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Dinner for one

Does anyone find that feeding just oneself - especially if you are not much into cooking - really does not pay financially? "Heat and eat" is more expensive, I agree, but every time I try buying ingredients, sauces, spices, the trimmings to do a special dish, the leftovers end up sitting in the fridge until they have spoiled and have to be tossed. Today it was half a bottle of barbecue sauce.

Does anyone find it really pays to cook from scratch for only one person? If so, I'd surely like to hear some ideas because I have decided it does not.

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  1. When I was single it was worth it. Satisfying my pallet and my desire for good food as opposed to "heat and eat" or fast food crap was well worth it, but then again, I love to cook.

    1. If you cook so seldom that you have to purchase spices for each dish then it probably isn't cheaper to eat at home.

      Part of the savings in home cooking is utilizing your pantry and fresh items efficiently. The carcass from the roast chicken becomes stock. The stock is used to flavor rice. The left over rice becomes a filling for a stuffed vegetable...

      It takes some thought at first but eventually you gain the experience to do this almost instinctively. If takes a while to build up a useful spice cabinet. When I began cooking there were many dishes I had to pass on because I couldn't afford to purchase three new spices in a week (I wish there had been bulk options back then).

      There are many things which can be made with minimal ingredients. S/P, butter, olive oil, vinegar, lemon, onion, garlic, a tube of tomato paste & stock will allow you to do quite a lot!

      Even a simple steak, baked potato and salad can be a starting point for other meals:
      Left over steak? Use it for a cheese steak sandwich, enchiladas, stuffed poblanos, main dish salad, steak and eggs.

      Chives with your baked potato?
      Finely mince, add some lemon zest and mash it into butter. Now you have saved the chives from the trash and have a freezable compound butter to use with fish, shellfish, vegetables, etc,

      If you don't want to face the same salad greens twice then use spinach. Salad one day, sauteed with bacon fat and pepper flakes the next, add to an omelet, stir into a broth, steam as a side...

      This is how I cook and I can eat for much, much less at home than going out.

      5 Replies
      1. re: meatn3

        I absolutely think it pays to cook for one, both from a $$ standpoint, and in terms of what I want to eat. Two months without home cooking and I'm climbing the walls.

        You make a very key point about bulk spices. I just paid .18 for Italian herbs that will last me awhile. Your change in the couch will pay for bulk spices.

        I cook only what I really want to eat, and a minimum of three servings, often many more. If I want to try something I've never had before, I typically do that at a restaurant. I don't conduct grand experiments in my kitchen.

        When things spoil in the refrigerator, that represents poor planning. I have also never had BBQ sauce go bad??

        1. re: foiegras

          BBQ sauce going bad is quite the puzzler.

        2. re: meatn3

          Are you Tammy Adler? You sound very much like the author of a fabulous book entitled "An Everlasting Meal - Cooking with Economy and Grace ". Tammy Adler has written this wonderful classic about repurposing foods that others would throw away. If you are not Tammy (you sound an awful lot like her), you would love this book!!! Are you T.A.?

          1. re: josephnl

            No, I'm not. From what I've heard about her and the book it sounds as though we have a similar philosophy though.

            I've arrived at this point over a number of years and many levels of learning as a cook and as a person in general. My nature is to see things as interconnected and understand systems. In being aware of the seasons, aware of the resources I use, trying to use all of a food rather than just cherry pick, I create a kitchen that has cycles and ebbs and flows bringing it in harmony with how I try to live in general.

            Well, that's on the good days! :-)) Like anything, it is continually evolving and some days it's one step forward, two steps back.

            It also helps that I (usually) enjoy the process and the creativity that cooking and keeping entails for me. And a love for flavor is a great motivator to keep learning!

            Thank you - in thinking about this I realize my thoughts on the topic are more than I can really put to words in this forum. Makes me really realize how the ideas have become integrated in my life over the years - which makes me look back and appreciate the journey that got me to today.

            1. re: meatn3

              If you haven't. You should read An Everlasting Meal...it's you!

        3. I'm recently cooking for one. I am now the deli queen. Sometimes I buy one of their huge meatballs, a jar of Elena's spaghetti sauce & mushrooms. All I do is cut up the meatball, boil the spaghetti, mix together and I have 2-3 dinners.
          Other times I buy the whole meal; salmon grilled and one of their salads. I *never* eat fast food...only once when I was trapped at an airport.
          I do like to get Thai take-out. I'm on a first name basis at two restaurants.

          1. Don't make so much food. I make for myself 95% of the time these day. Half a bottle of barbecue sauce will last months in the fridge.

            1. A crock pot could make four to six single-serving soups, stews or casseroles, the remainder of which could be deep-frozen for future consumption. The processed "heat and eat" cannot compete with fresh ingredients. And there are countless recipes on line that you could throw into the pot in the morning and have several meals awaiting you a few hours later.
              Also, a FoodSaver vacuum system is an essential in my house for keeping frozen foods for up to two years.

              1. When cooking for one menu planning and shopping is critical- if you only cook and shop for one special meal or recipe at a time then it is not finacially rewarding. However, buying a number of ingredients that make several meals is smart- and freezing leftovers can provide a homemade meal later.
                I cook for one most of the time because i enjoy making my own meals how i like and it does save me a lot of money vs eating out or take away prepared foods.
                Choose recipes and meals based on what you already have on hand- even if its just a can of chickpeas, adding a few fresh veggies and pasta this can easily be several meals, and then use leftovers as a soup.

