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Here's What Happened When I Tried Cooking At Home All Week On A Budget

No takeout, no delivery, no excuses.

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Hannah Wong / BuzzFeed

Hey! I'm Hannah — and I've been trying to find ways to save more money on food.

After rent, food is my biggest monthly expense, and I spend most of my paycheck on it. I recently crunched the numbers and I realized that in an average week, I spend about $210 on food.To break it down: My boyfriend and I cook at home about three nights per week, and split a grocery bill of about $70. When we don't cook, I order in or eat out three or four nights per week, spending about $120 total on delivery or at restaurants. For lunch, I spend about $35 each week. And breakfast — on things like on-the-go smoothies or yogurts — about $20.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

After rent, food is my biggest monthly expense, and I spend most of my paycheck on it. I recently crunched the numbers and I realized that in an average week, I spend about $210 on food.

To break it down: My boyfriend and I cook at home about three nights per week, and split a grocery bill of about $70. When we don't cook, I order in or eat out three or four nights per week, spending about $120 total on delivery or at restaurants. For lunch, I spend about $35 each week. And breakfast — on things like on-the-go smoothies or yogurts — about $20.

Last month, I challenged myself to make dinner all week for $30. Now, I wanted to see if I could make allll of my weekly meals myself — again, for way less than I usually spend.

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I knew any money I'd save could go toward upcoming travel (including an Iceland trip that I have planned for summer), so I felt super motivated.

On top of all that, I was recently gifted an 11-piece Tasty cookware set, so now I literally have no reason not to cook more at home.

The set is a kitchen starter pack: It comes with a frying pan, two sauce pans, a deep sauté pan, a Dutch oven, and a stove-top griddle. Everything's nonstick — with stainless steel bases and silicone handle grips. Mine is the gunmetal color pictured above, but it also comes in copper or blue. You can pick up the full set from Walmart for $99.
Walmart

The set is a kitchen starter pack: It comes with a frying pan, two sauce pans, a deep sauté pan, a Dutch oven, and a stove-top griddle. Everything's nonstick — with stainless steel bases and silicone handle grips. Mine is the gunmetal color pictured above, but it also comes in copper or blue. You can pick up the full set from Walmart for $99.

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My plan for the week? I would cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner at home for the entire week, no exceptions.

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I gave myself a budget of $50 to do all of my grocery shopping. If I could stick to it, I would be saving $160 in a single week. (And if this budget meal plan was actually doable, I knew I could stick to something similar each week until my trip.)

To prep, I outlined the recipes I'd be making for the entire week. I started by writing down the foods I love to eat and already frequently make — like eggs, sweet potato, and chicken.Then, I filled in my grocery list with other foods that work well with my staples. I avoided pricier add-ons like nuts or cheese, and for meat, I stuck to the two options that are usually cheapest: ground meat and rotisserie chicken. I also based a lot of my meals around pasta and rice since they're inexpensive, tasty, and versatile.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

To prep, I outlined the recipes I'd be making for the entire week. I started by writing down the foods I love to eat and already frequently make — like eggs, sweet potato, and chicken.

Then, I filled in my grocery list with other foods that work well with my staples. I avoided pricier add-ons like nuts or cheese, and for meat, I stuck to the two options that are usually cheapest: ground meat and rotisserie chicken. I also based a lot of my meals around pasta and rice since they're inexpensive, tasty, and versatile.

Then, I put together my grocery list Sunday...

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

I shopped at Trader Joe's because, a) I love TJ's, and b) It's usually more affordable than most NYC grocery stores. The only two things Trader Joe's didn't carry were instant ramen and rotisserie chicken, so I picked those up elsewhere. But all in all, my total for all the ingredients was just a few cents under $50.

I used the rest of the day to meal prep.

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed
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It wasn't too much — mostly just making pasta and rice to use throughout the week. I also split and froze some ground turkey so it'd be fresh later in the week, and hard-boiled some eggs.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Breakfast: 2-ingredient banana pancakes

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

Mondays are shitty, and pancakes make everything better. (Plus, what better way to break in a new griddle than with pancakes?) To make these, you just mash up a large banana with two eggs and call it pancake batter. If you have rolled oats or flour, you can add a handful to make the pancakes a little thicker.

