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Old 09-04-2012, 12:10 PM   #1
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Shopping/Cooking for one?

I've been on my own (as a college student living in an apartment with two other girls) since January. I've got a tight budget, but I've managed to make it work. My problem is cooking/shopping. I always end up getting fast food, or eating at work (a pizza place) While I haven't put on weight, I know it's not healthy. But nothing in the stores seems to be made for single people. I can't finish a pint of milk and a box of cereal before it goes bad! And the girls I live with all have differing tastes/health requirements, so sharing shopping/meals is not an option.

I'd also like to start packing bagged lunches with me to class. Any ideas?
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Old 09-04-2012, 12:24 PM   #2
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A pint of milk equals 2 cups! That's enough for a bowl or two of cereal and maybe coffee for a day or two. How could you not use these up before they go bad? Cereal lasts for a long, long time; store in a ziploc bag.

Do a Google search; you'll find lots of advice and options. There are also many cookbooks for singles; look on Amazon.
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Old 09-04-2012, 12:43 PM   #3
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Where to start...
Sandwiches are great - I usually buy the pound of turkey and use it throughout the week with some sliced cheese, lettuce, and avocado. For weeks where I want a change Walmart sells this pre-made frozen fajita chicken that you just warm up in the microwave and it's ready to eat and use that instead of turkey. For dinner, it's harder, but Pasta Roni is awesome... for me it was always 2 servings and just add some sliced up chicken to make it a whole meal. Rice-a-roni jumbalaya with sausage is also very good and doesn't make too much. Hamburger helper is easy and comes in a lot of flavors and you will have plenty for the next few meals. I buy a 6 pound bag of frozen chicken breasts from Sam's (3 pound at Wal-Mart) and just thaw one and season it then bake or grill it for a meal and usually make creamed corn from a can with it. Black-eyed peas or anything from the canned food aisle make a good side too. Just put it in a pot on low heat for 10-15 minutes. For a home-made fajita chicken you can eat in a burrito I take a chicken breast and rub it with a packet of taco seasoning from mccormicks before you bake it then put sour cream, salsa, cheese, whatever on it in a tortilla. McCormicks makes good griller marinades now that are really good on pork. All different kinds are good. Ever heard of Ro-Tel cheese? That is a good dip that can last a week with some chips to have as a side. Not overly healthy options but much cheaper than eating out constantly.
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Old 09-04-2012, 12:50 PM   #4
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Remember you can buy a 1 lb package of ground meat (beef, chicken or turkey), cook it and use some and freeze the rest. I buy flour tortillas and keep them in the fridge so they last longer. Pasta stays good for a quite some time open, just measure out a serving for yourself and there ya go, top it with pesto or butter and cheese instead of spaghetti sauce but you can make an easy marinara with a can of tomato puree and some spices. Buy sandwich rolls for garlic bread.
When I worked at the pizza place I ate salads almost every meal, I'd grab a breadstick and make a salad and have a good meal.
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Old 09-04-2012, 01:31 PM   #5
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totally agree. my biggest frustration for cooking for one is the package sizes at time. i hate being wasteful and throwing food away. things that i buy that help:

-frozen garlic cubes, one equals a clove and its prechopped. i
-cracker barrel makes cheddar cheese in these little snack packets. i will buy those on sale and freeze them, defrosting one or two when needed since a block of cheddar always goes bad before i use it all.
-veggies that multi-task, onions, red peppers, carrots, greens. when cooking i will chop up the whole onion or pepper and then freeze what i don't use. i buy my tomatoes in the can diced or chopped.
-frozen mangos and canned pineapple, i will throw some in a blender with fresh OJ for a quick fruit smoothie. the OJ i will drink by itself too but since the other two are "pantry" items there is no rush to use them right away.
-chicken breasts i buy in big family packs and then cut down into smaller sizes and freeze in single serving bags. some get cubed, some get cut into tenders, others get butterflied into thin cutlets.
-ground meat that i divide up into 2 or 3 servings for burgers, tacos, meatballs, meatloaf etc.
-frozen cooked shrimped. defrosts in a few minutes in cool water and i throw in rice or pasta for a quick dinner. beats cooking, shelling, and deveining for just a few shrimp.
-pasta, rarely goes stale. as stated can be topped with a multitude of things.
-organic milk, comes with longer expiration date. i do bake though and use milk for that, so if not for baking i may never go thru a half gallon before it expires.
-roasted red peppers and gardinera. items that are essentially pickled last longer in the fridge once opened.

things i avoid most of the time:
-cereal, yes mine can often go stale before i finish too.
-fresh veggies such as broccoli or corn. i buy the frozen bags that steam, less to cook and less to go bad.
-extensive list of items to make home made sauces. i buy San J premade peanut and szchenwan (sp?) sauce as well as jarred marinara most of the time.
-steak and fish on the most part. easier to eat these out as they rarely taste as good when i cook them at home and fish is hard to find in an individual servings (well ok you can buy one fresh but then you have to cook it right away and we single girls never know when a date offer will pop up )
-fresh potatoes. i found i hate peeling and dicing for recipes.