                1. Personally, I prefer home-cooked food. After I was widowed I experimented with commercially frozen dinners and didn't care for them, especially when I read the ingredients list that sounded like a chemistry lab, and I don't care for eating out alone. What you like is a personal matter, but these work for me: 1) Boneless skinless chicken breast baked in a can of chicken gravy to keep it moist. Put a potato or sweet potato in to bake at the same time and have any fresh or frozen vegetable you like. 2) Corn tortillas, cooked chicken meat, canned refried beans, chopped lettuce and tomato, shredded cheese, taco sauce. 3) A pork chop baked on top of a scooop of stuffing made with stuffing mix. 4) Beef stew done in a slow-cooker. Tomorrow night, heat the leftover with canned biscuits on top to make a beef pie. 5) Quiche, using frozen pie crust and whipped up with 3 eggs, 2 cups milk, shredded cheese, and anything else you like. 5) This is one I love but might not be for everyone---the greasy spoon specialty from Great Britain, Beans on Toast (a jar of B&M baked beans heated and poured over hot buttered whole wheat toast, with salad on the side). 6) Cube steak sandwich. 7) Salmon filet portion baked with barbecue sauce. Baked potato or individual package of microwave rice. 8) Catfish filet rolled in breadcrumbs and baked at 425 (forms a nice crust) with baked potato and salad. 9) Chicken baked with soy sauce, garlic powder, and crushed pineapple and eaten with rice. Also, don't keep leftovers in the refrigerator---immediately freeze them set up as a future dinner. I also do well with homemade chili, which I freeze in pints. A pork tenderloin is not too big and is good for hot roast pork sandwiches with barbecue sauce. If you like big chef salads, keep your refrigerator stocked with greens, tomatoes, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, garbanzo beans, individually frozen shrimp etc etc and let the refrigerator/freezer be your salad bar.

                  1. I struggle with this. Compounding my problem is that I'm only home early enough to cook dinner 2 nights a week. So, using leftovers from one meal to make other meals isn't a great option.

                    It drives me crazy that more ingredients aren't available in smaller sizes. I can manage meat by going to the butcher and getting just 1 or 2 chicken breasts or pork chops or whatever. A grocery store salad bar is also great for getting just the required amount of fresh veggies for a dish. But, there are still a lot of things that I end up throwing out because I didn't use the remainder before it went bad.

                    I do try to eat my leftovers for lunches at work, but I'm just not a person who can eat the same thing over and over again.

                    Cooking for one requires more planning and time than I apparently have.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: merkay

                      I have the exact same problems that you just listed. Pretty much everything you just said applies to me. I made beef stir fry the other day. Of course really enjoyed it for dinner the night I made it, had some for lunch the next day, but that was the end. I did the math and figured I needed to get 3 meals out of it to get my monies worth, and yeah, I fell short. I just didn't want it anymore.

                      1. re: SaraAshley

                        why not just make a smaller portion and freeze the rest of the meat and veggies that went into it? (separately, though I imagine you could even do it together). Of all things, beef stir fry seems quite easy to cook in small portions, so I'd just work on reducing portion size.

                      2. re: merkay

                        I think maybe you need a new strategy- instead of cooking one specific recipe a few nights what i often do i take some time on a sunday afternoon (or whatever works for you) and i prepare a few things, usually:
                        - a batch of roasted veggies, later i add to a salad, eat as a side, or they serve as a base for a fried egg meal
                        - quinoa/barley/whatever grain, i add to a quick soup, salads, or add beans and chopped veggies, some vinegrette and nuts for a hearty lunch salad
                        -baked/roasted proteins

                        The whole process takes me about an hour and a half or so and then during the week i take those prepped components and just assemble meals- vs cooking from the start. Obvs customize to your favorites you eat most often.
                        The rare occasion i end the week with leftovers they get transformed into a stew or soup that i eat for a night or two and lunch or put in the freezer.

                        1. re: Ttrockwood

                          I use these methods quite a bit - especially roasting a pan of vegetables. I use them in soups, composed salads, quiche, on sandwiches, casseroles...I frequently roast fruit at the same time. Pears and granny smiths, Meyer lemon wedges and clementine slices. I use them in both sweet and savory applications.

                          The possibilities are endless and it really helps when creating quick meals when you are just plain tired and hungry.

                          1. re: Ttrockwood

                            This is exactly what I do. Typically on Sunday afternoon, I'll grill some chicken and beef, and then simply prepare 3 or 4 vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, kale, brussels sprouts . . ). Then I use these in various combos for my meals for the week.

                        2. I cook for one most of the time as my other half travels for work Sunday-Thursday. If I meal plan correctly, it's very inexpensive. I do buy meat in bulk, but freeze in individual servings. I cut things like pork tenderloins in half. I freeze ground meat in 4-8oz servings. No, I don't make things like whole roasts very often. I did make a ham and froze the leftovers in individual servings, both sliced and diced. I also utilize leftovers for lunches. I have a pretty good spice collection now, but when I was building it from nothing, I wouldn't plan a meal that required more than 1 or 2 new spices/sauces a week. Here's how I do it:

                          Sunday night: 4 serving meal. I try to pick something that will reheat well, like casseroles or like this Sunday, making an asian ground pork dish with rice that will be good as leftovers.