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This batter made enough for about 6 pancakes, so I used half and saved the rest for later in the week.

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

I topped them with some frozen berries I'd defrosted and a drizzle of maple syrup, and it was the perfect breakfast.

Lunch: Avocado egg salad sandwich

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

I feel like a five-year-old when I say this, but I really love a simple, homemade sandwich. This avocado egg salad is so easy to make. You just chop up a hard boiled egg and mash it with avocado. I added a bit of mayo to make it creamier, scallions for flavor, and lettuce for some crunch. I hard-boiled the egg ahead of time Sunday night, so making lunch Monday morning took about five minutes.

Dinner: Rotisserie chicken fried rice

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

Homemade fried rice is one of my favorite lazy meals. Not only is it super comforting and satisfying, but it also takes very little time, which is perfect after a busy Monday. Plus, since I'd cooked the rice ahead of time and was using rotisserie chicken, the only real work involved was chopping up some veggies and mixing everything together. (Also: My nonstick skillet was perfect for cooking a big batch of this. It has high sides, so I could stir-fry everything without the ingredients splattering.)

I had enough left over for lunch the next day, too.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed
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Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Breakfast: Banana peanut butter smoothie

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

Recently, I've been really into smoothies (especially as the weather gets warmer). But since my morning smoothie at Juice Generation costs about $9, I've started making them at home. I've tried lots of different smoothie combinations, but my absolute favorite is super simple: 1/2 banana, a spoonful of peanut butter, and milk (I often use almond milk instead of regular milk). Sometimes I add honey too for some extra sweetness. It's cheap, easy, and it holds me over until lunch.

Lunch: Leftover rotisserie chicken fried rice

I'd already put away a portion of leftover fried rice Monday night, so Tuesday morning all I had to do was grab my Tupperware from the fridge.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

I'd already put away a portion of leftover fried rice Monday night, so Tuesday morning all I had to do was grab my Tupperware from the fridge.

Dinner: Shakshuka

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

I'm a firm believer in eggs for dinner. Especially after eating a very filling lunch, I was in the mood for something a bit lighter. Enter: Shakshuka.

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While it's vegetarian, this dinner was super filling thanks to the hearty tomato sauce, chickpeas, and egg.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

I also made it in a single pot, so the cleanup was quick and easy.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Breakfast: 2-ingredient banana pancakes

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

The extra batter I put away Monday morning was still perfectly good, so I quickly made more banana pancakes on the griddle and topped them with butter and maple syrup.

Lunch: Turkey burrito bowl

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

There was a little bit of cooking involved in making this lunch, but I could have done it all Tuesday night (instead of Wednesday morning) if I had planned better. I browned a portion of ground turkey, sautéed some peppers and onions, and sliced some avocado I had left over from my egg salad. Then, I assembled all the ingredients over a bed of pre-cooked rice, and I put some hot sauce on top for an extra kick.

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Dinner: Penne with spinach and mushrooms

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Pasta is a staple in my dinner routine. For this, I took a handful of spinach, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes and sautéed them with onion and garlic. Then, I added a big portion of the pasta I'd cooked earlier. I tossed the pasta and veggies in some leftover canned tomatoes from my shakshuka and some marinara sauce I had in my fridge.

Again, there was more than enough for one meal — so I saved the rest for later in the week.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Breakfast: Banana peanut butter smoothie

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

I used the other half of Tuesday's banana to make another smoothie with milk and peanut butter. I bought a slightly underripe banana Sunday so that it would be at peak ripeness later in the week.

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Lunch: Leftover pasta with spinach and mushrooms

Leftovers are a lifesaver. Plus, pasta for lunch is just what I needed to get me through hump day.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Leftovers are a lifesaver. Plus, pasta for lunch is just what I needed to get me through hump day.

Dinner: Rotisserie chicken quesadilla

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

Now that I have this ~fancy~ new griddle, I figured I ought to put it to use. I decided to make quesadillas using leftover avocado, some roasted sweet potato, and rotisserie chicken. I put some butter on the griddle, then added the tortilla and topped half of it with chicken, veggies, and salsa. After about five minutes, I folded the tortilla over the toppings and then flipped the whole thing to let the other side of the tortilla get crispy.

