Repetition guarantees success and saves time and money.
Last week, when I wrote a post about "10 ways to eat frugally this month," one of my suggestions was to choose your recipe sources carefully. I'd like to expand on that today, after reading a thought-provoking article by Trent Hamm for The Simple Dollar, titled, "The balance between novelty and stability – and how that affects your dollars and cents."
In many ways, the title says it all. The quest for novelty in our lives – in this case, within the context of home cooking – comes at a higher financial cost than performing actions that are familiar. Familiarity breeds frugality in the kitchen because you're on established ground. You know your way around the grocery store with the cheapest prices. You know which ingredients to stock up on when they go on sale so you can make your family's favorite meals in large batches. And you don't waste time cooking them, which means savings of a different kind. As Hamm writes,
"If I want to simply have something new for dinner every night, the cost of all of those different ingredients is going to add up (not to mention the time invested in constantly jumping from culinary technique to culinary technique without mastering any of them)."
The problem for people like myself, who love to spend time in the kitchen, is that it seems boring to cook the same thing over and over again. And yet, whenever I've asked my family what they think of it, no one seems to care. My husband says he's happy to eat the same meal for three nights in a row, and my kids never seem to notice, especially if it's something they like.
I'm not the only one in this situation. Hamm said his wife and kids enjoy their "everyday" meals most of all, and pointed to Food52 founder Amanda Hesser's similar discovery, that despite her being a food writer her kids prefer their dad's tomato pasta. I think this repetition brings a deep sense of comfort to kids; it is comforting, grounding, and homey. Thinking of the foods from his childhood, Hamm said,
"[Those meals... that were fairly convenient for my parents to make] provided a touchstone of shared experience. There were certain dishes that we would have frequently that I would love to smell coming in the door, not just because they were delicious, but because they made me feel things like family and safety and comfort."
It appears that novelty in the kitchen is overrated. We are expending far too much energy and money trying to keep our meals exciting when, really, we could feed ourselves more efficiently and feel just as happy by repeating recipes.
There's a trend in the sustainable fashion world urging individuals to be an #OutfitRepeater to reduce waste. The same idea can be applied to cooking. Realize that being a recipe repeater is not a sign of lacking skill, but rather, astute kitchen craft and frugality. It's the sign of someone who values their time and money over the fleeting gratification of a fancy new recipe (that, let's be honest, often isn't as good as you'd hoped).
Learn to make healthy, hearty recipes that have a low cost per serving and stick with them. For my family, these cheap, familiar, and crowd-pleasing meals are minestrone soup, lentil dal with rice, bean burritos, huevos rancheros with garlic bread, macaroni and cheese, pasta with tomato sauce and green salad, chili with cornbread, and homemade pizza. My kids are utterly content to eat these over and over again, and when I repeat them every week, we save money.
So, embrace the repetition. Be a proud #RecipeRepeater and see if anyone even notices. It will help your wallet, cheer your kids, and make your own job of cooking far easier.