                          Monday lunch: leftover from Sunday

                          Monday night: 1 serving meal using my previously frozen individually wrapped protein... chicken breast/thigh, pork chop, ground meat, etc. Starch is usually rice or an individual baked or roasted potato. Rice reheats well. Veggie is something that is easy to purchase in individual servings... green beans, smaller head of broccoli, asparagus

                          Tuesday lunch: Sunday leftover
                          Tuesday dinner: similar to Monday night, only a different meal

                          Wednesday lunch: Sunday leftover
                          Wednesday dinner: A 2 serving meal of some kind. I've gotten good at cutting down 4 serving meals to 2. This is again where freezing meats in smaller portions helps, since most 4 serving meals call for 16-20oz of meat.

                          Thursday lunch: Wednesday leftover
                          Thursday dinner: SO returns so I make a 4 serving meal. Eat 2 servings, and we each eat the leftovers for Friday lunch.

                          Fri/Sat - we're usually out doing things these nights so I don't often cook at home.

                          My weekly grocery budget (not counting the bulk meats I buy at Costco which is around $200 every few months) is $50. I often come in lower than that since most of what I need to buy is fresh produce or to replenish stuff like rice, pasta or cheeses. Last week I only spent $30. This also includes when the grocery store has good meats on sale or in the markdown bin (I freeze them right away so they're fine).

                          The key is to be willing to eat leftovers. It helps that my job is very busy so for lunch, I just need fast nourishment, I don't care if I have to eat the same thing for 3 days straight. I did try making like 2 large meals a week and just eating those leftovers, but that I did get tired of. Keeping my dinners varied is good for me. I also keep a few "quick heat" meals like frozen raviolis and jarred pasta sauce, for those nights when I just don't feel like putting in the effort. A jar of pasta sauce will last a LONG time in the fridge... a couple months... same with bottled BBQ sauce. I also occasionally make a 6 serving meal of something that freezes nicely, and put the extra servings in the freezer for those nights as well.

                          1. I've been cooking for one for many years. I prefer my own food so I make and freeze portions in the ZipLock containers so I can heat and eat my own food.

                            I will make a pound of pasta at a time then portion it with sauce and freeze. Eggplant burgers, corn chowder...most things I make in full serving sizes and freeze. Then I have quick options for dinner when I don't feel like cooking. Or I just heat up and add a vegetable (quick stir fry) or salad and I'm good.

                            1. I think that even if cooking from scratch were more expensive (I don't think it is), I think the pay off in terms of flavor and nutritional value would be worth it.

                              My biggest problem in having gone from four mouths to feed to one is the tendency to cook too much. I don't mind leftovers, and tend to have some sort of soup in the fridge at all times, but understand the boredom of eating the same dinner all week.

                              It's useful to me to remember that I can buy a small amount of fresh produce - it's okay to buy one stem of broccoli and not the three they bunch together; it's okay to take some of the grapes out of that 2lb bag they want you to buy. Don't give in to supermarket wiley ways! Bulk spices are a wallet saver.

                              I also have to remind myself to use/look in the freezer and not overstock my fridge. It's easy for me to think that I will use up that pasta sauce/tomato paste/cheese/bread and then find it has gone moldy. Lots of things freeze easily and well.

                              None of this is to say that I don't still throw things out, but I have got better.

                              Easy one person dinners for me: lox and eggs and onions; homefries with an egg or two; pasta bake (I try to make the right amount for dinner, leftover lunch, and a portion or two for the freezer); individually frozen fish fillet with starch and veg; burritos; cheese toastie and tomato soup; stir fry; a sandwich (again, it's okay to buy just one tomato!).

                              Good luck, and I hope you find it worthwhile.

                              1. Largely agree. Hard to buy small portions sometimes, e.g. a bunch of broccoli instead of one stalk. And I don't like leftovers, never as good. Use a teaspoon of this and the rest rots. When I do cook it is because *that* is what I want, not to save money.

                                  1. when i did the numbers my conclusion was the same as yours HazelM.

                                    also, i am not going to spend my time cooking using ingredients that have passed their prime (even if they're not yet poisonous).
                                    spices, in my pantry, that haven't been used up in two years are chucked out.
                                    keeping the spice cabinet fresh in order to cook for one is a major expense. most folks never add this expense to their calculations.

                                    most recipes end up generating a lot of waste for one person.
                                    celery goes bad (no, i don't want to use celery that's two weeks old) carrots, too, lose their flavor after a week in the fridge.
                                    the half onion in the fridge is not as good as a fresh onion.
                                    imho, bread is not as good after it's been frozen and it's out and out lousy after it has sat on the counter for a couple of days

                                    also, the clean up job involved in cooking for one is no less than that of cooking for four.

                                    all in all, given my aversion to eating and cooking with leftovers, cooking for one is a really bad use of my precious time and money .

                                    if i'm going to "spend" the calories on a meal, i want a terrific meal--not an efficient use of whatever was left over from earlier meals.

