Author Topic: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?  (Read 2458 times)

kay02

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Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« on: June 17, 2021, 02:30:23 PM »
Hi,

This may sound a little backwards but I've started to feel guilty about how much I'm spending on groceries.  I've been really busy with work the last few months so the amount has just gotten more and more when I wasn't really paying attention.  I used to split with roommates but when I moved out on my own I realize I probably ate more than my fair share when we were splitting it. :( 

But I also have to eat healthy and that's been an excuse for spending too much.  I need to stay fit for my job, and I was super chubby in early high school before I lost alot of weight and never ever want to get there again.  Any compromise with healthiness of the food makes me feel like I'm going to get fat and screw everything up.

I try to do things like buy cheaper meats or shop for on sale things but as a single person sometimes I just end up overbuying and throwing away stuff and I hate it.  For a while I would sometimes go shopping for groceries every day or two and it made me sad how much I was spending just to make enough food for a day but also thats just too much time at the grocery store.

Sorry not looking for a therapy session!  How do you balance always buying healthy food but still spending as little as you can? For me it always feels like one or the other.

Thanks!!

seattlecyclone

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2021, 03:06:59 PM »
Healthy does not need to equate with expensive. You could spend $3 on an apple from Whole Foods or 50¢ on an apple from a cheaper supermarket. The two apples have basically identical nutrients. Stay away from the shops like Whole Foods where most of the stuff is overpriced. They try to get you to buy into the idea that you have to buy expensive apples to be healthy, but the evidence for this is scant at best.

I'd give a couple of pieces of advice to start.

First, track what you buy, how much of it you eat, and how much you throw away. If you only get through half of a gallon bottle of milk before the other half spoils, stop buying gallon bottles! The bigger size is usually a better deal if you actually use it all, but if you don't you'll generally be better off buying a smaller container. Start to develop a sense of how much of a particular food you will eat before it spoils, and avoid buying more than this.

Once you have done that, do check out sales again. The first page of your store's weekly ad is generally a good place to start if you don't have much time. The best deals are on there. Buy as much as you can of the sale items, up to the amount you know you'll eat in time. The sales often rotate and you'll eat so much less if you let the store dictate your menu to a certain extent. For example the members of my family eat a lot of fruit. Often I'll bias the purchases toward apples and bananas and pears because they tend to be the cheapest fruits on a regular basis, but when other stuff goes on sale we'll switch it up for that week. Last week mangos and grapes and peaches were being sold for well under their normal price, comparable to the price of apples and pears, so I bought quite a few of those. Variety is nice. Don't buy something unhealthy just because it's on sale though. A 99¢ deal on Pringles should probably be ignored. A 99¢ deal on eggplants...yum!

This stuff takes practice. Don't expect to cut your budget in half overnight. Build your knowledge of what the normal price is for foods you enjoy, so you're better at spotting deals when they occur. Good luck!

Steeze

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2021, 03:16:05 PM »
I used to skip meals, steal food at the grocery, get free meals at the church and go to food pantries when needed. Saving money on groceries is an absolute NO for me now. Hell I even buy the organic version of most things at this point. Groceries is one area of lifestyle inflation I don't feel bad about at all.

I made pasta the other night with organic meat, pasta, sauce, and veggies. Cost about $16 to make around 8 meals worth. I do not feel bad about that at all. Figure that is a savings of $50-$60 vs. eating out, and I didn't have to buy the cheap stuff to do it.

You are doing well on the income side. Good food is worthwhile in my opinion. Don't waste it (let it go bad) and don't eat out - do that and you are way ahead of the game. Most people buy veggies and whatnot and let them rot in the fridge, opting to eat fast food and pre-made pizza instead. If you are buying whole foods, real ingredients, to make meals, chances are this is a great investment and worth spending money on.

herbgeek

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2021, 03:22:47 PM »
Eat less meat, buy produce that is seasonal.  Eat lots of legumes (soaked and cooked, not canned).  Make a batch of dinner and freeze individual portions for when you don't feel like cooking.   Grow your own sprouts and/or microgreens.  Lots of ways to eat healthy that are not expensive, and eating foods that are in season are healthier for you that some produce shipped half way across the world that isn't in season where you are.

Freedomin5

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2021, 03:30:53 PM »
We food prep and freeze individual sized portions. That allows us to buy in bulk. For example,  we buy a load of fresh veggies once a week, prep a pasta sauce and freeze it in individual portions. We might also prep a carrot pumpkin soup and freeze that in portions too.

Then throughout the week, we rotate between our frozen meals. That reduces shopping time, daily prep time (some days you’re just too busy to cook), and saves us money.

Another thing we do is eat less meat. We only have meat once or twice a week. We eat a lot of eggs though. Eggs will keep for a long time in the fridge before they go bad.

We also don’t drink much milk, but we do eat yogurt.

Finally, we keep our meals simple. We have the same few things for breakfast and lunch every day. We have the same few meals for dinner every week. Those meals often use many of the same ingredients. That way, we can buy in bulk and use up the groceries completely. It helps to plan your meals for the week, then only buy the groceries you need to make those meals.

Sibley

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #5 on: June 17, 2021, 03:44:59 PM »
You are mistaking spending lots and lots of money for high quality. This is wrong. Want proof? You can go to the expensive grocery store 5 minutes from me and get really crappy produce. Then you can go to the Aldi, or Meijer, and get much higher quality produce for at least 25% less.

If you want to spend more than is necessary, then fine. That's your choice. But don't come here and complain that you're spending so much money (when you don't need to), or gloat that you're eating so much better (because you're probably not). There are probably hundreds of threads on this forum about how to eat well while still sticking to a budget. Go find some. (The native search sucks though, use google.)

