Three Basic Meal Planning Tips for One Person on a Budget

Meal Planning for One

Meal planning is great for large families as well as for single people. My friend, Ruthy from the Percolate Kitchen, shares how meal planning for one person can help you eat healthier and save money.

Three Basic Meal Planning Tips for One Person on a Budget by Ruthy Kirwan

If you’re a single person cooking and trying to budget for yourself, you face a different set of problems than families or couples do. Unfortunately, most websites and articles that offer meal planning advice are for families or couples, not single people. Add to that the fact it feels as though most recipes are already written for appetites of two or more, and it can be tough to figure out a meal plan as a single person that doesn’t look like this:
Monday: Takeout
Tuesday: Takeout
Wednesday: Macaroni and cheese
Thursday: Scrambled eggs
Friday: Takeout

So what’s a single person to do? Luckily, I have a few handy tips up my sleeve that will help anyone who’s not in the position to feed an army (or even yourself and a spouse!) yet still wants to take a little bit of control over their meal planning schedule. This will ultimately save time, money, and reduce food waste.

First, let’s quickly touch on why you, a single person, should be meal planning in the first place!

Meal planning, especially when you’re single, may seem a little heavy handed. But a solid meal plan sets your week in motion like few other organization techniques can. Plus, the right meal plan can save you a ton of money. (side note: that’s my favorite part, ha!)

By deciding what you are going to cook before the week gets going, you effectively reduce your grocery bill and take away those last minute takeout orders. You also leave yourself a little wiggle room so that when you come home exhausted, feeling, you don’t see a mountain of ingredients needing to be cooked; you’ve already done the extra work for yourself.

I like to say that effective meal planning is like giving your future self a high five.

Three Handy Tips

So where do we begin? I have a basic list of three handy tips I always refer to with anyone who is starting out a meal plan, except I’ve tailored this list for single people. Read on!

Planning for One

Start small. Don’t go crazy and plan seven straight nights of a main course, side, salad and dessert. Let yourself ‘scale up’ your meal planning endeavors, building on your cooking schedule as you get used to planning.
I recommend sitting down on a Sunday and looking critically at your week. A good rule of thumb is to start planning just three nights of cooking, two nights of leftovers, one night of takeout, and one night where you kind of throw something together (Kraft mac and cheese night, anyone?) Additionally, don’t stress about the antiquated idea that every meal needs a main, starch, and a side. Just make a flavorful dish, trying to add in vegetables when you can.
By starting small, you won’t overwhelm yourself from the get go. That overwhelm is what causes most people to abandon meal planning. The idea here is to make the plan work for you! It’s not to make you work for the plan.

Leftover Love

Look at what you’ve got. This doesn’t mean just taking stock of your pantry and your fridge, although that’s important. Jenny touched on this in her first post of this series. What I mean is, look at your current state of leftovers.
Do you have a leftover spinach salad in the fridge from lunch at a cafe with your best friend last week? This can be the basis of a wilted spinach side dish you can serve nestled under quick baked chicken thighs. How about that beef stew your mother sent you home with months ago, the one you tossed straight into the freezer? Change it up from your typical leftover, and roll out a defrosted sheet of puff pastry on top of the stew, then bake. Now it’s a beef pot pie!
If you look at what you have from the angle that leftovers are a new meal already started, you can save yourself time and money as well as bypass the dreaded ‘leftover fatigue’.

Recipe Conversion

Lastly, as a single person, it’s a frustrating fact of life that so many recipes are written to feed 2-4 people. This can leave you with a ridiculous amount of food leftover, and one can only eat so much leftover baked ziti before calling in the Chinese delivery reinforcements. I have a handy recipe, weight and volume convertor for you, so you can easily slice and dice those bigger recipes and tailor them to your size.

That’s it! I hope this post was useful for you. Meal planning and cooking as a single person doesn’t have to be overwhelming. By putting just a few simple techniques in place, you can get yourself in charge of your kitchen, and enjoy the confidence that it can bring. If you have any questions or feedback, I’d love to hear it in the comments!

Continue reading other topics in the Meal Planning series.

