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Jan 10, 2012 05:59 AM

Cooking for 2 on a budget?

I cook dinner for my boyfriend and myself every night. We’re on a tighter budget at the moment and I tend to work late most nights. I’m also trying to lose weight and keep him healthier. In terms of food, he’s more traditional (meat and potatoes) kind of guy whereas I’m pretty adventurous (and less thrilled with meat) so finding meals that work for both of us without breaking the bank.

Does anyone have any favorite recipes to offer? I often find myself cooking meals for 4 then eating the leftovers for lunch. I’m not opposed to doing this but I get bored eating the same thing for 4 meals in a row!

A few other notes: I have a smaller fridge so I can’t store a ton of food (i.e. it’s hard to pack up a big pot of soup) but I have all of the tools, pots/pans, herbs/spices, oils and vinegars, etc. that a well-stocked home would have.


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  1. Beans and rice can really stretch the food dollar, as well as being healthy. It seems every region in the world has a signature dish. Depending on the herbs, spices, protein, one can change it up easily, too.
    My favorite rice is the Lundberg brand, which can be a bit pricier than some others, but it is delicious. I like brown basmati, and brown jasmine, which one can find store-brand. You can also get a short grain brown rice for risotto and other uses where you want a stickier rice.
    I have a couple of rice cookers, one is small enough to make just a few servings. Another useful tool is a small slow-cooker. I use it for a couple of pork chops or sirloins, or soups, especially when cooking for two, a regular size one is just too big.
    I know some people hate them, but I find keeping bags of frozen chicken tenders handy. Not sure how much freezer space you have, though.
    As far as recipes go, I don't usually use them, other than for ingredient ideas and proportions. Knowing techniques frees me from having to find a recipe for two.

    1 Reply
    1. re: wyogal

      Are you the person who called The Splendid Table radio show last Sunday with the same question? You might be able to go to NPR's website and listen to her response. Basically, she advised Middle Eastern and Mexican. Most meats is regular Mexican or TexMex are cheaper cuts but are prepared to make delicious dishes. Example: skirt steak for fajitas and "shank" to be used in Caldo de Res. You have a lot of very good suggestions here also. I am lucky that way in that I love beans of all kinds.

    2. Recipes might help you find creative ways to prepare meals for two, but developing and using creative cooking imagination will help more. Try looking at your ingredients as building blocks. For example, preparing a small roast or ham tonight as an entree and using it in a casserole or a meaty sauce the next night (or a couple of nights later) provides both variety and cost savings.
      There isn't enough space here to go into the specifics, but you get the idea.

      3 Replies
      1. re: todao

        That's a great call, thanks!

        I didn't grow up eating a lot of meat so that's a pretty natural approach to me. I'm just trying to get my boyfriend trained on it-- I can't cook a chunk of meat without him trying to eat the whole thing!

        1. re: wandajune6

          Set aside the extras before dishing up and serving the meal.

          1. re: MunchkinRedux

            And threaten that it's for your lunch.

      2. Your freezer is your friend here. I like to make large pots of soups, stews, and chilis, then portion them into individual servings. Some servings go towards dinner, some are lunches, and some get saved in the freezer for when I'm less bored with the food.

        Plan your meals with an eye towards using the leftovers as ingredients in another dish. If you roast a chicken on Sunday, you can use the leftovers for pot-pie, or chicken tacos, or a topping for salads and sandwiches, that sort of thing. Friday frittatas with all your leftover vegetables can be an easy, hearty, meatless meal. You can also do pizzas with leftovers.

        Also, plan your meals in general. Go shopping once a week or so. I usually buy enough for a big dish, some salads (I often do salad prep in advance so I can grab all the stuff I need on my way out the door), and a quick dinner or two. If you know you're gonna be super busy on a certain night, plan accordingly.

