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Ask the Readers: Tips on shopping and cooking for one?

Today’s question is from Lisa:

I love your site. I was wondering if you or your readers have any ideas about trying to shop/cook for one on a budget? I live by myself and I’m trying to save money and don’t have a ton of time to shop/cook. But I feel like I’m always eating the same things over and over!

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105 Comments

  • Jen says:

    How about freezer cooking once a month. You can make the larger size casseroles, soups, etc. then freeze them in single serving containers. Make a few different ones then you can have a variety all month long.

  • Susan says:

    Hi Lisa,

    I’m single and cook for only myself. I go ahead and make full recipes of things and then portion them out and either have them for lunches at work that week, or stock up my freezer to have portions for coming weeks. About a year ago, I did a freezer cooking weekend and made probably 5-6 recipes (some of which I doubled). And that 1 weekend of cooking gave me enough meals to not have to cook again for 3 months. I had plenty already made to grab & go in the mornings so I wasn’t spending $8-$10/day on lunches (in downtown Chicago) and had lots of choices for my dinners. This also saved me almost $200+ because I didn’t have to grocery shop for more than fresh produce, milk & bread for those 3 months either.

  • julia says:

    My single sister still makes a variety of full-size meals and invested in freezerware. She portions the food and can just defrost enough for a meal the night before or brings the meal to work for lunch. She can pair it with a salad and a piece of fruit. Another option is to trade cooking with other single friends. Again, you are responsible for fruit and salad, but you get a variety of meals with the investment of cooking once a week. I do the same thing with my meals (so my husband and kids have a variety of lunches) and trade meal-making with friends, but we actually eat at each others’ houses.

  • Kristen says:

    When my husband is deployed for six months, I enjoy the opportunity to change my shopping/cooking habits. I still make big batches of soup, but I freeze a lot of it in individual portions, to have ready for meals when I’m busy, and to keep me from eating the same soup all week. After a few weeks, I’ve got a good variety in the freezer. I also like to chop all my veggies up right away, and stow them in the fridge, so I can throw a quick stirfry together whenever I’m hungry. I vary the vegetables so it’s not always the same, and I keep several bottles of sauces to change up the flavor. I make 2 cups of rice in the rice cooker, and keep that in the fridge too, to have ready for the stirfry.
    Then, I make a big batch of hearty cookies, like an oatmeal & nut cookie. I freeze those too, so they last, and they are filling and comforting when I need something to eat but don’t have time or energy for a meal.
    I always miss my husband when he’s gone, but I love the simplified cooking and eating. I love seeing my dollar stretch at the grocery store too!

    • Denise C. says:

      I was wondering, when you freeze your soups, do they taste the same after you’ve pulled them from the freezer? Do you defrost them in the fridge or just warm them up in a pot? Thanks! 🙂

      • Kristen says:

        I can’t taste a difference. My husband says he can when it’s a recipe that I’ve pureed cashews into (the vegan way of making it creamy). I really can’t tell a difference though.
        I usually take them out the morning I’m going to use it, and let it defrost it in the fridge. Then I reheat in the microwave.

      • WilliamB says:

        I think you’d be able to tell with delicate soups – egg drop, Greek lemon soup – but not most of them.

        I have been making and freezing soup for more years than I care to count. Defrosting the fridge and microwaving both work well; when warming in a pot, don’t use high heat, lest you scortch the liquid bits before it all defrosts.

  • There is no doubt that buying in bulk is, more often than not, both a time and money saver. However, if you live alone, you don’t save any money if you end up throwing away 80% of the bulk package because it went bad. I have 2 suggestions. First, cook in bulk. Make several servings of a variety of meals and freeze them. My second suggestion, ties into the first. Get a group of friends/family members together who also live alone or have small families. Split up the bulk shopping amongst all of you and share the food/products. This will reduce the amount of time you need to shop individually and will still allow you to take advantage of the bulk pricing. Also, you can do this idea with cooking. Each of you prepare 1 or 2 recipes in large batches and swap servings with each other. Then you do not feel like you are eating the same thing every night. You could also do, or do this instead of the bulk cooking, dinner groups. Get 6 other people together and assign each person/family a night of the week. On your assigned night, you make dinner for everyone. You can either deliver the meals to each family, have them pick them up, or have a dinner party right at your house. If you don’t want to do it every day of the week, get 3 friends and do it once a week. Just some thoughts. I hope they help you.

  • CC says:

    I am the incredible edible egg’s #1 fan. They are healthy, have a long (refrigerator) shelf-life and cost next to nothing. When I was living alone, I thought I can’t eat 1 dozen eggs by myself! But hard boiling them makes them easy to transport and even extends their shelf-life! Here’s my recipe for The Perfect Hard Boiled Egg – http://tinyurl.com/4ye7rae

    Try them out – they’re “eggs-ellent”! (Sorry, I just had to!)

    • Andrea says:

      To give you an idea of the shelf-life of a refrigerated egg, it takes close to a month for grocery store eggs to make it from the farm to the store and then they’re still edible for 3 to 4 weeks after that.

    • Rachel says:

      If you have access to fresh farm eggs so much the better. As long as they aren’t washed you can even keep them unrefrigerated for a time. Ask when you buy them from the farmer if they are. I’m blessed to live on a farm and have tons of eggs! But I’m also single and trying to make ends meet so every little bit helps.

  • Lesley says:

    As the others have mentioned, I too cook a full meal and will freeze a portion and save some for lunch throughout the week. By eating leftovers and saving meals for weeks to come, I was able to survive on just $30-$50 a week! And I’m vegan, which isn’t always cheap if you want specialty items. Crazy, right? I know some people like to cook several meals all one day, which I have tried before. I really enjoy cooking and have the time, so I have never personally done this. Good luck!

    • Kristen says:

      Hey Lesley, I’m vegan too! Do you have any favorite recipes that work well with freezing? I’m always on the lookout for more. 🙂 Do you have a blog?

