Thursday, September 2, 2010

Cooking For One Or Two - or Eating Well Without Breaking The Bank

One of the many challenges we face as singles or couples is cooking without breaking the bank (or eating the same thing for five days). This is true whether we're retired, empty nesters or singles. It can be challenging to cook "just for ourselves" every night. It can be easy, too easy, to reach for the Lean Cuisine or hit the restaurant. Most of us cannot afford to get a steak or a chop every single night.

So the challenge is to cook food we like, without too much waste, within an affordable budget. This can be a challenge and may require an adjustment in thinking. However, there are ways to eat well at home, have variety and not break our (often limited) budget

Cook and Freeze. Since many recipes are meant to serve at least four, cooking and freezing makes sense. While some people are wary of "frozen leftovers", in my experience that has more to do with freezing the wrong thing or the wrong way rather than the food itself. A small investment in good freezer containers and freezer bags are well worth the cost. In general, foods that freeze well include casseroles, stews, and soups, although I also freeze meats in marinades as well.

Get A Couple Cooking Books For Small Families or Singles. But use them cautiously. Most books marketed to one or two people mainly include things like boneless breasts, lamb and pork chops, steak and such. We usually cannot afford to eat this type of food every day. One of the best books I have found is one called "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker, Recipes for One or Two". This book has dozens of delicious, often gourmet slow cooker recipes designed for a small appliance. Which leads me to my next piece of advise.....

Invest in Some Small Cookware and Appliances.  I love my very large slow cooker. I still use it for parties, church events and holidays. For regular cooking, I bought this two and one half quart slow cooker. It gives about four servings and with he aforementioned cook book is a life saver. My mother in law's primary gift request this past holiday was for a small pressure cooker that would prepare four servings. I also have some small (five inch)pie pans and smaller casseroles with freezer lids. Although many things freeze well in Ziploc freezer bags, there are things that you will want to take from freezer to oven without changing the container.

Don't be afraid to bake. Most baked goods freeze exceptionally well. The higher the fat, the better the freeze ability. In general, my personal experience is that cooked baked goods freeze better than the dough. I used to decorate Christmas cookies for money and still give dozens as gifts each year. Everyone loves them and I begin freezing in October. One of the things you will find on the Internet and special interest cookbooks are many smaller batch baking recipes such as a recipe for two popovers, or a lemon meringue pie for two.

Do use some convenience foods judiciously. I do this most often in the case of "fresh" sides that I may not be able to store easily, such as fresh pasta salad, Waldorf salads and the like. I also find it more economical to buy the small, "prepackaged" container of grapes and berries, rather than a couple pounds

Buy the smallest size. Although it seems obvious this can be a huge adjustment, especially for many bargain shoppers. While the price per ounce may be slightly less for the large jar of mayo, I buy the smaller size and throw out nothing.

Play with recipes and adjust them yourself: Even if you have some misses, in the long run you'll avoid waste and save money. I took me some experimentation to get to a recipe for three waffles, but I'm there, finally (the main adjustment was the yolks and whites). Some recipes can be cut in half easier than others.

As you have more time (forced or unforced), learn more cooking skills. Most of us tend to spend money on the kind of food we are least able to cook ourselves. Even if you buy gourmet ingredients to add to your pantry, in the long run, it will be less expensive than a trip to the Thai restaurant every week or so.

Enjoy Your Food. While I won't necessarily suggest eating at the table with candles, take time to enjoy your food and appreciate what you are eating. Use decent dishes rather than paper, add some wine on occasion, use the cloth napkins. Just because there are only two of you, or you are eating by yourself, doesn't mean it should not be a good meal, enjoyed.

Don't forget all the other basic money saving strategies that you knew, or knew of. Keeping a pantry of items you use regularly (hopefully bought on sale)for example, let's you cook what you are in the mood for without running to the store. And even folks at home all day can forget to thaw (ask me how I know this), so some basic menu planning can help. At least, decide for tomorrow when you do tonight's dishes.

If you learn to cook enjoyable food at home that doesn't break the bank, then those times when you consciously decide to eat out will be more enjoyable - and more affordable!

1 comment:

  1. Great Post! I really like your blog!!

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