Q&A: What We Learned Skipping Supermarkets and Restaurants For a Year

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What advice would you give to anyone hoping to follow your example, at least in terms of scaling back on groceries and restaurant meals?
Rachel: What it boils down to is that it’s a learning process. Always start small so you don’t burn yourself out. Replace one pre-made food item a week, or even just one a month, with something homemade. Get the right tools too. They make a world of difference when you’re trying to save time. Many “purists” sneer at the mere mention of using a bread machine, but if it can save you a few hours by setting the timer and having it bake bread while you’re sleeping, go for it. This isn’t about taking on so much you’re dizzy, but rather eating healthier. And the bread you make by hand isn’t any healthier than the bread out of the bread machine if the ingredients are the same.

Tom: Definitely do your research first. Don’t jump in with both feet right away. If you don’t know how to grow enough food or know where to source it, you’re kind of screwed and will get discouraged.

(MORE: And the Nation’s Favorite Low-Cost Grocery Store Is …)

Got any super easy, convenient cooking tips you care to share? What ingredients and/or spices do you wind up using most often?
Rachel: The number one thing that helps make cooking easier is having a partner that helps you do it. But for a lot of people that isn’t really an option. Some might say batch cooking is your best option, and I suppose we do that to a certain extent when we can sauces, but for the most part I’ve never actually done batch cooking—the idea of creating a week’s worth of meals in one day. I think that would probably be the most convenient cooking tip, though, for people who are really busy during the week.

Practice is what makes a mediocre cook a great one. Don’t get discouraged. Start with cookbooks and recipes online or on TV if you need to, and of course experiment. The longer you cook the faster you’ll get at it, and the easier it will be. Eventually you won’t need recipes anymore and you just get the “feel” for how to combine flavors and textures.

We love a lot of flavor, and we love spicy foods. The spice merchant we bought our spices from has a Cajun spice mixture that we love to put on everything. It’s incredible as a simple dry rub on meat or used in soup.

Tom: If you’re in a pinch, frittatas always work. Just a few cut up vegetables and some eggs make for a tasty, filling meal. Homemade pizza, especially if you have that bread machine, is always tasty and easy. We make one every Friday even if we don’t have any cheese to put on it. It’s a way to get the kids on board too. Because we don’t go to restaurants, it’s a great treat for my son and helps keep him from complaining about all that healthy food we make him eat.

(MORE: Why Are So Many People Freezing Food?)

When the experiment is over, what foods will you buy first at a supermarket? And what restaurant meal would be your first pick?
Rachel: We’ve actually decided to continue on being grocery store free. The reasons we started doing this haven’t changed, and we’ve saved money while buying higher-quality local food that’s been raised and grown sustainably. I love meeting and supporting the farmers that grow our food. They are hardworking people that deserve a lot more respect than our society pays them. The food also tastes better, maybe because of all the blood, sweat and tears that go into making it.

Tom: We’ve decided after the year is up that we will allow ourselves to go to a restaurant once a month. My son’s 14th birthday happens to be October 1st, the day after our experiment ends. To celebrate we’re going to go to a restaurant I’ve been wanting to go to for years—the local Moroccan restaurant where you sit on the floor, eat with your hands and watch belly dancers.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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