      • Lesley says:

        I freeze lasganas, egg plant parm, soups, my vegan stroganoff, gulash, just about everything. I’m in the process of working on my new blog, The Mortician’s Wife. I will be posting my recipes there as soon as its up and running, but I’d be happy to share them with you anytime you like. http://morticianswife.blogspot.com

        Its good to know I’m not the only vegan looking to same money on here! =D

    • Amanda says:

      I am vegetarian (not vegan because I love milk too much!), so there are a few of us oddballs on here… I was wondering if you have any tried and true veg “meatball” recipes? I attempted one with rice, but it was very, very dry. I hate wasting money “trying” recipes, only to have to throw them away because no one will eat it, ever. Speaking of veg meatballs, have you tried purchased frozen eggplant meatballs (I usually see them at Whole Foods)? I would love to hear if anyone loves them before I spend the money; they aren’t exactly cheap. Thank you…

      • Kristen says:

        I haven’t tried either. I was never a big meatball fan before, so it’s not something I’ve considered. I look forward to what Lesley says though. And I hear you on ‘trying’ recipes and wasting money when it’s a flop.

        • Amanda says:

          I haven’t really ever had meatballs; I’ve been a vegetarian nearly my entire life, so the “real” meatballs never got eaten. They just look so convenient, so I’d like to try them…

      • Lesley says:

        I have not personally tried the eggplant meatballs. I just started eating eggplant (I hated it as a child), but I will make sure to try them when I visit Whole Foods next time.

        I actually use veggie meatballs quite often. The biggest hit is my vegan Swedish meatballs. My mother’s side of the family is Swedish and I grew up eating Swedish foods around the holidays. I was disappointed when I could no longer partake in the tradition, so I veganized it. I find that baking the veggie meatballs in the oven first keeps them from falling apart. I know when I first cooked with them, I made a million mistakes. The first try I cooked them straight in the sauce. Bad idea. They crumbled apart. The second time I cooked them only in the oven, until nice and crispy (like the box/bag says) and they were dry. The best method is definitely cooking them until slightly crispy on the outside (this gives them some strength) and then cooking for about 5 minutes in the sauce. This helps keep them moist. If the recipe doesn’t call of a sauce, try making a marinade with similar flavors of the dish. I served this dish at a potluck full of hunters and meat eaters and it was a huge success.

        I have also cooked veggie meatball subs using the same method: cook in the oven then soak in the sauce.

        I hope this helps! I know how you feel about “trying” recipes. I have had numerous flops that wasted several bags of veggie meats. I hate it, but its a learning experience. I made a vegan meatloaf once that took two bags of veggie crumbles and it was a complete mess.

      • dani says:

        For frozen veg meatballs, I like the brand Nate’s. There are a couple of different flavors or varieties to suit what you’re cooking. They’re pretty good, IMO, and sometimes on sale/coupons. I’ve not yet tried to make my own veg balls. (I have a nut allergy, so that complicates a lot of vegan recipes for me.)

        • Katie says:

          Yay! This is an exciting thread! Our family has just gone vegan (AND gluten free!!) for my husbands health and it’s really hard adjust this to fit my freezer cooking / eat from scratch lifestyle! I’m struggling but looking forward to hearing more from y’all!

          • I’m allergic to dairy and gluten – and I don’t like soy! – so my meal planning is pretty complicated too. I bought a few cookbooks from Borders on vegan cooking, and one on vegan substitutions when Borders was closing and had mega sales. I’m getting used to cooking without gluten, so it’s more or less a game of “which ingredient am I switching this time?” to find things I can eat.

            I think we should start a support group: “coupon loving budgeters with vegan/gluten-free diets.” 😉

          • Amanda says:

            I wholeheartedly agree that it is SO nice to find other people who have similar eating habits… sometimes I feel like I am so alone in trying to find “good” recipes. It’d be so nice to call up a friend and ask if they have any recipes to share, but all the people I know are meat-eaters (except for one, but she doesn’t cook)!

        • Amanda says:

          Thank you for the reccomendation. I’ve been a vegetarian for as long as I can remember (my mother claims that I ate meat at a very young age…), but I’ve always preferred to swap beans for meat, rather than replace it with a “fake” meat. Never was a big fan of soy… But sometimes, it’d be nice to have “chicken” nuggets, etc., along with everyone else. I am afraid to try the “fake” versions from the store, so I appreciate getting other opinions on which brands are better. I tried a “chicken” nugget once, and it tasted fine, but the texture gave me the heebie-jeebies. When I’d take a bite, it was almost like I could see little “fuzzies” around the edge of the spot where I’d bitten… it’s hard to describe. This may be unrealistic, but I am wondering if there are “chicken” nuggets that are more similar in texture to “real” meat… not that I would know what “real” meat tastes like, but I suppose I mean in visual appeal. I have a VERY weak stomach, which is ridiculous, but unfortunately a fact of my life. Thanks again for the recommendation; any more for other types of “meat” would be welcome by me. I think I will try the Nate’s!

          And here is my two cents, in case it is helpful to anyone else: As I said, I am not a huge fan of soy… so the veggie crumbles aren’t so appealing to me. But… I tried the Quorn brand of veggie crumbles, and I actually like them. They are made of a mushroom protein, I think, so, they are different than soy. I sincerely doubt the texture would compare to real hamburger, but I have subsituted the Quorn crumbles in recipes at home, and none of the meat eaters in our house complained. The crumbles absorb the flavor of whatever you are cooking.

          • dani says:

            I’m actually not a huge fan of the fake meat products either. I definitely hesitate to spend the money to try something I’ve never had. But, for “chicken” nuggets, I like Health is Wealth “chicken-free chicken nuggets” and some of the Gardein products (although both brands do have soy protein in them). Also, the only fake meat sandwich slices I will eat are Tofurky. Other ones just have some weird texture or something I can’t get past.

      • Angela says:

        This recipe is a vegetarian (and low-carb) meatball substitute, but not a “fake” meatball. The butter and sage topping is great, but I really like to finish it in the oven with marinara and a sprinkling of parmesan. Really delicious, and you could play with the garlic and other seasonings.
        http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/recipes/debi-mazar-and-gabriele-corcos/spinach-and-ricotta-gnocchi-recipe/index.html
        (Love the show Extra Virgin.)

