Cooking at home is one of the most obvious ways to save money, but it's also something Singaporeans hardly do these days. The number of people who eat out at least five times a week is shocking, and a recent survey revealed that one third of Singaporeans eat out more than they eat at home.
While many fall back on inexpensive hawker food to lower costs, this has had dire consequences for their health, and 3 in 10 Singaporeans get diabetes before their 40th birthday. We look at the main reasons Singaporeans refuse to cook at home and see what can be done.
No time and energy
It's no secret that Singaporeans spend long hours at work, and that many continue working even after they arrive at home. With 1 in 5 Singaporeans working more than 11 hours a day, spending time buying groceries and whipping up something edible in the kitchen can seem like too much of a sacrifice. In addition, the Singapore population is one of the world's most sleep-deprived, and exhausted workers can barely muster the energy to fix their own meals.
While it is unlikely work-life balance is going to improve in the short to medium term, what people can do is to find ways to make cooking and grocery shopping take up less time. When get back from the office at 9pm, it takes a lot more advance planning to ensure you've got food on your plate when you return, but it's not impossible.
Here are some tips for increasing the number of times per week you get to enjoy home-cooked food.
- At the start of each week, draw up a meal plan and a grocery list. Never buy groceries without your meal plan and list to avoid having to make multiple trips to the supermarket.
- If you have no time to buy groceries, do your shopping during lunchtime at work and store them in the pantry fridge.
- Cook meals in bulk and freeze or refrigerate them. For instance, batches of pasta sauce can be frozen and stored in the freezer. It then only takes minutes to defrost a serving of sauce.
- If you plan to pack lunch to take to work, make batches a few days in advance and store them in the fridge.
- Always make larger portions at dinner so you can take the leftovers to lunch or eat them at dinner the next day.
- Salads are easy to throw together and can be made in bulk.
Meals are a social affair
Food is the glue that holds many social groups together, and one reason many Singaporeans don't pack lunch to take to work is their desire to eat with their colleagues. Instead of going home for dinner, many people flock to restaurants after work where they catch up with their friends over a meal that more often than not costs over $20 per head. In fact, most social activities revolve around food and drinks, which can make going out a lot more expensive than it has to be.
If you're spending all your money on food just so you can see your friends, you can either make a conscious effort to prepare your own food while still still showing up to see your friends, or you can lower the cost of shared meals by organising potluck dinners or cooking for your loved ones.
Here are some tactics you can use.
- When friends plan to eat out, skip the meal and meet them afterwards for the drinks session, coffee or movie.
- Band together with a few colleagues to have a potluck lunch in one of the meeting rooms at your office.
- Make it a habit to invite friends to your home or to hang out at theirs, taking turns to cook. Mahjong or movie sessions can all take place at home.
They don't know how to cook
Unfortunately, few Singaporeans inherit the full extent of their grandparents' cooking skills. In a recent survey, only 22 per cent of Singaporeans cooked at home almost every day, less than half the percentage who do so in London, Paris and Shanghai. Lack of cooking skills was one major reason for this dismal statistic.
Cooking isn't rocket science. If you made it through the Singapore education system, you most definitely have what it takes to make a decent meal. For many people, learning how to make serviceable meals is simply a matter of watching a couple of YouTube videos and experimenting.
For those who insist they can't cook, however, here are a couple of tips.
- If you have no other use for your SkillsFuture credit, use it to take one of the numerous cooking courses on offer.
- The various national library branches are a veritable treasure trove of cookbooks.
- Forget the cooking classes that will have you struggling to watch some hoity-toity chef's demonstration. Book yourself into a beginner-friendly cooking class instead, where you'll be able to get some hands-on instruction.
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