4. Three Basic Meal Planning Tips for One Person on a Budget (Oh, that’s this one!)

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Meal Planning for One

Six Best Grocery Shopping Tips

Here are my top six best grocery shopping tips for people who hate grocery stores. Lots of people hate grocery shopping, so these tips will help you get in and out of your store efficiently and quickly.
It doesn’t really matter where you shop for your meal planning, so long as it is a grocery store. But I wanted to share a few ideas of how to save time, energy, and a little money.

Shop Your Stock

Once you know your meal plan, you’ll know what your shopping list is, but you most likely don’t need to buy everything on the list. You need to check to see what you already have on hand to see if you really do need more hamburger or flour or eggs. I call this Shop Your Stock.
You won’t always need to shop your stock, as you’ll know if you have recently bought something, like a ten pound bag of flour. But if you can’t remember how many cans of olives you have, for example, don’t be like me and buy olives at the store every time you go just because you might not have any at home. I now have 10 cans of olives.

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One Stop Shopping

I recommend, wholeheartedly, to get all your shopping done at the same store. I understand that specialty stores are wonderful resources and sometimes your basic store just doesn’t have everything you need. If you do need to stop at more than one place, try to limit yourself to two. Just the time it takes to get in and out of a store and traveling from one place to another will eat up your time super fast.
Also, when you make your shopping list you’ll want to divide your list according to what each store will have. This doesn’t necessarily mean making more than one list. You can just use a highlighter or symbol next to an item to denote that you should get at one of the stores.

Grocery Shopping with Rewards Programs

If you are already apart of the shopping scene, you know that nearly every store has some sort of reward program for their loyal shoppers. To be honest I find them rather annoying, but I love being able to find coupons and great deals every now and then.
Pick your favorite store, and I recommend being apart of any and all offers they provide. My store not only offers digital coupons but also gas discounts and airline miles.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a mega coupon lady, and I don’t always check my app to see if that one item happens to have a coupon that I need to add before checking out. But there are legitimate discounts to be found! I like to occasionally splurge on something I don’t normally get, but do, because of its discount.
Coupon clipping can very time consuming, even if it is online or on your phone. I think this is what frustrates me the most! I love getting the discounts I just don’t like having to work for them. There is also a trap here, and you have to decide how you want to use these discounts to your benefit. Are you going to reference the weekly ad before picking your menu for the week, or are you just going to see if anything you need is on sale. Trust me when I say, the first way takes a lot longer.

Online Grocery Shopping

Online shopping sounds so impressive, and I’m entirely jealous of the areas of the country that offer this option. There are several grocery stores like Fred Meyer and super-centers like Walmart that will even bring your groceries to the car! I kid you not!!
There are a few big name options that will bring items to your door like Amazon or Full Circle, but don’t forget there are lots of small name and local deliveries during the summer that deliver dry goods, produce, or meats.
Unfortunately I don’t have any local or national companies that delivery to my car or my door these fabulous food, (excepting Full Circle and maybe some others I don’t know about), so I won’t be able to assist you directly with setting any of these services up.
Also, these links are not affiliate links and just for your information!

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Therapeutic Grocery Shopping

Ok, I’m pretty sure a lot of people don’t actually like to shop, but there are few rare finds who take great pleasure in it. My hope here is to give a few ideas of how to not dread it quite so much and maybe make the outing more fun.
Go with a friend – Have a friend that also need to do grocery shopping? Make it a date! It might not be the fastest way to get in and out of the store, but I’m sure it will be way more fun. Not only to have somebody to chat with it gives you camaraderie with each other. Also, maybe it’s the only time that you can make time for each other and you are still being productive.
Self medicate – I’m not really suggesting actual medicine, but rather indulge in something that will help you pass the time. A latte or tea, an audio book, your favorite rock band, or even stopping in the bakery for a cookie might be good ways for you to help make your shopping experience better.
Make it a game – Clock yourself and see how fast you can get in and out (just don’t forget anything). Write out your list in order by the store aisle or section and see if you never have to double back. If you don’t have too much to get, try avoiding getting a push cart, and haul that hand basket all over the store for a little workout.
Treat yourself – Sometimes a job well done deserves an award, and if you are motivated by that sort of thing, by all means buy that magazine, candy bar, or nail polish.

