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Frugal Living: How to Cook for One on a Budget

Updated on September 9, 2014

Red Peppers

Red peppers
Red peppers | Source

Living on a Budget: Save Money but Eat Well

Everyone, including me, is feeling the bite of the recession and looking for ways to save money. This page includes tips on how to save money by cutting grocery bills as well as an introduction into frugal cooking, on how to make the best of what you buy.

I've concentrated on tips on how to be frugal shopper, (some call it shopping consciously - see below), how to cut your grocery bills and how to make the most of what you buy. You will also see some of my favorite budget but wholesome healthy vegetarian recipes and tips on cooking for one person. These can easily be adapted if you are a meat eater.

Further down the page I have written on how to shop consciously and included some tips on how to cut your grocery bill whether you are shopping for one or for a family. I live alone so I have included some tips for singles that are equally valid for couples.

Images: this one and all the images used on this page are by the author of the page AnnMackieMiller.

I

Cooking for one

When you live alone it can be a challenge to consistently produce healthy, economic, meals. After all, it may seem like a lot of work to cook a meal for only yourself. Add to that, the fact that every where you look, everything is sold in super or extra super size, it can feel much easier to just a buy a ready meal and be done with it. There are a number of reasons that isn't a good idea, the least of which is the cost. For the same amount of money, you could produce several meals, that are much healthier. The same meal, costing less, with absolutely no artificial colouring, additives or preservatives? I know which I choose.

Root Vegetables

root-vegetables
root-vegetables | Source

Become a savvy shopper

How to be a Frugal shopper

1. Plan ahead: know what meals you are catering for and make a list for shopping. We in the West have become wasters - we throw away perfectly good food because we have not thought ahead. A lot of waste comes from buying too much "just in case". Avoid that by having a fair idea of what you are looking for before you even get as far as the supermarket.

2. Check use-by dates so nothing is going to go off before you use it. If you are not going to use it immediately consider cooking it up and freezing the meals in portion sizes. Also remember the use by dates are a guideline, some things will be perfectly fine even a few days out of date. These are often discounted in stores so look out for them.

3. Only buy what you can safely store. Know exactly what you can get in your fridge and freezer before you go shopping.

4. Cook ahead as much as you can. You can save a lot of money by taking advantage of bulk buy offers.

5. Buy things you eat!

6. Unless it is the bargain of the week, buy vegetables and fruit in loose quantities. Buy the quantities that you will use. Loose produce is cheaper per pound, you can pick the best ones there and you can buy only as many as you need.

7. Buy those fruits and vegetables that don't look the shiniest. Quite often supermarkets discount produce that is less than perfect in shape or form, or is beginning to fade. Be prepared to make soups from vegetables that are passed their best. Fruit whose skin is beginning to wrinkle can be peeled and stewed with a little water and sugar to make a fruit compote to go over ice cream or morning cereal.

8. Check out the discounted shelf in the food sections. You will find goods about to go out of date, with a little organisation you can have them cooked up into something and frozen before they do. Ask your local supermarket what time they put out the discounted items - most often it is around 4pm so you can time your visit around that.

9. Check prices in other stores. It is easy for me because the three I used mostly are within walking distance of each other. In the UK we also have an on-line comparison site that will show you where to buy the cheapest things that week.

10. Shop with a friend - that way you can take advantage of those buy-one-get-one-free offers and share them out.

chopped-vegetables
chopped-vegetables

Tips for frugal cooking

Making the Most of Food

Literally tons of perfectly good food is thrown out every day largely because people buy large amounts that are on offer but fail to cook them. With some planning, you can take advantage of the bargain offers in your local supermarket. Plan to cook in batches, using up all your ingredients and then freeze them in meal-sized portions. Here's how I used up one week's bargain buys. - it is worth noting that I am not an expert cook, I tend to cook plain wholesome meals. All my recipes are vegetarian, but you can replace the quorn with chicken if you prefer. Mind you, I should point out, quorn is often much cheaper than fresh meat and poultry and, with less fat, much healthier.

I always keep some things in stock including the onions, potatoes, garlic, herbs and, in the freezer - peas, sweetcorn and green beans. I also keep tins of beans, rice and dried pasta, quorn pieces or quorn mince because I am vegetarian. Non vegetarians might consider holding chicken pieces or minced meat as well as the beans.

In a certain supermarket, this week's bargains were:

  • A medium sized butternut squash
  • 3 peppers - red, green and yellow
  • Cherry plum tomatoes
  • A small cauliflower

From this, in a couple of hours, I made enough meals to last me a couple of weeks, frozen, and I threw out only some pulp and hardened skin peelings.