      • Angie says:

        I am not a vegetarian, but my Dad has been almost all of my life and I grew up eating that way most of the time.

        A huge hit in my house as a kid were cheese balls. Needless to say they weren’t exactly low fat, but they were great with spaghetti.

        I don’t have my Mom’s recipe, but they were basically like meatballs, except the ground beef was replaced with a mix of shredded mozzarella and cheddar cheese. My Mom would mix the shredded cheese with Italian seasoned breadcrumbs, and an egg, and form into balls. Then she would coat the cheese balls in an egg or perhaps an egg / water mixture and more breadcrumbs and then fry in oil.

        I don’t know if the recipe would work in the oven. They sure were bad for you. One of those vegetarian recipes that is defiantly not healthier than the meat version. But they were delicious!

  • Freezer + microwave. When I’m cooking for just me I’ll microwave a frozen raw fish filet (it only takes about two minutes on high) and frozen veggies, douse with olive oil, salt and pepper, and I’m done. Raw fish microwaves well, but cooked-and-frozen chicken or other meats defrost really well at half power. I can have a healthy meal in less than 5 minutes, just for me.

  • Kerry says:

    Cooking for one is definitely one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do lately! I have a large family—a husband, 2 little boys, a toddler and a baby on the way. My husband was recently deployed, the 2 little boys went to live with their bio mama for the year which leaves two little girls! I want my toddler to continue to enjoy different foods, but I definitely don’t want the effort! Also, with baby on the way, I knew I was going to need some fantastic things to whip up on short order that were nutritious and quick as I’m sure I won’t be wanting to cook 5 star dinners right away.

    One night I planned to have lasagna. Lasagna is not exactly minimal effort—but I cooked it, we ate it and I cut up the rest of the pan into same sized chunks, wrapped it in wax paper and placed the little pieces into a freezer gallon sized bag. Now I have at least 5 dinners for me and a little girl, ready to go.

    Another idea I tried is cooking meatballs on a tray in the oven and freezing them in a gallon sized freezer bag. Now I can make just the amount of spaghetti I want, taking out just the number of meatballs I want…….without having to eat Spaghetti and meatballs for a week! I know you could just buy the meatballs in the bag—but they don’t taste the same, and frankly I think it’s cheaper to just make them yourself. Also—-I like to know what I’m eating and what’s in it!

    Here’s another idea—came out delicious! Miniature meatloafs! Prepare your meatloaf recipe the same as always, except instead of a loaf pan use muffin tins! You guessed it, have it for dinner one night and then freeze the rest! For us it made 5 meals—for you it may make more since it’s just for one!

    Would love to hear others ideas here too! 😀

    • Susan says:

      Kerry, I too used to think that lasagna was not exactly minimal effort, but then I learned that you do not have to pre-cook the noodles. Oh my — being able to omit that step makes it SO much easier to make lasagna. Just be sure to:

      1. Add a little water to your sauce — approx. 1/2 to 1/3 cup for an 8×8″ pan or approx. 1/2 to 2/3 cup for an 9×13″ pan. I just eyeball it. The extra water will get absorbed by the uncooked noodles during baking.

      2. Make sure your bottom layer is sauce, not noodles. You want the noodles to be completely surrounded by sauce so that they will get soft. If they touch the bottom of the pan or stick up above the toppings, they’ll be crunchy. I don’t worry about the noodles touching the sides of the pan. As long as the noodles have sauce and stuff on top and bottom, the sides will take care of themselves.

      3. After the bottom layer of sauce, layer with dry lasagne noodles and your choice of sauce, meat, cheeses, veggies, etc. Again, just be sure the top of the dish is all cheese, sauce, etc, with no dry noodle showing. I like to spread ricotta cheese into the dry noodles, like buttering toast.

      4. Bake as usual.

      5. Eat and enjoy!

      • Diane says:

        Lately I have taken a lasagna recipe and just used a penne pasta and made a casserole rather than worrying about all the layers. It tastes the same although lacks the “company appeal” but if I were just cooking for myself it is not a problem.

        • WilliamB says:

          I have a similar recipe: pasta in a tomato-ricotta-cottage cheese-mozz sauce. I often boost the health quotient by cooking lentils in the tomato sauce till they dissolve.

      • Heather says:

        They sell lasagna noodles now that are “no-boil”. Martin’s even has a store brand version so they are reasonably priced.

      • Angie says:

        I buy the no cook lasagna noodles, but I still find lasagna a lot of effort because of the layering. I’m lazy.

  • Allison says:

    Cook your favorite recipes to feed 4 or more people and freeze them for later. If you do this for a week, you will have 7 different meals to eat through out the month. Also you don’t always have to eat the same thing, the same way twice. If you make chili use the additional meals in chili mac, burritos, chili dogs, etc. You can do the same thing with taco meat (I usually stretch this with beans), it can be used in tacos, burritos, enchiladas, taco salads, you can even use it as a filler in Mexican style soups.

    Another thing I like to do is called meal dumps, which basically means you take the ingredients and dump them in a bag, freeze it and cook it later, any of such recipe could easily be cut down into 1 meal sized portions and frozen to eat later. I usually use pork or chicken and one of my favorites is lemon juice, herbs (basil, Italian seasons whatever sounds good), garlic, and salt and pepper mix in bag in a portion that you would eat in 1-2 sittings and freeze it. Lime, Cilantro, garlic, salt and pepper or pineapple, ginger, garlic and brown sugar are both good combinations. With these you can cook them anyway you would like. On the stove, oven, grill, whatever sounds good or is easiest for you at the time.

    On saving money, buy anything that will keep and you will use before it goes bad in bulk, buy everything else either locally or at aldi’s. A lot of veggies and fruits will freeze so you could buy them when they are cheapest and freeze (or can) what you wont use right away. If you have friends who have larger families, if you feel comfortable, ask them if they could split a bulk case of meat with you or spare a few cups of flour at the cost that they bought it at, you would be surprised at how much that can add up, and how willing a lot of people are to help out. My friends and I let each other know if we are going to do any big purchases and will often split it so that we are all saving money.