Facepunch applied.

Malcat

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2021, 04:55:27 PM »
DH and I eat tremendously healthy food and it's dirt cheap.

We are comfortable sparing no expense on healthy eating, we just don't have to because healthy eating can be so damn cheap.

FWIW, I lost 70lbs eating the way I do, DH lost 30, and we've stayed lean and active for years eating this way. DH is nearly 50 and is in the best and leanest shape of his life.

We shop once a week, don't bother with worrying about things being on sale, and eat phenomenally delicious food to the point that if we're away from home for a week, DH starts whining about missing our normal food. We also almost never waste any food.

You DO NOT need to sacrifice good, healthy, tasty food to save money.


You do, however, need to learn how to cook delicious cheap food. Budget Bytes is a great starter resource for this.

I personally have a curated collection of over 150 cheap, amazing recipes that I organize with the Paprika app where I can cross reference ingredients to minimize the chance of food waste. I bulk cook all lunches and dinners for the week in one afternoon.

It takes me about 5 minutes to meal plan and create a shopping list for the week.

FWIW, I started cooking this way FOR health and ethical reasons, not to save money. It just turned out to be unbelievably cheap to eat well.

dreadmoose

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #7 on: June 17, 2021, 05:20:49 PM »
Try to remember that "healthy" is a marketing term in nearly all the ways we think of it now.

Organic doesn't have almost the same nutrients as non-organic, it has the exact same. There is no discernable difference scientifically between the two (including double blind taste tests).

Low "anything" doesn't mean it's healthy, superfoods are the definition of fake marketing, and healthy hasn't changed in 50 years so don't fall for the hype. Eat in moderation, track nutrients and calories if you need to, and avoid overpriced grocery stores that are just designed to suck extra money out of you for the exact same final result.

You'll be doing humanity and the planet a favor too, more land required for the same crop yield has put a dent in our abilities to leave natural lands alone as well as feed our growing population.

OtherJen

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #8 on: June 17, 2021, 07:36:02 PM »
You are mistaking spending lots and lots of money for high quality. This is wrong. Want proof? You can go to the expensive grocery store 5 minutes from me and get really crappy produce. Then you can go to the Aldi, or Meijer, and get much higher quality produce for at least 25% less.

If you want to spend more than is necessary, then fine. That's your choice. But don't come here and complain that you're spending so much money (when you don't need to), or gloat that you're eating so much better (because you're probably not). There are probably hundreds of threads on this forum about how to eat well while still sticking to a budget. Go find some. (The native search sucks though, use google.)

Facepunch applied.

Seconding Aldi (Meijer is a great option if you live in the Great Lakes area). The Aldi by my house usually has beautiful produce and lots of other good stuff. Tubs of salad greens are cheaper at Aldi than at Kroger, and Aldi carries my favorite baby spinach/baby arugula blend and big bags of chopped kale. Probably 90% of our groceries are from either Aldi or Costco (which also has some good deals, including the best local prices on avocados, coffee beans, brown rice, and good olive oil).

I see that Malcat recommended Budget Bytes. That is a great resource for inexpensive, tasty, and generally healthy meals. 

seemsright

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #9 on: June 17, 2021, 08:45:07 PM »
Knowing how to cook and where to shop is the key to keeping the food budget in check.

I can make damn good bread for less than 75 cents a loaf. (including the electric cost to bake it) I can make homemade pasta cheaper than the dry stuff from the store. And it tastes so much better.

I have to make it a priority to spend the time to cook. Because when I don't have time our food bill goes up.

We use everything. I save my veggie scraps to make veggie stock. I have nights where we clean out the fridge and have the random on a tray.

The hardest part about my food budget is my 10 year old just hit her preteen growth spurt...holly cow that kid can put away food.






Malcat

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #10 on: June 17, 2021, 09:02:45 PM »
Knowing how to cook and where to shop is the key to keeping the food budget in check.

I can make damn good bread for less than 75 cents a loaf. (including the electric cost to bake it) I can make homemade pasta cheaper than the dry stuff from the store. And it tastes so much better.

I have to make it a priority to spend the time to cook. Because when I don't have time our food bill goes up.

We use everything. I save my veggie scraps to make veggie stock. I have nights where we clean out the fridge and have the random on a tray.

The hardest part about my food budget is my 10 year old just hit her preteen growth spurt...holly cow that kid can put away food.

I'm MUCH lazier than this.

I just cook a lot of legume based dishes and call it a day.

APowers

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #11 on: June 17, 2021, 09:06:04 PM »
*snip*

Sorry not looking for a therapy session!  How do you balance always buying healthy food but still spending as little as you can? For me it always feels like one or the other.

Thanks!!

Just like you disconnect spending from income, you want to disconnect spending from "healthy". First figure out what is nutritionally healthy for you, and then afterwards, go about finding the least expensive way to procure that nutrition.

For example, say you want to eat whole wheat bread, chicken, and spinach for your lunches:

-This is one sandwich for $10 at Panera.
-If you buy the ingredients and do the meal prep, that same $10 will last you all week (might have to spend $20 up front for two weeks' worth).


seemsright

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #12 on: June 17, 2021, 09:34:44 PM »
Knowing how to cook and where to shop is the key to keeping the food budget in check.

I can make damn good bread for less than 75 cents a loaf. (including the electric cost to bake it) I can make homemade pasta cheaper than the dry stuff from the store. And it tastes so much better.

I have to make it a priority to spend the time to cook. Because when I don't have time our food bill goes up.

We use everything. I save my veggie scraps to make veggie stock. I have nights where we clean out the fridge and have the random on a tray.

The hardest part about my food budget is my 10 year old just hit her preteen growth spurt...holly cow that kid can put away food.

