They say variety is the spice of life, but I live my life literally, and I get my diverse kicks from actual spices, seasonings, and condiments. This is why various jars and squeeze bottles take up half my fridge, but it’s also why I eat at home almost every night.
Beyond simply not having the time, one of the main reasons people don’t cook for themselves is that, unless you are into cooking as a hobby, it can be a bit boring and monotonous. If stocking up on the really good fish sauce makes at-home meals more desirable, it is ultimately self-care, and you should not feel bad about it.
Simply put, condiments make food more fun, and everyone has their favourite, and you deserve the best version of that favourite, even if buying it doesn’t fit into your vision of what a “fiscally responsible adult” would do.
Anything that encourages you to cook and eat at home is a good thing, and if a fancy bottle of imported soy sauce or a jar of locally-made, fermented pickles is going to get you do so, put it in your shopping cart. If buying name brand ketchup brings you joy, then you should get it, even if the generic version is whole dollars cheaper.
The success of a meal plan can only be judged by the percentage of it that’s consumed. It may sound obvious, but the execution of a good meal plan requires planning meals you are excited to eat. Picking the right proteins, vegetables and sides is important, but picking the right condiments — I’m talking sauces, marinades and pickled things — is even more so.
There is nothing wrong with being frugal, but if you don’t make room for joy in your budget (and refrigerator), you will think of eating at home as boring and flavourless, and that will lead to ordering takeout, which is almost always more expensive and/or not as nourishing.
(It is, however, totally fine and normal to order takeout when you need or just want to, but if your goal is to eat at home more, buying condiments you truly love can help with that.)
Am I saying to buy the most expensive version of every condiment you keep stocked in your home? No, that would be excessive, but picking at least one bottle of something truly special means your at-home dining experience will feel more special. (Also, “special” doesn’t always mean “expensive,” but there is a lot of overlap.)
If you find yourself thinking “Oh, I don’t know, 10 bucks for a bottle of this super flavourful apple cider vinegar seems a bit much, even though it will get me to eat salads throughout the week,” do what I do and frame that purchase in terms of cocktails (or some other frivolity that you buy without blinking an eye).
Whenever I’m balking at a “luxury” food item, I ask myself “How many cocktails would this buy?” The answer is usually one. I then ask myself, “How long does that cocktail last?” And the answer is usually “a mere fraction of how long this bottle of fancy vinegar will,” and that puts things in perspective long enough to let me make the purchase without a feeling of guilt looming over my head.
Telling oneself that there is “food at home” is part of being an adult human, but the other side of that coin is that you get to control the food at home. Some of that food might be boring — because nourishment is sometimes boring — but if truly excellent condiments can alleviate that boredom, then buy them. You deserve to be entertained and delighted with your meals, which means you deserve the expensive soy sauce.