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These cooking and money saving tips for the single chef came out of challenges I face as chief cook and bottlewasher for myself. However, I think the principles can apply to anyone. You may be cooking for your spouse and your family but are suddenly facing a time crunch. Or, maybe you have had had a loss in your life that has reduced your motivation to cook. As well, some of you may have a live-in partner who is often away from home (e.g., posted abroad, long haul trucker, travels for work, etc.) or who is unable to help with cooking for various reasons.
Finding the Motivation to Cook When You are Single
Speaking for myself, I find the motivation to be a big challenge as a single frugalite. If there is someone else around, I find it more motivating to cook, as I enjoy sharing a meal with someone. Somehow, there’s more accountability when someone else will be there.
Another issue with singlehood is that there is no shared workload in the kitchen. There is no dinner ready when you get home. It’s just you night after night after night. I work at heavy manual labor on a farm and get home often at nine o’clock at night, hungry, dirty, and exhausted.
I find these challenges, in particular, lead to the temptation to eat out or eat junk rather than cook a healthy meal for myself. When it’s just me, it’s so much easier not to do it. However, good food is vital for our health. In this recent Frugalite article, Chloe showed us how to eat well on a budget and talked about the connection between good food and our health.
Most Recipes Feed 4 to 6 People
After motivation, a second challenge is that many recipes are for four to six people. Now, depending on how much variety you require in your meal plans, this may or may not work for you. However, I don’t think many single people want to cook for four to six people every night of the week! Think of all the work that would involve and the leftovers!
I once tried a solution to this challenge: a cookbook just for singles. It gave you a weekly meal plan and even a shopping list! However, this didn’t work for me. I couldn’t keep up with cooking a different meal every night of the week. I always fell behind and ended up with items bought that I wasn’t using. However, if you think this solution could work for you, many cookbooks and websites cater to the motivated single cook (who likes to spend time in the kitchen every night).
It’s Not Easy to be Thrifty Without Buying in Bulk
Another challenge for me is I like to be thrifty. There can be a lot of savings in buying in bulk (think big box stores like Sam’s Club/Costco). However, how many almonds do I really really need? Will I eat them all before they go stale?
Also, I live in a very small (basically tiny) eco-cabin. I keep certain bulk items on hand as my preparations: a year’s worth of wheat berries, a large container of rice, and lots of dried beans, but that’s it. There is no space to store large amounts of everything. (Speaking of Wheat berries, The Organic Prepper published this article A Prepper’s Guide to Wheat Berries: Versatile, Space-Saving, Long-Term Food and Daisy wrote Wheat Berries: Your Pantry Workhorse.)
So, is there any other way to save money when buying vast bulk packs will not work for you? Yes, there are some great ways to save money even when you face the above challenges. Here are my best tips to save money while eating single.
Make a Mainstay Meal or Salad to Simplify Your Week
Each week, I like to make one mainstay meal or salad that I can have most nights. I often prepare this on my day off on the weekend. In the winter, I make an unbelievably delicious red lentil soup that is a total Cheap Eat. It contains only a few ingredients and is easy on the budget. It is so good. I love to make it even a couple of times a month!
I like to make some kind of salad that keeps well, like couscous or quinoa and chopped pepper salad, or a bean salad in the summer. I have that each night and then add something extra for protein, like an omelet, egg salad sandwich, or cold chicken sandwich. Having that one main item already prepared usually guarantees that I can make something healthy to complement it. So, I can use that “big” recipe for four to six people and make it work well…for one.
One single frugalite I know works a 9 to 5 job. She makes up a big pot of one of her favorite recipes every Sunday and packs her lunches for the entire week into her microwavable glass containers. Voila! No lunch money required! She considers her lunch to be her main meal, and in the evening, she eats something lighter, like a “Breakfast for Supper” porridge or something more snacky. She finds this works for her.
I have had great success with eating seasonally. Yes, I eat in-season produce as much as possible to save money, but I also eat certain meals more in different seasons. For example, I love hot soups and stews in the fall and winter months, mainly with inexpensive root vegetables and potatoes. Fast forward to spring and summer: I’m eating produce mostly from my garden, often chopping everything into my big salad bowl or an omelet or throwing it all on an easy pizza.
In the summer heat, my appetite is often reduced so that supper may be as simple as a cold plate with my weekly pre-made salad and some pita and hummus. It is refreshing, and I don’t want to heat my tiny house by doing a lot of cooking on those hot nights, anyhow. Check out these great recipes for Thrifty and Delicious Summer Salads to get some inspiration on how this might work for you.
