Time or Money – A Cooking Choice

It’s no surprise that technology is taking over the cooking world.  New food apps for your mobile phone are popping up every day.  From apps to eat healthily and lose weight to food delivery and recipes – the choices are vast.  When making a cooking choice, it comes down to two simple things:  do I have the time to cook, or do I want to spend money?

Cooking Options

Let’s first look at your options. You can, of course, prepare the meal yourself from start to finish.  That is, shop for groceries, prepare the ingredients, and cook the food. For some, however, this is not an option. Perhaps your job leaves little time for much else, or you are uncomfortable cooking or feel you don’t have the skillset.  (If this is your reason, don’t forget there are numerous websites to help you learn, including this one, and free phone apps, like Project Foodie, to make learning that much easier.)  

Option #1: Dining Out, Take-Out or Delivery

Although an enjoyable event, dining at a restaurant can get quite expensive and not an option for a daily meal. Best to leave that for a special treat. Delivery or take-out is your next choice.  

Since Pizza Hut launched the first-ever online pizza order in 1994, food delivery has become a billion-dollar industry. Numerous food delivery apps like DoordashUber EatsSkip The Dishes, and Grubhub has made prepared food delivery a click away. However, like dining out, delivery or take-out is expensive and not an option for every day. Factor in the delivery and surcharges often charged and the restaurant prices this option should also be a special treat. In addition, prepared foods may not be the best choice for those looking at nutrition or health.  

Option #2: Supermarket Prepared Foods

Go into any supermarket today, and you will see entire sections of prepackaged foods and ready-to-serve meals.  Consumer time, or lack thereof, has fueled this trend. Consumers want food that is convenient, easy to serve, and healthier than take-out or frozen meals.  But is it? 

Consumer reports have used nutritionists and secret shoppers to analyze these supermarket foods.  What they found was surprising.  Most supermarkets boast these foods are a healthier option. In the researched stores, this was not true.  Preparation of only half of the meals was on the premises, with some made from packaged processed foods.  Some grocery chains used centralized kitchens to prepare big batches of dishes such as soup that would then ship to the various stores for reheating.

Others were delivered frozen.  The perception that these meals are fresh is just that – a perception.  For those that are health conscious, prepared foods are usually high in sodium. They also don’t always specify all the ingredients used, thus making it very difficult to control nutrition.  They can also be expensive, although less costly than take-out.

Image courtesy of Hello Fresh

Option #3: Meal Prep or Meal Kit Delivery

The popularity of meal prep services and meal kit delivery has exploded over the last ten years. Globally it is expected to reach USD 12.73 billion in 2021. In Canada, the estimated revenue is projected to reach USD 10.278 million by 2025.  

So how does it work? In each kit, you receive delivery of all the necessary ingredients to prepare a dish, chopped and ready to cook. In addition, you are provided with step-by-step instructions and portioned sizes to take the guessing out of cooking. For those who are less comfortable with cooking, this is a great way to prepare fresh food.  

The downside of this service is that meals are portion-controlled. If you order a dish such as salmon for two people, you will get two small pieces of salmon. (Portions like this would cause a revolt in a Greek household.) If one of your family members is at an age that includes a hollow leg, this is more appetizer than a meal. One could argue that it is a good thing to eat a much smaller portion. For a growing teen, this meal will not be enough.

The upside is that it does save you time and is a healthier option from take-out or delivery. Average prices for two meals range between suppliers.  Hello Fresh offers meals from $11.25 to $11.49, Goodfood from $9.89 to $14.34, and Chefs Plate from $9.99. Meals are shipped in insulated packaging, and meats and produce can stay fresh for up to 8 hours (although you should refrigerate as soon as possible). Prices include shipping, and the websites have a great range of meal choices based on questionnaire preferences.

The other benefit is avoiding wasted food. How many times have you purchased vegetables at a grocery store with the intent to make something and find they have gone bad by the time you are ready to cook. Recent studies at Dalhousie University have shown that the average Canadian throws away 170 pounds of food per year. Since they estimated that one spends approximately $150 on a supper meal, this equates to a $40 increase due to waste. For two people, the ready kits would cost about $100.00 for the week. That is $90 less!

Finally, all recipe cards are yours to keep. If this service doesn’t work for you, you can purchase the ingredients needed at a grocery store and make the meal again on your own.

Image courtesy of Hello Fresh

Option #4: In-Home Cooking

In-home cooking involves a chef or nutritionist creating a set of meals customized to your health needs or your specific desires. An average person spends 37 minutes preparing, serving, and cleaning up after each meal (44 minutes if children are involved). That is over 22 days in the kitchen that you can spend in better ways.

A nutritionist or personal chef is a more expensive option, ranging from CAD 78 to CAD 168 per person for a four-course meal. Pricing includes meal planning, grocery shopping, preparation, storage, and cleaning. Experience and food choices also play a factor in the rates. In Ottawa, there are numerous personal chefs for hire:  Take a ChefInHaus Cooking, and MiumMium, to name a few. 

A chef is a decadent option for a special event or dinner. Not only do you control what ingredients to use (making this an extremely healthy option), you also free your time up completely. Once again, it’s an option to consider for a special treat.

Time or Money – What’s Your Choice?

All of us have busy lives.  Time is a valuable commodity that we don’t necessarily want to spend alone in the kitchen.  However, cooking at home has its benefits, and you don’t need to be an expert to do it.

Of course, you save money versus take out, but also you control what ingredients you use.  This choice makes it the healthiest option by far. 

Quite simply, the final decision doesn’t have to be time or money.  Cooking at home can be a way for you to connect with your family.  With this in mind, don’t leave the process in your hands alone – involve your family, whether to add salt or stir a sauce. To save time, purchase ready-to-serve salads or pre-cut vegetables.  Give meal kits a try and see if they work for you (even if you use them a few times a week). Of course, give yourself a break and treat your family once in and a while to some great take-out.  In the end, time and money will balance out.     

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