Meal-Planning for One on a Budget

1061303Cooking for One? Save time and money on meals for one

Living on your own can present a unique set of challenges, and meal planning for one is no exception. That’s why it’s important to have a plan of attack when it comes to making breakfast, lunch and dinner just for you. When you make pre-planning and batch-cooking a habit, you’ll find that it’s easy to save time, eat better and waste less while keeping more money in your pocket. So check out these tips on meal planning for one and find what works for you.

When cooking for one, work with what you’ve got

Meal planning for one person doesn’t have to mean you’re stuck with leftover spaghetti for five days straight. It’s possible to eat a range of fresh, healthy foods throughout the week – you just have to get a little creative. Consider creating a meal plan for the entire week that allows you to mix and match your main and side dishes to provide more variety in your leftovers. To create your weekly menu, start by “shopping” in your fridge and cabinets. Take inventory of your staple items. Do you have rice, chicken broth, black pepper, canned beans etc., and what can you do with those ingredients? What else would you need to turn them into a meal? It’s common to have leftover ingredients from past meals when cooking for one, so look for ways to incorporate them into a new dish to use them up first. This will help you save money and keep food from spoiling.

Once you know what’s available, you can start planning your weekly meals on a wall calendar or app so you know what to make or reheat each day. A weekly meal plan also helps you stick to your budget and avoid over-shopping. If you really want to be frugal, you can open a new bank account and use its online budgeting tools to estimate and track your food spending.

Shop smarter to find meals for one

When it comes to shopping, there are a couple of strategies that you can use to save money and only get what you need. After you’ve looked over your pantry and fridge and know what you need to make the meals you want, create a list. Then, follow these tips for grocery shopping for one.

  • Shop in smaller portions: This isn’t always easy when items are often packaged for families and the smaller portions are more expensive. But if you have the opportunity to shop with local vendors and buy a single piece of fish or two chicken breasts instead of six, do so. It may mean more trips to the store, but you’ll waste less food. If you are unable to buy smaller portions, you can always freeze what you don’t use, as long as you do so quickly. Likewise, fresh produce is an important part of a healthy diet, but buying too much can result in a lot of wasted food. Buy smaller quantities, or buy food you can freeze to make the most of your fruits and veggies.
  • Find the deals: The best way to start is by looking for sales at local grocery stores. Some people prefer to use coupons from paper flyers, though many grocery stores also advertise their weekly specials online or via smartphone apps. When you’re shopping for deals, try to find proteins, vegetables and starches that complement each other and can be used to make more than one meal. For example, can you make a cauliflower bake that would serve as a side for a baked chicken dish as well as pork chops? Can you use green beans as a side and in a stew? How about putting that leftover asparagus in an omelet?
  • The freezer is your friend: Sometimes it isn’t easy cooking for one and you need to make something up in a batch, like chili, taco meat, or even a whole chicken. In this case, set aside what you’ll use that week in leftovers and put it in the fridge, and then put the rest in the freezer for next week or the week after. This way, you keep variety in your diet without wasting food. Even if you’re not cooking in a batch, you can easily take a package of meat and separate what you need, then freeze the rest raw. This allows for more diversity from a single ingredient.
  • Keep your non-perishables stocked: There are always going to be nights when you just don’t feel like cooking. Avoid eating out by keeping some quick fixes on hand, like canned soup, macaroni and cheese, frozen meals and even just pasta and frozen vegetables. Make sure you also keep your spice rack stocked so you have the basics when you are cooking. Just be careful not to lose track of your budget while cruising the aisles – use your mobile banking app to review your spending limit before you hit the check-out line.

Time-saving tactics when cooking for one

Cooking can be fun, but it can also be time-consuming. Many people find that cooking for one is easier when they make large meals on one day and split them into single servings for the rest of the week or freeze them for later.

If you don’t have the time or desire to spend a lot of time cooking, a slow cooker could be a great investment. Slow cookers make it easy to prepare a variety of meals, including chili, soup, stew, pulled chicken or pork, and even desserts! Simply place the ingredients in the pot and let them cook for several hours while you’re at work or completing other chores. You can even pre-prepare slow cooker meals by putting the ingredients together and freezing them beforehand. Then, just take them out and put them in the pot; however, these meals may take longer to cook than with fresh ingredients. Consider purchasing a slow-cooker recipe book to find new ideas for your meals.

Take the time to cook at home and manage your food budget

When you live alone, it can be tempting to order take out or eat meals in restaurants. But meal planning for one person doesn’t have to be intimidating. Look at it as a fun way to challenge yourself and learn new skills. Pick up a cookbook, check out recipes on Pinterest, and accumulate the different tools and utensils you need for a variety of meals. You don’t need to be a master chef to master cooking for one. By learning how to create a weekly meal plan and stretch your food budget by using the same staple items in different ways, you’ll save money, eat better and stay healthy.

Sponsored content was created and provided by Citizens Financial Group.