I'm MUCH lazier than this.

I just cook a lot of legume based dishes and call it a day.

I am working on simplifying our food. And making simpler dishes. It is a major work in progress.

Malcat

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #13 on: June 18, 2021, 07:25:31 AM »
Knowing how to cook and where to shop is the key to keeping the food budget in check.

I can make damn good bread for less than 75 cents a loaf. (including the electric cost to bake it) I can make homemade pasta cheaper than the dry stuff from the store. And it tastes so much better.

I have to make it a priority to spend the time to cook. Because when I don't have time our food bill goes up.

We use everything. I save my veggie scraps to make veggie stock. I have nights where we clean out the fridge and have the random on a tray.

The hardest part about my food budget is my 10 year old just hit her preteen growth spurt...holly cow that kid can put away food.

I'm MUCH lazier than this.

I just cook a lot of legume based dishes and call it a day.

I am working on simplifying our food. And making simpler dishes. It is a major work in progress.

Yeah, it took me about a year to get our food where it is now.
I had to learn a ton of new recipes, which is time consuming. Once it was all familiar though, it for faster and easier.

There are certain legume and vegetable stews I make as go-to's when I have no energy because I can basically sleep walk through making them and get 10 servings out of 15 minutes of active work.

I started with just doing one legume based, bulk cooked recipe per week.

wenchsenior

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #14 on: June 18, 2021, 10:36:35 AM »
Hi,

This may sound a little backwards but I've started to feel guilty about how much I'm spending on groceries.  I've been really busy with work the last few months so the amount has just gotten more and more when I wasn't really paying attention.  I used to split with roommates but when I moved out on my own I realize I probably ate more than my fair share when we were splitting it. :( 

But I also have to eat healthy and that's been an excuse for spending too much.  I need to stay fit for my job, and I was super chubby in early high school before I lost alot of weight and never ever want to get there again.  Any compromise with healthiness of the food makes me feel like I'm going to get fat and screw everything up.

I try to do things like buy cheaper meats or shop for on sale things but as a single person sometimes I just end up overbuying and throwing away stuff and I hate it.  For a while I would sometimes go shopping for groceries every day or two and it made me sad how much I was spending just to make enough food for a day but also thats just too much time at the grocery store.

Sorry not looking for a therapy session!  How do you balance always buying healthy food but still spending as little as you can? For me it always feels like one or the other.

Thanks!!

You need to clarify what your goals are re: food, optimize around those, and then stop worrying about it.

If your main goal is to save money, you can do that and eat unhealthfully or healthfully, depending on food choices and how much time and effort you want to put into shopping sales and cooking.

If your goal is to eat healthfully but you have a lot of food restrictions, you might not be able to save as much money as someone who doesn't (e.g., I have a lot of food limitations, not b/c of allergies but b/c of multiple medical diagnoses that call for specific, sometimes totally contradictory diets).

If your goal is to maximize free time  b/c your priorities need to be work or other life activities, you probably will end up spending a bit more on food than if you have more free time available to meal plan and cook.

If you have multiple sometimes competing goals (e.g., to save money AND eat healthfully AND deal with some food restrictions), but you (like me) hate cooking and food shopping and would rather beat yourself in the head with a hammer than spend extra time bulk cooking or thinking about food or making trips to multiple stores to save a few extra bucks on a weekly sale, then you are probably going to be spending somewhat more you hypothetically could be on food. 

I spend a lot more than is typical on this message board on food.  I tried the hard-core approach and I was miserable at how much additional mental energy and time it took to cut my food bill by about 200$.  I kept the low hanging fruit (gave up booze and still shop meat specials) and ditched all other efforts to cut our grocery bill.  That was about 5 years ago and I'm much happier now.

The key is knowing what is worth spending money on FOR YOU, given your situation. Then do that and stop worrying about it.
« Last Edit: June 18, 2021, 10:39:17 AM by wenchsenior »

K_in_the_kitchen

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #15 on: June 18, 2021, 10:41:16 AM »
I think one good mindset for this is to recognize you don't shop by what you want to eat, you shop by what's on sale, period.

If I want chicken breast, which is $3/#, but thighs are $1/#, I buy thighs.  We know we want to eat plenty of fresh fruit, so I check the ads and often decide which store to shop at based on the sales.  For example, this week we're eating watermelon because it's 25¢/#.  I don't buy organic milk for the college aged kid who goes through 1-2 gallons per week

You also have to know the basic good values in food.  Cabbage, carrots, onions, and potatoes are always a good value.  Other produce has a price cycle related to seasonality.  Apples go low priced in the fall and winter, as do Brussels sprouts and broccoli. By next month cantaloupe will be $1 each, and grapes hit that price in late summer.

The grocery bills get cheaper the more you eliminate highly processed foods, convenience foods, prepared foods, and junk foods.  This makes room in the budget for high quality foods.  I buy organic cream so I can get it with zero additives.  I buy grass-fed and finished ground beef, but go conventional for steak.  I don't worry so much about chicken, as organic operations really just come down to the feed, since "access to the outside" doesn't mean they get to go out.

Knowing how to make food is a good money saver.  We eat almost no processed food (other than it being minimally processed, such as beef being cut from the carcass, oil being pressed from olives, cheese, etc.).  One thing the pandemic showed us was how much we hate processed convenience foods -- not the college kids, but DH and I.  Now we base our meals off meat and produce, with produce being the major portion of our diet.  We don't spend money on desserts or sweet foods -- fruit becomes incredibly sweet and valued when you give up added sugars.  We mostly don't eat grains, but if we want bread, I grind wheat and make sourdough bread.  If we want polenta, I grind corn.  If we want soup, I make stock.  I culture yogurt and creme fraiche.  I grind almonds into almond butter in the food processor.  I make ghee.  Now these things can be time consuming, so I don't do them all the time.  I don't bake bread in summer because it heats up the house.