                                    15 Replies
                                    1. re: westsidegal

                                      re: spices, this is where buying spices in bulk helps... you can buy a very small amount that will be used up before it goes bad. The spice shop I go to sells spices in half ounce baggies, and that's perfect. My grocery store also has a huge bulk spice section where you can take as much as you want.

                                      My grocery store also sells stuff like celery and carrots in individual pieces... literally one stalk of celery or one carrot. The cost per pound is more than if I bought a whole bunch of it, but it's still only a few cents to buy what I need for a recipe.

                                      As for things like onions, just takes planning. If I know I'm using half an onion in my recipe on Monday, I'll plan a recipe on Wednesday that will use the other half.

                                      I dunno, I just don't see how NOT cooking at home is cheaper than cooking at home, at all. I won't even get into the health benefits of consuming pre-prepared or restaurant food more than every once in awhile.

                                      1. re: juliejulez

                                        as i said,
                                        i am not interested in eating previously frozen food or food that has been prepared with ingredients that have passed their prime or eating left overs.
                                        that changes the entire dynamic.
                                        i am the type of person that "lives to eat" and i really appreciate top quality food made with the best assortment of the freshest and best ingredients.
                                        my primary goal is not to save money, my primary goal would be to have the BEST food with a reasonable amount of shopping and effort.

                                        i live in a big city with some truly WONDERFUL restaurants.

                                        i can't cook for one at THEIR level and have the expenditure of time, effort, shopping, cleaning, gas, wasted food, etc. come out looking at all reasonable.

                                        it does make sense to me, though, that if you are OK cooking with 6 month old bottles of barbeque sauce that were churned out by kraft or general foods, your entire calculation would be different.

                                        1. re: westsidegal

                                          Nothing to add except to say that I wish I could afford to eat like you! :)

                                          1. re: SaraAshley

                                            i sacrifice in many other areas in order to maintain this level of eating.
                                            cooking and eating only the best was what my mother taught me (when the dinosaurs roamed the earth).
                                            i worked my way through college as a private chef because of her lessons.

                                            1. re: westsidegal

                                              We all have that one thing that we're willing to splurge on above everything else. For me it's clothes! :) But although not at your level of eating, I would say that I rank food higher than most people I know.

                                              1. re: SaraAshley

                                                i'm jealous of your clothes.
                                                my closet is the first place that i sacrifice.
                                                my wardrobe is HORRIBLE-- a collection of clothes that don't go with each other and date back decades.

                                                on the other hand, i've had some WONDERFUL eats!

                                          2. re: westsidegal

                                            Leftovers of dishes made with quality ingredients. are often at their best when leftover. I feel quite inadequate now that I'm OK with eating half an onion that's been wrapped from the previous day.

                                            I don't cook with 6 month old bottles of barbeque sauce from kraft or general foods but my homemade bbq sauce taste just as good if not better weeks later.

                                            You've figured out what works for you so I guess that's all that matters.

                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                              You certainly should not feel inadequate ;) There is certainly nothing wrong with yesterday's onion ... but I love onion & frequently use the whole thing in whatever I'm cooking.

                                              I don't keep track of the exact age of my BBQ sauce ... but I make a point of buying it with no HFCS, which means--not Kraft. Usually mom & pop brands, which is what one of the grocery stores I frequent specializes in.

                                              I've been able to eat on expense account for a couple months before, and that is why I'm absolutely sure that eating nothing but restaurant food, even restaurant food I chose myself & didn't have to pay for, will drive me nuts. I enjoy my own cooking, and there is no place but home to get real home cooking. I also enjoy haute cuisine, but don't want to eat it for every meal.

                                              1. re: foiegras

                                                My SO travels for work and gets a generous per diem for food, especially since he doesn't eat breakfast. He's currently on a long contract in San Diego, downtown, which has quite the variety of great restaurants. When he comes home on weekends, all he wants is a good home cooked meal.

                                                I just don't see how one could possibly eat out for less than I can make good meals at home for. The least amount I could think of for doing lunch and dinner out everyday is $15/day... and that's assuming eating fast food/fast casual for every meal... certainly not fine dining. I can make some great meals for well under $15/day. Let's not even talk about the health benefits of constantly eating out.

                                              2. re: fldhkybnva

                                                don't feel at all bad about eating that onion!!
                                                they're just fine and dandy.

                                              3. re: westsidegal

                                                Perhaps I'm reading you wrong, but you seem to be saying that the only way someone can eat at home for less is if they use cheap (as opposed to inexpensive) ingredients, old food, and frozen food. If this is your line of thought then I have to strenuously disagree.

                                                There are many things which benefit with age. Many meats, cheese, cooked dishes such as stew/chili, many pickled items, heck- even winter squash is much better after a curing period than fresh picked!

                                                If one knows their ingredients, how to modify quantities, how to creatively plan and where to shop it is very doable to eat quality ingredients prepared excellently. YMMV...

                                                1. re: westsidegal

                                                  The OP is about whether or not it's cheaper to cook at home vs using prepared foods/eating out. The answer is, if you know how to do it correctly, then yes, it is. Your goal is to not save money so it's not as relevant that you find it not to be worth it.

                                                  1. re: juliejulez

                                                    I love to cook (and eat out too mostly on the weekends), and I can assure you I am not eating cheap foods or tired leftovers. I stop at the Gelson's (a nice upscale grocery) on the way home almost everyday.

