Cooking healthy is something many of us do when we have families to feed, but when you’re single or “just” cooking for you and a partner, it can seem like a chore. After all, it’s so easy to eat out or get takeaway, why bother?
1. It’s almost always cheaper to eat at home.
2. It’s almost always easier to eat healthier at home.
While fast food is cheap food, it’s also some of the worst food there is. And eating healthy food at a restaurant can get pretty expensive.
That’s why eating well and cheaply usually means cooking for yourself. Here are some tips:
- Please yourself. The fact is that if you’re cooking for only 1 or 2 people, you have to do a lot less compromising. And if you’re cooking for 2, you and your partner can trade off making things that each of you enjoy and experimenting with new recipes.
- Make a menu. Decide what you want to eat for the week, then make a shopping list. Doing this makes life much easier. Using the Trim Down Club Personal Menu Planner gives you an automatic shopping list.
- Stockpile ingredients that are healthy, cheap, and have a long shelf-life; having them at hand makes cooking easier.
- Fill your pantry with canned vegetables, such as tomatoes and beans (look for the no-salt-added types, and rinse beans under cold water to reduce the salt levels before using); you can refrigerate or even freeze unused portions for easy reheating.
- Have a ready supply of whole grains, such as barley, brown rice, quinoa, and whole-grain pasta—buy in bulk when you can, and extend their shelf-life by storing them in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Keep such basics as garlic, low-salt bouillon, a favorite cheese or two, eggs, and root vegetables such as carrots and potatoes on hand. Anchovies and capers, while not usual in American cooking, have a lot of flavor in a small package.
- Your favorite heart-healthy oils—such as olive—low-carb condiments like mustard, flavor-rich balsamic and wine vinegars, and spices are also good staples.
- Herbs should also have a place in your pantry and refrigerator or freezer. If you can, buy fresh and dry them yourself: much cheaper than store-bought dried herbs, and more of the great health benefits are intact. You can also create your own mini-herb garden so that you can just pick a leaf or sprig of herbs as needed—much less waste.
- Use your freezer. You can section a large purchase, such as a roast, into smaller quantities, then freeze for later use. Bread and meat, nuts and seeds, fruits, and vegetables can all be frozen. You can close open bags with clothespins or rubber bands, or store the contents in lidded plastic or glass dishes. Label and date your freezer containers so that you don’t confuse frozen Brussels sprouts and green grapes.
- One-dish meals, like Red Kidney Bean Chili, Lentil Stew, and Chicken-Barley Casserole, combine foods from different groups for a balanced meal, and many of them can be made in a slow-cooker.
- After you’ve made a soup, a stew, or a casserole, portion the leftovers out into servings, then freeze. Label and date. If you’re making something that can be seasoned a variety of different ways after serving, don’t add the seasonings before freezing. This way, although the base is the same, you can vary the taste, depending on whether you use simple salt and pepper, paprika, curry or garam masala, lemon juice, or a flavored vinegar.
- Cook once, use many ways. For example, if you get a great deal on a chuck roast at your local farmer’s market, you may decide to pot roast it. Part of that pot roast can be dinner for that night, and some will be frozen for leftovers. More of the pot roast becomes beef stew, with canned tomatoes, chopped onions and carrots, a handful of garlic, a bay leaf or two, and splash of homemade Worcestershire Sauce. The rest becomes sandwich fixings on whole-grain bread.
- Sometimes we’re short on time or energy. But you don’t have to cook a whole meal to eat well. A slice of Homemade Whole Grain Bread, toasted or not, and spread with dairy or Easy Vegan Cheese or topped with your favorite or nut butter, is easily packed when you’re on-the-go or can be the center of a satisfying end-of-day meal. So can a hard- (or soft-) boiled egg with some mustard, whole-grain crackers, and cut vegetables or a small salad. (That mustard can become the base of an easy, spur-of-the-moment vinaigrette: just add mustard and salt to taste to 3:1 ratio of heart-healthy oil and white wine vinegar, a pinch of your favorite dried herb, such as thyme or tarragon, and whisk with a fork―pack it in an empty travel-sized shampoo/lotion bottle to take with you when dining away from home).
Once you’ve got the hang of cooking for 1 or 2, your waistline (and wallet) will thank you. So will your tastebuds.