How to use meal kits to cut your food costs

Faithful readers will recall that my husband and I have been testing and enjoying one of the handful of meal kit delivery services that are becoming quite popular.

A Home Chef meal kit includes all of the fresh ingredients and instructions needed to cook restaurant-quality meals for two, four or six people in the comfort of your own kitchen, eliminating recipe search and food shopping. Everything required for a meal is perfectly portioned and ready to go. Seriously, it’s like having your own personal sous chef.

Since writing about it, I’ve gotten the most interesting feedback on the many ways you are figuring out how to use Home Chef to cut your food costs. Here are just a few:

SINGLE PROFESSIONAL

Dear Mary: Cooking for one is not an easy task. I’m not an experienced cook, which makes it even more challenging. I end up going to the grocery and leaving with half a dinner and $50 in snacks. Or if I do plan ahead and try to buy for a recipe, I end up with extra ingredients that expire before I use them. Eating in a restaurant gets tiresome and very expensive.

With Home Chef, I choose three two-serving meals per weak ($60 with free shipping). I’m single, but still when I prepare one meal, I cook both servings at the same time for convenience, and then reheat the second serving the following night. HC meals are so good it doesn’t even seem like leftovers. I can stretch some of the meals (pasta dishes, for instance) out to a light lunch, too, because the portions are large. I usually freeze the meat for the final meal, to prepared for days five and six. I’ll eat out with friends or family one night a week (usually on the weekend). — Asher

AVERAGE FAMILY

We’re a family of four with two young boys. HC is not something we would have chosen to do on our own, but when asked to be an EC test family, we happily agreed. Now that the test period is over, we’ve figured out how we can continue without destroying our food budget. In fact, we are spending a bit less on food each week than we did before we had HC.

Each week, we order three two-serving meals for three dinners out of the week ($60 with free shipping). The portions are large enough that we share four ways, with the adults getting larger shares. The boys, ages 7 and 2, enjoy the meals and are trying new things all the time. To stretch our HC meals, we supplement the boys’ plates with things they like, such as carrot sticks, cheese, applesauce or mandarin oranges. No one leaves the table hungry. And we are eating fresh, healthy food that is really delicious. — Wendy

DINNER CLUB

We and two other couples have created our own dinner club over the years, where we take turns hosting Friday night dinner. Each of the last two times it was our turn to host, I ordered a six-serving HC meal kit ($60 with free shipping). We loved preparing the meal, and everyone raved about the food. Here’s the fun part: Without meaning to, my husband and I (he cooks HC with me) have raised the bar for the club. And what’s more, we used to spend a lot more than $60 for one meal — and it would take me all day to shop, prep and cook. Our friends think we’ve gone to culinary school to do this so effortlessly. We’re loving it! — Bob and Joyce

The cost for Home Chef (www.everydaycheapskate.com/homechef) is $9.95 per serving. Shipping is $10, or free for orders over $45. You can check it out here. And when you get to that page, you’ll see that I can still offer you a $30 coupon, should you wish to give Home Chef a test run. I can’t wait to hear about your experiences!

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A few weeks ago, I got a wake-up call that wasn’t exactly intended for me. Our friends Matt and Sharlene were told that Matt’s 92-year-old aunt had died. As the executors of her estate, this did not catch them by surprise. The surprise came when they opened the door to see what was waiting for them.

As they described long-distance what they were facing — a home stuffed to the brim with stuff — I was with them vicariously, overwhelmed by the enormity of the accumulation of clutter. What to do? Where to start? At that moment, I renewed in my heart (and am now renewing publicly) my pledge to my husband and children: To the very best of my ability, and with God as my witness, I will never leave a mess for you to deal with.

Admittedly, I am a clutter bug, and I know why. In my heart, I believe that everything I own has value. That means I must keep it. The struggle is real. Those books I’ll never open again and my old mobile phone that won’t hold a charge — they have to be worth something to someone, right?

Or how about that box of video games? They still look good even though we don’t have the game station that goes with them. And that computer monitor. Sure, it’s smallish and old, but it still works (I think). I can’t throw it out. All those DVDs! They cost a lot of money. And on and on it goes, from the garage to the basement — every room has the potential to become a clutter magnet.

Here’s the truth I confront every day: No matter my perceived value of stuff I no longer use or need, those things are losing value every day I hang onto them. Right now, today, I need to determine how I can turn all of these things into cash. Impossible? Not at all.

Over the years, I have explored realistic ways to turn clutter into cash, and I’ve figured out ways to do it. Still, the truth is that not everything can be sold. So what I cannot sell, I donate. What is not good enough to donate, I turn my head the other way and throw into the trash. The heartbreak is momentary — replaced quickly by the wonderful feeling of clutter turning into cleanliness and order.

Which brings me to my favorite company that pays me cash for some books, CDs, DVDs, electronics and old mobile devices: Decluttr. Notice I said “some.” Decluttr doesn’t buy everything, but it buys a lot! And it pays the shipping fees to send boxes of stuff to the company. Even better, once a box arrives, Decluttr sends me a check the very next day.

Even when Decluttr offers me, say, 40 cents for a book I think is worth $40 (yeah, I’m like that), I know the book is not headed for the landfill. It will eventually end up in the hands of someone who will value it greatly and actually read it. Same for CDs, DVDs, video games, electronics and mobile devices I will never ever use again (I was surprised to learn Decluttr pays as much as $450 for a mobile phone).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving. com and author of 18 books, including her latest, “Can I Pay My Credit Card Bill With a Credit Card?” You can email her at mary@everydaycheapskate. com.