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  • Writer's pictureJolanta Nowobilski

Budgeting For Food For One

Inflation, amirite? With rising food costs, many of us are looking to see where we can stretch our dollars when it comes to groceries and food prep.

1. Know your Boundaries and Values

When budgeting for food and coming up with meal ideas, it is easy to think of an idealized version of ourselves. Committing to the idea of rice and beans every day feels easy when you see how inexpensive it can be, but some of us need dessert in there or still want to eat out on occasion.

The tricky part of creating a meal plan for one is maximizing variety while staying on a budget (there's a whole article on that already on this site). Knowing how much variety you need or how many times you can tolerate eating the same thing again and again will help create a realistic meal plan.

Another aspect of creating a realistic meal plan is knowing how much time and energy you can commit to in your meal planning and prep. Are you focused on budget-friendly convenience foods or do you not mind going an extra step and making things like bread from scratch (or some mix of both)? Taking your time and energy budgets into account can save a lot of frustration in the long run.

Budgeting isn't supposed to be a restriction method, but a tool for figuring out your lifestyle within your means.

2. Know How You Like Your Food

Do you like fresh, vibrant flavors or rich, unctuous dishes? How do you like your food seasoned? What are you willing to spend a little more or find a cheaper substitute?

Knowing what you like is important when budgeting your meal plan. Also, it saves on food waste because you are more likely to eat the food you like that's already in your fridge rather than takeout.

If you are still in the process of learning to cook and are looking to save money, it may be beneficial in the long run to focus on learning recipe concepts in conjunction with convenience foods before committing to recipes made from scratch. For example, you could make English muffin or pita pizzas and play around with the different toppings and sauces to see what you like.

3. Don't Try New Recipes, Build On Concepts

It's ironic that I'm giving this advice, I know, but this is how I learned to cook and how I continue to develop my style of cooking. When you focus your meal prep on building on concepts that you already know, it is easier to use up what you have in the kitchen and create dishes that you know you will like.

For example, if you have a back-pocket recipe for a frittata you like, you can switch out the filling ingredients with whatever flavors you like or even experiment with something new. The first time you make it could be with spinach, mushroom, and herbs; the next time could be with leftover roasted veg and your favorite cheese or your favorite breakfast sausage. Even further, you could toast up an English muffin or some bread and make some breakfast sandwiches for the week. Having this kind of versatility will help with reducing food waste and mental energy when deciding what to make in the kitchen.

Also, there's a notion that recipes should be followed strictly. If this isn't your train of thought, I invite you to consider them as rough guidelines. If you understand your cooking techniques, a recipe can be as versatile as the ingredients in your kitchen.

This advice is not to build a sense of distrust with food bloggers or to never try any recipe you see online. Actually, it's the opposite. If you know how to build on good techniques, then you are more likely to recognize them in other creators' recipes and actually like it enough to incorporate into your routine.

4. A (Quick) Ode to Legumes

With my Polish-American background, I didn't really grow up with an appreciation for legumes. It wasn't until college when I really needed to work on my food budget that I found the wonders of beans and lentils.

There are so many cultures around the world with a love and appreciation for different varieties of legumes. Taking time to learn traditional recipes featuring beans or lentils is the best way to learn how versatile this type of ingredient can be.

There are also plenty of plant-based recipes that use legumes in place of meat, if that's more your speed. If you want to start cooking with these guys, I would recommend starting with lentils and canned beans as they are much faster to prepare than dry beans from scratch.

Incorporating these guys into your weekly meal prep is an easy and delicious way to cut costs.

5. Figure Out What Costs Are Worth Sharing

Many of us live with roommates; use that to your advantage. My roommates and I have a basic rule in the kitchen: you are responsible for your own food, but if you want something that's someone else's, don't eat the last of it. There are some ingredients that we keep tabs on to see if it's running low and we take turns buying them. This saves precious fridge and pantry space. This isn't necessarily the best way for everyone, but it has been working for us.

Other aspects to consider when sharing costs for everyone's food budget are appliances, kitchen gadgets, and gardening-related items. Talk about a budget with everyone and what time frame everyone would like to purchase everything.

6. Going Out V.S. Staying In

Spending less on going out was the piece of my budget that was the hardest for me to keep accountable. Going out to restaurants is a great way to connect with friends and family, but it can get pricey. Good thing there are less expensive ways to connect over food.

There are three ways I use to still get the best of both worlds. Firstly, have a picnic! You can bring delicious food from home and get to enjoy the fresh air and outdoors. If you live in an area with a lot of free events at parks, having a picnic there can be a way to make the most of your time at these events.

Secondly, invite people over for dinner. Inviting a group of friends over for dinner is often less expensive than going out. Also, if you invite them over for dinner, they are also more likely to invite you over for dinner to theirs (this can even out the cost).

Thirdly, set a limit for what you are willing to spend at a restaurant. Look at how many times in a month you are looking to go out and set an average amount of money to spend at a restaurant for each time, including tip.

What are your favorite tips for maximizing your food budget?

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