I don’t know about you, but when I learn that there is an easier, less expensive way to do something, I am all about it. If you are meal planning and cooking for 1-2 people, and you are looking for ways to save time, money and frustration, you have come to the right place. This “list of six meal planning tips and tricks when cooking for two people” is packed with some of my favorite meal planning ideas and resources!
Where did all of these tips come from?
I did quite a bit of research in preparation for the new “Table for Two” ebook. Part of the reason it has taken me so long to create the 2-serving ebook is because I worked first and researched second, when I should have done it the other way around.
Regardless, we got here (the ebook is available for pre-order here), and I discovered lots of fantastic ideas and resources along the way that will make meal planning and cooking for two people easier, cheaper, and smarter. Some of these ideas may seem more obvious than others, but all of them have a purpose on here. There are LOTS of links in this handy guide so take your time and consider which resources on here will be most helpful to you and start with those.
P.S. I am saving the best for last…
Just so you know, I saved the best resources for last, so you will definitely want to make sure you get to number 6 on this list!
1. Bigger isn’t always better.
Sometimes less is more. I am a sucker for a great deal. I always been. The frugal side of me screams loud and proud when I am picking out my groceries and I save 50 cents.
If I know I can get a 20 ounce bottle for the same price as a 10 ounce bottle, the 20 ounce bottle wins every time. You too?
Here’s the thing though… If you buy a 20 ounce bottle of lemon juice and it expires before you can get through 7 ounces, have you really saved anything? The answer is, “no”. In fact, buying the bigger bottle just leaves you feeling guilty because you are throwing away so much more. Plus, the bigger bottle took up more space in your fridge for the whole year that you had it in there.
Sometimes the “best deal” isn’t always the “best choice”.
It only took me 30-ish years to figure this out, but I finally understand it now… Sometimes getting the “best deal” isn’t always the “best choice”. Once something is opened it will expire much quicker than before it was opened. To ensure fresh food that hasn’t spoiled, sometimes it is actually better to pick the smaller container even if the price per ounce does not look like a “better deal”.
Okay, so here’s a test. You are at Target and you see these two bottles… (These are actual prices at Target at the time of me posting this)
… which one is a better deal?
It’s a trick question. This isn’t a math class; this is life, so the correct answer actually is: It depends.
If you are going to use 32 ounces, the Target brand bottle is a better deal. But, if you know you are only going to use 10 ounces before the expiration date, you actually save yourself 50 cents by getting the smaller bottle, plus you get more room in your refrigerator!
2. The freezer is your friend.
So, point #1 is “Don’t always get the big bottle”. Point #2 is “Sometimes it is better to get the big bottle”. There are times when it just makes more sense to buy a bigger container of something… especially once you get your freezer involved.
Let’s take onions, for example. You can almost always get onions cheaper by buying them in a bag, rather than individually, but maybe you don’t need 2-3 pounds that week… so, then what?
So, what do you do with the rest of the onions you didn’t use?
How about freezing them? Several years ago I did a post where I shared how to freeze onions. (The pictures in the post look like I was taking them in a dark alley, but the content of the post still holds true, so I am sharing it anyway) In my “What to do with a big bag of onions” post, you can learn how to easily chop, freeze and store onions so you can use them in future recipes. Got some onions you don’t know what to do with? Freeze those babies! But how about meat…?
How to Freeze Burger Meat.
Here’s a fun idea. The next time you make a burger recipe, try this “rolling out the meat” method of freezing the leftovers that comes from Twins on the Run:
(photo credit: Twins on the Run)
Isn’t that smart? The less air you have in the bag, the less chance there is for frost to collect inside the bag, so this idea is fantastic. The mom on this blog actually cut her burgers into squares when it came time to eat them. Smart and fun! ♥
Here are a few Meal Planning Mommies burger recipes that you can try this little freezing trick with:
- Pizza Burgers
- Bleu Cheese Stuffed Teriyaki Burgers
- Italian Turkey Feta Burger Lettuce Wraps (Just save the topping, lettuce and extra dressing in the fridge)
- Catalina Taco Turkey Burger Lettuce Wraps
- Blue Cheese Chicken Burgers (If you like Buffalo chicken you will like these burgers)
Oh! And make sure you always write the date on the bag with a sharpie marker anytime you freeze things in zip-close freezer bags. For a list of suggested storage times (in the fridge and the freezer) you can refer to Thrillist.com. They made this fantastic, easy to read, beautiful “How long does food last in the freezer” guide…
(photo credit: Thrillist)
Good Housekeeping also made shared a “Guide to Freezing Food” that gives lots of advice on what freezes well, what does not freeze well, and how to freeze various foods.
3. Buy salad, and stuff.
Buy a bag of fresh spinach or salad greens at the beginning of each week. Then, stock your pantry and fridge with other yummy foods that you can toss into your salad to change things up.
Canned/packaged foods to consider adding to a salad:
- Dried fruit (cranberries are great on salad!).
– Try Turkey Walnut Honey Dijon Spinach Salad
- Nuts (Chopped pecans, sliced almonds, walnuts, you name it… for every nut out there, there is a salad).
– Try Bacon Bleu Apple Salad
- Canned beans (If you are dividing a recipe that uses a full can of beans, refrigerate the rest and toss it into a taco salad the next day… This Turkey Taco Salad is just asking for some black beans anyway!).
– Try Greek Chickpea Salad
- Canned corn.
– Try Barbecue Ranch Chicken Salad
– Try Caesar Salad
- Crispy onions.
– Try Catalina Taco Turkey Burger Lettuce Wraps as a salad
- Chow Mein noodles.
