Single servings – 5 tips to keep your wallet fat and belly flat

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Living alone has its plusses and minuses, especially when it comes to meals. Many people avoid trying to cook for one, and end up being on a first name basis with the food deliveryman.

But instead of thinking you can’t plan a menu for yourself alone, look at it this way – you get to prepare yourself a healthy meal that you actually love, without compromising with a roommate or family.

And you don’t have to eat ramen noodles every night. In fact, with summer produce easy to find, now is the perfect time to start carving yourself into the healthy everyday chef you want to become.

Here are some tips to saving time and money on health single servings: from Chicago’s SportWise Nutrition and Consulting dietitian, Andrea Rudser-Rusin.

1. Stick to the list. Plan your meals, and then make a grocery list. When you shop, avoid impulse purchases. Buying only what you need will help you avoid unhealthy treats, food waste, and a high bill said Andrea Rudser-Rusin, Chicago’s SportWise Nutrition and Consulting dietitian. It is best to keep a running list to avoid forgetting essentials and adding unnecessary items that sound good when you are hungry and headed to the store.

“Plan ahead, anticipate the week, and buy just what you need,” said Rudser-Rusin. Since many types of meat come packaged for family-sized meals, you can either buy individual portions at a butcher shop, or re-package the meats when you get home, freezing the extras in zippable freezer bags.

1. Take time to plan your produce purchases. Anticipating the week is especially important when it comes to buying fresh produce. If you know you are going to be out of town a few days, or eating some meals out, buy less fruits and vegetables to avoid throwing both food and money in the trash. A key tip for purchasing fresh produce is to find a store that will sell you one portion of something to avoid food waste. Bags of bananas or apples usually are not economical for singles.

“Don’t buy things just because you think it’s a deal,” said Joe Yonan, a Washington Post food editor and author of the cookbook, “Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One.”

“The most expensive food,” he said, “is what you buy and throw away.”

2. Avoid brand name foods. Buying national brand items only breaks the bank. Instead, try buying the store brands for the same quality but better price. Also, if you are feeling bold and want to try new foods, try one new food every week or two instead of all at once. This tip will help you steer clear of throwing away unwanted food.

3. Add vegetarian staples to your diet for economical protein. “If you’re trying to save money, live on a budget, and make sustainable dishes, I have two words for you: beans and rice,” said Yonan. “It sounds boring, but beans come in a beautiful number of varieties that can’t be cheaper if you get them dry.”

This combination is also great because beans and rice combined make a complete protein. Merely add some your favorite vegetables, salsa and a little feta, and voilá! You have a cheap, easy and healthy meal that satisfies all of your cravings.

4. Save by cooking individual items and freezing them. When cooking for one, it’s wise to cook items separately instead of making a big pot of chili. A pot of rice or a skillet of chicken can be divided into individual portions and frozen.

However, if you do find yourself making that pot of chili on a crisp fall day, know how to store your leftovers to have great meals for the future at your fingertips. The best way to store leftovers is to put each individual serving into a plastic container with a tight lid. Zippable freezer bags work great for vegetables, rice and leftovers, and they freeze flat. Not only will this method allow for a quick and easy thawing process, but it will also leave room in your freezer.

5. Make cooking ahead part of your weekly routine. The more you get yourself in the kitchen, the easier it will get and the better the results will become. Happy cooking!