Author Topic: Cooking for one  (Read 6423 times)

gene parmesan

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Cooking for one
« on: December 29, 2013, 09:33:45 AM »
Ok so I will admit that I actively suck at grocery shopping and planning meals for the week. I usually go to the grocery store, buy a bunch of meat, produce, etc, I'm good for about 2 meals then I look in the refrigerator and think "dang there's nothing to eat". I want to get to the point where I can go to the grocery store once or twice a week and having breakfast lunch and dinner ready for all 7 days. I want to get out of the habit of eating out, eating processed frozen food, etc. I work full time but otherwise my time is pretty free so I'm not complaining about time constraints or lack of resources, etc.

My question for all those cooking for one, what are your tips for grocery shopping and making meals? If you have any sample grocery list/meal plan for the week, that would be wonderful. I can only eat eggs so many times!

Apocalyptica602

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2013, 09:45:53 AM »
Wanted to pop in to say I love your username! (Arrested Development - great show for those who don't know what I'm talking about)

Also because I've been wondering the same thing as you. I've lived alone the past 2 and a half years in apartments with tiny kitchens and struggling with the same habits you speak of.

I've made some progress but I'm still struggling getting away from the 'convenience foods' like frozen pizza, microwavable chicken, processed soups. As I'm sure you know, these foods tend to be more expensive per serving and drastically more unhealthy.

I suppose one tip I can give is: I invested in some 'fancy' pyrex glassware and started bulk cooking and freezing some meals into portions I can bring to work. (Chili, stir fry, pasta, etc)

ashley

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2013, 09:56:44 AM »
I second the glass pyrex. Mason jars can also be frozen and are cheaper. Getting rid of my plastic containers and moving entirely to glass was one of the best decisions I've made. I can't explain why, but eating leftovers from glass just feels so much better to me than a flimsy piece of plastic. Maybe it's just me!

I spend at least a few hours on the weekend cooking, and then I don't have to think about it for the rest of the week. I come home from work fairly brain dead, and I never want to deal with more than about 5 minutes of food prep (just long enough to steam vegetables or microwave leftovers, basically). I like to cook some rice, roast a big pan of vegetables, cook a pot of beans or bake some tofu, and then just assemble a bowl every night. Or make a big pot of soup and portion it out. Freeze a few portions of whatever you cook if you don't want to eat the same thing every night. I've found that almost any cooked food can be frozen with decent results (but I'm vegan, so your mileage may vary).

Salads are easy if you prep everything ahead of time. I like to make them more substantial by adding beans, nuts, grains, etc. Roasted vegetables are also good cold in salads. Make a good dressing and keep it in a jar in the fridge.

One of my favorite breakfasts is baked oatmeal. I bake them in individual ramekins or mason jars and grab one on the way to work. They are good reheated, but I usually don't even bother with that because I like them cold (you can also freeze them and thaw one in the fridge overnight). I don't actually use a recipe (it's really hard to screw up baked oatmeal; just adjust your baking time depending on how much liquid you put in), but if you google you'll find loads of them. I like to add pumpkin or bananas and whatever nuts or nut butter I have.




fodder69

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2013, 10:31:01 AM »
I've been enjoying a lot of the budget bytes recipes here http://www.budgetbytes.com/

The portions are usually reasonable for two servings for me, so it's not too much work. And it is good to get in the habit of learning recipes, it really starts to give you flexibility when you want to make your own things.

I am a big fan of eggs in the morning (I like to start my day with protein as opposed to carbs from oatmeal, etc.). Fritatas are really good and easy to make also. Or just a bacon egg and cheese sandwich on an english muffin or bagel (I love the precooked bacon, 22 seconds n the mic). Get one good small non stick pan with a metal handle that can go in the oven to bake your fritatas and use that every day. DON'T wash it a lot. Use lots of olive oil and wipe it out with a paper towel and maybe some coarse salt if needed. I can literally cook an egg and flip it saute style in my pan. I can make a really good breakfast in 5-10 minutes.

A good big breakfast will carry you most of the day and you can snack a little in the afternoon instead of filling up at lunch.

ichangedmyname

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2013, 10:58:55 AM »
OP, I could have written that post. I always have grand plans when it comes to prepping food for the week then I'm like meh. Don't wanna eat it.
I have to stop it because instead of saving money I'm throwing out food that had gone bad and instead eating take out. Unhealthy and expensive.