Making a List

Yes, I recommend you actually make a list. It doesn’t matter if it’s on paper, on a napkin, on your phone, or written on the back of your eyelids. Some stores even have a list as a part of their phone app that will sort by aisle number which can make life so much easier and zoom you through the store. It’s also pretty easy just to jot things down by section: produce, dry goods and cans, meats, bakery, etc.
Most times if you are trying to follow a recipe, it will call for specific amounts of ingredients. While most things might be rather vague or inconsequential, sometimes you need to get just the right amount (such as one pound of sausage or 5 pounds of roast). As you reference the recipe during your list making, jot down how much you need for those type of items. You’ll be happy you did if you see chicken stock on your list, but you don’t know if the recipe calls for one cup or one quart.
I truly hope these shopping tips will help you and perhaps make your shopping less dreadful. Do you have any tips that you would like to share? Please comment below! I’d love to hear your ideas.

Continue reading other topics in the Meal Planning series.

3. Six Best Grocery Shopping Tips (Oh, that’s this one!)

Six Best Grocery Shopping Tips

Meal Planning: Make a Meal Plan

So you want to make a meal plan, but you need help and ideas of how to use it. A meal plan is nothing more than knowing what you are going to make and when. How you use it will depend entirely what works for you and your lifestyle. A meal plan may be created for two days or two weeks. You just have to make a meal plan that works for you, but the way you plan won’t really change much.

How to Actually Make a Meal Plan

Pick a Time Period

You’ll first need to decide what time period works for you or your family. I generally divide my week into two periods. The first being Monday through Thursday, the second Friday through Sunday. This method sends me to the store twice a week and just works for our family. You might prefer to make a plan for only weekly visits to the store, and need to plan for 7 days. Once you pick a time frame, you can start the next step. Remember it doesn’t have to be big. Pick two days, 5 days, or two weeks. It’s up you to decide how much you can plan ahead, but make it manageable. If you don’t have time to plan, take the time you have and do as much as you can with it.
You can use the handy worksheet calendar to sketch out your meal plan.

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Check Your Calendar

Surely you don’t want to plan for 5 meals in a row when you won’t even be home to make two of them, so check your time frame for any meals when you won’t have time to cook or won’t even be at home. This step is so important and will actually make the planning easier.
After finding those days that just won’t allow for a traditional meal, you can get creative with what you decide to make. Leftovers, cold cuts, and fast food are all valid options for meals.

Match Maker

Now you have your time frame and your calendar, it’s time to fill in the holes. Just match up your recipes with the open time slots and voila, it’s done! Yes, it really can be that easy.
This is when you can get creative and create theme days like ‘taco Tuesday’ and ‘new recipes night’, have your kids pick out recipes for you, or give yourself a break by scheduling to order pizza. You are the creator of this schedule and you can make it as fun, crazy, challenging, or easy as you want.
Another idea is to rotate through your whole recipe book. Check out my other post about how to make your own collection of recipes. This may be a good way of testing out those recipes that you just don’t make very often.

Meal Plan Done, Now Be a Chef

There are a few ways to take you meal planning to next level of awesome and become the chef of your kitchen. If you master these things, go ahead and buy yourself a chef’s hat because you deserve it.

Strategic meal planning: When you start strategically thinking about your meal plan and how you can save even more time or combine your effort to get more done, you’ll think of more and more ways to skip hard labor in the kitchen. Here are a few tips to help become the chef of your kitchen.

Prepping food

Ok we all know prepping does pay off in the end. When you have several items to prepare just to make your recipe, you have to decide when to do it. Obviously you can prepare it and directly turn around and cook it, but you could have done all that in the morning or when you were cutting carrots for lunch. It’s just a matter of time management. Some ideas might be washing all your produce just after you get home from the store, cutting up a bowl of lettuce for the week, cooking something earlier in the day just to be reheated later.
I made a Thai curry fried rice with chicken last week and because I didn’t prep anything early, I started making dinner around 5:00pm and didn’t finish until around 6:30. There was just a lot to do, make rice, cut chicken, make sauce, cut and cook onions, etc. In the end, I realized everything I did except the onions and the final heating of everything together can be prepped as far as the day before.