Substitute and Save
If you are willing to be flexible, you can save quite a bit by buying fewer products at the grocery store and make some creative substitutions. For example, for a long time, I was taking cream in my coffee. Sometimes, milk was needed to make things, like cream of tomato soup or some baking. I found that I could dilute the cream with water and make my own “milk.” Here are some of the other substitutions that I regularly make:
- crumbled crackers for croutons
- yogurt, tzatziki, or kefir for sour cream (e.g., in scrambled egg wraps with salsa or beef tacos)
- olive oil for mayonnaise
Keep Ingredients for Quick/Easy Meals Stocked
I always keep ingredients on hand for a couple of “last-minute meals” that are mainly non-perishable goods. Examples of these would be cream of tomato soup or mac and cheese with tuna and relish. This way, if I get home exhausted, I cannot say, “There’s nothing to eat!” There are always a couple of decent options that take only minutes to prepare.
I often drive by our local restaurants on my way home and am tempted when I see the OPEN sign….but I know there is always something to make at home (sigh)….drive on Frugalite!
Be Prepared to Cook
As I mentioned, I like to pre-prepare one main item for each week, which requires me to plan my grocery shopping for the week. (The nearest affordable grocery store is quite a distance away.) Each afternoon, when I leave for work, I generally already have a plan of “what is for supper.” In addition, if the meal is not already completely prepared, I will set out ingredients and have everything ready for when I return.
Another organizational tip I have to improve motivation and energy to cook after a hard day’s work is to have a special snack ready for myself for when I get home. My routine is to have my delicious homemade kefir cheese with some whole-grain crackers and a refreshing glass of water after I clean up. Somehow, knowing I will have my appetizer break gives me more motivation to cook a healthier main course rather than eat junk.
Ideas to Chew On
I find that, by putting these basic habits in place about groceries and cooking, I can eat well and save quite a bit of money as a single Frugalite. Single or not, do any of the above suggestions resonate with you? Do you have any other tips for single Frugalites looking to save a buck while shopping and cooking for themselves? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author
Colette is a seventh-generation farmer and homesteader. She grew up in the suburbs of a large Canadian city, but spent summers in her childhood visiting her family farm. She has worked professionally as a researcher and writer for decades, all the while travelling the world. She always knew she would return to the area near her family farm in Eastern Ontario, Canada and is now happily living not far from there on her Half-Acre Homestead. Soon, she will be launching a website full of tips for Frugalites and homesteaders alike. If you subscribe to the Frugalite email list, keep an eye on your inbox to be one of the first to see it!
12 thoughts on “Cooking and Money Saving Tips For the Single Chef”
Another good article! I like doing basic meal prep for a lot of things – but I’ll prep the building blocks for a meal. For example I’ll keep a stack of high fiber tortillas around (whatever is on sale) and bake a few chicken breasts, keep a stock of various vegetables around, a tub of Greek yogurt, oatmeal, plus frozen or dried staples. So I could put that together many different ways. Vegetables for a snack. Cut up chicken and vegetables in a wrap. A hearty salad. Sandwiches. Noodles with vegetables and chicken. A shake or smoothie. A soup with leftover vegetables. Or whatever… anyway, cooking some basic staples all at once lets me mix and match meals and not have to cook a ton at every meal.
Hi Redbranch, Thanks so much. I really like your method of prepping the “building blocks” of the meal. I can see the flexibility of your approach in the long list of options you can concoct. I, too, am a fan of tortillas: somehow, whatever I put in a tortilla just seems a lot more fun. Thanks for sharing your creative solution to meal making!
I’ve learned to view cooking as a form of self-care. That makes it a bit easier to drag my tired frame into the kitchen. Cooking a main portion and arranging items so it’s not too much time & effort is also a great technique. I cook enough for 2-3 meals to stagger both my need to cook and my leftovers, and I remind myself to be grateful for every bite. Sometimes I buy bulk packages and portion them into single servings to save money. I also preserve as much as possible from my CSA and garden goodies. Not only do I save money, my food is healthier and tastes better.
You have packed a lot of useful tips into your comment, Jayne. I connect with your philoshophy of food as self care. I totally agree! Because I know that I feel a lot better when I am preparing healthy meals for myself, that aspect of the self care motivates me, too. I also think gratitude is important and enhances the quality of life. I like your idea around creating single servings from bulk packages: that is a good solution that also allows for some of those bulk price savings. I hope you are already enjoying your CSA and garden produce this season!
I often will put lettuce or spinach or other salad greens; chopped up veggies such as peppers, cucumbers, radishes or carrots; chopped hardboiled eggs or cheese; and possibly toppings (pecans or soy-bacon crumbles or raisins or shelled sunflower seeds, etc.) into a covered bowl. Then, it’s just a matter of dishing it into a serving-sized bowl and throwing in some cut-up tomatoes and salad dressing and making a nice chef salad. The base salad will last for about a week and I can also just put a smaller scoop on a plate as a side dish if I’m having a hot meal. Another easy side dish: French cut green beans from a can, marinated in Italian dressing. And a filling lunch: 2/3 C. cottage cheese served with canned fruit or a tomato. If you feel like being fancy, stuff a large tomato with the cottage cheese or with tuna fish.