Our only difference is I am lazy. But when I think about it reheating food is quicker than waiting for Chinese delivery. Definitely one of my goals next year is to eat better and don't do a lot of take out. It's difficult when I live with people who love fast food joints, pizza delivery and Chinese food. But I will try to stay strong.


It's kind of overwhelming to plan a whole week of meals. That's like 21 meals plus snacks. I love the oatmeal and fritata suggestion. I used to make egg muffins (eggs, cheese, some kind of meat like ham or sausage, green onions, mushrooms mixed together and baked in a cupcake pan. Single serve and portable.) maybe I should do that again. And how about just baking chicken and roast veggies and eat that until it runs out.

This might be a good idea for you, it's for 2 people but then you'll just have leftovers that will build up your inventory in your fridge for quick re-heat http://cheaphealthygood.blogspot.com/2009/02/1-chicken-17-healthy-meals-26-bucks-no.html

Great thread, btw!

firelight

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #5 on: December 29, 2013, 11:27:23 AM »
OP, I feel your pain! My main issue with cooking and freezing the food was the repetitiveness.

So I try to cook the base of a meal (like stock (soup if I'm upto it), curry (Indian), beans, etc) and freeze them in daily portions along with veggies/meat combinations. Then, every day, I make either rice or tortillas/rotis and eat with the base and veggie/meat combinations. Since I have a choice of base, veggie/meat and rice/tortilla, I can eat them without feeling bored. If I don't like one combination, I can always switch things to try out other combinations. Add some sriracha or other spices and you have a great meal at low cost.

PS: I did this very effectively when single and try to do it most weeknights with my husband now. Weekends, still trying to figure that one out!!

Annamal

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #6 on: December 29, 2013, 12:15:39 PM »
I live with my partner but I'm usually cooking breakfast for myself alone.

A good shopping list should include peanut butter,oatmeal, bananas, frozen spinach,carrots, herbs and  spices like cinnamon (since they're slow to go off and very useful for brightening things up). You're looking for stuff that will last a while but is still relatively healthy and filling (or stuff like carrots or bananas which you can pretty much just grab and eat). You say you're sick of eggs but they are amazingly versatile so make sure you've got a few.

 My two favourite breakfast recipes at the moment are:

1) Peanut butter banana pancake(s)....mash up a banana in a bowl, add a large teaspoon of peanut butter, some cinnamon, some vanilla essence some oatmeal and an egg. Wisk everything together and pour out into a lightly greased small pan over a medium heat, when the batter is semi set, use a spatula to split up the pancake into 6 pieces and flip them and cook until they're light brown. I tend to eat the results with sliced strawberries since they are in season right now(yay southern hemisphere). While the pancakes are cooking you can rinse out the bowl, dry it and use it to eat the pancakes in.

2) Spinach omelet...I defrost a huge mound of spinach at the start of a week, keep it in a container in the fridge  and then throw it into everything because vegetables. In this case I make up a two egg omelet and throw some cheese and spinach in between it as I'm folding.

mlipps

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #7 on: December 29, 2013, 12:35:00 PM »
When I lived alone, I tried to cook two big meals every weekend for a few months, like enchiladas, soups, anything that made 6-8, servings and froze well. I would eat a few servings of each throughout the week and supplement with sandwiches etc. I would freeze about half the servings of each meal and kept a running list of what I had frozen and how much of it. After a while, you'll have a varied stockpile and you stop filling in with convenience foods at all. At that point, just make new every weekend of whatever choices you've finished that week.

For breakfast, don't over complicate it. Snacks too. It would stress me out too if I was thinking of it as 21 meals, but breakfast for me is really just do I have a box of oatmeal at home. Everyone is different of course, but if you can simplify one meal (maybe lunch work better for you), you'll make your life a lot easier.

Richard3

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #8 on: December 29, 2013, 12:53:28 PM »
I own a lot of tupperware and a big freezer.

Every Sunday I make a big meal. Eat one serving (OK two, but I'm big boned!), put one in a box in the fridge, and put the rest in the freezer.
During the week I eat freezer food and the fridge meal for lunches. After the first few weeks I have a great variety of freezer meals so it's not monotonous at all (although you must label things - I once took a box of beef stock into the office for lunch). Dinner would either be something quick (I basically live on stir-fry variations) or a freezer meal, or (since I enjoy cooking) another big meal to further enhance the freezer.

Do as much prep as possible in bulk. Don't caramelise one onion for this meal, caramelise five or six and use them in several meals.

Buy a slow cooker. It enables you to cook cheaper and while you're not paying attention to cooking (I make chilli while I am asleep).