Make More than You Need

Planning for a future meal by purposely making leftovers can save you time by already having part of the next meal done. For example, you could have roast beef one night and make steak tacos the next night. Or if you like to freeze leftovers, just make a double batch and freeze the rest for the next time you make the recipe.


Assign a sous chef. And you may wonder what a sous chef actually is? Well now that you are the chef, you need somebody under you that you can boss around in the kitchen. Have members of your household do some of the work like cutting veggies or setting the table. Everything you don’t have to do yourself will ease your burden.
My husband will often finish eating before I do, and he starts to clean up my cooking mess while I finish my meal. So helpful help is awesome, but sometimes training your children to help isn’t always directly helpful to you right away, but it is so worth it when they get to be the age when they can entirely clean up after dinner.

Recipe management

Have significant feedback for yourself? Take note and update your recipes with changes. I find it so hard to remember what changes I did to recipes that made them good or bad, and I wish I’d write them down more often. Also, maybe you need a rotation schedule for your recipes. Do you have enough to create diversity and still have room for family favorites?
Create a way of keeping track when you last cooked the recipe either by simply rotating regularly through your recipes or writing down the date you last made it on the back of the recipe. If you have a recipe box just move the card to the back and box and don’t skip any recipes, or if you use a recipe notebook write the date on the recipe every time you eat it.

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Prep Time and Scheduling Ahead

If you are going to make stew, don’t look at the recipe at 5pm! It may only take 15 minutes to prepare, but has a long cook time. Remind yourself of what your next meal is and how long it’s going to take to prepare and make it. This also applies for days when you have no time to cook so fill it in with quick or no-cook dinners.

Plan Problems

Sometimes even the best made plans go awry, and we need to reassess. There are problems that can crop up when making a meal plan that we sometimes don’t see coming, like accidentally planning chicken four nights in a row. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with chicken. Just think, you’ve had chicken a few nights in a row and now you are staring at your plan, and realized you need to make chicken, but all you want to eat is steak. Just check your plan for variety of types of food and types of cooking.
Another problem you may face is recipe fatigue. You may need to refresh your recipe book with new recipes, or new versions of some of your classics. A couple ideas: buy pears for your salad instead of carrots, choose a gourmet cheese for your grilled ham sandwich, or try hoisin sauce instead of teriyaki.

Continue reading other topics in the Meal Planning series.

2. Meal Planning: Make a Meal Plan (Oh, that’s this one.)

Meal Planning: Choosing Recipes

Meal Planning: Choosing Recipes
One of the hardest parts of meal planning is choosing recipes that you would like to make.  Let me introduce you to my meal planning method that will have you choosing recipes for your family that you love, and a way to keep track of them all. Meal planning is actually pretty easy once you have a treasure trove of recipes to choose from.
Why is it so hard to make a meal plan? Are you super busy and just don’t have the time to sit down and figure it all out? Do you feel guilty that you don’t have any idea what you are going to make tonight?
This program will help you become a master meal planner with just a few steps. Humor me, and let me show you that even the most busy people can make a plan in just 5 minutes or less! But not only will this program be fast, once established, it will take away that guilt and help you realize you are a master planner.

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Meal Planning – Step One:

What Do You Like to Cook?

The first step of meal planning is knowing what you like to cook. You might need to completely change your diet, change your lifestyle, or eat more vegetables or fruit, or want to try something new. You’ll first need to find out what does or doesn’t work for your household.