  • Lee says:

    Although I am far from my single and alone days, the freezer was my best friend back then. I would set up casseroles to bake and just put 1 recipe in 2 containers. I would make a meal and freeze half. Buy chicken breast and stick them in single servings with marinades so you can pull one out and eat one. Soup can be frozen and ready to go. Make a batch of pizza dough and put half of it in the freezer and make a single serve pizza.

  • Amanda says:

    I agree with most everyone. Cost normal sizes and then freeze!

  • AnneJisca says:

    A few years ago, I lived on my own for 4mths. I had barely any money (doing volunteer work), and had to eat cheaply! I worked long hours and couldn’t cook every day. My first 2 Saturdays, I baked a batch of bread that I sliced then froze (easy to take 1-2 slices out at a time), and I made several meals using the oven, stovetop and crockpot. I divided those meals into freezer ziploc bags and froze them. Every morning before work, I would take a bag out and put it in the fridge. By the time I got home, it was thawed out, or almost! I microwaved it and had a healthy, cheap, and homemade meal. 🙂 I had enough meals to basically last me the whole time, yet enough variety to not be sick of any of the meals.

  • Twinkleblazzer says:

    Always cook for 2 (or more) then freeze one serving for later. You’ll always have meals on hand for days you don’t have time to cook, or just plain don’t want to cook…and you won’t turn to snacking instead of eating a good meal. I actually cook for 4 and usually eat the same thing for 2 nights in a row, then freeze the rest. Best if you freeze them in individual size containers or plastic bags.

  • elsa says:

    When you go grocery shopping make sure to prep all your veggies right away. Chop, dice, mince what ever you want and place some in your fridge for that week and freeze the rest for later in the month. I buy frozen chicken breast on sale and many times cook 3 at a time to use later in the week so I don’t have to cook often. I also cook bulk brown rice and freeze for later. Most of the things I cook I will freeze for later use, it just saves time and money and nothing goes to waste. For fruit that is starting to over ripe I’ll use in a fruit salad with a little lime juice or i’ll chop up and place in the freezer for smoothies. Grocery shop just once a week will save you alot of time too. Just look over all the flyers from your grocery stores that come in the mail each week and write down all the loss leaders(usually in the front of the flyer) and anything else that is a great deal, takes only 15mins. My husband and I also stretch our meat by adding lots of fruits and veggies that are in season and using whole grains to complement any meal. Also try planning your meals for the whole week, knowing what you are going to eat will allow you to just shop once that week, do the prep work in a day and you’ll have easy meals already planned. I also recommend allrecipes.com great resource when you have ingredients you don’t know how to use, just write what you have on hand and let the site find easy new recipes for you to try and you won’t get bored with your food!

    • Amanda says:

      What veggies can you put directly in the freezer? I’ve heard that most need to be blanched, or they don’t freeze/thaw well…

      • elsa says:

        Most veggies can be frozen without blanching, I put green/red bell peppers, broccoli and corn. You do need to blanch some veggies like asparagus and green beans for a few minutes and place in a cold bath right after. Some veggies like zucchini don’t thaw well, but I still freeze this and use it up in soups and meat loaf where the texture of the veggie doesn’t really matter.

      • Andrea says:

        If you are going to use them within a month, most veggies don’t need to be blanched. However, if you plan to keep them in the freezer longer than that, they will keep their color and firmness longer if they are blanched. (Personally, I don’t blanch anything other than tomatoes, and that’s really just to remove the skins.)

  • Sena says:

    I recommend preparing chicken breasts in a marinade in their own individual freezer bags so that when you feel like chicken teriyaki for example, you can pull out one from the freezer that has 1 chicken breast + marinade. It thaws/marinades in the fridge then what I do is put it into a very small oval Corningware dish I have that fits in our toaster oven. This way you can still buy the larger packages of chicken breasts, make up a batch of marinade, and still have individual portions. Using the toaster oven instead of the oven saves $ too! I have also done this with burritos, making a large batch and wrapping/freezing individually instead of buying the frozen premade ones.
    I would recommend shopping the bulk aisle, because you can buy small amounts of a variety of things so you don’t get bored with eating one type of rice or whatever. Cheaper to try new things out like red quinoa or whatever without committing to a bigger package.
    I can’t find one of the blogs I used for recipes, but here are a couple with good ideas.
    Calzones (cheaper to make on your own and you can just bake one at a time!) http://www.mykitchenaddiction.com/2011/01/freezer-friendly-meals-wfmw/
    (Similar teriyaki recipe you can adapt as I mentioned)http://www.makeaheadmealsforbusymoms.com/teriyaki-chicken/

    Good luck!

  • Maegen says:

    One of the fun things I remember about my single days was getting to eat cereal topped with fruit for dinner. 🙂

    If you get tired of eating the same thing, I’d try the idea of planned-overs (someone else made this up; sorry I don’t know whom). For example, on Monday you could make up a big bunch of ground beef and have a simple casserole, or hamburgers. Tuesday you could add some of that beef to jarred sauce for a “fancy,” spaghetti; Wednesday you could do taco; Thursday you could add ketchup to the taco meat and make it sloppy joes…..you get the idea.

    I actually spent a lot on take out when I was on my own because I was younger and didn’t know much about cooking.

    I definitely wish I’d gotten a start on frugal living back then. Good luck!

  • Ashley says:

    I kind of have to disagree with everyone else. Being a full time student and full time employee, there isn’t always time to cut up the veggies or freezer cook or anything like that. My husband and I have off schedules, so it’s hard cooking for one, even if you know you’re going to take some to work in the morning (for me, this is nearly imposbbile, as I leave home, go to school for 4 hours, then immediatley go to work. I can’t find a lunch box that will keep my lunch cold enough for the 4 hours it’s sitting in the 90+ degree car while I’m at school).
    I found that picking up a salad or some nachos from the dollar menu then pairing it with a sandwitch or a can of soup is a great meal to eat while you’re trying to study. When my husband and I have an evening together, I don’t want to waste it by standing in the kitchen for a few hours. We put in a frozen pizza and enjoy each other’s company instead.