Simple is easier and cheaper.  We eat the same dish for more than one meal.  We use leftovers in new dishes.  We know our favorites and mostly eat those meals, adding in enough variety to not get bored (soon we'll trying a savory cornmeal waffle recipe).

We don't buy organic everything.  We don't even buy everything on the dirty dozen list organic, because quality also matters and often the organics we encounter are old and deteriorating.  We instead focus on local produce plus loss leader produce (usually very fresh).  A diet of fresh meats and fresh produce is going to be healthier than one full of organic processed foods.  As for meats, I think with fresh meats the pasture vs. conventional questions is mostly about the animal treatment than the nutritional makeup of the meat.  People write a lot of books and articles full of opinions about meat and other foods that aren't entirely true.  For example, I can't tell you how many times I've read that ultra pasteurized dairy is dead and won't culture -- it cultures just fine and saves the step of heating and cooling the milk.  Grass-fed and finished beef has a lower fat content, but low fat diets have been debunked.  It also tests higher in omega 3 fatty acids, but probably not enough to justify calling conventional meat unhealthy.  For us I definitely consider this a choice not made for health reasons.

Mostly, we understand that healthy eating really comes down to eating a produce forward diet of unprocessed and minimally processed foods.  There are no super foods, just the current marketing darlings.  There is no miracle diet (paleo, vegan, keto, etc.) just the reality that human bodies need protein, fat, carbs, and fiber, can't process too much glucose at once, and need a variety of micronutrients which can be found in food.

Malcat

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #16 on: June 18, 2021, 11:32:06 AM »
@kay02 us any of this helpful?

We will need more feedback from you in order to give you more specific advice.

Rosy

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #17 on: June 18, 2021, 12:16:38 PM »
It's simple - start with what you like to eat.

1. Pick three of your favorite dishes - buy all the ingredients and cook up a batch of each to freeze in individual containers.
Easy - and if you don't know how to cook a dish google it - look over the various recipes - how much time and effort does it take? which version sounds best based on the ingredients you like?...

2. Then pick one to three new recipes to learn how to cook in a month.

3. Youtube is great if you are a visual learner besides you will be positively inspired by the enthusiasm of a fun-to-watch cook who enjoys preparing good, delicious, tasty and healthy food.

4. NEXT - healthy snacks - stock up for one week - don't waste your time in the grocery store.
It really helps if you have a healthy snack handy - ready to eat - when you come home tired and uninspired.

5. Shopping
No reason to complicate things - make a plan that you can live with and implement it for at least three weeks - adjust it as needed and forget-about-it.
It is your plan - your rules - do what works best. If something fails, figure out why and find a different way to do it.
Maybe go grocery shopping every Tuesday and pick up extra items only on Friday so you are stocked up for the weekend both with snacks and to batch cook - no extra runs to the store.

What do you like to eat that doesn't involve meat? Be sure to include that in your plan because it saves you money.
Any fish, shrimp, lobster, crab or scallops that you like - Aldi runs specials on all of them in their own season.
Nobody beats the "never frozen" fresh Salmon that Aldi often offers on Wednesday - their day for "never frozen" quality meats and fish.

If I lived alone my grocery bill would be way low - I happen to like a lot of the cheap foods like eggs and potatoes - so many ways to fix those.
Instead of a sketchy salad - buy a good-looking cabbage, make coleslaw or a raw salad - it doesn't go limp or bad and you can always sautee it with a little butter, salt and pepper - done! Cucumber - shredded raw carrots - get yourself a shredder and slicer to speed up the process.

A cook must have good tools and a small but good selection of knives! No cheap junk - you'll only get frustrated, cut yourself.....

TIPS
Get familiar with all the grocery stores in your area - make it your mission to find out what each does best and pick a final three to rotate shopping.
We shop at two main grocery stores and at Aldi - once you know when they have their sales - say Sunday to Wed or whatever you can take advantage of BOGO - buy-one-get-one. That is a no-brainer way to save and stock up.
We have several different ethnic stores in our area and about every three months I visit a couple of them.
Polish, Asian, Italian, East European, Arab. It is a nice change of pace and fun to experiment.

BUDGET
Even if you absolutely hate shopping it helps your budget and keeps it interesting to know your way around at least two stores.
Stock up on sales if it makes sense and never ever feel bad about buying tasty - quality - good for you food!
Enjoy the privilege of having enough money to do so.
You'll get better in time via trial and error, we all did:) - focus on the things you like to eat and you'll be fine.

One trick I use occasionally - when something I like went up past the price I like - I challenge myself to find an alternative.
That could be price shopping, bulk buying, switching grocery stores, finding coupons, or finding a different, cheaper brand.

Buy seasonal fruits and veggies from your own area.
Watermelon and sweet fresh Corn on the Cob are cheap in our area right now - we love both.
It is literally four minutes in the steamer (Instapot-pressure cooker) for the fresh ears of corn - awesome flavor.
If you don't have an Instapot - get one, preferably the kind that has a sautee function for your meat.
If you batch cook make sure you get a big enough size.

Lots of great suggestions all-around. Pick what works for you and voila!
You got this!

slappy

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #18 on: June 18, 2021, 01:03:31 PM »
This may have already been said, but I find that "healthy" eating is often an excuse for spending more. As others have mentioned, there are plenty of ways to eat healthy for less. That being said, it doesn't seem like eating healthy is actually the issue. It sounds like time is the issue. So maybe you don't have time to plan, watch sales, meal prep. I think there are ways to deal with that and still lower your costs. More info would certainly be helpful. What are you spending/buying/eating/wasting?

