Cooking inexpensive meals for two people presents several challenges. Meat is cheapest when purchased in large family packages -- but you wonder what in the world you'll do with eight chicken breasts. Cooking small quantities of food seems like a lot of work. It's easy to resort to ramen, but with a little bit of advanced planning, you can easily cook delicious, cheap meals quickly.
The Basics of Cooking for Two
Do some of the prep work in advance so you'll save time and effort when you prepare your meals.
Make a Plan
Plan some meals before you go to the grocery store. If you don't have a plan, you can end up with rotten produce in the fridge -- there's only two of you to eat everything before it goes bad. For example, before you buy a large head of lettuce, figure out two or three meals that you'll make using that lettuce. You can have a couple salads and shred what's left to put in tacos. Use up what you buy and you'll save money. Look through sale ads while you make your meal plan and incorporate those items to save money.
Don't Be Afraid to Buy in Bulk
Meat typically goes on sale in family-size packages; rice, beans and other staples are cheaper if you buy in bulk. As long as you're sure you can use the food before it expires, don't be afraid to buy large quantities. You can freeze many foods to make them last longer.
Do Prep Work Ahead of Time
It's easier to cook meals when some of the work is already done, and pre-cooking fits in well with buying in bulk. For instance, buy a package of eight chicken breasts when they're on sale. Poach, bake or grill the chicken, then cut it up or shred it. Use some of it for tacos, quesadillas or chicken soup the day you cook it. Freeze the other six portions to use quickly for other meals.
Spend an hour in the kitchen chopping, shredding and pre-cooking items. When you're in a time crunch to make a meal, much of the work will already be done. Cook a big pot of rice or beans and refrigerate for use all week. Dice onions, peppers, celery and other vegetables. Cut broccoli or cauliflower into florets; slice cucumbers, carrots and zucchini. You can buy produce already cut up at the store, but it's much more expensive. A little bit of advanced prep saves a lot of money.
Use Inexpensive Ingredients
Stock up on food items that are cheap -- they'll keep the overall price of your meals low. Inexpensive ingredients include:
- Frozen vegetables
- In-season produce
- Canned tuna
Meals Ideas for Two
Most of these meals can be made in one- or two-person portions. For instance, make only as many breakfast burritos or pita pockets as the two of you will eat. Other meals can be made as full recipes with leftovers that the two of you can take to work for lunch the next day. Or you can look for recipes created for two people and cook something different every night.
- Oatmeal -- with seasonal fruit or honey
- Breakfast burritos-- with scrambled egg and chopped veggies left over from other meals
- Frittatas -- Make mini frittatas in muffin tins by mixing eggs and diced veggies, then baking. Keep them for a week in the refrigerator.
- Breakfast sandwiches -- eggs plus any leftover meat and veggies you want to add
Lunch With Leftovers
- Soup -- make soup with leftover chicken and cut-up vegetables
- Salad -- top with grilled chicken, canned tuna, leftover beans
- Pita pockets -- stuff with seasonal vegetables
- Baked potatoes -- top them with whatever you like
Dinner for a Few Dollars
- Stir-fry with rice and frozen or in-season vegetables -- add chicken, beef or pork when it's on sale
- Burritos, enchiladas and tacos -- Beans, rice, peppers and meat
- Mini pizzas -- use English muffins or make your own dough
- Chicken and rice -- add teriyaki sauce, salsa or white sauce to change the flavor of the meal