10 Simple Tips to Lower Your Food Bill When You Cook For Yourself
If you live alone like I do, coming up with new things to make each week can become challenging and really annoying when you are hungry and just want to eat. Most recipes serve a family of four, it's hard to find recipes for just one person. But don't despair, follow these 10 tips to cook for one and save money in the process.
1. Invest in single serve containers: Single serve containers are a great asset for the singleton chef because you can divide up any leftovers into single serve portions to freeze or use later in the week. They also make packing your lunch a breeze because you can just grab and go. If you don't already have them, try to find containers that hold approximately one cup. Target sells a nice set called "Fit & Fresh" that seem to last a long time. Just make sure they are sturdy as you don't want to invest in something that won't hold up to the dishwasher.
2. Freeze leftovers: Don't shy away from making recipes that serve 4 people. Just think of it as you are cooking once to enjoy several meals later on. When I make things like chili, lasagna or black beans I get out my single serve containers and start dishing out my leftovers. Having leftovers in the freezer is great for busy nights during the week. All you do is just take it out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator first thing in the morning. By the time you get home, it should be nearly thawed and you have a quick and perfectly proportioned dinner.
3. Plan your meals ahead of time: This is key to lowering your food bill. If you don't have a weekly plan, you will most likely rely on fast food or pizza to get you through the week which ends up costing you more money. Take an hour or so before you do your grocery shopping to plan your meals for the week. Add anything you need to your grocery list. Try to do any prep work that you can over the weekend so you don't have to spend a lot of time on that during the week. I usually post my menu for the week on the refrigerator door so when I'm home and it's late and I'm hungry I can remember what I have on hand.
4. Buy in bulk when you can: Just because you are cooking for one, doesn't mean you can't buy in bulk. I get a lot of my spices, vinegar (used as fabric softener), and other odds and ends from Costco because I've found it's cheaper. I also purchase all of my beef once a year from a local farmer. By doing this, I always have beef on hand and it's much cheaper (and better quality) than relying on store sales.
5. Make it Simple: Cooking doesn't have to be a huge production to be good. Sometimes the simplest things can be the best. There is nothing better than grilled cheese and tomato soup on a cold and rainy day. Other simple ideas are making breakfast for dinner, having BLT's or plain old peanut butter and jelly. The Hillbilly Housewife has a huge list of lunch and dinner ideas that are really simple. I printed this out and taped it to the inside of my cabinet for ideas on what to eat when I'm in a hurry.
6. Learn to cook from scratch instead of buying convenience foods: I recently wrote about the Wildly Affordable Organic challenge and I really can't stop raving about this book. If you have never cooked from scratch or are intimidated by it, I highly recommend you pick up this book and give it a try. You can save so much on your grocery bill each month even if you just cooked one or two meals each week from scratch. And no, you won't be slaving over the stove like in the days of the pioneers. I promise you, it's easy! Just give it a try.
7. Avoid the fast food temptation: Fast food is just to convenient when you are cooking for yourself. I have fell into the trap many times myself, saying oh well it's just me, I don't want to cook anything. Fast food is so bad for us and really most of the time the food is not all that good! Do yourself a favor and keep driving the next time you have the temptation to stop. You can do so much better for yourself by eating something that you've prepared at home.
8. Premade drinks and bottled water are a rip-off : If you stop and think about it, bottled water is actually quite ridiculous. Most cities package their own tap water and resell it at a million percent mark up to the residents. I mean seriously, are we that lazy that we can't get a glass of water or refill a bottle?! I know in some areas the water is bad, I get that, but buying water is one of those little things that most of us can do without. The same goes for soda, gatorade, bottled tea etc. Invest in a $30 ice tea maker and make your own ice tea from home. Lemonade is another beverage that is cheap to make and a nice drink to have in the summer. You can also get creative and add different flavors for more variety. These drinks are just pennies on the dollar and much better for you than the premade drinks.
9. Shop the farmers market: The farmers market is a great place to get fresh local produce. The best part about it is you can buy enough produce to last you for the week and it's usually cheaper than the grocery store. Start exploring your neighborhood and visit the farmers market. You'll see what's in season and be able to eat healthy.
10. Use a crockpot: A crockpot is a wonderful kitchen appliance that is so versatile. You can make soup, stew, roast and even lasagna in a crockpot! A few things to note about a crockpot. Make sure you get one with a timer that has an automatic shutoff that continues to warm. You can time your meals to shut off so they don't burn. Also, size does matter when it comes to crockpots. If you have a huge crockpot and put one tiny item in it, it will cook much faster (and may even burn). Make sure you use the right crockpot size according to what you are cooking.
While there are some initial up front costs necessary to get started cooking for one, I can tell you it's well worth the effort. I haven't been as good with it as of late (due to moving),in the past, following these steps helped me get my grocery bill down to around $75-$100 a month. If you can't afford it all up front, just take it one step at a time and before you know it, will be second nature and you will watch your savings add up.
Jenny Kerr is the creator of The Jenny Pincher where she teaches single women how to get out of debt & start building wealth. Visit The Jenny Pincher to learn more.