CrustyBadger

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #19 on: June 18, 2021, 02:03:36 PM »
When people these days talk about "eating healthy" being expensive, I find what they usually mean by "eating healthy" seems to involve eating fewer carbs, especially grains.  Sometimes they mean going full paleo, or sometimes they just mean eating less starchy foods and more fresh fruits and vegetables.

The starchy grains and beans are a great source of inexpensive calories which is why they have been so popular for most of history!  Whenever you look at suggestions for frugal meals, people will list using inexpensive starches like rice, bread/pasta, oats,  corn, beans and potatoes to be the bulk of the meal and use meat,nuts and so on sparingly.

If you are trying to go low carb, you eliminate a lot of the cheaper options. 

If this describes your situation, I think it helps to accept  that produce and meat are simply going to cost more, calorie for calorie, compared with starchy grains.

Don't try to replicate starchy foods like pasta and tortillas with vegetables. Cauliflower crust pizza or nut based tortillas may taste great but they are going to be very expensive.  It is more frugal just to choose foods in their natural state and eat them unprocessed.

For produce, buy in the season and accept that each month there will be a lot of repetition.  What's in season will depend upon where you live, but in general you can tell vegetables and fruit are in season because there are good buys on that produce.   Here's a link to a calendar of seasonal produce:  https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-s-in-season-calendar-1388661

So, April might be asparagus month, and you will just be eating a lot of asparagus that month.  Whereas come May, you will be seeing a lot of swiss chard.

Cooking from scratch will be the cheapest way to get your healthy foods, but if you don't have time to cook fancy meals, it may be better to learn to eat your vegetables raw, as snacks.  People are used to the idea of eating raw fruit for a snack, but you can also eat a slice of cabbage raw!  If you get in the habit of eating raw fruits and vegetables for snacks and meals, it makes the rest of the job of cooking a lot simpler.

Especially if you are just cooking for one, it would be good to designate two days each week as "catch up" days where you use up any food you have left in the fridge.  Learn some easy ways to use up produce and meat.  For example, make smoothies, or make a salad, or make a stir fry, or make a soup.  If you are not going completely grain free, you could make your "catch up" days be the days you have some grain foods as a treat.  So for example, add some rice or noodles to the stir fry, or use up some meat and mushrooms in a quiche.

If you are going low carb and find one meal more difficult than the others, try to focus on just one meal at a time.  Locate a source of low carb breakfast menu ideas and try to find the cheapest and simplest versions that you can make.  Get really good at low carb breakfasts and then turn your attention to lunch options.

Rusted Rose

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #20 on: June 18, 2021, 02:06:10 PM »
I find that I edge toward food waste if I buy too much produce. I generally focus on maybe one or two types a week that keep well, like red cabbage or brussels sprouts, or I'll get carrots, an onion, and organic potatoes and make a beef stew. I've gotten used to the amounts that I know I can use within the freshness time frame and never buy more than that at a time. Well, the carrots I sometimes get a whole bag instead of individuals, but they also keep pretty OK.

Since my main focus is making sure I get enough protein, my foundation is meats and eggs, and I buy on special whenever I can. Grass-fed ground beef and conventional steak has been available at good prices lately on rotation at the stores I go to; I'd prefer chicken and pork that aren't fed soy but they're usually quite pricey, ah well. I fill in with other things I might find on special since I like variety -- like shrimp or ground lamb. Yummy!

I stick to less fancy cheeses too for now.

Do you have a Trader Joe's? I don't have Aldi where I am but TJ prices are generally pretty good for adding in some fun and variety.

My main reason for posting though is to recommend the Art of the Freezer. I get extra meat on special, cook up some while it's fresh and freeze the rest for easy options later -- like a flat of petite sirloin steak will get separated into freezer bags and thawed whenever. I even freeze milk in ice cube trays if I have too much left by expiration, which happens only occasionally.

There's always the much-heralded beans and rice...I make a nice chili now and then. Canned and dry ingredients are good keepers. I get tuna, sardines, and herring as well.

I've never really bothered to make up meals and freeze in portions, but that seems to work for some. I keep meals simple but seasoned -- like sauteed shrimp over shredded stir-fried red cabbage with Asian flavors. Shrimp bought frozen at a local discount market, cabbage keeps a while, easy and affordable, doesn't take a lot of time either. Seasoning meat and tossing it into the toaster oven is super low effort. Or what I was doing recently, beer brats with organic mini peppers (both on sale).

Rusted Rose

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #21 on: June 18, 2021, 02:12:06 PM »
(But, just to admit the truth here, commercial brats are not super healthy. :P Feel free to ignore those. :) )

GuitarStv

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #22 on: June 18, 2021, 02:24:51 PM »
Can you post a list of the foods that you're buying?  Then people can suggest equivalents or alternates that are cheaper.

Fish Sweet

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #23 on: June 18, 2021, 04:18:57 PM »
For starters, how much time and energy do you have to spend on your food making decisions?  This is the basis for all the choices you make about your food and something you need to think about realistically.  If you're working grueling 65 hour+ work weeks and staggering home exhausted, someone presenting you with a cheap and healthy meal prep menu for 28 days isn't going to be hugely helpful.  If you have relatively a lot of time/energy to spend on meal planning and prep and are getting tripped up by anxiety and worries about health and wellness food, that's another story.  Can you cook?  Do you enjoy cooking?  Do you have an adequately sized fridge & freezer?