    Don’t be afraid to eat things that don’t go well together. I’ve made a breakfast burrito and had some mashed potatoes with it. It’s ok if you have a side salad from Wendy’s with a cheese sandwich you made at home. If it’s only you at home, who’s going to judge??

    I always stock up on frozen pizzas, soups, lunch meat, yogurt, and other things I know I can easily make a meal from when they go on sale. I also keep burrito shells, eggs, cheese, frozen vegetables, bread, and other items on hand so, if I’m in the mood to be creative in the kitchen, I have options.

    Don’t get me wrong, freezer cooking is the way to go. But if I have to choose between freezer cooking and an extra hour of sleep, I’ll probably choose sleep.

    And don’t think that my methods are, in any way, the best way to eat. I always take a multivitiman and, whenever possible, make sure I eat at least some fruits and veggies every day.

    • Heather says:

      Agree. When I was single and working long hours, I didn’t have much energy or time for cooking. I did try to make one casserole or “real” meal on the weekends so I would have some leftovers for the week. Sometimes I would bake a batch of chicken legs or roast a whole chicken and then eat off it all week. If I at least had some meat cooked, I could fill in the rest of the meal with frozen veggies, etc., and I was less tempted to hit up the drive-thru on my way home. I did microwaved baked potatoes with some grated cheese on top a lot. Not as good as in the oven, but I hated to have the whole oven on for an hour just for one potato. I packed my lunch for work, and always ate fruit everyday – that takes no time or energy to prep.

      • Lauralli says:

        You CAN make a potato in the microwave taste just like it was cooked in the oven! Just wash your potato, poke several holes in it and place in a microwave safe dish. Add about 1/2 inch of water and cover top tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on high power about 4 mins., then turn potato over and cook an additional 3-4 minutes. Depends on size of potato and microwave wattage.

      • WilliamB says:

        You can also nuke the taters for 10 min, then finish in the oven. Speed up the oven part even more by sticking something metal (very long nail, metal kebab skewer, etc) along the tater’s long axis.

    • Koree says:

      Agreed, stay at home moms have the luxury of being home a lot with time to chop and mince. I am always studying, going to school, or working. Luckily my second job is at a restaurant and I can get half off a nice meal after my dinner shifts.

      • To be fair- us stay-at-home Mom’s do not have the “luxury” of cooking all day either.

        I am always, cleaning, nursing a baby, changing diapers, entertaining toddlers…it is a lot of hard work and we have to be smart with our time too. We have to plan ahead to find time to prepare meals just like everyone else.

        I understand your point- but I just wanted to provide some insight. When I worked 3 jobs and getting my Master’s degree (working outside of the home with no children), I had WAY more time to prepare meals than I ever do now staying at home.

        • Meredith says:

          Thank you. I had written a reply to the person above and it just wasn’t as nice as yours so I deleted it. Using the word luxury and stay at home mom in the same sentence just isn’t fair. I do dice and chop a lot but it’s not because I have the time, it’s because I can’t grab takeout or buy prepared foods. We just don’t have the money because I don’t make any! I too used to work two jobs and go to college and i cooked gourmet for my husband during that time (and I had a 4.0 gpa). Now we are lucky to get a casserole!

        • Susan says:

          This is one of those topics that is very individual. When I was single, working full time, and going to college full time, I had much less free time. When I got home at night, the last thing I wanted to do was cook. I didn’t have the time nor the energy.

          Now I’m a single working mom, and I find cooking to be a lot more doable. Part of the reason is simply because I am home more, and when I am home, my time is my own to do with as I choose. Yes, parenting and household chores takes time and energy and I still come home tired many nights, but preparing healthy meals for us is a priority to me, so I make time for it. We all find the time for the things that are most important to us.

          An added bonus, I’ve found, is that my daughter and I enjoy cooking together. If I was home more we would do it more often. But as it is, we cook on the weekends so that during the busy work/school week we have foods on hand that need just a quick heating up.

          • Rachael says:

            I’m a teacher so I live in both worlds (stay at home mom in the summer, working outside the home during the school year). Both jobs are extremely busy, and definately one not easier than the other.

            The one benefit of being at home, however, is it is easier to put a “real” dinner in the oven. It is hard when you don’t get home until 5 or 6 to cook meals like meatloaf, which is something I made all the time when I was home. I’ve started to do more freezer cooking and more convenience cooking now that I’m back at school. And have enlisted my husband’s assistance with meal preps much more.

        • CW says:

          I totally understand that being a stay-at-home mom is NOT an easy job…I don’t have children but I can imagine that your days get pretty hectic. It seems like one would be able to get a meal started in the kitchen though, and do other things while it’s cooking. I, on the other hand, who work two jobs and go to school, am home literally two hours of the day that I am not sleeping. This is usually used for showering and laundry. If you’re never home, there is no time to cook.

  • Casey says:

    Ditto on the freezing. I make a huge pot of soup and portion into individual containers and freeze, then thaw over night (or up to a full 24 hours) in the fridge, microwave and enjoy. Plus if you do a couple different recipes and freeze individual portions, you can pull a different 1 out each day, so not eatting the same thing EVERY DAY. Been there done that. BORING!! Definitely make a couple things, then rotate. Depending what you make, doesn’t need to be frozen, some stuff keeps okay in fridge for up to a week. 1 sunday make 2 full (4 pers0n) meals and you have 8 meals for yourself. Eat 1 every other day and you are set for a week.

  • Casey says:

    Note on fruits, I love cantaloupe, but I can never eat a whole 1 myself. I cut the whole thing up and take (at least) half and freeze in cubes to make a yogurt smoothie later. I also do this with bananas. They come in a bunch of like 4 or 5. If I don’t eat them all in time, I freeze the last couple for smoothies.

    Similarly with veggies, buy a whole head of broccoli or cauliflower and eat half or so raw (in salad, with dip) then freeze the rest for soup or something later.

    • Lana says:

      Cantaloupes keep amazingly well if you cut wedges out of it and leave the seeds in the rest of it, keep it with plastic wrap against the cut part in the fridge. I am allergic to cantaloupe and hubby eats it alone since we are empty nesters. It will keep for a good week that way.