for lunches i bring sandwiches or salads to work. i will use the same ingredients and then mix up the combinations. for ex:

black bean mixture will mix with corn and then have with grilled chicken for dinner. the next day i will shred the chicken and place with cheese and beans for a quesadilla and put the corn with greens/cucumber and dressing for a quick salad.

grilled chicken, fresh mozzarella, red peppers, gardinera will go on greens for a salad. the next day i will put the cheese/chicken/pepper with fresh basil on bread and then have a side salad of greens with cucumber and a different dressing.

cook bag of peas(2-3 servings). eat one night with shrimp, some edamame (i buy frozen and shelled to cook individual servings), peanut sauce on rice pasta or spaghetti. i may then use the peas with olive oil, garlic, parm or mozz cheese, and pasta another night.

i think the key is to keep pantry ingredients on hand to mix in with a few fresh to keep yourself from getting bored. i also do things like bring a pb & j sandwich to work with snacks and then go buy soup. this save me some $ because i am not buying a whole lunch but i dont get super bored with eating the same foods.
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Old 09-04-2012, 01:40 PM   #6
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I have a vacuum sealer that helps me out tremendously! I buy meat in bigger packages and then seal them in reasonable portions for me. I also buy chicken breasts at Costco that are individually packaged.

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Old 09-04-2012, 01:49 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by megsoro View Post
I've been on my own (as a college student living in an apartment with two other girls) since January. I've got a tight budget, but I've managed to make it work. My problem is cooking/shopping. I always end up getting fast food, or eating at work (a pizza place) While I haven't put on weight, I know it's not healthy. But nothing in the stores seems to be made for single people. I can't finish a pint of milk and a box of cereal before it goes bad! And the girls I live with all have differing tastes/health requirements, so sharing shopping/meals is not an option.

I'd also like to start packing bagged lunches with me to class. Any ideas?
We are a family of 2 that used to be a family of 4, so we have had to make a few adjustments...
That being said, we two drink 3 gallons of milk each week
Since you are focusing on healthier eating, the first thing i would focus on is finishing your milk (said mom )
your bones will be happier, it may help your hair and nails and skin, your muscles, help manage PMS as well as help you sleep at night...
for a laugh and more on milk benefits search on youtube for Brittlelactica and enjoy

Someone already mentioned sandwiches, which are always a pretty good choice...

As far as "convenience food" goes, I am a fan of the Healthy Choice frozen meals. The other brands of low-cal meals taste horrible.
We buy them on sale with coupons.

When it comes to cooking real food, a little planning ahead is your friend.
Here's a great website with healthy but yummy recipes

Plan meals around one common element- with spaghetti sauce you can have a pasta dinner one night, english muffin pizzas another night, eggplant parmesan another.
Or oven roasted veggies you can pair with couscous and meat one night and put on pizza another night, and enjoy with polenta for dinner later.

If you tend to make larger meals, freeze your leftovers in recycled reusable tv dinner trays to pull out a week later.

We love a dinner salad- some like Cobb style salads,
I love fresh greens with seasonal fruit, avocado, goat cheese crumbles, some nuts
and a thrown-together vinaigrette from whatever vinegar, mustard, oil and jam or jelly I happen to have on hand.

Also, it's okay to buy some short cut produce (like snack bags of baby carrots for your lunches or frozen stir fry veggies) that will make it faster to go from fridge to table- it's cheaper than fast food or other meals in restaurants.
Some things are just easier to take on the go- like a simple apple or banana- no need to buy your apple pre-sliced

Want quick mashed potatoes?
Scrub potato, rinse and cut up.
Cook covered in microwave or on stove top.
Mash or whip with mixer, adding your usual butter or milk or chicken stock.
those potato skins just mash in with everything else.

Want to make potato salad fast?
try using frozen cubed (not shredded) hash brown potatoes, boiled for 7 minutes and drained instead of peeling and boiling and cutting up real potatoes from scratch in your usual recipe.

Here's a great quick snack- peanut butter dip
1 small container non fat vanilla yogurt- dump in medium bowl.
Fill yogurt container with peanut butter and dump in bowl with yogurt.
Blend well with spatula.

SO yummy- tons of peanut butter flavor with half the fat of peanut butter.
And you have all that fabulous calcium from the yogurt
Dip apple slices, celery, spread on bread like peanut butter or on a tortilla
and top with apple cubes or banana slices and roll up and eat.

Good luck
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Last edited by goodfood4ursoul; 09-04-2012 at 01:55 PM.
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Old 09-04-2012, 02:03 PM   #8
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Thirty years ago when I was a college student...

