These five smart strategies will help the single cook enjoy fantastic meals without emptying a bank account.

By Hannah Klinger
November 18, 2020
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If you feel stumped at the store when cooking for one on a budget, you're not alone. Most money-saving strategies don't work for single cooks because they lead to more food waste. It takes a bit more creativity — and the strength to resist "buy one, get one free" deals — to make stores designed to serve larger households work for one.

These strategies will help you get the most for your grocery budget while fitting into your solo cooking lifestyle. You'll save money, reduce food waste, and get more variety in your meals. What could be better than that?

1. Beware buying in bulk

Buying in bulk makes sense for most shoppers. After all, eight chicken thighs for sixty cents more is better than six thighs, right? Not so for single cooks.

Because we cook and eat in smaller quantities, that extra food is twice as likely to be forgotten or go bad. Bulk buying is only cost effective if you use a lot and use it frequently. Otherwise, it's a waste.

Look for smaller packages, getting exactly what you need for a recipe if possible. Don't be afraid to ask the grocery store's butcher to halve a pack of meat for you either. You'll save money, get exactly what you want, and keep your fridge and pantry free of forgotten ingredients.

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2. Meal plan in reverse

A typical meal plan for families starts with selecting recipes, then creating a shopping list. Solo cooks should do the opposite. Start with a dish or ingredient, write down what you need, then plan other meals to use up what's on your list. You'd be surprised at the new dishes you discover simply by trying to use up that entire bunch of parsley (Fresh Tabbouleh and Chef John's Chimichurri Sauce are my go-tos).

It's also important to be realistic about how often you cook. Some nights we just don't want to set foot in the kitchen. Allow for a couple times a week when you can lean on a backup like leftovers or your favorite frozen pizza (no judgement here!).

3. Embrace the power of one

I used to buy two avocados every time I shopped. I'd wait for them to ripen, eat one, throw out the other, then buy two more. Maybe I thought one would be lonely without the other?

Again, because it takes us longer to use up ingredients, the potential for waste is higher. Don't be afraid to get that one avocado in the produce section (perfect for Tuna Stuffed Avocados) or to ask for one salmon fillet at the fish counter.

Look for "buy two at a reduced price" deals as these still provide savings if you get just one ("buy one, get one free" is only a deal if you get both).

4. Buy more cured meats and fish

If your freezer is a black hole for extra proteins, take the cured route. Bacon, cold-smoked salmon, and charcuterie last ten times longer in the fridge. They're packed with flavor so a little goes a long way, and cook quickly if they need to be cooked at all.

Treat these proteins like the main event rather than a side or garnish: Add smoked salmon to rice and veggies for a deconstructed sushi bowl or top Cheesy Polenta with thick-cut bacon and sautéed greens.

5. Hunt for cheese ends

Most cheese departments or deli sections have a bin for odd-shaped pieces of different cheeses. This lets you try a nice cheese without having to commit to a big wedge. Even standard cheeses like Cheddar or mozzarella cost less in this form because the deli passes their bulk savings on to you. Make yourself a cheese and cracker plate on that night you don't feel like cooking, or make a next-level Gourmet Grilled Cheese or mac and cheese.

This story originally appeared on Allrecipes