Dinner for One?

Teriyaki chicken drummies with white rice and asparagus

Teriyaki chicken drummies with white rice and asparagus

Grocery shopping and preparing meals for one person can be a very difficult task. When I first started dating my fiancé, he had the classic bachelor kitchen. His fridge/freezer was stocked with frozen Lean Cuisine Meals, fruit bars, leftover pizza and brats. He struggled to find healthy meals that he could prepare and eat on his crazy work and school schedule, so he stuck with what he knew best and supplemented with take out. My fiancé is an excellent cook, but who really wants to prepare a gourmet dinner for one?

While it can be difficult to grocery shop and prepare healthy meals for one person, especially if you have a hectic schedule, it is possible. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Grocery Shopping and Storing Food:

  • Plan Ahead: Before you shop, take stock of what you have and what is on sale. Most single people struggle with wasting food, be sure to use items before they expire. Plan your menu around the sale items for the week, many grocery stores have their ads online so you don’t have to wait for the circular. Use coupons.
  • Fresh Farm Produce: The summer is a great time to get farm fresh produce. Farmer’s markets allow you to get smaller quantities of fresher produce at an even better price. You may also decide to share a CSA share with a friend so that you have fresh produce all summer/fall.
  • Buy in Bulk: While buying in bulk is not always the best idea, it can be very helpful when buying some products, like meat, that freeze well. When chicken breasts go on sale, stock up. When you get home put the chicken breasts in individual serving Ziploc bags so you can pull them out one at a time.
  • Use the Deli and Salad Bar: Buy your meat in the deli. It is often more fresh and you can get the exact amount that you want. If you are looking for a small quantity of produce, the salad bar may be your best bet.
  • Store Your Fruits and Veggies Properly: So often fruits and veggies spoil because they aren’t stored properly. Check out this guide for more information on how to store your produce properly.
  • Your Freezer is Your Best Friend: Did you know that you can use your freezer to store items like bread? You can also freeze prepared sauces, veggies, fruit and leftovers.

Meals:

  • The Meal that Lasts All Week: I survived graduate school using this method. Take some time on the weekends to prepare 2-3 meals that you can eat for lunch and dinner during the rest of the week. After you prepare the meals, portion them out into individual size serving. Not so fond of eating the same thing over and over? Freeze the individual servings so you can have it in a few weeks.
  • Go-To Items: Keep some great go-to items on hand. Grab some rice, quinoa, pasta, canned beans, eggs and canned soup. Each of these forms a great base for a quick meal, just add some veggies, toppings and maybe some sauce. Keep yogurt and frozen fruit on hand for a smoothie. Fresh fruits or veggies are a great side dish for any meal. Stock up your pantry and fridge with cheap toppings that pack flavor such as nuts, dried fruits, frozen/refrigerated sauces, salad dressings, parmesan cheese and/or hot sauce.
  • Get Creative: Don’t limit yourself to traditional American cuisine. Branch out to soups, stir fries, curries, pastas, and more. You can often find recipes for Asian, African, Indian and Italian dishes that are just as fast and often more healthy. Eat traditional breakfast foods like eggs, hash browns or bagels for lunch or dinner.
  • Simple Meals: Don’t underestimate quick, simple meals and snacks like salads, stir fries, cottage cheese, eggs, sandwiches and even a spoonful of peanut butter.
  • Recipes: Check out these 14 simple dinners for one from delish, little dinners for one from cheap, healthy, good, youtube video with 21 meals for $40, or these tips and recipes from the Food Network and NY Times.

Want to flex your culinary muscles a little more? Invite some friends over to enjoy a gourmet dinner with you, have each person bring a dish, side or beverage.

Join the Conversation: How do you do dinner for one?

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Pros and Cons of Couponing

As I was flipping through TV channels recently, I came across a show on extreme couponing. This episode featured a woman who had taken her family’s garage and turned it into a stock room with all of the items that she bought for free or very cheap with coupons. She had thousands upon thousands of items. She had at least 10 varieties of salad dressing, with at least 10 bottles of each variety. The woman could have easily opened her own grocery store or food pantry out of her garage. Her husband, who used to use the garage for work projects, was not as excited as she was. 

I have to say, when I think of couponing, the first thing that comes to mind for me is extreme couponing even though I know very well that there are healthy ways to use coupons. Couponing can be a very frugal endeavor for those who are willing to invest the time and energy. Couponing can also be stressful and addictive. Here are some of the Pros and Cons of Couponing as well as some links to couponing articles and websites to help you get started.