Have a plan. If you're not good at catering for yourself don't just go and buy things and see what happens. Work out what you're going to eat and what you need to make it.

Stock up on non-perishables when they're cheap (if they're something you use).

Always have an emergency meal (quick to prepare and non perishable) in stock (freezer surprise!)


Heart of Tin

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #9 on: December 29, 2013, 02:39:12 PM »
I'm good for about 2 meals then I look in the refrigerator and think "dang there's nothing to eat".

I relate to that so much! Instead of fighting it, though, I've opted to accept it. Can you eat leftovers without getting bored? I usually plan two "meals", that is two main dishes. I'll cook one on the evening I buy the ingredients. The other will be cooked the following night. Each main dish will provide two to four lunches and dinners, and therefore my two "meals" will last three or four days. Thus, I go to the grocery store about twice a week, and I never fall into "the fridge is full and there's nothing to eat" syndrome.

For example, I did meal planning earlier today. Since I have pasta dough left over from ravioli last week, I'm making vegetarian Chinese dumplings tonight. The leftovers will be used up for tomorrow's lunch. Tomorrow I'm making white bean soup with the chicken stock currently on the stove. I'll make baguette dough and start soaking the beans whenever I get up from the computer. The baguette dough will go in the fridge in two portions. One will be baked tomorrow evening. The other will be baked on Tuesday. The soup and baguettes should last until Wednesday lunch. I'll need to meal plan again on Tuesday evening.

I try to do all of the prep on days one and two, but I often leave a little bit of cooking for nights three and four. This time it's the baguette baking. I'll probably leave the spinach out of the soup until the day of consumption as well. Last week I made the ravioli filling and pasta dough on night two, but I rolled out, filled, and cooked the ravioli "to order". I find that doing some actual cooking instead of just reheating makes it feel less like leftovers and more satisfying in general.

Today's grocery list: - Coleslaw mix (less expensive than individual dumpling ingredients) - Spinach - Green onions - One head of garlic - Thumb of ginger - Medium onion - Dried cannellini beans  - High gluten flour

plainjane

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #10 on: December 29, 2013, 04:16:11 PM »
My question for all those cooking for one, what are your tips for grocery shopping and making meals? If you have any sample grocery list/meal plan for the week, that would be wonderful. I can only eat eggs so many times!

I see a bunch of people mentioned batch cooking and freezing for later.  Make sure your containers are small, single serving versions, and label them.

In my office we had some discussions about "leftovers", and I realized that I almost never freeze leftovers.  I freeze ingredients for future meals that can go in a variety of different ways (various slow cooked meats, homemade gnocchi, stock), or soup.  Think about high-impact sauces that can take your meal into different flavour directions even with a similar base ingredients.

Do you make weekly menus so you have something to look forward to and you can figure out how you're going to use up all the ingredients?  Do you have cheat items for when you can't deal (I used to have emergency cereal, and sometimes emergency popcorn.)

I actually would avoid some of the techniques mentioned - e.g. if the recipe calls for one caramelized onion I would just do one.  My challenges were more around what to do with the rest of an item which won't be all used up in one or two portions.  This is where planning helps - if I have leftover rice from a Japanese-flavour meal then I'm going to try to plan for a coconut curry to put on top of it for day 2.  Also, I tend to stay away from big vegetables unless I have a true plan for the second half of the cauliflower, squash, or cabbage.

Be very careful on starches, it's easy to end up with too much rice or pasta and they don't tend to freeze or reheat well.  Either find recipes to reuse the leftovers, like a fried rice or baked pasta, or start moving towards things you can make in smaller batches, like couscous or mung bean glass noodles.

pirate_wench

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #11 on: December 29, 2013, 04:56:58 PM »
Not that I've taken my own advice, but there are cookbooks out there that specialize in cooking for one or two.  I've bought them, but rarely remember to use them.

I'm taking the radical step of not freezing my leftovers anymore. I have literally just spent the last 5 hours cleaning out my kitchen, refrigerator and freezer, and the amount I waste by "freezing for later" is absurd. I either forget about the leftovers, or I decide I don't feel like eating it anymore, and then the food just gets freezer burned. Then, out of guilt, I still don't throw it out, for like, a year or more! I don't know what the answer is, but for myself I am going to try to stop making full, or even half recipes for "planned leftovers", despite the obvious time-savings, and focus on meals that can be made to size, like stir fry's, stuffed baked potatoes, pasta, etc...

xingcat

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #12 on: December 29, 2013, 06:35:31 PM »
I tend to make one big thing that I can eat in different, easy ways through the week. So I'll roast a whole chicken on Sunday for dinner, along with some root veggies in the pan (parsnips and carrots are my favorite, but any vegetables will do). I'll reheat it all on Monday, and use the meat for sandwiches or tacos on Tuesday.