Now before you scoff at the idea of a cheeseless quesadilla,* let me tell you that this one was great.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Between the salsa, the sweet potato, and the avocado, the inside of the quesadilla was super creamy, and the tortilla got perfectly golden and crispy on the griddle.

*I know, I know. It's not technically a quesadilla if it has no cheese. 🧀

Sidenote: I think my dog is a big fan of me cooking at home.

Safe to say that Hudson thoroughly enjoyed his dinner.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Safe to say that Hudson thoroughly enjoyed his dinner.

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Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Breakfast: Egg and veggie scramble

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

One of my absolute favorite breakfasts is an egg and veggie scramble. In fact, I'm that boring person who always orders the scrambled eggs out to brunch (sorry, not sorry). So why not make it at home? I sautéed some spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes while I toasted a slice of whole wheat bread. Sidenote? My favorite thing about the Tasty frying pan is that it's nice and spacious, so I can basically make a whole meal at once in a single pan.

Not only was this breakfast great, but it taught me an important lesson: I should probably forego the $15 brunch plate and make eggs at home more often because they taste even better on the couch in my pajamas.

Also, yes, I unabashedly eat my scrambled eggs with ketchup and I strongly suggest you do the same.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Also, yes, I unabashedly eat my scrambled eggs with ketchup and I strongly suggest you do the same.

Lunch: Turkey lettuce wraps

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

I quickly browned the portion of ground turkey that I let defrost overnight. Then I added some pre-cooked rice, sautéed carrots, and chopped cucumbers to the turkey skillet. Finally, I tossed the mixture with a little soy sauce. I stored the turkey and rice mixture in a separate Tupperware from the lettuce so that it didn't make the lettuce soggy. This recipe made a lot of food, easily enough for two lunches.

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Dinner: Vegetable bibimbap

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

OK, confession: I'd been dreading cooking at home Friday night all week. I go out to dinner basically every Friday. It's my little kick-off to the weekend and I look forward to it. So I knew I had to cook something exciting and out-of-the-ordinary to make up for the fact that I'd be foregoing my Friday night routine. I settled on bibimbap.

This recipe was surprisingly easy to make.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

I pickled carrots and cucumbers in rice vinegar, water, sugar, and salt while I sautéed mushrooms and spinach. I assembled everything over a bowl of rice and put a fried egg on top. This meal felt adventurous and actually tasted awesome, especially once I cut into the egg and let the yolk ooze over all the rice and veggies.

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Breakfast: Avocado toast with fried egg

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Now, I understand there's an avocado shortage or whatever, but I'm not quite sure why I continue to pay $12 for a slice of avocado toast that I can make just as well at home. So this Saturday morning, I decided to give the middle finger to Manhattan brunch and make my own version. I must admit, I make a mean avocado toast. (And you can too!) Just mash half an avocado with a drizzle of lemon juice, salt, and red pepper flakes. Then smear it on a slice of slightly toasted bread and top it with a fried egg. Poached, scambled, or hard boiled also work, if that's what you prefer.

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Lunch: Asian rotisserie chicken salad

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

I used the last of my rotisserie chicken to make an Asian-inspired salad. I roasted the leftover chickpeas I didn't use in my shakshuka with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then, I tossed the crispy chickpeas with lettuce, chopped carrots, cucumber, scallion, and rotisserie chicken. I mixed together peanut butter with some olive oil, rice vinegar, and soy sauce from my pantry to make a Thai-style dressing.

This was definitely a step up from my typical homemade salads, thanks to the roasted chickpeas and homemade dressing.

But it was worth it.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

But it was worth it.

Dinner: Upgraded instant ramen

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

On a normal Saturday night, you'll probably find me waiting way too long for some popular ramen joint in the East Village. Tonight, I'm making instant ramen in my bath robe with The Lumineers album blasting. (I'm starting to like this cooking-at-home thing.)

Soft-boiled eggs make everything better.

Whoever invented instant ramen, please know that I love you.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Whoever invented instant ramen, please know that I love you.

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Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Breakfast: Breakfast burrito

Hannah Loewentheil/BuzzFeed

Final stretch! My last breakfast: a breakfast burrito with scrambled egg, peppers, onions, and avocado. I warmed up the flour tortilla for about a minute, sautéed the peppers and onion, and scrambled an egg. I topped everything with sliced avocado, left over from yesterday's avocado toast, and some salsa.

