Frugal Cooking for One
by Reader Contributors
How does cooking for one compare to fast food dollar menus? Cooking is certainly the healthier option, but can it be cheaper? Our readers share tips for frugally cooking for one so you can avoid eating out.
I am an older male, and because of constant price increases at grocery stores, I have started to pay attention to coupon sites, etc. The problem is that even if I buy something on sale, often it may spoil before I can use it. Being a guy, I will admit that I often just want to go to the store and get what I need and be done with it.
Often I have found that eating at Burger King or McDonald’s can save me money when I can get a Double Cheeseburger and a senior Drink for a couple of bucks. Add another dollar for a slice of their apple pie. I know it is not that healthy, but try duplicating that at your local market.
I am not into veggies or fish, and for most of my life, it has always been milk, bread, meat and potatoes with desserts. Am I doomed to a life of fast food?
Just the Way You Like It
The great things about being single are that it’s easy to have leftovers, you have a lot of refrigerator and freezer space, and you don’t have to please anyone else but can eat just what you feel like. That makes frugal cooking for one much easier.
Milk: You may need to get only a half-gallon at a time so it won’t spoil; you may find that different brands last you different amounts of time. For some reason organic seems to last longest. I’ve also heard you can freeze milk, but haven’t tried it and don’t know if it changes the texture.
Bread: Bread lasts much longer in the refrigerator or freezer than on the counter. I’ve heard that a breadbox can help them last longer, too. When frozen, you can either toast the bread or make your sandwiches in the morning, so they will thaw by lunchtime. Or you can move a few slices from the freezer into the refrigerator each time you use up the bread in the refrigerator. You can also buy those ready-to-bake rolls and heat them up as needed for that fresh out-of-the-oven experience.
Meat, Potatoes, and Desserts: It’s so much cheaper to make meals from scratch than to get them from fast-food places, and some things (such as whole grains and decent steak) are virtually impossible to get as fast food. For things that save well, make enough for a whole family and then eat one serving and pack the rest away in one-serving containers. Get recipes and hints from family members or friends or at potlucks. You can put some leftovers in the freezer, but leave one serving in the refrigerator. Heating up leftovers is much faster than going to a fast food place and waiting in line there. And you can make things just the way you like them. (See: 10 Ways to Save on Meat and Poultry.)
Vegetables and Fruit: When you make your own foods, you can mix in vegetables without having to taste them. Grate some zucchini or carrots into stews, spaghetti sauce, or quick breads. Add a can of pumpkin to a batch of chili. Chop up some frozen spinach to add to lasagna or soup. Throw some frozen fruit in the blender with milk and ice cream and a little sugar for a very tasty treat. Have sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes sometimes to get some Vitamin A. (See: 14 Ways to Buy Produce for Less.)
At the very least, buy a 12-pack of soda and a bakery pie at the store (or a bakery!) and bring your double cheeseburgers home to eat.
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Learn to Make Frugal Skillet Meals
I was single and cooked for myself until I turned 34. I remember shopping and looking for the smallest size package instead of the family-sized package.
Then I learned that meat can be divided and frozen in smaller portions. I also bought bags of frozen veggies. Pasta, rice and frozen potatoes (hash browns) were also favorite staples. I learned to make simple one skillet meals from these staples. For some help, look at Hamburger Helper and Skillet Helper one step meals and figure out how to make them with these staples. My favorite appliance was my West Bend 6″ electric skillet.
Cooking for One That’s Fresh, Healthy and Frugal
As a single working professional, I’ve found the most cost effective (and least time intensive) method for saving money on groceries is to tackle shopping and cooking one week at a time. I do all my grocery shopping one day a week at one store that has the overall lowest prices. The same or the next day I’ll cook a week’s worth of breakfast, dinner, and dessert (brown bag lunches are made each night). I don’t have a family to cook for, and I’m quite content to eat the same thing for dinner every day for one week. Besides, I only make my favorites, so I know whatever I cook I’ll enjoy. Breakfasts for me are usually muffins (I make them by the dozen and freeze in bags of four). Dinners consist of favorite entrees (for me vegetarian) that are based around what’s on sale at the store that week, and desserts usually consist of something fruit-based or low fat. (See: How to Read Your Grocery Ad Like an Insider.)
If that doesn’t offer enough variety for you, you could also do the same thing, but expand it to two or even three main dishes each week. It should still involve less cooking, less cleaning, and shopping for fewer ingredients than is required when you have to generate something new and different each day. It’s also much healthier and less expensive than eating out. I’ve been doing this for about three years now (averaging about $35 to $40 a week for groceries), and it’s been nice to be able to eat food I know is fresh, healthy, and frugal.
The Other Side of the Coin
I am an old woman and find it about impossible to cook for one. I, also, end up throwing a lot away. Seems to me that having fast food, sandwiches, and salads is the way to go. There’s no cooking and no mess, and best of all, it’s cheap. My neighbor works at a fast food place, and I have her bring me something to eat every day.
Freezer Meals on the Quick
When I was living single, I didn’t want to sacrifice taste for cheap, fast foods, fearing that the purchases I made would spoil before I had a chance to eat them. When I’d cook, either from scratch using a recipe or even packaged meals, I’d separate out portions into those plastic storage containers with compartments to keep the dishes separate and then freeze them. It saved money, and when there were days I was hungry and needed something fast, I could just pop it into the microwave.
Split with Friends
My friend and I split such things as bags of potatoes, oranges, etc.
Food Storage Advice
Not a recipe suggestion, but rather than save the leftovers in the refrigerator, what I did is buy several of those plastic food containers (like Tupperware) that have 3 sections and lids, and when I cook something, I make my own TV dinners with the leftovers. Then, basically, you are cooking for multiple dinners at once, and what you end up doing is less cooking, less convenience foods and less trash, which are all good end benefits, in time, money, and protecting the environment. You can use the homemade TV dinners for lunches at work (assuming there is a microwave), or when you don’t feel like cooking or whatever.
Some Menu Suggestions
Since I live by myself in a studio and I have a *lot* of stuff, my biggest problem is space, and food is no exception. My eating habits include mainly food that can easily be divided and don’t take much time to cook
- Pasta and sauce (ready-made or you can make your own and freeze it)
- Cereals and toasts (there’s nothing like breakfast for dinner!)
- Sandwiches (with anything you like in them).
- Stir-fried *anything*
- Rice (might want to get a rice cooker, it’s worth it!) and season to taste.
- Canned vegetables (and keep the juice and drink it or use it in soup)
- Make your own desserts (cut the cost and enjoy the taste, and they will last a while!)
- Make your own pizzas out of pita, baguette (take the white out), or any kind of bread, and season to taste
- Make your own salsa and eat it with your favorite cheap tortillas – salsa’s full of great stuff!
Remember that most recipes can be easily divided in two (just divide all ingredients, keep an eye on cooking times).
Reviewed January 2021
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