        Stock your cupboard and freezer with the necessary ingredients for quick, convenient meals. I make a bunch of pork dumplings to keep in the freezer (just steam them while I'm making rice in the rice cooker), as well as cans of garbanzo beans to roast, and frozen vegetables to throw into a pan with pan roasted meats or fish. A favorite is soba noodles with chicken broth, tons of vegetables, hot chili peppers, and whatever else I want in it (sometimes dumplings). Since you have a smaller fridge, really focus on the cupboard things here.

        Get to know the people behind the meat and deli counters. You can get a third of a pound of ground veal, but only if you ask for it. Ditto cheeses for sandwiches and the like.

        Finally, just stick with it. It's tricky to eat well, feed small amounts of people, and stay on budget. You'll probably buy too much, or too little, or spend too much, but eventually you'll get there!

        1 Reply
        1. re: caseyjo

          The soba sounds wonderful! All of those ideas sound great!

          I wish I could have more freezer space. I'm in a crappy apartment at the moment and, since I know it's a shorter-term situation, I've decided not to invest in things like a freezer. Plus, there's no place to put one.

          I love the frittata idea as well. Pondering what I have in the fridge to add to one...


        2. Here's one you should both like- freeze half for later

          1. My husband and I are the same way when it comes to eating habits.

            We eat meat one night a week, chicken one night, and vegetarian the other nights. Lots of soup in the winter, as it's filling and satisfying but relatively inexpensive to prepare.

            Beans and lentils are your friend here, especially dried. Black beans can be soup one night (black bean & sweet potato stew is a favorite) and a dip for veggies for lunch the next day. Chickpeas can be falafel, hummus, rice & chickpeas, chicpea cakes.

            I have a VERY small freezer. I use it mainly to store frozen containers of soup, frozen vegetables, and meat. It's much cheaper to buy family packs of meat and break up the packs than to go shopping for 2 or 3 chicken cutlets or 1/2lb of ground beef. I freeze chicken cutlets/tenders/thighs/drumsticks on a tray, then store in labelled ziplock bags. If the butcher is not busy, I'll ask him to cut a roast in half or cube chicken cutlets for me. When frozen vegetables are on sale, stock up. They can be much cheaper than fresh and they don't go bad. Corn, edamame, peas, broccoli, carrots, pepper/onion mix, artichokes... all stay nicely in the freezer and cook up well.

            7 Replies
              1. re: pikawicca

                Yes, chicken is meat, but when I think of meat I think "ground beef" or "steak."
                In the kosher world, chicken cutlets are $3.99/lb and steak is $11.99/lb.
                When we were kids, tues and wed were 'meat' nights, one was chicken the other was beef.

              2. re: cheesecake17

                How do you like frozen artichokes? I love artichokes but the idea of frozen has always been a bit intimidating. I work for a grocery chain and get a discount so it's not that big of a leap but I hate the idea of wasting money on something that can't be easily repurposed!

                I love your ideas on chickpeas. I love them myself but haven't found forms that he likes. Chickpea cakes and the like may be enough to change his mind. Thanks!

                1. re: wandajune6

                  I LOVE frozen artichokes. LOVE. I buy the frozen artichoke bottoms, not the hearts. The hearts can be expensive, but I can get the bottoms for $1.99/bag. I roast them, boil them with lemon, throw them in vegetable soup, put them on pizza, mix them with pasta and pesto. My inlaws claim I make a mean chicken dish with whole grain mustard and artichokes.

                  1. re: cheesecake17

                    Isn't the artichoke heart and bottom basically the same thing? I have not seen frozen artichoke bottoms in the frozen food section, can you tell us the brand on the bag?

                    1. re: John E.

                      No, the heart is quarted and it has leaves. Birdseye brand makes the hearts.

                      The bottoms that I buy are the "meaty" part of the artichoke, kind of scoop shaped, perfect for stuffing. I've only really seen them in the middle eastern stores. One brand is Galil, the other brands just have arabic writing on them.

                      1. re: cheesecake17

                        Thanks, I see if I can find the bottoms.