It wasn't quite a NYC bagel, but it certainly wasn't bad either.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

It wasn't quite a NYC bagel, but it certainly wasn't bad either.

Lunch: Pesto pasta salad

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

I used the rest of my pasta and the leftover vegetables in my fridge to whip up this no-cook lunch. At this point, the pasta was a little bit hard from sitting in the fridge all week, but I ran it under warm water then tossed it in olive oil and pesto and it tasted as good as new.

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Dinner: Turkey meatball bowl

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

I had one last portion of frozen turkey, which I defrosted over the weekend, so I made some ~healthier~ meatballs with ground turkey, egg, salt, pepper, garlic, and onion. I also happened to have some ketchup and Worcestershire sauce in my fridge, which I added to the turkey mix for some more flavor. If you happen to have bread crumbs on hand, you could add those too.

These were a bit lighter than typical meatballs because I didn't have bread crumbs, but they tasted great.

I served them over rice with the last of my tomatoes and spinach. This meal was really filling. It made four meatballs in all, which was too much for me to eat in one sitting in addition to the hearty rice bowl. You know what that means...more leftovers!
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

I served them over rice with the last of my tomatoes and spinach. This meal was really filling. It made four meatballs in all, which was too much for me to eat in one sitting in addition to the hearty rice bowl. You know what that means...more leftovers!

Cooking all of my meals at home really wasn't that bad, and I spent so much less than I usually do. The hardest part was figuring out a menu for the week that would be interesting and filling, using affordable ingredients. Once I was able to do that, the rest fell into place.Some other tips, if you're thinking about trying the same thing:• Watch for cost-drivers: If you're someone who likes to eat meat for every meal, it's going to drive up your budget. I was able to get the most bang for my buck by sticking to vegetables, grains — and just a little bit of meat.• Know that you'll be tempted to cheat: By Saturday, I was definitely ready to go out for brunch or dinner, and it took a bit of self-control to resist. But focusing in on a specific goal (in my case, an upcoming trip), helped me stay on track.• Plan according to your schedule: On Sunday, I laid out my plans for the upcoming week and organized my weeklong menu so that it made sense with my schedule. If you know you'll have an early morning or a late night, plan for less time-consuming meals. You can also meal prep even more than I did to reduce cooking time throughout the week.All in all? The end result was worth it. I saved a lot of money. Like, a noticeable amount of money. I realize budgets are a personal thing and differ from person to person, but I was almost shocked when I looked at my bank account Monday and realized how much I reduced my typical expenses just by cooking at home. In the future I want to find a happy medium between the top — still eating out or ordering in just one or two nights per week, but cooking all of my other meals at home.
Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Cooking all of my meals at home really wasn't that bad, and I spent so much less than I usually do. The hardest part was figuring out a menu for the week that would be interesting and filling, using affordable ingredients. Once I was able to do that, the rest fell into place.

Some other tips, if you're thinking about trying the same thing:

Watch for cost-drivers: If you're someone who likes to eat meat for every meal, it's going to drive up your budget. I was able to get the most bang for my buck by sticking to vegetables, grains — and just a little bit of meat.

Know that you'll be tempted to cheat: By Saturday, I was definitely ready to go out for brunch or dinner, and it took a bit of self-control to resist. But focusing in on a specific goal (in my case, an upcoming trip), helped me stay on track.

Plan according to your schedule: On Sunday, I laid out my plans for the upcoming week and organized my weeklong menu so that it made sense with my schedule. If you know you'll have an early morning or a late night, plan for less time-consuming meals. You can also meal prep even more than I did to reduce cooking time throughout the week.

All in all? The end result was worth it. I saved a lot of money. Like, a noticeable amount of money. I realize budgets are a personal thing and differ from person to person, but I was almost shocked when I looked at my bank account Monday and realized how much I reduced my typical expenses just by cooking at home. In the future I want to find a happy medium between the top — still eating out or ordering in just one or two nights per week, but cooking all of my other meals at home.

What are your best tips for saving money on food and cooking more often at home? Let me know in the comments below!