Recipes That Work for Your Family

When you start a meal plan I always recommend starting with what you already know. Do you have a few family favorites that are always a hit with both adults and kids? Write them down. Just do it. I sometimes even forget some of favorite meals. You’ll need to reference these later in your recipe box.
Also, are there recipes that are just down-right fun to make for your family? As a couple, is there dish that you like to make together for a in-home date night? Do you like to make individual pizzas together or maybe your kids love making noodles? Sometimes having your kids help make dinner with you isn’t quick or easy, but you know that it might be the only way to get dinner actually cooked! We all have those days, so don’t forget that quick and easy isn’t always the answer.

Recipes That Work for Your Dietary Needs

If you are struggling with food choices because a family member has allergies or an intolerance, be sure to go recipe hunting. There are so many bloggers now days that have great recipe resources for specific dietary needs. Obviously I can’t address every variable, but I’m sure you aren’t alone in your recipe needs and can find a source that will easily fill your recipe book.
Sometimes dietary needs are just lifestyle choices and maybe you want to incorporate/eliminate more of a certain type of food group. Maybe you love fruit, but want to make an effort to eat it every day, or you want to loose a little weight and want to eat more dinner salads. Another thing to keep in mind is foods that you just abhor, like squash. I am not a fan, at all, of squash. When I go hunting for recipes, I have to filter out the recipes that have squash in them. So when you hunt for recipes, filter them to help incorporate or eliminate certain foods.

Different Cooking Methods

There are all kinds of different ways to cook food, and if you don’t think about it, you might overwhelm yourself with one method more than the other. So when you are putting together your recipe book, you’ll need to space these out to give yourself some variety and perhaps even a break from being in the kitchen.

Short-order cooks are like the line cooks at the restaurant. They make food fast and at the last minute. This short-order cooking style is great for quick dinners but will consume all your attention for several minutes. An example could be steaks, sauté vegetables, and rice— A meal that doesn’t take much prep and all comes together at the last minute. Slow-cooker recipes are great. This method is great for stews, soups, and roasts. Slow cooker recipes take a little prep time, but there is rarely last-minute preparations. Not all recipes will actually use a crockpot or other electric counter appliance, but simmering and oven roasting can also be included in this category. Grilling your dinner is a fabulous method of cooking and like short-order recipes, is usually quick cooking. This usually takes a little bit of preparation but I always find the clean up is so much faster.

Meal Planning – Step Two:

Creating a Recipe Book

Creating a recipe book will not only help you meal plan, but you’ll be organized! Your recipe book is yours and once you collect your favorites it’s like you’ve just created your own little cookbook.
First thing to do is actually write out your own recipes, this includes your family favorites. You may have some that you just know by heart so just write down the ingredients (this will come in handy later). You can write this anywhere— recipe cards, notebook paper, in Word, or online. Get my handy worksheet for a free printable. I’m going to recommend doing a hard copy, but if you love keeping everything online just get it done. Here are a couple online resources to save your recipes like AllRecipes, google drive, Pinterest (follow my recipe board!), Evernote. (I’m using Evernote to hoard the ones I find online, but I love recipe cards.) affiliate link
Once you have all the recipes you already love, it’s time to find some new recipes. Find your favorite blogger, your favorite recipe website, use Pinterest, or pick up a magazine, and add a couple recipes to your collection. Some people hate this part and some people love it. If you are dreading this part, just contact a friend to send you a recipe of their favorite meal. There are loads of places to find recipes, so don’t make this hard on yourself and spend hours looking for something new.
Ideally, you’ll want to collect 20-30 recipes. It really isn’t that many, especially if you include thing you don’t really need recipes for (like grilled cheese).
Once you have a recipe book done, it will be incredibly easy to fill in a meal plan for the week or even month. You’ll have a great resource of recipes that you know you’ll enjoy! Be sure to download my free worksheet to get your meal plan started now.

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Other Tips

If you love using cook books, maybe you could create table of contents instead of creating a another separate recipe source. Simply create a list of all your favorite recipes but add where you can find the recipe. If you don’t want to have to look up the recipes ingredients when you need to go shopping, including the shopping list for each recipe on the list itself will save tons of time.

Check out the free printable for a recipe list, recipe cards, and shopping list.


Continue reading other topics in the Meal Planning series.

1. Meal Planning: Choosing Recipes (Oh, that’s this one!)