Easy and Affordable Meal Planning For Single People

affordable-cooking-for-single-people

Living on your own offers tons of advantages. You can stay up late without disturbing anyone, go wherever you want whenever you have the time, and make your own decisions without needing to consult other people.

Unfortunately, singles have a harder time than large families when it comes to cooking cheap, healthy, made-from-scratch meals. A savvy shopper can save money by buying in bulk, but perishable items spoil quickly when there’s only one person eating them. Many nutritious recipes are intended to serve three or more people, and a group can split kitchen duties.

Because of the difficulties of shopping and cooking for one, many singles find themselves fixing microwave dinners every night or eating out more often than their budget allows. Before you convert your oven into a storage cabinet, however, the following three tips can teach you how to prepare great homemade meals at affordable prices.

1) Make Plans

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Avoid those last-minute trips through the drive-through by mapping out a week’s worth of meals ahead of time. Meal planning might initially seem intimidating, the habit of supermoms and health gurus. However, with a little practice and forethought, even the most amateur cook can work out a basic food schedule.

Track What You Eat

First, track what you eat for several weeks and consider your personal dietary needs. How often do you grab fast food because it’s convenient? Do you enjoy cooking, or do you find it a chore? Does your daily schedule fluctuate, or do you stick to a routine? Would you be content eating leftovers for several days, or do you crave variety?

Take Inventory

list

Next, take inventory of all the dishes in your repertoire, writing down everything you enjoy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Maybe the best you can manage is pasta and tacos, or perhaps you have a few specialties like clam chowder or Asian stir fry. Next to each dish on the list, include the necessary ingredients and some good sides. You can now use this master list to mix-and-match all your meal plans.

Basic Common Ingredients

Next, take inventory of all the dishes in your repertoire, writing down everything you enjoy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Maybe the best you can manage is pasta and tacos, or perhaps you have a few specialties like clam chowder or Asian stir fry. Next to each dish on the list, include the necessary ingredients and some good sides. You can now use this master list to mix-and-match all your meal plans.

2) Shop Smart

Running through the drive-through might seem like a good idea at the time, but the cost of one burger could buy you enough store-bought food to last several days. Even if you do eat at home most of the time, your grocery bill can fluctuate greatly depending on the quantities, brands, and types of food you buy. As you manage your single income budget, learn these tricks for saving money at the market.

Compare Similar Products

Mature man doing grocery shopping

If one brand of potato chips costs $2.99 and a comparable brand costs $3.15, which is the better deal? The answer might not be as obvious as you think. Look at the price tag. In addition to the list price of an item, many stores also include a unit price, so the smaller $2.99 bag of chips might actually be five cents per ounce while the $3.15 deal is four cents per ounce, giving you more for your buck. Train your eyes to look at the unit price, not the list price, and you’ll save in the long run. Along those lines, purchase in bulk any item with a long shelf life, such as salt, flour, sugar, canned goods, cereal, rice, pasta, and sauces. Single portion meals may seem quick and easy, but if you freeze the leftovers from a family-sized dinner, you’ll get a better deal.

Shopping Generic Brands

Generic brands typically have the lowest unit price while tasting just as good as recognized brands; however, realize that for certain foods like raw meat and fresh produce, cheaper may mean lower quality, and it might not be worth saving a few pennies if the second-rate ingredient ruins your dish. Spend a little extra to stock up on quality staples like spices and olive oil, which enhance multiple foods. Additionally, if you need only a tiny portion of an ingredient for a special meal, it’s cheaper to buy the smaller quantity even if the unit price is greater.

Look For Deals and Coupons

Finally, always stay alert for deals and coupons. Most stores send out a circular listing each week’s sales, and if you’re feeling ambitious, you could visit multiple shops in one trip to hunt down the best prices on everything you need. Online coupon sites are a great resource too. If your favorite store offers a free member bonus card, sign up for it. Some of these cards will even reward you with discounts on gas.

3)Get Creative

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Save time and money with creativity in the kitchen. Use the same fresh ingredient in multiple dishes in order to limit the number of items in your shopping cart. For example, you can snack on tortilla chips in the afternoon then crumple them up in black bean soup for supper, eat mashed potatoes one night and shepherd’s pie the next, or invent your own casserole with whatever’s left in the pantry.

Eliminate Wastefulness

If you buy a lot of groceries at one time or live with roommates, food often gets pushed to the back of the fridge until it eventually spoils. If you find yourself buying fresh foods and forgetting to eat them in time, try this easy DIY project: Buy a large dry erase board and use masking tape to create a chart with three columns and as many rows as you want. In the first column, write down the names of recently purchased perishable foods and where they’re located—refrigerator, freezer, or pantry. In the second column, record the purchase dates, and in the third column, copy down the expiration dates. Now, rather than rummaging through drawers and shelves, you can take a quick look at the chart to see if you have any foods you need to use up.

Experiment!

Do you love experimenting in the kitchen? If you find a tasty new recipe intended to serve an entire family, you can simply halve the necessary ingredients. Alternatively, you could invite friends and neighbors over for a large dinner party and send them home with leftovers. A group of single friends could even make this a regular event, with everyone taking turns preparing a family-sized meal to share.

Eat Healthy, Stay Thrifty

Eating healthy while staying thrifty can be difficult when you’re single, as anyone who’s ever opened up the pantry, found nothing, and ordered Chinese takeout can testify. With no one around to keep you accountable or split the grocery bill, it’s tempting to slip into bad nutritional habits. However, by planning out your meals, saving money at the store, and getting creative in the kitchen, you’ll soon be enjoying delicious home-cooked meals.