What I made:

  1. A Cheery Vegetable Casserole
  2. Cauliflower and Butternut squash Curry with Apple
  3. Squash, potato and carrot mash
  4. Home-made stock


How to make your own stock or broth

How to Make your own Stock (broth)

Essentially the trick is to use every single thing that you can. That includes using the stalks of vegetables, the outer leaves, peelings and trimmings. Peelings and trimmings make perfectly good vegetable stock or soup. Wash thoroughly before preparing. Have one saucepan (stock pot) with a half-pint of water at hand and as you prepare your vegetables put the peelings, skin, pumpkin seeds etc in this. Bring to the boil and simmer for at least half an hour or until the fluid has reduced by at least half. I do not add salt and pepper to mine as I prefer to season the dishes as I prepare them rather than the stock, that way I know exactly how much salt is in it. Bought stock cubes tend to have very high salt content.

Once the fluid is reduced I put this through a sieve and discard the pulp.

You can freeze in ice-cube makers for later use.

If I had been cooking with something like broccoli I would make soup instead of mash because broccoli stock tends to be quite strong. However it is excellent used with the stalks, onion, a potato to thicken and garlic as a soup. The stalks cook down nicely and when blended can be served with cheese.

Personally I feel you need to be willing to experiment, be willing to adapt and I hope something here inspires you to have the confidence to give it a go.

Then I cooked up the three recipes you will find later down the page.

Cooking the bargains

Here's how I cooked that week's bargains:

I cut my butternut squash into three equal portions. Peeled and seeded it and put these trimmings in my stock pot including the seeds.

I trimmed the peppers and discarded the seeds. The trimmings went into the stock pot.

I washed the cauliflower, divided into florets. The outer leaves and stalks went into the stock pot.

I peeled three onions - peelings went into the stock pot.

I peeled three potatoes - peelings went into the stock pot.

I crushed two cloves of garlic, putting skins and trimmings into the stock pot.

I already had an apple that was beginning to wrinkle so I peeled it and diced it ready to add to the curry.

I made my own stock from the peelings and trimmings.

Then I cooked up the three recipes you will find later down the page.

Recommended Energy Savers

counter-top oven

You can cut cost by using the right appliances for the job - if, like me, you cook for only one most to the time, you don't want to be heating a huge oven for every meal. These are the energy saving cooking appliances I recommend - you should have one slow cooker or crock pot and one counter-top oven if you really want to save money in the long run.

Crock Pot

Proctor Silex 33015Y 1-1/2-Quart Round Slow Cooker
Proctor Silex 33015Y 1-1/2-Quart Round Slow Cooker

When you look around for a crock pot, look for one that is useful for one person. This is a smaller version that does a great job and doesn't take up much room. Of course if you are cooking up a batch, a larger one would come into it's own but I tend to use it when I am going out and use the timer so it comes on to cook before I get home. There is nothing nicer than coming into a house with the delicious smell of something cooking.

 

Smart Oven on Sale

Breville BOV800XL Smart Oven 1800-Watt Convection Toaster Oven with Element IQ, Silver
Breville BOV800XL Smart Oven 1800-Watt Convection Toaster Oven with Element IQ, Silver

This smart top is ideal when you are cooking for one. It is just the right size and will bake, roast, grill and toast with the best of them. It even has a broil rack if that is something you like. It is ideal for reheating those meals you have prepared and frozen. The fact you are using much smaller size means your food cooks quicker, takes less energy and therefore costs less. I wouldn't be without one.

 
red-pepper
red-pepper

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Ready-Made or Home-Made?

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Tips on how to cut your grocery bill

How to spend less on grocery shopping

Budgets are tight for everyone and we are all looking for ways to cut costs. Since grocery bills take up a huge percentage of household expense, here are some tips on how you can cut the cost of groceries without compromising family health.

Think about the nourishment value

Food companies have a lot to answer for and it is time we stopped buying into the hype that surrounds certain packaging and display tactics. Obviously manufacturers want you to buy their food rather than competitors, but you shouldn't be fooled by fancy colors and other things geared to appeal to your eye.

Start being more discerning, look at a food's nutritional value, NOT the package it comes in. You will often find the food with the less fancy packet is actually more nutritious. A bag of potato chips might look appealing but it holds very little nutritional value when compared with the humble sack of potatoes. Buy the potatoes! You can always make them into potato chips and your homemade version is likely to be far healthier. It isn't complicated. To make homemade potato chips, slice one or more potatoes thinly, arrange on a baking tray, spray with 1 cal olive oil and bake in a hot oven until golden brown, turn them, spray again and bake till golden. Simple, cheap and healthy!