      Take your bananas apart and lay them out singly on the counter and they don’t ripen as fast. I am the only one who eats bananas and I don’t like them mushy!

    • Heather says:

      I often break up the bunches of bananas to get just how many I want. (Not the prepackaged kind) Hope that’s not bad etiquette!

      • LOL Heather! My kids always see the lone bananas at the grocery store and say a small family must have bought the rest of the bunch. Sometimes I will buy up all the lone bananas since we eat them up so fast anyway! 😉

  • Katie R says:

    I am a huge fan of allrecipes.com. They have a feature whereyou can scale down a recipe to one or two servings. I almost always double when cooking for one so I can enjoy a cheap, easy lunch the next day.

  • WilliamB says:

    In addition the excellent suggestions – freeze portions for later, swap with a friend – think of recipes in sequence. The following example starts with one whole chicken and draws on 4-5 different cuisines.
    – Roast chicken, then
    – Chicken taco salad with some of the cooked meat, then
    – Chinese red cooked chicken (simmer more of the cooked chix in the sauce, on very low heat), then
    – Chix salad (the type made with mayo) if you have more meat left, then
    – Chicken soup, then
    – Pot Pie if you have any leftover chix soup or meat

    It’s easier to cook in sequence if you stick to one cuisine but I wanted to show that you can vary it a lot.

    • I love this idea and it works well if you do not like leftovers.

      Re-purposing one main ingredient into different kinds of meals makes it feel “new” and not like leftovers

    • Betty says:

      If you do not wish to make chicken all week long freeze the meat leftovers. Those little chunks come in handy to throw in your pasta, combine for a casserole, make soup or chili with.

  • Erin says:

    When I was single and cooking for one, I lived on $15 a week for groceries and did it by keeping things simple. For breakfast I had oatmeal & milk, lunches were pb&J and some applesauce, and then I would pick three dinners and eat leftovers two or three times (the other dinners were dates or out with friends). They would be really simple dinners like a can of soup and a roll from the bakery or sphegetti and then maybe I would actually cook for the other meal but it was usually something that required little effort like marinated chicken cooked in the crock pot and some rice.

  • Met and Vegis…easy to cook small portions of meat. Make a tray of vegis (broccoli, cali and sweet potato chunks) for the week and add different toppings for variety. Cheddar cheese one day, ranch the next.

    I shop the farmers market and so we have vegis and meat for dinner. So much easier than preparing recipes. I also make a dozen muffins each week. Here’s my recipe for healthy great tasting muffins that are full of protein and not full of sugar. Gluten free too.

    http://thesummerhouse.blogspot.com/2011/09/gluten-free-lemon-zucchini-muffins.html

    All the best,
    Jana

  • Right now, it’s just me and my husband and I find it can be hard even cooking for two! I’d echo what a lot of others have suggested: Make the freezer your best friend! You can really store a lot of extra supplies, veggies, baked items there to use later. I do this with a lot of my peppers, onions, herbs, etc. You can avoid being wasteful!

    I had a reader email me the same kind of question a couple months ago, and I encouraged her to set small cooking goals, for example trying one new recipe a week. Experimenting with cooking can feel daunting if you let it, but any progress is worthwhile. Don’t let it overwhlem you! (Here is a link to the post I made answering that reader, if you’re interested: http://lifeblessons.blogspot.com/2011/03/your-questions-answered-encouragement.html )

    Happy cooking 🙂

  • Dina says:

    Not sure if this was touched on yet, so much advice already!

    I cook for myself, but make more for leftovers for work to keep my costs down.

    I LOVE the crockpot. I can leave it on while i attend to other things. A good idea is to put chicken and salsa in the crockpot for 3 hours. You can add corn and black beans(or really whatever you like) in the crock pot.

    Then, shread the chicken when its done. BAM- you got a filling for burritos and tacos, on nachos etc etc. I also very much enjoy it on rice with avacado!

    fast, cheap, easy and delicious.

    I also make the nacho chips from tortillas. just cut them up, put olive oil and salt and throw in the oven.

    Since im cooking for one, my toritillas usually go bad before i can eat them and it saves me $$.. esp when i can get tortillas for less than $2 and use it various ways.

    Hope that helps!!

  • Linda B. says:

    I recommend checking out the blog collegecookingcrashcourse.blogspot.com by the frugal scholar. She and her just-out-of-college son came up with a whole bunch of easy, economical recipes that can be made with just a microwave and a rice cooker. They are all made to serve 1-2 people and are generally made from pantry or freezer ingredients.

    • Thanks for the mention. I’m revving up the blog again now that my daughter has returned to dorm life without a meal plan. I would welcome questions on my blog–happy to provide cooking ideas. My son and I also put together a little ebook of simple recipes–enough for a few weeks.

  • Chris M says:

    When I was single I used to go ahead and cook the full portions, then freeze the leftovers for yummy lunches & dinners already cooked!

  • Megan says:

    Depending on how frugal you want to get maybe you could look into a service like Dream Dinners where you go and prep several meals to keep in your freezer. When my husband was deployed this was a nice way to get variety without having to buy a ton of ingredients that I couldnt use before they went bad. And I also loved breakfast for dinner, simple lunches, quiches, and lots of salad fixings on hand. I usually made a casserole or lasagna and ate it for lunch everyday, had cereal or oatmeal for breakfast, and kept dinner my “fun” meal.

  • Jen says:

    Just make sure you know your own personal needs and obstacles. For instance, when I was living on my own I was in grad school and often busy. I’d buy a large pack of meat for instance, intending to do a big batch of stew, but then I’d be busy with homework or would get invited to an event with friends…and maybe I’d end up cooking a tiny bit for dinner one night but the rest of the meat would go bad. I discovered it was actually much better for me to buy and cook smaller quantities of dishes. If I was feeling ambitious I’d cook maybe 3-4 portions of a dish, maybe put one portion in the freezer if appropriate and the rest in the fridge. I could usually get 2-3 meals out of a dish, which didn’t seem as overwhelming as getting 10 meals out of it (I’d always get sick of it by the end). But normally the “real” cooking was saved for weekends when I had time and energy. Most nights, I ate lots of simple food like eggs (egg burritos, scrambled eggs with veg and meat mixed in, egg salad, fried eggs on just about anything…I was a master of all things egg!), pancakes, sandwiches, oatmeal, leftovers, and yes some frozen convenience foods. I didn’t worry about impressing anyone or having a perfectly composed meal. If it sounded good, I’d eat it! In that way, eating alone gives you much more flexibility.