Hi Frugal Lisa, I think I’m going to invite myself over for supper. How about your favourite salad and a fancy stuffed tomato? This “base salad” idea is a great solution to how salad dressing destroys salad leftovers. Your ingredients use also include a lot of great protein options, which make for a hearty meal. I am growing a lot of green beans in my garden and will try your marinated bean idea. Thanks very much for sharing!
I have a few favorite dishes (soups, chili) that I will prepare in bulk, portion out and freeze. These can be thawed and heated in the microwave or on the stove and save a lot of time. I also like prepping salad ingredients ahead of time; to keep fresh, place in a Tupperware or other container, put a paper towel on top, snap on the lid and then store in the fridge upside down (with the towel on the bottom). It really helps to keep salad ingredients fresh.
Thanks for sharing your tips, Alice. Always having some meal options in the freezer is a great idea. Chili is one of my favourites! I am going to try your paper towel idea. It is nice if salads last longer than just a day or two.
Between work and school, I used to buy fast food just because I was exhausted and the fast food was quick and had no prep or cleanup. I gained 35 pounds and my bank account suffered also. But I seriously hate to cook. I found ReadyHour Vegetable Taco Mix Substitute on sale for less than the price of a Taco Bell meal per serving. It’s good for 25 years and lasts a year once you open the resealable #10 can. I make boiling water in the coffee maker, scoop out a quarter cup, and five minutes later I have a high protein dinner, just add tortillas and cheese or salsa. It tastes good, isn’t as bad for me as fast food, and fills me up which fast food meals never did. My roommate and I go through about a can a month, and it’s totally ended our dependence on fast food because we can make it at home faster than we can wait at the counter for our food, and we don’t have another stop to make on the way home. We ended up watching for sales and ordering more every time it goes on sale. My bank account and my waistline are looking better. It’s not as frugal as cooking homemade, but it sure is nice to have a “fast food” solution right at home.
As a bonus, the unopened containers we have just take boiling water to prepare and we can make exactly what we need for a meal, so it works well in power outage or other emergencies. Since it’s a freeze dried product you can throw a measured amount in a container and most gas stations will let you use the hot water feature on their coffee maker if you’re buying gas. You can travel without food in a cooler, just a package of tortillas, spoons and the mix. I think it would work well for hiking, too; there’s no plastic waste or scraps to dispose of. Just something to think about if you already wanted to have some long term prepared storage food on hand that you will actually use and thus rotate.
Thanks for all the good tips on making decent meals quickly for one person. Doing this as a non cook dramatically improves my nutrition and my savings. For the first time in my life I’ve gone several months without buying junk food like chips or fast food, and I honestly don’t miss it. We make popcorn with and quick healthier meals instead. I would never have believed it, but when you save things like fast food or junk food for holidays only (and weekends are not a holiday 🙂 you stop craving it after a while.
As Daisy often points out, if you save up what you spend on junk food, coffee or fast food every month, you could be taking a wonderful mini vacation once a year. My goal is to save enough to take a train trip, and if I keep this up I’ll actually fit in the seat and be able to climb the stairs! Of course most of you are much more frugal and healthy than I am yet, but I thought I’d add a perspective from someone who wasn’t living a thrifty or healthy life before.
Roma, I think you’re doing wonderful! I am so glad you shared your perspective and your tips. I love that your favourite taco filling is also useful for power outages and is a great hiking meal! I am going to see if we have this available locally, as it would be a great prep to have on hand.
I hope you do “keep this up” and get to enjoy your train trip. If one change like the taco filling has improved your waistline and your bank account, just think of the potential benefits of each new change you add. Most importantly, you are on a journey towards improving your health. There are so many articles available on the Frugalite that relate to healthy eating on a budget. I hope they are helpful to you. I wish you the best and hope you keep all us Frugalites updated on your progress!
Although is it now possible to find many cookbooks/websites with recipes for 1 or 2, this was not always the case. Many years ago, Delia Smith published “One is Fun”, a cookbook especially for singles that I use to this day. Way ahead of her time with lots of homemade soups and vegetarian options, including a delicious moussaka with lentils instead of lamb. Also a truly remarkable jambalaya and various very good stir fries. A number of great egg options along the lines of breakfast for dinner. Highly recommended, if you can find it.
Hi Jocelyn, This cookbook sounds GREAT! Many thanks for taking the time to share it with the Frugalite community. Wishing you the best with your own cooking!