Cook from scratch

Eating out is expensive and eating pre-cooked or ready meals is too. And they are usually stuffed with additives and preservative which are not conducive to good health. Ingredients for meals are a lot less expensive than those TV dinners too. Cooking from scratch is much better value all round. Think of it this way when you are counting pennies, what might cost you $25 for one meal for 2 in a restaurant, will convert into $25 worth of groceries that will provide several meals not just one.

Buy whole food wherever possible. Food that hasn't already been processed in some way is cheaper. Granted it might take a little thinking on your part but believe me, you can cook it much better than a factory process can.

Take beans for example - beans are one of the healthiest, most filling and most nutritious foods you can get. You can buy them in tins but you can buy much more for less cost if you go for the dried ones. For a fraction of the cost you can have beans to add to several menus. All you need to do is to cook up the whole bagful at once - that is, soak overnight, rinse and boil for 20-35 minutes. Then divide them into portions and freeze them. They are ready to add to any recipe you want, they can be cooked from frozen, they retain much more of their nutritional value and they cost pennies. You can buy a can of beans for $1 which gives you maybe if you are lucky 2 cups of cooked beans or you can buy a bag of dried beans which will give you probably 7 or 8 cups of cooked beans - no contest is it?

For the non-veggies among us, whole fish fillets or whole chickens are cheaper and healthier than fish sticks or chicken nuggets. You might also consider making your own bread. The cost of flour in ratio to how many loaves you can make for the money it costs to buy store made bread may well be worth the investment in a bread machine. And it's fun!

Don't buy that frozen pie, buy the fruit and make your own!

Saving money on groceries may need some thought and a little adjustment in your thinking and in your cooking habits, but honestly, it pays dividends, not only in your budget but also in terms of family health. It is no accident that post war frugality is returning and with it a return to healthier eating practices.

Peppers

peppers by annmackiemiller
peppers by annmackiemiller | Source

Low fat vegetarian recipe

Cheery Vegetable Casserole

This is a very colourful and, with the ginger, a very warming dish. Although it is quite simple it always looks impressive. (photos to follow)

Ingredients

Olive oil

Onion diced

1/3rd of your butternut squash, cubed

One each red, green and yellow pepper, diced

Handful frozen sweetcorn

Handful frozen peas

Handful frozen green beans

125g quorn pieces (chicken pieces for non-veggies)

Plum cherry tomatoes

Two cloves garlic - crushed

Dried Ginger - to your taste - I like about a teaspoon

Mixed herbs - to your taste

Black pepper - to your taste

Salt to taste but remember you need less when using herbs and pepper.

Half pint stock or broth.

Method

  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and the soften onions.
  2. Add garlic, herbs and ginger and fry for a minute. Don't allow the garlic to burn so keep stirring. This just helps to release the flavours.
  3. Add all the other ingredients. Stir well, cover with a lid and 'sweat' for about 10 minutes.
  4. Transfer to a hot casserole dish, cover and cook in oven for 40 minutes. Check fluid level frequently and add more stock if necessary.
  5. Gas mark 5 - 190 degrees.

Allow to cool then divide into meal size portions and freeze. This amount is enough for 3 meals.

whole-cauliflower
whole-cauliflower

Cauliflower and Squash Curry

Served with rice and Nan bread, this makes a filling and tasty meal.

Ingredients

Olive oil

Onion

Small cauliflower

1/3rd of your butternut squash

Medium curry powder - to your taste

1 Diced apple

Stock

Black pepper to taste

Salt to taste - you need very little with the spices and pepper

Cornflour to thicken if needed.

Rice

Method

  1. Heat olive oil in saucepan, cook onions under soft and transparent.
  2. Add curry powder and cook for one minute only.
  3. Add cauliflower, squash and apple and cook for a few minutes.
  4. Add stock and bring to the boil - simmer for 25 minutes.
  5. When it is cooked add some cornflour if you need to thicken it a little.

I serve it fresh with long-grain brown rice and Nan bread and had two more portions to freeze.

how many do you cook for?

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Squash, Potato and Curry Mash - easy vegetarian recipe for a lunch or light supper

This can be used as a side dish or topped with cheese, as a supper dish, and is particularly tasty when made with the stock from butternut squash which gives it a buttery taste.

Part-boil potatoes and carrots together with some onion.

Drain off water and add butternut squash stock to finish cooking.

Cook until fluid is almost gone

Mash

Place in an ovenproof dish and top with cheese

Grill until cheese is melted and browned.

© 2010 Ann

Do you cook on a budget? Which of these tips is of most use to you?