                                                    I'll bet I eat just as well as Westside. And I probably spend more cooking at home, to be honest. But I enjoy it, so different strokes.

                                                    1. re: BubblyOne

                                                      my point exactly.
                                                      i could be happy eating at home if it involved stopping at gelson's daily.
                                                      when i do cook at home, gelson's is a main go-to place for groceries.

                                                      would it be cheaper to get gelson's food than, say, eating top-quality food at coni'seafood, settebello, etc? no, it would not.
                                                      for a long time, i could even eat the best of the best at Fig, and still have it come in at a lower cost than it would have been to prepare the same items using FRESH ingredients from whole foods/gelson's/penzey's etc.

                                              4. re: westsidegal

                                                Your carrots are too old in the store.
                                                My carrots are fine for three weeks in the fridge, still wet as the day i got 'em.

                                              5. Cooking for ONE is a bit tough. Yesterday, decided I wanted beef stew... one of those "big" foods. Bought a SMALL package of beef... cubed for "chili"... not much more than a half lb. Picked up a bag of frozen veggies for stew. Had one sad looking potato that needed something done with it & added more onion. Still ended up with enough that could have easily few 3-4 people, unless they were teenaged boys!?! Was pretty much FED by the time it was done by tasting/testing. Havwe enough for lunch or dinner today, lunch tomorrow, and a generous portion to freeze.

                                                Have a few "big" foods (usually done in a casserole for SEVERAL people) that I modify. When I want lasagna, I do it as a roll-up. I'll cook about 6 noodles ONLY... that'll make dinner, a lunch, and one for freezer. With a little more sauce, it'll go from freezer to plate in about the same amount of time a pre-packaged stuff. I do the same thing with egg plant parm... make it in a stack.

                                                Have tried single serving stuff from frozen food aisle. Stouffers makes some pretty decent stuff, but it's NOT homemade.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: kseiverd

                                                  I don't get why this is so challenging, this is what freezers are good for. Make less food or for big meals like chili and stew, freeze it in portions

                                                  1. re: kseiverd

                                                    One Stouffer's will not kill you, but given the amount of sodium in frozen stuff, even the organic vegan stuff, years of it might.

                                                    Also completely agree that freezing your own food is not exactly rocket science. Portion, container, open door, put it in, close door. Much faster than going to the store for their frozen, salty blocks.

                                                    1. re: foiegras

                                                      I actually get a kick out of all the great things that can be frozen and can popped out to make a delicious meal.

                                                  2. I've been doing a lot of cooking for one lately. Highly recommend these cookbooks:
                                                    "Serve Yourself" by Joe Yonan
                                                    "Eat Your Vegetables" (vegetarian) by Joe Yonan
                                                    "The Pleasures of Cooking for One" by Judith Jones
                                                    "Going Solo in the Kitchen" by Jane Doerfer
                                                    "Cooking for One" by Mark and Lisa Erickson

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: pikawicca

                                                      And 5 Ingredients 10 Minutes by Jules Clancy (Amazon UK or Book Depository). Many quick things to make for 2 people, easily halved. Since retiring, I'm a lot less interested in leftovers, so her philosophy fills the bill for me a lot of the time.

                                                    2. Hmm...I became a usually solo diner about a year ago. I haven't found it to be too difficult, though I don't mind a meal or two of leftovers. I have a well stocked spice cabinet that gets purged periodically (as it did when I was not single).

                                                      I portion out my meat and freeze. I cook a roasted chicken about once every two weeks because it makes me happy to do so. A meal that day and the next, and then repurposed (in not subpar meals) for a bit. Someone mentioned that carrots a week in the fridge are subpar. That strikes me as odd (fridge just too cold? carrots are a cellar storage veg), but I buy veggies a few times a week from a store that gets much but not all produce from local famers.

                                                      Tonight's dinner will typically be tomorrow's lunch. I'm okay with that. My stews and soups are often better with a day or two on them anyway.

                                                      When I cook a big ole pot of beans, I freeze most of them.

                                                      Barbecue sauce goes bad? Really?

                                                      2 Replies
                                                      1. re: debbiel

                                                        +1. Agree completely with the ease of cooking for one. I truly don't understand others who say that using left-overs results in eating poorly. Many things are indeed better the next day, and many don't suffer at all by being frozen. It's just a matter of planning ahead, and repurposing left-overs wisely.

                                                        I buy barbecue sauce about once a year from a place that's a bit inconvenient to drive to. I don't know how long it would last if unopened, but even opened it lasts many months in the fridge. It's never gone bad on me.

                                                        1. re: josephnl

                                                          I make my own barbecue sauce - so easy and better than all bottled I've ever had.. My Daddy's recipe. It stays good for several months in the fridge.

                                                          And if you're that uptight about refrigerated things - freeze it. If it's like mine it would be fine.

                                                      2. So, the key to cooking for one seems to be a willingness to freeze a lot of things, and the ability to keep your freezer organized enough that you can keep track of it all once it's in there. Oh, and the ability to remember to defrost things far enough in advance as well.

                                                        I just can't seem to work up any enthusiasm for that.

                                                        Cooking frugally for one just plain requires a lot more effort and forethought that I am generally capable of expending.

