Friday, November 21, 2008

Cooking for One: Five Steps to Get You Going

Living on your own presents a host of new challenges, the least of which is preparing meals for yourself. As a result, many of us choose to eat out frequently or rely upon frozen meals and cereal boxes. Such practices are far from nutritious and, perhaps more importantly, bad for our wallets. It’s much cheaper to make a simple meal from scratch than buy the pre-made version. Plus, cooking for yourself is actually much easier than you might imagine. All it takes is some proper planning and supplies, and you’ll be on your way to eating healthier and saving cash.

Step 1: Prepare Your Kitchen

In order to cook for yourself, you need a kitchen stocked with some basic supplies. At the bare minimum, you should have:

· One frying pan

· One stock pot (the kind you use for pasta or soup)

· One spatula

· One mixing spoon

· Measuring cups / spoons

· Two quality knives (one big, one small)

· A cutting board

Step 2: Be Smart About Groceries

Once you’ve setup your kitchen, you need to fill up your fridge. Remember, it does not take a ton of food to feed a single person. If you buy too much at one time, you may waste a lot of items that rot or sour. To keep your grocery cart in check, make a list of what you eat for one week. Then, use this information to help streamline your shopping list. Do you really need a whole gallon of milk? Can you buy only half a pound of lunch meat?

While you cut back on perishables, keep in mind that other foods are best bought when on sale. Stock up on staples like tomato sauce, rice, and all frozen foods when they are low in price. Just make sure you have room to store them.

Step 3: Master a Few Recipes

Now that you are ready to begin cooking, make it a point to learn a few delicious recipes. You don’t have to be a culinary genius to make chicken parmesan, broiled salmon, or a hearty stew. Try preparing a few of your favorite restaurant dishes, or a traditional family favorite from home. Once you’ve mastered your first recipes, you’ll realize how easy it is to make your meals from scratch. Also, don’t be afraid to get creative! I rarely follow recipes exactly. If I don’t have an ingredient, I improvise. I also love to experiment with seasonings, they make all the difference.

Step 4: Learn to Store

When cooking for one, leftovers are fairly common. Unfortunately, they will not last forever in the fridge. That’s why it’s important to figure out how much you will eat in a few days and store the rest in the freezer. Most dishes can be frozen, but the best ones to chill are those with a liquid base (like stews and chili). When storing food, use an airtight container or ziplock bag (skip the aluminum foil, it’s not as safe). Also, make sure whatever method you choose is safe for the freezer if you plan to keep frozen food. Otherwise, you will be sorely disappointed when your chicken soup is covered in freezer burn.

Step 5: Make it Social

Just because you live alone doesn’t mean you have to eat alone. Invite friends over for a dinner party, or schedule date night for your place. Not only will you all save some money, but you’re sure to impress others who may not be quite so skilled in the kitchen.

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