To toast or not to toast? Chances are you probably don't weigh the costs of using the microwave, toaster oven, or conventional full-size oven, but you should. You can save money by considering the costs of energy when you cook or reheat food.
If It's Good Enough for Hansel & Gretel...
The old standby remains the best way to cook and reheat large dishes. A conventional oven will also heat food without turning it into some wilted, soggy, mushy mess, like a microwave does. It's better to use a conventional oven when baking generous portions or large meals. That said, conventional ovens can cost more, if you don't use energy efficiently.
There are simple steps you can take to make using a full-size oven more cost-effective. Some you may know, others may be new. For instance, you want to always use ceramic and glass dishes when baking in a conventional oven. You don't need to pre-heat the oven, unless you're baking. You also don't need to line the racks with tin foil, as this will block the flow of air. Stagger your dishes on the top and bottom racks to improve airflow. If you can cook a few dishes at the same time, do.
Taking care of your appliances will also help you save money. If you clean your oven's front window, you can check on your dish without having to open the oven door. Each time you open the door, the temperature inside drops by 25 degrees. When cleaning your stove, do check the seal on your oven door for cracks or tears, as these holes enable heat to escape.
Ultimately, full-size ovens are not as efficient at cooking small-sized meals, so it's worth investing in a good toaster oven as well. Check with Consumer Reports and friends when comparing brands, sizes, models, and types of ovens (electric or gas). You'll want to try out the oven first, albeit not the way Hansel and Gretel did.
Toaster ovens save some time, as they take around five minutes to pre-heat compared to the fifteen minutes supposedly needed with conventional ovens. They're also significantly easier to clean. Toaster ovens have a smaller surface area-to-speed of clean up ratio, and some higher-end versions offer self-cleaning. The bottom line is that you should use the toaster if you want to quickly cook small meals or reheat leftovers. You'll spend less time cooking, and more time enjoying your food.
They can save some money with preheating, but they do tend to alter the taste and consistency of fresh foods. They definitely make popcorn and re-heating hot beverages easy. Plus, more and more foods can be microwaved, so you'll want to factor time into your budget!
Turn It Off
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When you're done cooking and eating, be sure to turn off your electrical devices. Keep small appliances like the toaster, coffee grinder, and phone chargers plugged into one power strip. This will allow you to cut down on vampire power. Electronics that are plugged in, even if they are off, still suck power from the electric grid.
Whatever you decide, cooking at home already saves you more money that eating out.