Maybe you’re on a budget.
Maybe you just want to eat healthily without breaking the bank.
Maybe you are on a restrictive diet (like the elimination diet) and you can’t find food outside easily.
Maybe you just want to actually know what goes into your food.
Maybe you just like to cook!
These are all good reasons to cook at home. But if you’re cooking for one, it can be hard. I know, because I have been cooking for one for as long as I’ve started cooking. Well, most of the time, at least.
It’s hard if you don’t want to spend a lot of money. Cooking for one is sometimes more expensive than eating out.
It’s hard if you want to be healthy. It’s obviously cheap and easy to eat instant ramen all day long.
It’s hard for many reason, really. To the point where I think cooking for one is actually a skill – if you want to do it efficiently.
And if you’re a vegan or vegetarian? Good luck to you! (Ahem, let’s just say it took me quite some time to learn how to do this whole cooking for one thing properly.)
How to master this skill, sensei? You may ask.
Well, it all starts at the grocery store. I mean, duh. It’s obvious. It’s not a big secret. But do you know how to buy groceries wisely?
If you know how to make the right purchases, you’re well on your way to cooking efficiently, especially if you’re cooking for one, or even two!
Now let’s cut the crap and get to the point 😉
1. Buy Versatile Ingredients
Buy ingredients that can be used in multiple recipes.
It’s even better to buy something that can be used across different cuisines.
This way, you won’t be bored and you can use up the ingredients quickly – which means fresher ingredients and no wastage!
Luckily, most vegetables fall into this category. Bell peppers are great in stir-fries, but they are delicious in pasta too! Basil is a lovely addition to pizza, but you can use it in a curry or fried rice as well. I can go on and on – you know what I mean!
A negative example is scallions (or spring onions).
Scallions, as far as I know, are pretty much just used in East Asian cuisine. I love scallions, but it’s hard to find a place for them elsewhere.
Well, erm, unless you like being experimental with your food.
Another thing about scallions is that it becomes all wilty and sad in the fridge after three days.
Which brings me to my next point…
2. Buy Ingredients That Can Keep Well
Do you know one good reason why you spend so much money on ingredients?
Because you don’t use them in time.
Honestly, no matter how hard I plan my meals, I still somehow end up with vegetables that stay in the fridge for a week (or more!).
That’s because (surprise!) life’s like that. Things just don’t go according to plan.
Maybe I planned to make dinner and use up that dying spinach in the fridge, but an old friend asked me out for a chat.
Maybe I was in school and in a good study mood so I decided to stay back till late, so I had dinner in school instead.
Maybe… Geez, it’s just too many maybe’s for my liking.
So what’s the solution?
The solution is to not rely on things that can change and rely on things that you can count on.
Like how long vegetables stay in the fridge.
In my experience, firm vegetables can keep pretty well, such as celery and carrots. I almost always have carrots in the fridge because they are ridiculously easy to use AND it’s cheap. Hurray! Tofu and tempeh keeps well too – it’s a permanent staple in my fridge. Peas, beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, squash, bell peppers are all great additions too 🙂
There are plenty of items in this category, so there’s really nothing to worry here!
3. Don’t Buy So Many Damn Vegetables (Or Perishable Things)
I have, very foolishly might I add, made this mistakes many times.
I’d go to the store, excited for all the delicious meals I’d make that week.
Then I’d go home with two full bags of veggies, silently regretting my purchasing decisions.
Yep. I had a bad case of impulsive-grocery-shopping-itis.
So how can you overcome your impulses?
My suggestion is to quantify your purchases. Maybe limit the number of vegetables you’re allowed to buy per week, or if you have a budget, stick to that budget. Faithfully.
I find the former easier to keep track of.
Personally, I buy about 6-8 items of vegetables every week, usually enough to make about 6 meals. For example, this week, I bought tempeh, a red bell pepper, a head of cauliflower, snow peas, a bag of mung bean sprouts, cherry tomatoes, and zucchini.
I had a tomato-based pasta with zucchini noodles for lunch and a noodle stir-fry for dinner today. I could’ve also done a simple rice meal with tempeh and stir-fried vegetables as the sides or even made a basic vegetable soup.
Basically, if you’ve followed points (1) to (3), you have done extremely well. You wouldn’t have had to throw anything away, and you didn’t have to be bored.
Now for one last point; this is important because it helps to add variety to your meals!
4. It’s Okay To Buy Processed Food And Dried Goods
No, I don’t mean that bag of chips calling your name.
I’m talking about processed ingredients, for lack of a better word.
Basically, you don’t have to worry much about these things expiring before you use them. Things that you can stock up in advance at the store.
Vegetables are not in this category, if you didn’t speed scroll through point (3).
Some processed foods I have at home are canned beans, tomato or pasta sauce, coconut milk (the UHT, non-refrigerated kind), and tofu (well technically that’s a processed food).
And of course, I have a bunch of sauces and condiments.
As for dried goods, I have the typical noodles and rice, as well as dried shiitake mushrooms, black fungus, dates, and goji berries. I’ve got some dried lentils and raw nuts too.
It’s great to keep a number of processed foods or dried goods on hand, because if I have some leftover vegetables that I must use within a day, I can just take out a jar of pasta sauce and make some pasta, or bust out the can of beans and make a nice hearty soup.
Isn’t that just great?
I don’t know about you, but it feels like a get-out-of-jail-free card to me!
Cooking for one is not easy, I know.
But if you are able to master the art of buying the right things at the grocery store, I think that’s more than half the battle won.
Personally, buying groceries intelligently was something I struggled with. I used to throw away a lot of vegetables because they all went bad before I could use them.
Thankfully, I can now proudly say that I can’t remember the last time I threw away food that has gone bad.
Of course, what you do with those veggies, how to use them, and what kind of food should you make is also something that affects the outcome. If you cook something that goes bad in a day – that defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
I’ll probably write a continuation from this in the future when I’m motivated enough to do so (you can motivate me by leaving nice comments :p) but you know what? Sorting out your buying habits is enough to make a huge improvement. Nail this down and you will become a mean cooking-for-one machine 😉
So go forth and kick ass at the grocery store!