If I make spaghetti sauce on Wednesday, I can have that a couple of days in a row, and make pizza (either with dough or with English muffins, because it takes me back to being a kid!) other days.

Don't turn your nose up at non-meal meals, like a nice plate of bread and cheese with fruit, or a salad that has some chick peas in it. Heck, I sometimes do an egg and some fruit for dinner, and it's just fine. I think if you overthink meals, you tend to overspend because you want to have a whole big meal, where just grazing on stuff can be just fine.

JPinDC

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #13 on: December 29, 2013, 09:17:53 PM »
I'm one of those people who really doesn't mind eating the same thing a lot, but my go-to breakfast is a frittata (made on the weekend and cut into wedges) with eggs, salsa, black beans, cheese, and potatoes. I add half an avocado to a wedge and call it a morning. You could vary the mix-ins every week, but it makes it easy to have a healthy breakfast each morning without waking up any earlier.

nikki

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #14 on: December 29, 2013, 09:49:25 PM »
There are lots of great ideas in this thread, so I'll just give you a sample of the foods I often buy (based on an actual glance at my past purchases):

  • potatoes
  • eggs (I buy 30 at a time and really do eat through them quickly enough--I like eggs!)
  • whatever fruits look awesome from the street vendors: lately mandarins, oranges, apples, persimmons
  • I treat veggies the same way: lately I've always had carrots and bell peppers, but greens like celery and spinach as well
  • yogurt--depending on price per unit, big tubs of Yoplait flavored yogurt or the big tub of plain yogurt, which I add jam to. Can't stand plain yogurt taste.
  • fruit jam--cheapest per unit is usually strawberry, so sometimes I get a higher priced one for variety
  • loaf of bread
  • peanut butter (for apple dip)
  • chicken breasts--sometimes

For breakfasts, I eat yogurt and fruit or eggs. Lunches are school lunches. For dinners I often have eggs on rice, tacos (homemade tortillas + potato/spinach/salsa filling or chicken or whatever), fried chicken, egg sandwiches, french toast, or stir fry.

If I buy produce, I make sure I have a plan for it immediately. I don't want things to go bad because my intentions were good but not acted upon. This means that I probably end up eating less green veggies at home than I should because they go bad the quickest (though I do eat plenty at school). Potatoes, carrots, and bell peppers are pretty long-lasting, so I feel comfortable buying them regularly. They get eaten before they go bad. I currently have spinach in the freezer I can pull out and throw into whatever I'm cooking--taco fillings or scrambled eggs, for example.

The most time consuming thing I frequently make is tortillas, but you can probably buy them already made where you live. I'd still like homemade ones better even if I could buy them at the store, though.

I just suggest keeping things simple!

Rural

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #15 on: December 30, 2013, 06:19:27 AM »
I second the idea to simplify one meal. I eat peanut butter toast on whole wheat for breakfast every single day. Breakfast doesn't require thinking about. If that doesn't appeal to you, how about oatmeal? You can make it in the microwave in three minutes.

Or you could simplify lunch by throwing together 5-7 sandwiches can the weekend and sticking them in the freezer (use a whole loaf of bread, put each sandwich in a cheap flap-top baggie, and then stick them all back in the bread bag and put the whole thing in the freezer. Nothing will get freezer burned, and you sandwiches will thaw by lunchtime without you worrying about refrigerating them.

Do both and suddenly you only have to make 3 or so entrees a week with some leftovers for other nights.

stripey

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Re: Cooking for one
« Reply #16 on: December 30, 2013, 07:01:23 AM »
Lots of different approaches here! I think it depends partly on your tolerance for eating the same thing for multiple dinners in the same week, and how much freezer space you have available! (My housemate is big on frozen dinners, so not much space for me).

I did the curry thing for a while: Make enough curry for three or four meals, and make a different curry/Indian dish every day. That way you always have three or four dishes per meal with your rice!

I do use the slow-cooker extensively.

I completely agree with the pyrex/glass containers (or Corningware, for those of you who know what that is). Eating out of them just seems that much classier than plastic.

This website has some good ideas with only using a few ingredients. She also did a grocery list for a week once too: http://thestonesoup.com/blog/2011/02/the-simplest-method-for-menu-planning/

ZiziPB

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