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Eat well, spend less: Eating solo

Eat well, spend less: Eating solo

Here are some tips for cooking for one without breaking the bank.

It can almost be more expensive feeding one person than a small family – especially when we buy lots of single-serve ready-meals instead of cooking.

The prospect of cooking just for oneself, making only what you fancy and never having to cater to the culinary quirks of others, may have lots of appeal to those churning out meals for the masses 365 days a year.

But the reality for those who live or dine alone is that cooking for one isn't as easy as you might think. Just finding the motivation to make a balanced meal at the end of a day can seem like a lot of effort and mess that can be avoided by just having a piece of toast.

Manufacturers recognise this and a vast array of single-serve ready-meals are on offer in every supermarket. While convenient, they are expensive when used on a regular basis.

For those wishing to spend less on meals for one, it's worth revisiting the regular recipe books; dishes which produce four or more serves are more economical to make simply because heating the oven costs the same whether you're cooking two chicken drumsticks or twelve.

For those who are unused to cooking for themselves or have little time or energy for cooking, the family-style recipe yields around four evenings worth of meals, which when frozen, equate to three nights when you are able to simply re-heat, providing all the convenience of a supermarket ready-meal without the expense.

Cooking several full meals several days in a row and freezing the surplus will provide a meal 'bank', which is invaluable if you fall ill and are unable to cook. You are also more likely to invite someone around to dinner if you know you have something already on hand.

If you prefer to cook single-serve recipes, have a browse through our recipe section and you'll find a 'meals for one' sub-category.

Freezing tips

  • Make sure food is completely cool before freezing.

  • Label the dish: one chunk of frozen food looks much like another.

  • Do not defrost and then re-freeze food.

  • Add a use-by date: frozen meals should be used within three months.

  • Make sure defrosted food is piping hot before eating.

Storing the surplus

  • Keep a selection of single-serve containers in stock; freezer-to-table ramekins are excellent for casserole-type dishes. Glad produces a range of plastic freezer containers in a variety of sizes which are excellent for freezing excess sauces, beans, vegetables, etc.
  • Freeze wine, lemon juice, tomato paste, pesto and other small quantities in ice cube trays so you have them when you need them.
  • Cook extra rice and freeze in a plastic bag for another night.
  • Don't overstock on fresh produce, buy only what you can use.

The perks

  • No-one is looking at your table manners.
  • You can eat in front of the TV, in the bath or while reading a really good book without being told off.
  • You can be adventurous, with no-one else around to say too spicy, too saucy, too many vegetables! Explore the great cuisines of the world and experiment.
  • You can buy those tiny little packs of really expensive meat 'on special' that family cooks salivate over then put back as it simply won't be enough.
  • You never go to the fridge for a snack only to find someone else polished off what you had your eye on.

The pitfalls

  • Simply can't be bothered cooking so will just have toast, cereal, takeaways or a large glass of wine instead.
  • Over-eating: having gone to the effort of making a real meal, it's easy to eat more than you need.
  • It's expensive to heat the oven to cook a small quantity.
  • Ending up eating the same thing for days to use it up – a large pot of soup for example – then being utterly sick of it.
  • Resorting to expensive single-serve ready-meals as there is little motivation to cook.
  • No-one wants to eat the same thing night after night so varying the menu between servings of family-style dishes and freshly made single-serve dishes is the key. Recipes that yield single serves need to have realistic methods of assembly and while it is possible to buy small amounts of luxury ingredients from time to time, the single-serve shopper may miss out on the bulk-buy benefits, so keep an eye out for specials.
First published: Oct 2006

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