I can't believe it was that long! I used to take pb&j sandwiches to school in a Rubbermaid container so they didn't get squished in my backpack - great because they don't need refrigeration. Throw in a piece of fruit and some carrot sticks and you have a decent, healthy lunch. For dinners, I would just get things that made 4 - 6 servings and put the leftovers in the freezer in single servings. It was great to have a variety of things in the freezer to just microwave and have a quick meal. I made burritos a lot 10 at a time to use up the whole package of tortillas, and they freeze and re-heat really well. Good luck!
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Old 09-04-2012, 02:49 PM   #9
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Forgot to mention - I'm mildly lactose intolerant, and I find that powdered milk doesn't bother me. I keep it in the freezer and it stays good for a fairly long time. That way, I can make "milk" one bowl at a time for cereal. If I want cold milk, I just make a small amount the night before and refrigerate.
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Old 09-04-2012, 04:24 PM   #10
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When you open the cereal, you can put one cup portions in zipper sandwich bags and put all back in the box. Or just put all in one big zipper bag. It will stay fresh that way. Try Kashi GoLean Krunch. A pint of milk is two cups, or two servings. A quart would be four servings. Put some on cereal and drink the rest of the cup.

Bake several chicken breasts, slice, and freeze in sandwich-size portions. You can do the same with a turkey breast. Have a dinner and then freeze the rest for lunches. Frozen vegetables make good dinner side dishes. If you buy presliced lunch meat at the deli, freeze sandwich size portions or enough to last two or three days, and only thaw that much at a time. You can do the same with whole wheat bread. Salad greens with some pieces of cooked chicken or turkey make a great lunch or dinner also.

You can make or purchase peanut butter on crackers. A few of those and an apple make a good portable meal. Wholly Guacamole makes single-serve dip packets which are good with baby carrots or other fresh vegetables.

Rinse canned beans (to remove as much sodium as possible) for bean salad or brown some lean ground beef and add beans and chili seasoning. Freeze in meal-size portions in zipper bags.
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Old 09-04-2012, 11:09 PM   #11
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Those bags of individually quick frozen chicken breast or tenders, and tilapia are your friends. So are bags of frozen vegetables. Frozen berries are good, too. Buy a ham steak or two when they're on sale and chuck 'em in the freezer. These are all more or less economical for solo folks so long as you have a decent refrigerator freezer.

You can shop when you need fresh produce that you can buy one at a time: a couple of apples, a few oranges, a banana or two and some grapes can get you through most of the week. I've learned not to buy onions, garlic or potatoes unless I need them for something I'm going to cook immediately. Those things aren't pretty when they start to sprout. Most other fresh produce is packaged way too large to be useful, unless you can split it with somebody. Some canned fruits, vegetables, beans, and soups are good to have on hand. So are boxes of pasta, rice and instant potatoes (keep in fridge after opening).

There's a great cookbook, "Healthy Cooking for Two-or Just You" that has lots of recipes and tips on setting up a solo pantry and kitchen. You don't need a lot of kitchen doodads to start. Good luck!
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Old 09-05-2012, 12:26 AM   #12
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Most of the "quick" food suggestions people have mentioned here are very unhealthy.

Precooked frozen meats are extremely high in sodium and are usually also full of extra fat. Just purchase a large quantity of fresh chicken breasts, package them in freezer ziplocks however you want them (full breast half, in strips, cubed, etc) and freeze them. You can even cook them before packaging them...that is what my husband did in college.

Try to stay away from Rice-a-Roni, Homestyle Bakes, etc. Not only do they taste bad but they are incredibly bad for you. I would buy an inexpensive rice cooker if you don't already have one. Rice takes 20 minutes to cook, and you can decide whether to cook a larger quantity to use throughout the week or just cook enough for one night.

I like to make large batches of vegetable soup from scratch and freeze them in plastic containers. You can eat as is, or some days add diced chicken, ground beef, etc.

For your lunches, either take leftovers from the night before, or become friends with sandwiches. I personally hate deli meat sandwiches, but I never get sick of PB&J. I also love BLTs (with uncured turkey bacon, so no nitrates) which are inexpensive and yummy! Even a cup of plain greek yogurt mixed with cinnamon, a diced apple, and 2Tbsp chopped walnuts makes a delicious and nutritious lunch. A cup of greek yogurt has about 24g of protein so you will be full.

I think you probably mean that you can't go through a quart of milk (not a pint) before it spoils. Sometimes my husband and I go though a lot of milk, and other weeks we don't. Unfortunately there isn't a really good solution to this, other than try to plan meals out...or just accept that you will have to throw some of it out at times. It happens. A box of cereal stays fresh for a while even without putting it into a different container. If you eat cereal 2-3 times per week, you shouldn't have a stale problem. They do sell plastic storage containers for cereal if you want to try that. We eat Kashi cereal, and the boxes aren't huge so you may want to try one of the Kashi varieties (our favorite is toasted berry crumble but right now we're just eating Kashi GoLean which is more bland).

Since you end up eating pizza for lunch at your workplace, you may want to try bringing Lean Cuisine frozen meals with you to work if you have access to a freezer and microwave there. They aren't inexpensive by any means, but they are certainly less than you would spend eating out for lunch. It might be a good way for you to start tapering off the number of times you eat out each week. I wouldn't recommend more than 1-2 Lean Cuisines (or any other frozen meal) per week because of the sodium content.

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