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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Frugal Fitness Challenge: Nutrition

Last week I kicked off the Frugal Fitness Challenge with a post on frugal exercise options. This week I want to focus on nutrition. It can be really hard to eat healthy while you are on a small budget. Most of the cheap foods: ramen noodles, mac and cheese, etc. are not that healthy for you and not that filling. Here are a few nutrition tips and frugal foods to keep in mind as you plan your meals.

Many of you, like me, probably grew up with the food pyramid as the nutrition standard. Recently, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) shifted from using the pyramid to using the plate model on the right. This plate is a good image to keep in mind as you plan your meals.

You will notice that there are five groups represented: vegetables, fruits, grains, protein, and dairy. Half of the plate is fruits and vegetables, with slightly more veggies than fruit. Remember, veggies aren’t just greens. Try to eat red, orange, as well as dark-green veggies. Some frugal veggies are peas, sweet potatoes, winter squash, collard greens, kale, cabbage, and carrots. Some great frugal fruits are bananas, strawberries, apples, and frozen berries. To get the most bang for your buck, buy the fruits and veggies that are in season.

The other half of the plate is grains and protein, with slightly more grains than protein. At least half of your grains should be whole grains. Some frugal grain options are brown rice, whole grain pasta, oatmeal, and quinoa. Try to eat lean proteins, varying your food choices. Some frugal lean protein options are dried beans, nuts, eggs, lentils, and chicken. Dairy is in the corner. Add a cup of low-fat or skim milk or low-fat yogurt to your diet. Many typical dairy products such as whole milk, butter, ice cream, etc. are loaded with fat and extra calories. Look for calcium rich, low-fat options.

Watch out for excess sodium or sugar in the foods that you eat. Many prepared foods are packed with excess salt, all of that sodium adds up. Use flavorful ingredients such as onion, garlic, pepper or spices so that you don’t have to add a lot of excess table salt. Cut down on sugary drinks. Instead, drink water, low-fat milk, or 100% fruit juices. For dessert, choose less sugary options like frozen, low-fat yogurt or fresh fruit.

For more information on building a nutritious meal check out these tips or this healthy eating brochure. Looking for some help completing your fitness and healthy eating goals? Check out WebMD’s free food and fitness planner. Get healthy on a budget!

Join the Conversation: What are some of your favorite nutritious, frugal foods?