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How Much the “I Can’t Cook” Excuse Is Really Costing You

I can't cook

“I’d love to save money,” she said, “but I can’t cook to save my life.” I was sitting in a coffee shop working when I overheard this conversation. Two women were sitting together, catching up on a Saturday afternoon.

My ears perked up when I heard her say that. I smiled to myself and shook my head. There are so many excuses that keep us broke, I thought. The “I can’t cook” one has to be one of the top budget busters.

I tried not to eavesdrop, but the coffee shop was small, and hey, I was interested in the conversation now! Her friend agreed with her. “It’s probably not worth it to learn, either. I mean, I live alone and I hate going to the grocery store. How am I supposed to cook when there’s no one to cook for?”

Their sandwiches arrived a few minutes later.

At this point, I was astounded. Here they were, out to lunch, eating $7 turkey sandwiches, talking about how hard it was to cook. Were they kidding? Don’t they know how easy it is to make a sandwich?

How much are we spending on lunch?

According to this Forbes article, the average American spends $1,000 a year on lunch. That’s assuming they go out twice a week and spend $10 each time. I’d be willing to bet that people like the women at the coffee shop are spending way more on restaurant food. Really, people, not cooking is costing us big time.

Here are some easy solutions for this common excuse:

“I can’t cook!”

This is simply not true! Anyone can learn to cook. Remember the first time you were behind the wheel of a car? I bet you thought you couldn’t drive. But now you’re an adult, and you know you can drive. That’s the same for cooking. You know you can cook. Heck, I don’t know you, and I know you can cook. Will you be Wolfgang Puck on your first try? Probably not, but you will get better, and you have a lot of meals left in your life.

I started cooking for my family when I was 14 because our house rules stated that the person who cooks dinner does not have to do the dishes. This was also my vegetarian stage, and my mother was (rightly) concerned about the cheese pizza and french fries version of vegetarianism I’d found. She said she’d double my allowance and I’d never have to do dishes if I cooked. So I did. My family suffered through a few too many tofu surprises (the surprise is that there is no joy in tofu, not unless you know how to season it!) before I caught on, but once I did, we all had more fun in the kitchen. I cooked my way through an Asian vegetarian cookbook (similar to this one) and I started consuming cooking magazines, ripping out the recipes that looked the best.

If you’re starting a cooking habit, make it easy on yourself. Find a cookbook that speaks to you. One that has recipes that are easy to follow (don’t go for the ambiguous ones that say, “stir together some milk with eggs and put in a medium oven” — those are for the pros) and look like they’re really delicious. Or use food magazines. At first, I’d stay away from food blogs, because just like any first-draft publishing, the author may accidentally omit something important.

“I don’t have time!”

I swear, making an incredible salad (including protein!) will take less time than going to a sit-down restaurant. Need more ideas? Check out the easy recipes at Babble.

If you say you don’t have time, you’re most likely not considering the wait time, order time, and sit-down time at the restaurant. I know I didn’t because once you sit at a restaurant, you feel like you’re pretty much done, and even if your order takes 20-30 minutes, you’re out enjoying yourself. Here are seven quick, easy, and delicious dinners you can whip up in less time than it takes to drive to a restaurant:

“I never know what to make!”

Pretend that you’re at your go-to spot. What would you order? Great! That sounds delicious. Look up a recipe for that. Or browse through an online menu at the restaurant you would order in from.

This is one of my favorite games to play (aside from the fact that restaurants have terrible websites that half the time have music playing when you open them — what’s the deal with that?) when I’m lacking inspiration. I’ll tell myself, okay, here we go. We’re going to Red Robin. Which burger do I want to order? I’ll find it on the menu, then I’ll head to the store and buy all the ingredients listed on my favorite burger, and we’ll have a fun burger night! Or I’ll go to a restaurant’s website from another part of the country and decide what I’d “order” over there. One of my favorites is California Pizza Kitchen. Their toppings are really fun, and they’re not even limited to pizza. If they work well on a pizza, they’ll work well in some sort of cauliflower casserole.

“Real food costs too much!”

To that last point, cooking at home is only more expensive if you’re eating fast food out. And fast food is really only cheaper in the short term. The long-term benefits to eating healthy far outweigh the short-term savings of filling your body with fried food. Make a fair comparison, too. Of course buying a steak at the grocery store is more expensive than fast-food burgers. But making burgers at home is about the same price, and you know exactly what you’re eating.

The Advisory Board says that one can eat healthy for $1.50 per day. I haven’t found that to be true, but I do know that even when we’re buying fancy ingredients, we eat dinner (and lunch the next day) for less than the price of going out to our favorite mid-range neighborhood joint.

You can do it. I know you can.

My fiancé spent his entire adult life using that excuse. But ever since we started living together and sharing goals, he’s taken it upon himself to learn how to cook. He scours food blogs and destroys the kitchen while making something delicious. He’s had a good time of it and realized that all those years he was telling himself he was not a good cook he was denying himself the opportunity to be a good cook.

When you say to yourself, “I can’t cook,” you’re missing out. What else are you telling yourself you can’t do? What if you changed your mind?

The whole world opens up.

Image by Kathleen O’Malley

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