  • tammy says:

    There’s a magazine put out by Martha Stewart Living called Food. I’m not sure if it still does, but they used to have a section called “Recipes for One” that were also available on the website. If you want the actual mag, I used to find deals online where I got it for about $.50/issue.

  • tammy says:

    Hit enter too soon. 🙂

    The recipes also had suggestions for freezing these meals in individual portions. They were also healthy things that could be made for a good price. I actually just multiplied the recipes that interested me for our family.

  • jodes says:

    I also live alone. I’ve found that most crockpot recipes freeze really well. Once a week I make a big portion of something. I’ll freeze seven or eight servings. Right now I’ve got five or six different entrees in the freezer. It works well for me. (especially since I don’t have a stove or oven. The reheat easy in the microwave. So much better than lean cuisine.)

  • Koree says:

    thanks for asking this question lisa. i often eat the same thing or just go to bed hungry after staring vaguely into the fridge. i struggle to find things i like b/c i really don’t enjoy the flavor of meat. it’s often salad or pb and j. i used to cook more, but now that school is back in session and i’m working two jobs it’s a blessing even to get to the grocery store.

  • LeaDawn says:

    We also use the freezer a lot. There are 2 of us, but I still find it easier to cook a meal for 4 – 6 and then freeze the left overs or have left overs for lunch. Here are a few things that I do to cut back on preparation time and prevent left overs from going bad:

    Menu Plan – If I am going to open a can of spaghetti sauce for one meal, I plan another meal that will also use the sauce later in the week, because I know we will not use the whole thing.

    Freeze rolls – I have several recipes for rolls that I love, but we don’t eat the whole recipe before they go bad. I make the dough and form the rolls, then freeze them. I can then pull out 5 or 6 at a time and thaw and cook them. I like them best fresh anyway.

    Freeze muffins – This is one of my favorite things to freeze. I can make a double batch of pumpkin or zucchini muffins and freeze them. Then we just pull out one or two at a time for a snack.

    Let me know if you want any freezer recipes. I have a few that we have found and really like.

  • Rhonda R. says:

    When I was a single gal, I would freeze all bread items (loaves of bread, sandwich buns, hot dog buns, etc). I would only take out what I needed to use the next day. Because of this, one package of each would last me a couple of weeks. Because I was “lazy single” & it was too easy to just eat something I could grab, I would wash and cut up an entire head of lettuce on Sunday & put it in a tupperware bowl; and cut up any other veggies I may want on salads. If I had fruit that would need to be cut up, I would do it as well. I noticed if all I had to do was quickly put these items in a bowl, I was more likely to eat it. I ate heathier that way & didn’t waste food. If kept in airtight containers, most items easily lasted a week.

    The other way to save as a single it to watch for coupons or buy an Entertainment guide. I would use the buy an entree, get an entree free (buy two different entrees) coupons at nice restaurants and could make 3-4 meals out of the two, since most restaurants give huge portions. There were times it was cheaper to buy from restaurants than it was to make it myself.

  • Lurkerlaine says:

    Just a little idea I use for myself.

    I like to buy the little tiny cans of tomato sauce that are 25 – 50 cents instead of the regular spaghetti sauces. When I open a can I add the spices like myself. I like sage, oregano, basil, and rosemary. Stir the spices in before you cook it and you have a tasty tomato sauce! I use this for pizzas, pasta, & breadsticks.

  • Lisa says:

    wow, my name’s Lisa and I seriously could have written that inquiry! I totally learned how to freezer cook when I became single 18 months ago. Here is a blog link about my last freezer cooking day in July, it usually lasts me 3 months at least!
    http://loveofcoupons.blogspot.com/2011/07/freezer-cooking-71911.html

  • My husband travels a lot with work and I am home a lot too. One thing that helps me is to think of food as just refueling. When your whole family is together or you are with your friends, it is an event. But when you are alone- it is just about putting energy into your body.

    Cereal, PB&J’s, salads, cheese quesadillas, rice and veggie bowls, burritos, sandwiches…etc.

    All easy, all cheap, all can fill up your belly.

    I know it sounds a bit depressing- but I find that I save money this way and have time for other activities such as reading or blogging…rather than cooking, cleaning or worrying what I am going to make next. (and it is not depressing to save money and have time for fun things!)

  • Teri says:

    Also think salad bar at your local grocer(usually the more upscale ones). Sometimes, I want something like some small portion of a veggie (celery or green pepper) to add flavor to a serving for 1-2 and it would definitely go bad before I could use the rest. It really is cost effective to buy on the salad bar by the pound for the 2 stalks of celery or 3 slices of bell pepper I need rather than then entire piece. (and it is already chopped 🙂

    Or a couple of tablespoons of a salad dressing to use as marinade to try in a recipe to see if I like it?

  • Karen says:

    Meal planning is key. Buy meats first and taylor the sides around that. Oatmeal and cereal can be inexpensive for breakfast. I love the bulk club for that. Unless of course, you are good at couponing.
    @MSEnthusiast

  • Kristen C says:

    I use a muffin tin to make things in portions. Then I freeze the portions I don’t eat that night. My husband coaches a different sport every season — and because of games/matches/meets, he is only home about 3 or 4 nights a week (coaches eat free at the games, yay!). I make meatloaf, soup, frittata, etc in the muffin tins and then they are portioned just right for me to eat one or two with a salad or veggie. I also freeze some casseroles ahead of time, like lasagna, in two smaller dishes, instead of one large one. Then when I make it, I can eat some that night and we use the rest in lunches that week. If I make sandwich filling: bbq pork, bbq chicken, taco chicken for tacos, etc, we eat it for dinner one night and I freeze the rest in individual baggies to be taken for lunches (or eaten for dinner, solo).