In no particular order, here are my tips and tricks as someone who loves to cook and eat, tries to eat healthy, and also ran into a lot of energy/decision-making roadblocks when my schedule gets busy:
  • Buy cuts of meat when they're on sale, freeze 'em til you need them.  Just thawed out an 18 month old round of chicken thighs, only slightly freezer burnt.  They tasted just fine stir-fried with noodles.  There should be no reason you're throwing out meat unless you're letting it sit for years and years in storage.
  • Make one of your meals predictably easy.  For me, this is breakfast.  Every week, I choose a breakfast item (say, muffins or eggs), get a week's worth, and then never make another breakfast related decision for 7 days.  For a healthy focus, this could be home-made overnight oats, a piece of fruit + yogurt + granola, 2 eggs and a cup of tea, whatever works for you.
  • Buy a couple cheap-ish healthy ready-made meals, frozen or refrigerated is fine.  Those are your backups for when you're truly out of fucks and energy to give, and it's cheaper to eat one of those than to find yourself ordering health food takeout (if that's what you're doing.)
  • Stick with fruits and vegetables with a longer shelf life.  Spinach and mushrooms go bad as soon as you look in the other direction.  Cabbage and apples last for weeks in the crisper.  Broccoli is in-between.  If you buy something with a short shelf life, commit to eating it within 5 days.
  • Always cook with the intention of leaving leftovers for the next day.  If it was healthy enough for you to chomp today, it'll be just as good for you tomorrow.
  • Do you like soaps, stews, and/or saucy dishes?  They don't all have to be laden with butter, fats, and creams, and they make some of the best and easiest dishes to batch cook and save for later meals/side dishes.  Also, a great way of using up spare veggies!  Pureeing a small mountain of broccoli to make a zesty broccoli asparagus lemon soup is also deeply satisfying.

Rusted Rose

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #24 on: June 18, 2021, 07:11:37 PM »
only slightly freezer burnt

What I've found, for what it's worth, is that "freezer burn" seems to be all in the ice crystals. When you rinse accumulated crystals off things, the freezer burn taste disappears.

Quote
They don't all have to be laden with butter, fats, and creams

As an aside and of course nothing personal...IMO there's nothing wrong with any of these. Our ancestors would have prized them for good reason. A lot of formerly really good stuff has been demonized, altered, and adulterated over the last many decades in the USA. I wonder how for instance Europe sees this. I think they have retained better dairy and maybe better health conditions too.

Part of a bigger discussion that maybe this isn't the place for, but hey.

OtherJen

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #25 on: June 18, 2021, 07:25:13 PM »
only slightly freezer burnt

What I've found, for what it's worth, is that "freezer burn" seems to be all in the ice crystals. When you rinse accumulated crystals off things, the freezer burn taste disappears.

Quote
They don't all have to be laden with butter, fats, and creams

As an aside and of course nothing personal...IMO there's nothing wrong with any of these. Our ancestors would have prized them for good reason. A lot of formerly really good stuff has been demonized, altered, and adulterated over the last many decades in the USA. I wonder how for instance Europe sees this. I think they have retained better dairy and maybe better health conditions too.

Part of a bigger discussion that maybe this isn't the place for, but hey.

And sometimes those fats even make it easier for the body to absorb certain micronutrients.

K_in_the_kitchen

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #26 on: June 18, 2021, 08:54:13 PM »
only slightly freezer burnt

What I've found, for what it's worth, is that "freezer burn" seems to be all in the ice crystals. When you rinse accumulated crystals off things, the freezer burn taste disappears.

Quote
They don't all have to be laden with butter, fats, and creams

As an aside and of course nothing personal...IMO there's nothing wrong with any of these. Our ancestors would have prized them for good reason. A lot of formerly really good stuff has been demonized, altered, and adulterated over the last many decades in the USA. I wonder how for instance Europe sees this. I think they have retained better dairy and maybe better health conditions too.

Part of a bigger discussion that maybe this isn't the place for, but hey.

And sometimes those fats even make it easier for the body to absorb certain micronutrients.

Plus those fats will leave you feeling satiated longer, thus leading to eating less food and saving money.

Fish Sweet

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #27 on: June 18, 2021, 09:08:24 PM »
only slightly freezer burnt

What I've found, for what it's worth, is that "freezer burn" seems to be all in the ice crystals. When you rinse accumulated crystals off things, the freezer burn taste disappears.

Quote
They don't all have to be laden with butter, fats, and creams

As an aside and of course nothing personal...IMO there's nothing wrong with any of these. Our ancestors would have prized them for good reason. A lot of formerly really good stuff has been demonized, altered, and adulterated over the last many decades in the USA. I wonder how for instance Europe sees this. I think they have retained better dairy and maybe better health conditions too.

Part of a bigger discussion that maybe this isn't the place for, but hey.
Ha, no disagreement from me there!  I'm a self-declared soup fiend, and creamy soups laden with bacon bits are a personal favorite.  That said, it does sound like 'health food' is a point of anxiety for the thread writer so I wanted to emphasize that in my response.

ALSO, because I can talk about soup all day, soup is also a good answer for 'whatever's left that needs to be cooked ASAP,' and you can also look to international cuisines for more options beyond ye standard clam chowder + chicken noodle + Italian wedding. Cucumber and fishball soup.  Celery and meatball soup.  Tofu tilapia soup.  A handful of dried shiitake mushrooms, five slices of ginger, and three chicken drumsticks simmered for three hours = one helluva soup.

Rusted Rose

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #28 on: June 18, 2021, 09:26:04 PM »
That said, it does sound like 'health food' is a point of anxiety for the thread writer so I wanted to emphasize that in my response.

Well, but what I and some others are saying is that fat IS health food. At least natural, un-soyed-up, non-seed-oil fat. But it's been demonized. What is "healthy" has become a patchwork of beliefs, many of which are unsupported by fact, and it's weird. :)

Yes to the upthread comments on fat-soluble vitamins. "Low fat" is anathema.