                                                        26 Replies
                                                            1. re: merkay

                                                              merkay: AND
                                                              1) you need to be able to convince yourself that the flavor and texture of the food is not degraded by the freezing/thawing/storing process (a personal failure of mine--i'm not very good at denial)

                                                              2) you need to live in a location that offers cheap electricity for your freezer or be willing to pretend that the electricity is free and just intentionally omit the cost from your calculation
                                                              (another personal failure of mine)

                                                              1. re: westsidegal

                                                                I doubt many solo cooks have a separate freezer and are buying cow shares. I also doubt people who seldom cook do without a standard fridge/freezer in the states. So the freezer is on if the fridge is plugged in!

                                                                1. re: meatn3

                                                                  meatn3: although i'd be a solo cook,
                                                                  i have a roommate and a daughter that live with me. the two of them have pretty much spoken for the freezer space, (although i do have a few containers of ice cream wedged in there).
                                                                  so, for me, i'd need to buy a freezer and find a place to put the freezer, and pay for extra electricity and tell my roomate that the space he's using to store his ice hockey gear would need to be used for a freezer.
                                                                  i probably would be forced to reduce the rent he pays me because the original agreement was that he'd have the use of the space for his hockey gear.
                                                                  maybe we should add that cost and the cost of the additional freezer in as well as the electricity .

                                                                  must be nice to be living alone and have all that space and have the entire refrigerator all to yourself.

                                                                  1. re: westsidegal

                                                                    Perhaps you wouldn't need to have a roommate if you didn't eat out at every meal? Just a thought. Then you'd have the freezer all to yourself.

                                                                    1. re: juliejulez

                                                                      the pleasure that i get out of eating out every meal is tremendous.
                                                                      i would get NO pleasure out of making food for the freezer and the consumption thereof.

                                                                      why would i even consider that?

                                                                      this is not even taking into consideration that the roommate is a good presence. He brings more of the outside world into our home. He is of a different ethnicity, works in a different field, has different interests.
                                                                      Since i don't speak chinese, i had always been cowed about trying the famous Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley since very little english is spoken in them an i am unfamiliar with authentic chinese food.
                                                                      My lovely roommate took me to one of the big Chinese seafood houses there and ordered a ton of interesting dishes so that i could have the experience.

                                                                      He makes our home a more interesting place.
                                                                      We're still in touch with the roommate that came before him.
                                                                      Similar story.

                                                                      i wouldn't trade my connections with these people in order to have freezer space.

                                                                        1. re: westsidegal

                                                                          I would just admit I don't care to cook, instead of using crazy excuses.

                                                                          1. re: BubblyOne

                                                                            i don't care to cook for one because, in part, it's inefficient, it's wasteful, the types of food that do best in that realm are the types that hold little interest for me, the cost per meal and the time and effort to prepare that one meal and the leftovers associated with it don't make any sense to me.

                                                                            i cook for larger groups all the time.

                                                                      1. re: westsidegal

                                                                        Like any thing, you can look at it as a creative challenge or an obstacle. Just depends on perspective and how important it is to you. Everyone is different.

                                                                        1. re: meatn3

                                                                          having cooked as a personal chef for years, the "creative challenge" of cooking for one holds no interest for me.

                                                                          on the other hand, the challenge of finding the very best dishes offered by the diverse selection of restaurants that my city has to offer, is much more appealing to me.

                                                                          1. re: westsidegal

                                                                            I do have a fabulous recipe you must try. BBQ carrots.

                                                                              1. re: foiegras

                                                                                I'm grateful that my personal chef doesn't mind cooking just for me.

                                                                              2. re: BubblyOne

                                                                                i gave away my BBQ when i stopped eating meat.
                                                                                that is why i started roasting them.
                                                                                with the yogurt/cumin sauce they still taste good.

                                                                        2. re: meatn3

                                                                          Yup, the only freezer I have is the one that's attached to the fridge! I don't freeze much "made" food... I have a few things in there but mostly I just have meat in there, and a few prepared items like raviolis that are totally fine to freeze. I don't feel like it takes a lot of effort to keep track of what's in there. I just have a google doc with a list that I add and subtract as needed. Takes maybe... 10 extra minutes every time I buy meat? I'll spend 10 minutes to save hundreds a month.

                                                                          1. re: meatn3

                                                                            I have a separate freezer that I requested as a gift one year. The paperwork said the annual cost of running it is $25. I frequently spend 2-3 times that on one dinner out.

                                                                            If you leave things in the freezer for an extended period of time, the quality does degrade. However, if you pop things in and eat them next week, it does not.

                                                                            I don't actually freeze much for myself. I do keep frozen veggies for the dogs in there, and also their extra yogurt. (It does affect the consistency, but so far they seem to feel that even so, their food is a huge improvement over kibble ;)

                                                                            I typically eat the same thing for a few lunches or dinners in a row (my rule is that no two major meals running are the same). That is my choice, though ... if I hated leftovers (a concept I do not understand), I wouldn't plan for them and eat them.

                                                                            Really it's not so difficult to take the last xyz out of the refrigerator, open the freezer, pull out an xyz and pop it in. That is really a minimal exercise in planning ... nothing compared to planning a vacation, retirement, wedding, or even a simple party.