  • Kris says:

    You could buy your meat in bulk (ground beef, chicken, pork, italian sausage, brats,) and cook it all then freeze individual chix breast, 1/2 ground beef, etc. and have them ready to add to the stir fry veggies as someone suggested, add to a salad for lunch, make a quick pasta dish. This would save you time and money.

    Also try some of the campbell and betty crocker recipes from their websites, they are simple, quick, good and you can easy half them, maybe even wuarter but you could probably have enough for your dinner, maybe lunch later in the week and freeze one portion.

    I love the recipes, I personally change them up add this remove that and have used several to make batches of food for friends in need.

    Good luck

  • My husband & sons are so picky that I usually end up making 2 meals.

    I do alot of meatless meals (veggies in pasta, veggies with rice, etc) because they freeze well.

    I have also fallen in love with Ham Steak (not Spam, but the one you find in the meat section) I love ham but no one in my house eats it. I typically melt 2 TBS butter & 2 TBS of brown sugar in a frying pan & then cook the ham steak 2-3 minutes a side. Usually, I throw an ear of corn into the microwave (2 minutes) as well & call it a meal.

  • Mary says:

    When I was single I used to cook every other day. I’d eat the second portion for dinner the following night. So every other day I could just come home and reheat.

    I also bought a small crock pot. The bonus here is that you come home to the smell of something hot and savory filling up your house. (Something that you miss as a singleton).

  • Tara says:

    I also found that when I was single it was much easier to have a menu plan,it will keep you from grabbing takeout. It will in the long run save you lots of money,time,and make you look forward to dinner.Plus a menu helps avoid forgetting your lunch at home,which also saves you money.

  • I cook regular sized meals now, but for a while I was making a single meal for myself while I figured out a food allergy. http://food.com has a ton of single serving recipes, and you can scale regular recipes down to serve one.
    One of my favorites is to bake single several foil packets with fish or chicken and various veggies and spices. You can do a lot of different flavors at once by varying the seasonings and veggies, and then toss them in the freezer.
    If you are looking for variety, I would try new ingredients. I hate eating the same few meals, so at least once a month I either look for recipe for a cuisine we haven’t tried yet, or I buy a new ingredient or spice. If you don’t like it it is only one meal, and if you do you have something new to enjoy 🙂

  • Amy J says:

    While I cook for two in my house, our schedules are so out of whack that we rarely get to eat meals together. I would hit up a thrift store or your favorite department store, and purchase several small (for one or two) casserole dishes. Go ahead and make a full recipe of something, but divide it between several casserole dishes. Cook one, and cover the rest in foil and put them in the freezer. Save those for days when you aren’t going to have the time to cook. When I lived alone, I would make a larger casserole and put the leftovers in individual containers in the freezer, which made it really easy to grab in the morning and pop in my lunchbox!

  • Courtney says:

    I didn’t read all of the comments so someone might have mentioned this. When it was just my DH and I, we found a great cookbook called “Help! My Apartment Has A Kitchen!” by Kevin Mills and his mom, Nancy Mills. It was great for us because most of the recipes were for 2 people instead of the 4-6 in most cookbooks. We have used this cookbook for years and still use it and just scale up the recipes (there are 8 of us now!).

  • Meme says:

    I will make and freeze burritos and eggrolls, waffles pancakes things like that. Then I have nutritous stuff I can heat up quickly. I also take like a couple of chicken breasts early in the week boil them. Then will create several different meals out of them. One night I’ll do homemade chicken nuggets the next a stir fry or fried rice then maybe have a meat free night with just rice or noodles the next I’ll take my leftover chicken nugget batter and chop a small piece of steak or a hot dogs and do fingersteaks/corn dogs. then the following do something like shredded chicken tacos or enchiladas or even eggrolls. Since all of these have a different flavor profile I feel like I am eating something new each night and always have leftovers for the next days lunch or dinner.

  • Kate says:

    I have to disagree with a lot of the buy/cook in bulk comments, especially if you don’t want to eat the same thing all the time. The biggest helper for me is to buy smaller amounts of meat. I buy chicken tenders (WAY cheaper) instead of chicken breast then repackage them in ziploc with 2 or 3 per bag, more than enough for a one person meal. I buy ground beef in 1/3 or 1/2 lb. packages. I get pork tenderloins and chop them into medallions and repackage into 1 person meal bags. I find that one package of each (1 lb tenderloin, 1 pack chicken tenders, 1-2 lbs ground beef) will last me a whole month. If I have company over, I just pull extra out of the freezer.

    I also started using smaller pans and reducing my recipes. I have an 8×8 casserole that I use for burritos. Instead of a big pot of spaghetti, I use a can of italian flavoured tomatoes and add meat, veggies and pasta. I do the same thing for chili. Most meals I make give me enough for dinner and lunch the next day.

    Frozen veggies seem to be easiest too, as I can’t eat most fresh produce fast enough.

  • Andrea says:

    If you need to use the oven for a meal, throw in a couple of baking potatoes with it. They can be cooked at a variety of temps and will keep in the fridge for 4 days or so. Reheat one as a side dish later in the week and then use the other to do a twice-baked potato, hash or a loaded potato (like broccoli-n-cheese or bacon and sour cream).

  • Kay says:

    I have found that it’s helpful to cook plain, large chicken pieces or whole chickens and then use the meat in a variety of meals throughout the week. My family of four can eat lunch with little planning when the meat is already cooked: add salsa and black beans to chicken pieces, roll in a tortilla and LUNCH! It works with so many recipes-anything really that calls for cooked meat or where precooked meat can be substituted.

  • Sarah says:

    In my single days, my George Foreman grill was my best friend. I could cook up individual portions of steak, fish, and chicken all on my grill, and just let the fat drip away while it was cooking (be careful not to overcook, though, or the meat will dry out). I also chopped up onions and bell peppers and froze them, which made meal prep a lot easier. Shredded cheese freezes well, too, although lately it seems a block of cheese isn’t that much cheaper than shredded.

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