And, that said, yay for soup! I really should make more of it. This:

Quote
A handful of dried shiitake mushrooms, five slices of ginger, and three chicken drumsticks simmered for three hours = one helluva soup

sounds yummy! Are these drumsticks already cooked, or tossed in raw?

I used to love to dress soups up with sweet peppers sauteed in sesame oil, garlic and ginger, all of it scraped in. Got to do that again.

Fish Sweet

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #29 on: June 18, 2021, 10:03:05 PM »
That said, it does sound like 'health food' is a point of anxiety for the thread writer so I wanted to emphasize that in my response.

Well, but what I and some others are saying is that fat IS health food. At least natural, un-soyed-up, non-seed-oil fat. But it's been demonized. What is "healthy" has become a patchwork of beliefs, many of which are unsupported by fact, and it's weird. :)

Yes to the upthread comments on fat-soluble vitamins. "Low fat" is anathema.

And, that said, yay for soup! I really should make more of it. This:

Quote
A handful of dried shiitake mushrooms, five slices of ginger, and three chicken drumsticks simmered for three hours = one helluva soup

sounds yummy! Are these drumsticks already cooked, or tossed in raw?

I used to love to dress soups up with sweet peppers sauteed in sesame oil, garlic and ginger, all of it scraped in. Got to do that again.
Sauteed sweet peppers.... that sounds delightful!

For the soup, I'd soak the shiitakes in warm water for about ten minutes and scald the drumsticks beforehand (so put in a pot of water, bring to a boil for a minute, then skim off the scum or dump out the water entirely) and then toss them all together with the ginger to simmer.  (Also add salt + white pepper to taste.)  It's my go-to soup when I'm feeling under the weather, so I might add some rice or udon noodles if I want to make it a whole meal.

Rusted Rose

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #30 on: June 19, 2021, 03:24:59 PM »
Sauteed sweet peppers.... that sounds delightful!

Oops I forgot the splash of soy sauce with that. Good for us savory seekers.

Quote
For the soup, I'd soak the shiitakes in warm water for about ten minutes and scald the drumsticks beforehand (so put in a pot of water, bring to a boil for a minute, then skim off the scum or dump out the water entirely) and then toss them all together with the ginger to simmer.  (Also add salt + white pepper to taste.)  It's my go-to soup when I'm feeling under the weather, so I might add some rice or udon noodles if I want to make it a whole meal.

Drummies skin-on, I take it. Something to try, thanks!

chasingthegoodlife

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #31 on: June 19, 2021, 03:58:12 PM »
One thing that helps me is having a few quick go-to recipes that are flexible enough to use up whatever’s in the fridge. Thai curry is a favourite here - just keep a jar of curry paste and can of coconut milk on hand and most proteins and veggies will fit right in.

Another thing we do is slow roast a piece of meat on the weekend, have a roast dinner, and then use the meat in dishes through the week. Eg: lamb roast, lamb wraps/souvlaki, lamb pumpkin tahini salad, Korma curry, Shepard’s Pie. The initial cost of the meat seems expensive but cost per serve is much cheaper than buying several different meats during the week for individual dishes.

sonofsven

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #32 on: June 19, 2021, 10:13:06 PM »
Lotsa good advice, mine is learn how to cook, then do it.
I live in the country so if I want to eat I have to cook, but of course real cooking from ingredients is much different than heating up those frozen entrees from the freezer section of the store. I don't buy anything from there.
Cooking for one is very uninspiring (I like to have fun in the kitchen) so I try to keep it simple and save the more inspired dishes for guests, or when I sometimes do feel like eating something different and "fancy".
In the fall I bust out the crock pot and every Sunday make a nice stew, chili, verde, whatever, and then I have either a lunch or dinner for multiple days per week.
I also do a lot of baked root vegetables with chicken thighs or drumsticks in the winter, again, multiple meals.
In the spring and summer I eat a lot of garden and csa fruit and vegetables and a lot of salmon cuz I fish a bunch. I also trade salmon with hunters for elk and deer.
If I really want something fast and easy (and, yes, processed, though I do try to minimize processed food)I do a top ramen with frozen stir fry veggies added (costco has a big cheap bag of frozen stir fry vegetables for cheap). I buy a case of Top Ramen at Costco, so I know I won't starve to death ;-)
Also at costco there is the famous cheap roast chicken.
Night one, eat delicious warm chicken breast right after the groceries are put away.
Night two, a big chicken ranch salad for dinner.
Night three, chicken tacos or burritos
When all the easy bits are gone, boil the carcass, add vegetables, spices, and noodles for a few days of soup.
By yourself, you will struggle to eat all that chicken!
By far the biggest savings for me though is lunch during the work day. Do not ever go out to lunch on a workday, brown bag it.
I am on jobsites every day and I still see other subs race off every day for fast food.
I make a sandwich or a leftover, a sliced apple with peanut butter (replacement for the PBJ to cut down on bread), maybe a piece of dessert or sweet thing like chocolate chips mixed with almonds or homemade granola, maybe some smoked salmon to pass out (the dogs especially like that!), some water, and that's it.
Set up my folding camp chair in the shade and spend a nice half hour eating and chatting with the folks smart enough to bring lunch from home.