– Try Crunchy Asian Mandarin Orange Salad
– Try Bruschetta Pasta Salad
- Light dressing… of course. Always have your favorite bottle of dressing on hand… but get the smaller bottles when possible (refer to #1).
Leftover ingredients that can go in a salad:
- Lunch meat.
– Try Tropical Turkey and Spinach Salad
- Cooked chicken.
– Try Chicken Cobb Salad
– Try Grilled Steak and Potato Salad
– Try Italian Chopped Salad
– Try Buffalo Shrimp Salad
- Hard boiled eggs.
– Try California Cobb Salad
– Try Southwest Quinoa Chicken Salad
- Shredded cheese (think mozzarella, cheddar, or Parmesan).
– Try Italian Style Pepperoini Pizza Salad
- Soft cheeses (like bleu cheesee, feta cheese, or goat cheese).
– Try Strawberry Tossed Salad
Here’s a “Simple Way to Make a Simple Salad” chart to get your creative juices flowing…
4. Cook once, eat twice… or more!
Eating the same food all week can get boring, but many recipes share common ingredients. When you meal plan, group recipes together that share similar ingredients in the same week. This will save time and you will waste less food. Here are a few examples of recipes that pair well together in the same week:
5. It’s okay to eat convenience foods too sometimes.
I cook a lot in our home because I do a recipe blog. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love the days when we eat out, or when we just pop a pizza in the oven. It’s good to give ourselves a break sometimes.
If you are like me and are okay with eating frozen and single-serve convenience foods from time to time, there are plenty of options out there to choose from! On Meal Planning Mommies, we have lots of what I call “smart food ideas”. Most of the lists are perfect for anyone who is feeding 1-2 people. These ones, in particular, are perfect for someone who doesn’t need to feed an army…
- Quick and Easy Breakfast Ideas with Weight Watchers FreeStyle Smart Points. This list is off the charts! There are tons of simple breakfast ideas on this list.
- 20 Breakfast combinations. Smart Point combinations make it easy to come up with a “convenient” breakfast using some of your favorite breakfast convenience foods.
- One month’s worth of Smart Lunch Combinations! Packaged salads, canned soups, frozen entrees… when you don’t have a lot of time for lunch, this list will be your friend.
- Weight Watchers FreeStyle Smart Snacks. This is our most popular MPM list with over 60 quick and easy snack ideas that are between 0-4 WW Smart Points.
- And because snacks are the most important meal of the day, I have a “More Smart Snacks with Smart Points list” here.
- And, because Weight Watchers is all about community, this list of snacks was a culmination of snack ideas from Meal Planning Mommies readers.
- Weight Watchers friendly Sweet Snacks. When you go down the freezer aisle, do you know what desserts are low in points? How about when you go down the aisle with all of those granola bars? This list gives you LOTS of dessert ideas that also happen to be quick grab-and-go snacks.
RESTAURANT / FAST FOOD IDEAS:
- Smart Fast Food Ideas with FreeStyle Smart Points. This is a Weight Watchers member’s fast food and restaurant survival guide! Pick where to you are going to eat and try one of the low Smart Points options on the list!
6. Know your measurements.
No, I’m not talking about your waist, hips, and bust here. I’m talking about ingredient measurements.
Actually, nowadays it’s less about knowing your WHAT your measurement conversions are and more about knowing WHERE to find them. Allow me to explain…
These last three resources are my favorites on this whole list!
When you try to pair down a recipe to feed two people, do you normally grab a calculator and then go check your conversions chart on the refrigerator to see how many tablespoons are in one half cup?
Here’s an idea… How about grabbing your iPhone, tablet or laptop instead. Did you know that there are places you can go online that will do all the math for you in a fraction of the time you would spend with your calculator and conversions chart? It’s true!
The absolute easiest way to divide (and multiply) ingredients for recipes.
Here’s what you do to divide and multiply recipes without a calculator:
- Go to http://kinja-labs.com/ingredient-cutter/
- Decide if you are going to multiply or divide a recipe.
- Decide if you are going to divide the recipe in half, a third, a quarter, or an eighth!
- Copy and paste the list of ingredients from the recipe you are going to make in the box provided.
- Bam! It’s seriously that easy! In 5 seconds you can have an entire recipe divided for you!
Click on the image below to be taken to the Kinja Labs website to give it a try!
Another online resource that functions similarly is this recipe converter tool here: http://www.mykitchencalculator.com/recipeconverter. Check them both out and see which one you like better.
The absolute easiest way to make measurement conversions.
Are you trying to figure out how many teaspoons are in 2 tablespoons? How about how many tablespoons are in 3 cups? Sometimes it helps to divide a recipe when you know these kinds of things. Anytime you are trying to convert an ingredient amount from one type of measurement to another you can go to Genius Kitchen or metric-conversions.org and the tools will do the math for you! Click on the laptop image below to be taken to the Genius Kitchen measurement converter. Go on… it’s fun! 🙂
Or you can check out metric conversion tool at metric-conversions.org by clicking on the laptop here…
How would you like a 4-week meal planning ebook that does all of the things in this list for you!?
The #1 best resource I can offer anyone who is making two servings each night for dinner is my new Table For Two ebook! This ebook is available for pre-order right now for just $10.99! With this ebook, all of your dinner meal planning for one full month is set and ready for you.
Plus, if you pre-order before August 29 at midnight, you will be entered in a drawing to win a free Single-Serve Keurig machine!
Click HERE to learn more about the giveaway.
Click HERE to pre-order your copy of the “Table for Two” ebook!
Is there something on here that was helpful to you? Drop us a comment and tell us about it.
Was there a resource or idea you felt should have been on this list? Drop us a comment and tell us about it! We would love to hear your ideas!