Sunday, February 20, 2011

A single girl’s menu plan

First, just a note: I posted a casserole recipe earlier this morning. You really should check it out, and then make it. Unless you can’t eat it for some reason or don’t like French onion dip, you need to trust me on this one.

Now, on to the topic at hand.
There are a lot of tricks and tips for saving money on grocery bills. But before you even head to the store, you can save money by doing a little planning.
Making meals for one can be a real challenge. Most recipes are for 4 or more servings and many single-serving size foods are riddled with stuff you probably shouldn’t be eating. What’s a single girl to do when she wants lasagna? A 9 x 13 pan can easily make 12 servings. And most of us are sick of it by the third day.
But meal planning really is a way to cut down on food costs. Think about the practical difference between making a menu plan then building a grocery list from it and wandering the aisles of the local supermarket trying to figure out what you want to buy for the week’s meals. Without a plan, you tend to end up with a variety of items that may amount to a few meals, but it’s also more likely that you’ll be purchasing more premade and convenience items than you would be if you had a plan.
When you shop from a menu plan, you’ll know that you have all the ingredients on hand when you need them. You can minimize waste and maximize your food dollars.
To make a menu plan, you’ll need to decide how many weeks you want it to cover. The more the better, but it should cover at least seven days.  Ideally, I like to plan for two weeks at a time, though I usually need to get some additional produce in between. That hasn’t happened lately though.
Then you’ll need to decide what you’re going to eat. When planning for two weeks, I assume I’ll get four meals per dish for lunches/dinners. 
But where to start? If you’re like me, it’s easy to fall into the rut of eating the same things all the time. When I’m making a two-week plan, I try to have a bean dish, a salad, a pasta dish, a grain dish, a crockpot meal, and something extra quick and easy. Plus, I expect that I’ll eat out twice each week for lunch and/or dinner. With that in mind, I look first at what I have on hand. Right now, I’ve got some beets that I really need to use.  So I know one of next week’s recipes will involve beets.  Maybe roasted on a salad. Or there’s a pasta and beets recipe I saw recently… I’ll be working out the specifics later. But take stock of what you have and, especially, what you need to use up. I also keep as stash of favorite recipes on standby. I have a great, easy veggie korma recipe that’s in rotation this time of year. And I like this easy vegetarian crockpot recipe from Family Circle.
There are great online resources for recipes. I personally like Allrecipes and 101cookbooks. Again, though, a lot of those recipes are going to make more than you need. One option is to scale a larger recipe back. It doesn’t work well for every recipe, but it can be an option. will adjust the recipe if you alter the number of servings. Otherwise, you might have to do some math.
Another option is freezing extra food. You may want to have too much lasagna or soup because then you can freeze some for a later date. This allows you to take advantage of the cost benefits of making bigger batches without getting sick of the dish.
You could also share. I have a friend at work who is also a vegetarian, so if I make a new recipe that leaves me with a lot of leftovers, I’ll often take him a serving. He appreciates it (I think) and I get some extra feedback on the new dish. You could also swap with a friend. If you’re both making soups or casseroles and the recipes yield quite a bit, why not swap a few servings?
But what if you just want something beyond a sandwich that makes one serving? Well, here are some other ideas that provide quick, healthful meals for one:
Salads: throw in whatever you have, or tailor it to a theme. You could go Greek with kalamata olives, banana peppers, tomatoes, feta cheese and Greek dressing. Or try your greens topped with a black bean burger, cheddar cheese, tomato, onion and pineapple salsa.  Another favorite of mine, which a friend introduced me to, is to mix in black olives, chickpeas, grape tomatoes and parmesan cheese and top it with Italian dressing. Lately, I’ve been making a salad of field greens, blue cheese, craisins, pecans, red onion, Quorn tenders and a drizzle of Briana’s blush wine vinaigrette.
Wraps: another great way to use whatever you have on hand. This week, I’ve been topping Flat Out bread with hummus, feta, tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, carrot and lettuce. Sometimes I also add falafel. You can also use it make a single-serve pizza. Just tops with sauce, cheese and whatever toppings you’d like, place it on a baking sheet and bake. A combination you might want to try—pieces of chicken (or fake chicken), goat cheese and spinach sautéed with garlic. It’s tasty!
Pasta: pasta is great because you can cook as much or as little as you want. And it goes well with anything. Last weekend, I went to PF Chang’s for lunch. I had Sichuan asparagus and sautéed mushrooms left over. I mixed them in with some spaghetti and had a tasty lunch. Get creative. Pasta is another great way to use whatever you might have. And don’t forget that you can eat it cold too!
Other simple meals: Who among us hasn’t eaten cereal for dinner?? Another super-easy option I like is cheese, crackers or bread, and grapes. Also yummy is a visit to the grocery store antipasto bar to pick up olives, peppers, bruschetta, pesto and eat that with some crusty bread or rolls.
By the way, as an example, here’s my meal plan for last week:
The red are items I needed to buy and the blue includes recipes I needed to look up and get an ingredient list for. The numbers indicate Weight Watchers points. Unfortunately, I put on an average of about four pounds per year since graduating from college in December of 1997. So far, I’ve gotten rid of 1998-2000.

Next up: tips to save on grocery shopping!


  1. Love it! Your blog made me laugh and it's informative too. I love vegetarian friendly recipes b/c most of my family are veg-heads. My father actually went VEGAN this year... which is crazy b/c he's the biggest carnivore I know. He did it for health reasons. I'm so proud of him! Anyways.... thanks for this post. It inspired me to plans some meals!

  2. Thanks, Jenn! I hope you'll keep reading. This week I'll be talking all about how to save on food costs, and sharing my meal plan and breaking down my shopping list.
    I've though that going vegan might help with weight control, but I seriously like cheese too much.