                                                                            1. re: foiegras

                                                                              Our cat doesn't mind frozen food either :) Actually I took out some chicken and beef for him nearly 3 days ago which is still rock solid in the fridge. I was able to cut up a few oz for him and he loved it even ice cold. The dogs eat yogurt?

                                                                              I agree, using the freezer is easy though I admit sometimes I juts buy a new cut of meat if I'm running late and didn't remember to take something out of the freezer. However, if I have some time before cooking, an aluminum pan works wonders to defrost anything really quickly.

                                                                              1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                They do eat yogurt ... though there is one brand (Cascade) that one of my dogs refuses to eat. Everything else is good--Fage, Dannon, Brown Cow, Horizon. I assume it must be too sour. She does this smacking thing with her tongue that is just hilarious, and then eats all around it.

                                                                                I usually don't freeze meat prior to cooking it, except for bacon. Bacon freezes very well.

                                                                                1. re: foiegras

                                                                                  <I usually don't freeze meat prior to cooking it>

                                                                                  I'm curious about how that works. How often do you shop & do you buy fresh meat every time? Do you have a good local butcher?

                                                                                  I don't like shopping in the supermarket much, so when I do go there I stock up on fresh meat & chicken and freeze them. (The end result is still much better than what I get from buying already frozen stuff -- plus I can portion before I freeze.)
                                                                                  Then I fill in with milk & eggs from the corner store and fresh produce from the open air market.

                                                                                  1. re: almond tree

                                                                                    I usually do my major shopping on the weekend. I shop at a gourmet grocery store, an ethnic market, and also go to a couple farmer's markets. I don't buy meat every time I go, but I generally do at the major shop. Right now I have spaghetti sauce ... I bought ground meat for that and made the sauce probably within 24 hours. Chicken I cook within 3 days (usually on each of those days). Right now I have pre-cooked crab claws I bought last night--I had some last night for dinner (with leftover avocado) and will eat that quickly. Am going out of town this weekend ... will pop whatever I haven't eaten in the fridge into the freezer.

                                                                                    Btw, here is a useful tip I recently discovered ... you know that Seal n Press plastic wrap? I typically eat only half an avocado at a time. I eat the half without the seed, and wrap the other half in a small piece of this stuff and press it down around the seed. I have been amazed how well it keeps in the fridge. Results are extremely similar to a freshly-halved fruit.

                                                                                    So anyway, if I freeze something, it's typically the results of my cooking the meat rather than the uncooked meat itself. Bolognese sauce and the like freeze very well.

                                                                          2. re: westsidegal

                                                                            Certain foods (soups, stews, chilis, some pasta sauces, etc.) are really not significantly degraded by freezing, and if perked up a bit on preparation with fresh herbs, etc. are pretty much as good as new...and certainly better IMHO than those served in most restaurants that I'd normally eat in during the week (I'm not talking fine dining restaurants here!)

                                                                          3. I suppose the key words in your post are that you "are not much into cooking"…and that says it all. For myself, although I've not been "single" for many years, I spent my first 40+ years living solo…and I cooked for myself several times a week, loved it and found it cost effective. Even now when I'm cooking for two, it's not much different. I love cooking, and there's no question that I can put a great meal on the table for much less than half of what it costs to eat out.

                                                                            To make cooking for one (or even two) cost-effective, one must do some planning and think about how left-overs can be successfully (and deliciously) used. Some foods are naturals for freezing left-overs…soups, stews, chilis. many pasta sauces freeze beautifully and when thawed and freshened up a bit with some fresh herbs, parsley, etc. will absolutely taste as good as the first time around. Other foods will not, but that doesn't mean that the left-overs cannot be repurposed and made into a wonderful meal. Left-over roast beef makes wonderful hash or works well as an addition to a soup. Just last week we had some left-over leg of lamb, and when chopped up and put into a Shepherd's Pie it was delicious. Left-over chicken makes delicious chicken salad, same for potatoes, etc., etc.

                                                                            Bottom line…if you don't enjoy cooking, forget it. But if you do and use a bit of forethought, cooking for one can be fun, cost-effective and delicious.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: josephnl

                                                                              Ding , ding! This is the key. I don't mind cooking three times a day for one or two and enjoy it. But if you don't then you won't, it requires effort.

                                                                              1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                But there were times in my working life when I barely had time to open the fridge, much less cook anything inside ( which led to some unpleasant surprises when I did dare the fridge).

                                                                            2. I worked as a chef when I was single so I didn't want to cook when I got home. And yes,I found cooking for one was more expensive than eating out or taking in when you factor in the waste. One thing you should do is get a large share of your calories @ breakfast. Oatmeal, dry cereal (get those 8oz shelf stable milk cartons and store in refrigerator-no spoilage) eggs, precooked microwaveable bacon or sausage, yogurt all have decent shelf lives. A loaf of commercial bread lasts a long time in the refrigerator so I ate a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches.

                                                                              1. You need to find foods you like enough to eat three or four days straight.
                                                                                Ropa Vieja
                                                                                Stir Fry
                                                                                Good chicken soup
                                                                                Lentils and carrots.

                                                                                I dunno, that's just what I like, each to their own.

                                                                                But I'd have no problem making food enough to feed 10, and then eating it the rest of the week.

