Frugal Living: How to Cook for One on a Budget
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.
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.
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 Also remember the use by dates are a guideline, some things will be perfectly fine even a few days out of date.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.
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:
- A Cheery Vegetable Casserole
- Cauliflower and Butternut squash Curry with Apple
- Squash, potato and carrot mash
- 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
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.
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
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.
Take a minute to take the poll
Ready-Made or Home-Made?
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.
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)
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.
- Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and the soften onions.
- 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.
- Add all the other ingredients. Stir well, cover with a lid and 'sweat' for about 10 minutes.
- Transfer to a hot casserole dish, cover and cook in oven for 40 minutes. Check fluid level frequently and add more stock if necessary.
- Gas mark 5 - 190 degrees.
Allow to cool then divide into meal size portions and freeze. This amount is enough for 3 meals.
Cauliflower and Squash Curry
Served with rice and Nan bread, this makes a filling and tasty meal.
1/3rd of your butternut squash
Medium curry powder - to your taste
1 Diced apple
Black pepper to taste
Salt to taste - you need very little with the spices and pepper
Cornflour to thicken if needed.
- Heat olive oil in saucepan, cook onions under soft and transparent.
- Add curry powder and cook for one minute only.
- Add cauliflower, squash and apple and cook for a few minutes.
- Add stock and bring to the boil - simmer for 25 minutes.
- 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?
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
Place in an ovenproof dish and top with cheese
Grill until cheese is melted and browned.
© 2010 Ann