Couponing PROS:

  • Savings: There is no doubt that you can save significant amounts of money by using coupons. If you use coupons for items that are already on sale and you know how to “stack” your coupons, you can get items for free or half the price that you normally pay.
  • Stock Up: You can stock up on items that you use regularly when they are free or super cheap and not have to buy them for a while.
  • Frugal Shopping: Couponing can help you become a more frugal shopper because couponers tend to be more price conscious. Couponers also tend to make less impulsive purchases than their non-couponing counterparts.
  • Try New Products: Couponing is a great way to try new products cheaply. If you don’t like the new product you don’t have to worry because you paid next to nothing for it.

 Couponing CONS:

  • Buying Products that You Won’t Use: Couponing can encourage you to buy products that you don’t use just because you can get a good deal.
  • The Process: Couponing takes time and organizational skills. You have to find, collect, save and remember your coupons when you go shopping.
  • Knowing the Rules: You have to know the rules of couponing like when and how to use your coupons so you can get the best deals possible. Some of these rules vary by store.
  • Give Up Store Loyalty: In order to use coupons effectively, you have to go to multiple stores and give up loyalty to your favorite grocery store, if you have one.
  • Processed Foods: A lot of times coupons are for more processed foods, you might be persuaded to buy more processed foods than you normally would to get a good deal.
  • Stress and Obsession: Couponing can become very overwhelming and stressful if you lack good organizational skills or aren’t sure how to use your coupons correctly. Similarly, couponing can quickly become an obsession or even an addiction. It is easy to get addicting to consuming and stockpiling products when you get a good deal. Be careful not to become a horder. Consider those less fortunate than you.

 Despite the cons, couponing can be a very frugal habit as long as you stay away from the pitfalls. I have eased into couponing by simply checking the sale items at my local grocery store before I plan my menu for the week. If you would like to get into couponing here are some articles to help you get started: coupon basics from pretty providence, coupon guide from frugal living, how to use your coupons from penny pinchin mom, and wiki how’s 8 steps for using coupons effectively.

Happy Couponing!


Join the Conversation: How have you used coupons in healthy and frugal ways?

Best Personal Finance Apps

mint androidAre you looking for an easy way to track your budget and save some money? These personal finance apps are one of the best ways to do just that. These apps can help you to track your spending, pay your bills, create a grocery list, and even find cheap gas! Here are five free apps to put on your smartphone:

  • Mint.com: This app comes from the makers of the popular personal finance website Mint.com. This app works in sync with the your free, Mint web account to automatically track bank accounts, credit cards, loans, spending, and much more. While you can’t modify your budget on the app, it does offer you easy access to look at your budget while you are out to make sure that you are on track. The app has the option of being passcode protected, so if you lose your phone no one has access to your accounts. The app is simple and easy to use, definitely the number one finance app in my book.
  • Easy Envelope Budget Aid: This app puts the popular envelope budgeting system on your phone. You can add some envelopes (budget categories) and then add a transaction every time you spend. It’s simple, clean, and free. Like Mint, Easy Envelope Budget Aid (EEBA) is an app that has been created to work together with its web tool which has a variety of free and paid plans. While EEBA functions similarly to many budgeting apps, it also has the ability to be shared with another family member or significant other.
  • Bill Tracker: This easy to use app allows you to view your outstanding and upcoming bills on your phone. It helps you track your bills and features a helpful reminder system that notifies you when a bill is due. It also includes an archive of past bills so that you can see your full payment history. There are free and paid versions available for this app.
  • Check: Check, like BillTracker, is a free app that helps you manage your bills. However, this app also features bill pay for $0.30/transaction. After linking your accounts, Check packs your information into a standardized, easy-to-read format with intuitive navigation paths. A few quick taps allow you view transactions and pay your bills. Begin by creating an account.
  • Ziplist: This is one of the easiest meal planning and grocery shopping apps that I have found. This app can help you search for and save recipes, plan meals, organize grocery store trips as well as look at grocery deals and coupons. You can also share your weekly shopping list with family and friends. This app syncs with the ziplist website.
  • Gas Buddy: This is a simple app that helps you to find the cheapest gas. You can find gas near you using GPS or search by city or zip. You can look at the options in a list or on a map.

Join the Conversation: What is your favorite personal finance app?