                                                                                1. I had a couple of go-to meals when i was working & going to school. I usually didn't get home until 9pm and was terminally sick of fast food. Shrimp in garlic butter with a bit of Parmesan cheese and dried parsley. Usually some sort of salad to go with it. BTW parmesan cheese will last longer in the freezer. Grilled chicken breast with some sort of dry rub or salt mix on it, steamed green beans and whatever else looked good.

                                                                                  1. I'm a party of one and cook for myself all the time.
                                                                                    I eat dinner out less than once a week.
                                                                                    Lunch about the same.

                                                                                    I do a lot of "half batches" of things like homemade spaghetti sauce with meatballs. I even make my own meatballs and freeze in small batches.

                                                                                    If not in the mood I make a two or three beef or pork briscoles and cook those in the sauce -no meatballs.
                                                                                    If you don't have a butcher, even groceries sell 3 or 4 packs of pork chops or chicken breasts.

                                                                                    Half batch of french onion soup. Makes about a quart.

                                                                                    1lb ground beef and taco seasonings and cook. Can of black bean refritos and cook. split each in half and freeze half.

                                                                                    makes 3 days of quesidilla's once you add cheese, green onions and anythign else before you pan fry each one.

                                                                                    The freezer is your friend.

                                                                                    I smoke 6 or 8lb pork butts in my smoker and pull and freeze in 16oz tubs. Each tub and do 2 or 3 meals.

                                                                                    I do "greens and beans" over farfalle with is 1 can drained cannelonni beans, sliced garlic and 1 can chix broth and spices and when cooked down, lsightly mashed to thicken and fresh bunch of raw spinach is sauteed with EVOO, garlic, salt and chili flakes in a skillet and added at the end makes a great quick meal that makes 30 oz of greens and beans that for the next meal you only need to make pasta. I devide and freeze if bored.

                                                                                    If you are not a "leftover" person, it's very difficult to do single portions.
                                                                                    I had a friend that way.

                                                                                    Frozen entree's loose thier luster over time. BTDT.
                                                                                    But they do work great for lunches.

                                                                                    I do supplent a take out pizza, Indian, or ethnic food that is time consuming, but I have a butcher that will cater to my one-sie/two-sie buying that it's never a problem.

                                                                                    If the idea is not to cook at all, it's tough. I batch cook and portion and freeze some. No bordom here for me.

                                                                                    Good luck.

                                                                                    1. If I were you I'd plan out the meals for the week and buy ingredients that are versatile and can be used towards different recipes and dishes, not just for a single meal.

                                                                                      For example, let's say you buy a roast chicken from the supermarket deli. After eating it in one meal, prep the rest of the bird (debone, shred, etc) so the meat & carcass can contribute to making a chicken salad, or for soup (carcass), etc.

                                                                                      Often times I get my "ingredients recycling" ideas from delis items as I look into the deli cases and see how ingredients are used in various dishes.

                                                                                      Buy good quality tupperware, a stash of different-sized freezer Ziplocs and freeze meals (or ingredients) in excess. Put the dates on them so you can keep track of their "freshness" at future dates when you go back and use the frozen meals and ingredients.

                                                                                      1. I've tried it both ways, and while at first the cooking for one seems more expensive, over the long haul it isn't. Dining out, at least where I live has gotten very expensive, and that's compared to very expensive grocery stores - and even I have a limited tolerance for value meal drive thru meals.

                                                                                        So what has saved me?

                                                                                        Well, unlike some others I don't pretend that every meal has to be harvested from the field that morning to be edible.

                                                                                        I don't mind that some of my spices are a year or so old, although 2 years is beyond saving in most cases. A lot of different dishes are made from a relatively small selection of herbs, spices, and aromatics. Salt, pepper, paprika, garlic (in some form) onion (in some form), and tomato are the basis of a whole lot of dishes. Add some dried mixed herbs, some kind of chili sauce/paste/powder and you have tripled that list.

                                                                                        Next, I have no aversion to leftovers. Many dishes, especially stewed, braised, or in a sauce meats are often better after a day or two as several others have noted. Personally I don't mind having spaghetti or chili, or beef stew a couple of times a day for 3 days straight.

                                                                                        And if I do get tired of it, for me freezing is always an option. If people had any idea how much "good" food they eat from restaurants came out of the freezer it would boggle their mind.

                                                                                        If you really want to see what you spend on food - do the opposite of what everyone recommends. For two months spend cash on NOTHING. Put everything you can - especially food wise - on one credit or debit card. At the end of each month it will all be there in black and white (or whatever color your bank puts it up on the screen.) Now I'm not saying it's impossible to spend over a grand a month on groceries for one, but it takes some pretty serious shopping and some very serious gourmet meals with nothing repurposed or reheated to get that kind of grocery bill.

                                                                                        My problem is that I LOVE eating out. I have a friend who always says, "Why eat out every night, it all tastes the same?" I keep trying to figure out what horrible restaurants he eats at when Chinese, Italian, and "American" food all taste the same. Never mind that Thai, Korean, Greek, Hawaiian, Japanese, Filipino, etc. and Fusion are all available to him as well. If you want that kind of diversity and don't want anything frozen, then yes - your food bill is going to be high, and you are going to have to learn to be a very versatile cook. Probably a mix of home cooking and eating out is the best bet for you.