Runrooster

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #33 on: June 30, 2021, 06:23:14 PM »
Cooking and eating for one is very difficult.  First, the shopping for sales - for a family of 3 I will hit 3 different stores, including the ethnic grocery store with cheap produce.  Even so, one (large) cauliflower will last us two weeks.  Major solution is frozen vegetables, which come in nice mixes, chopped and cleaned  Next, recipes are usually geared to 4 servings at least - more with big stew meals like chili.  I don't mind eating the same thing 3-4 days in a row if it's one of my favorites; sometimes I make 4 servings and freeze half and then pull the other half out a few weeks later.  Frozen pizza, pasta, potstickers, many meals are just as much work for 4 servings as for one or two, so it's tempting to make extra, but you have to know where your limits are with any food.  I like making Thai curries, but again one can of coconut milk makes 4 servings, maybe more, so freeze half.  Lentils and rice are easy, set-and-forget it even without a rice cooker, but that depends on if you are scared of carbs.

I'm curious what you're spending on food.  I spend about $150, including lots of produce but no fish.  I think for one person, probably living in the city, spending twice that and eating some fish is still pretty reasonable.  The main thing is that the less you eat out, the more you save, and the more you cook, the lower your food bill will drop on its own.

Malcat

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #34 on: June 30, 2021, 06:35:23 PM »
^I'm not sure OP is reading this thread or has any intention of responding.


youngwildandfree

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #35 on: July 01, 2021, 07:41:26 AM »
^I'm not sure OP is reading this thread or has any intention of responding.

Doesn't seem like it, but I'm reading it all and taking detailed notes! I'm not the OP, but our family spends way too much on food. I was taught much of this growing up, but I find the mental energy of shopping is a roadblock for me. I avoid it until someone else in the family goes to the store...it's embarrassing. I might be a good candidate for online grocery shopping.

Malcat

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #36 on: July 01, 2021, 07:47:17 AM »
^I'm not sure OP is reading this thread or has any intention of responding.

Doesn't seem like it, but I'm reading it all and taking detailed notes! I'm not the OP, but our family spends way too much on food. I was taught much of this growing up, but I find the mental energy of shopping is a roadblock for me. I avoid it until someone else in the family goes to the store...it's embarrassing. I might be a good candidate for online grocery shopping.
[/b]

I would think so.

DeniseNJ

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #37 on: July 01, 2021, 08:16:58 AM »
We still spend a fortune on food but used to spend twice as much before I found Aldi. My family is both picky and lazy. Plus food allergies make some foods and products unavailable. But at least if we can get the bulk of our food at Aldi we save at least 600 a month.

Once I get my 21 and 18 yr old launched, my food costs will go down to almost nothing!  I'm happy buying no junk food at all and eating just fruit, veggies, and some whole grains.  But if there are no chips in the house my "kids" will go nuts.  They got issues.

Sibley

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #38 on: July 01, 2021, 08:42:13 AM »
^I'm not sure OP is reading this thread or has any intention of responding.

Doubt it.  They don't want advice, they wanted praise.

norajean

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #39 on: July 01, 2021, 08:48:19 AM »
Find a cheapo local grocery (I like Grocery Outlet) and only buy fresh stuff like produce, dairy and cheap cuts of meat. Do not ever buy anything processed, frozen, in a box, can or jar. Use your freezer to stock up when stuff like chicken breast or blueberries are on sale. You will eat healthy this way and find it very difficult to spend much.

ryan_themoneyguy

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #40 on: July 18, 2021, 04:27:43 AM »
Keep track of what and how much you're throwing away for a month or two, and then make sure you're only buying the amount of food you need. Wasting food is wasting money, and there's no reason to spend unnecessary money on food you're not going to eat. Another pro tip is to not go grocery shopping when you're hungry.

ender

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #41 on: July 18, 2021, 06:15:45 AM »
Something I did once which was super insightful was itemize/categorize grocery spending by category.

That is really insightful, though a lot of work. For me I'm much more inclined to do that type of work (because I'm a spreadsheet nerd and would happily spend a few hours to build a new spreadsheet) and it was useful to motivate me and make me aware of what/where we were spending so much on groceries.


Zikoris

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #42 on: July 18, 2021, 10:35:26 AM »
Something I did once which was super insightful was itemize/categorize grocery spending by category.

That is really insightful, though a lot of work. For me I'm much more inclined to do that type of work (because I'm a spreadsheet nerd and would happily spend a few hours to build a new spreadsheet) and it was useful to motivate me and make me aware of what/where we were spending so much on groceries.

I used to do that every year for one solid month, and it was really interesting. I tracked the dollar amount, category breakdown, and everything I cooked or baked. Also any free stuff received, like if there was a staff lunch at work, and any restaurant food. I normally have no food waste, but for most people I think it would also be interesting to include that - make a list for a month of anything that you throw out. I think that if you do all that for a month, you will know exactly what the problem is at the end.

RetiredAt63

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Re: Spend less on groceries when food is a priority?
« Reply #43 on: July 18, 2021, 10:57:49 AM »
I've been cooking for 1 for over a decade.  The basics 1. A freezer, 2. Being willing to eat the same thing for a while, 3. Cooking for more than 1 meal at a time.

1.  I buy meat and as soon as I am home I cut it into individual serving sizes, individually wrap each piece, and then put all of them into a labeled freezer bag and into the freezer.  I feel like salmon for dinner?  I just need to find the salmon bag.

2.  If things are harder to freeze, the item gets eaten a lot.  A whole cauliflower is big, but there is steamed cauliflower, baked cauliflower,  cauliflower in stir fry, and cauliflower pretending to be mashed potatoes in a shepherd's pie. By then I am ready for a different vegetable.

3.  Planned leftovers.  Make a big batch of basic meat sauce, freeze in individual portions.   Thawed can be spaghetti sauce, chili, taco filling, with the appropriate seasonings.  Cook enough food that last night's dinner leftovers are today's lunch or dinner.

It takes planning to cook for one, but it is doable.