Living On Your Own: Cooking Tips
If you are like me, you have a strict budget that you much stick to every month. I try to buy things only when they are on sale. If you do need to watch what you spend on food each month I would suggest finding out what day your local grocery stores change their promotions. For example, in my area every Wednesday there are new sale items and promotions at all my grocery stores. So at some point in the day on Wednesday I check out all the new promotions for each store in my area. That way I know who has the best deals on what. After all, eating fresh and good food is the easiest way to stay healthy.
Every now and then things like seafood and meat go on sale. These are great weeks. When certain produce items go on sale I try to take advantage of them too. A bunch of asparagus can be used for at least three meals for one person. A single pomegranate can produce hundreds of seeds, and is very high in nutrients. When canned soup goes on sale you can better believe that I stock up.
Don't be Tempted
Cooking for just yourself can be a lot harder than you think. Sometimes it seems like such a hassle to get out the pots and pans, chop up some veggies, and cook a nice meal when it is just for yourself. Isn't a pre-packaged microwave dinner faster? Well, yes it is. But, frozen meals aren't as nutritious as the manufacturers want you to think.
I'm not saying that you need to make yourself a four course dinner every night, or that you can't use anything that has been pre-packaged. I only suggest that you give cooking, really cooking, a try. Believe it or not, but you can still save money buy cooking your own meals.
Breakfast for Dinner
I find that it is best to plan out my meals for the entire week. That way I can go to the store with a list of things that I need from each recipe. Thankfully there will be things that you will not need to purchase each week, like spices and cooking oil.
If you are not the most experienced cook or don't happen to have a lot of cook books handy I would suggest heading to the internet. There are so many blog sites, this one included, and websites dedicated to recipes and cooking made easy. Nearly all of these postings will give you a list of what you will need as well as step by step instructions on how to make it. (I would check out pintrest and tumblr)
If you would prefer to have a book to reference you're in luck. Barns and Noble and Amazon have a wide selection of cook books dedicated to solo cooking. As an added bonus most of these books also give tips for saving money on grocery shopping.
There are some food items that I consider essential on my shopping trips. These are items that are either cheap or particularly nutritious.
Frozen shrimp is cheap, easy to prep, and can be cooked in many ways. (That and I really like shrimp) I always make sure that I get at least one bag each time I go to the store. One bag can feed me for a dinner and two lunches. That's not too bad, especially since I can pick up a bag at Wal-Mart for $5. That being said chicken is something else I try to keep on hand. A 'family' pack of chicken breasts, typically four or five breasts, can get me at least three dinners and two lunches. If your keeping track that is now four dinners and four lunches just from shrimp and chicken alone. To keep them from becoming routine and boring I try new ways to cook them and rotate what sides I have.
Bananas and apples are always in stock at grocery stores. I try to pack one or the other in my lunch every day. They help keep me healthy and they make great snacks.
Bread, milk, and eggs. I could not picture my life without these three things. I won't lie, I may or may not have breakfast for dinner at least one night each week. Which means I need to have eggs and milk on hand. I also may or may not have a dedicated grilled cheese night each week. And peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are great for lunch as well.
Surprisingly, I really like the salad in a bag kits. If I have one for dinner I can pair it with chicken or shrimp and there will be more than enough left over for me to have for lunch the next day. They are cheap and quick. And trust me, after a long day at work you want cheap and quick.
Do you prefer to cook for yourself or use frozen meals?
So, we already know that I love chicken and shrimp, that I hunt for bargains, and try to prepare cheap and easy meals. So what about extras? Everyone knows that you can't live on protein, fruits, and vegetables alone.
I will admit a bagel and cream cheese and oatmeal are two of my favorite breakfast items. You can even save money here too. Nearly every grocery store has a store brand for almost every product out there. These products are just about the same thing as the name brand item just a whole lot cheaper. Just how cheap? I was at the store last week and the name brand box of strawberries and cream oatmeal was $3.50, but the store brand was only $1.50. Now two dollars doesn't sound like a whole lot, but if you save just $10 each shopping trip it adds up over time. If you find yourself at the store twice a month that's $20 a month, or even better $240 a year.
If you are craving something sweet head over to the bakery. By the end of the day they are going to have to get rid of some of the bakery items. Talk with them, see if anything has been discounted. Chances are if something hasn't already been marked down they will do it for you. After all, if it comes down to throwing it away or giving it to you at half price which do you think they will choose? Most stores are going to want to make money rather than lose it. Just be polite and you will be surprised at what you can get.
Chances are if you have ever seen that couponing show on TLC you have wanted to give it a try. Unless you are going to dedicate a significant portion of your life to finding coupons and researching the best deals possible you are not going to get that much out of it. But, you can save some money on your grocery bill if you do a little work.
The Sunday paper can be a great investment. Sometimes you can even buy a pack that has two papers, that means twice the coupons. Usually the first edition of the month has the best coupons. Just go threw and clip the ones you will most likely use.
In addition to the Sunday paper there are websites that offer coupons. Just search for the products you want coupons for. If you are really lucky your grocery store will have the items you have coupons for on promotion. This can be helpful if you are purchasing things that don't go on sale every often, like fresh produce or meats.
- Stick to your budget
- Watch for sales
- Check for recipes online or in cook books
- Even if its just grilled cheese find something you like to cook. (comfort food comes in handy every now and then)
- Don't be afraid to use coupons
- Leftovers can be the best thing in the world. (I consider a meal a success if I can get lunch for the next day. Its even better if I have enough for another lunch or dinner. It means less prep time for me later!)
- Treat yourself every now and then (get that bottle of wine or carton of cookies)