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I've written a lot of articles about frugal living, so I'm appreciative of this one. Very good suggestions here.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Good suggestions here to save some money. My favorite is to freeze servings so I can grab a meal easily. It is all too easy for me to overbuy veggies and have stuff left that I don't use. I try to remember to freeze them now for soup or whatever. Cooking from scratch has become my favorite. You can season it as you want it.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 3 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Great information and so important. My husband and I just cook for each other and occasionally our grandson but are spending way too much for groceries. Appreciate the tips. Thanks.

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 3 years ago from Scotland

      oh my! I know I am going to have to try this now

    • Arachnea profile image

      Tanya Jones 3 years ago from Texas USA

      Since starting work a year or so ago, I succumbed to the temptation to have all my meals in the cafeteria. Costly, yes, but at least I'm less guilty of wasting food. I found that trying to plan and shop for meals quite frequently ended in waste as I rarely had the time to cook. I'm hoping to try again and your hub - well written as it is - has many great ideas for my to try.

    • Pawpawwrites profile image

      Jim 3 years ago from Kansas

      Great advice for saving money.

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 3 years ago from France

      Some great ideas here. Must stop waste. I'm going to show this to my son who's just left home and hope he takes notice of your frugal, tasty and sensible tips

    • N376 profile image

      N376 3 years ago

      Excellent information!

    • sreohl1 profile image

      sreohl1 3 years ago

      What an excellent lense! I am a meat eater and love red meat, but am always looking for interesting ways to cook vegetables.

    • StephenAZ profile image

      StephenAZ 4 years ago

      I too cook for one and really enjoyed the information and recipes!!!! Thank-you...

    • LeenaBK LM profile image

      LeenaBK LM 4 years ago

      Thanks for your really useful tips.

      Yes. I completely budget my cooking. Food habits are a bit different here in India. I do my staples once a month and the rest of the fresh stuff once a week and I never go beyond my budget. I have measuring jars for all the flour, rice and pulses I use and always remove only the exact quantity needed for the three of us. Maybe it's a bit on the extreme but I've got used to it. :-)

    • NibsyNell profile image

      NibsyNell 4 years ago

      Great selection of healthy, vegetarian meals! I have to admit that I've always avoided buying much veg on a tight budget but I'm willing to give it a go.

    • annieangel1 profile image
      Author

      Ann 4 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      @NibsyNell: you really should be eating more fruit and vegetables and they are a lot cheaper than meat or fish, just remember to add some protein in the form or beans or eggs or cheese.

    • profile image

      moonlitta 4 years ago

      Many helpful tips, I have cooked for myself only and it's territfying how much food I've thrown away and wasted it.

    • TapIn2U profile image

      TapIn2U 4 years ago

      Great tips and ideas! Planning ahead is the key. Sundae ;-)

    • lilblackdress lm profile image

      lilblackdress lm 4 years ago

      I find that planning helps a lot as I don't waste food if I am organized and know what to buy at the store.

      Very helpful lens!

    • MBradley McCauley profile image

      MBradley McCauley 4 years ago

      As a single senior, this is good advice and I will share it with some of my single senior friends.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Great info for single people.

    • profile image

      Joan4 5 years ago

      This is such great information for seniors in singles or couples. It's hard to cook for two, too! Your ideas are very helpful!

    • Othercatt profile image

      Othercatt 5 years ago

      We grow all our vegetables and with most of them, we store them according to how we use them. This makes it easier to prepare our meals throughout the year. I also like to divide my ingredients into multiple meals. It's so much cheaper to think ahead rather than let the extras go bad.

    • mihgasper profile image

      Miha Gasper 5 years ago from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU

      Cooking is sort of self-expression. If you leave that part to somebody else, you loose part of yourself too...

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 5 years ago from Central Florida

      I'm pretty much a lazy cook, but my husband takes great pride in putting a good meal on the table. I try to live up to his expectations, but am afraid that on my own, I wouldn't bother.

    • newbizmau profile image

      Maurice Glaude 5 years ago from Mobile, AL

      We are a close family. My sister (50) and brother (47) with his wife and kids still live here at moms. They did of course move away and come back though. But we cook for 8 or more.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Cooking for can be challenging at times for me. Thanks you for all the good tips.

    • annieangel1 profile image
      Author

      Ann 6 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      @Paul Ward: thanks so much Paul

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 6 years ago from Liverpool, England

      First time I've seen the single vegetarian catered for: Angel Blessed

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Great recipes. Thanks

    • annieangel1 profile image
      Author

      Ann 7 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      @aka-rms: thanks for visiting rms

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 7 years ago from USA

      Delicious recipes!