.

  • Frances April 16, 2012, 1:54 pm

    It is great that you learn to cook when you were young. I taught all of my children to cook since they were little (they had no choice either). I always prepared all of our meals at home and your right not only is it cheaper but healthier. I usually planned for leftover that way they could be made into meals either the next day or during that week this saved me lots of time.

    • retirebyforty April 17, 2012, 9:47 am

      I will teach our boy to cook too. It’s a great basic skill to have.

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