One of the most common reasons I hear that couples eat out more often than they cook in, is the difficulty of preparing meals for just two. While most recipes are geared toward nuclear families (4-6 servings) and the potential leftovers can seem daunting when you hit the grocery store, there are plenty of tricks for making two company in the kitchen.
Around here, we're big cheerleaders for planning ahead. Your first step to cooking success is to make a plan for your meals for the week. Derek and I eat out twice a week for dinner, so on Sundays, I choose four dinner recipes I'll make for the week. The seventh night of the week, we do something casual with leftovers or have pizza and beer night!
By planning ahead, I can also choose recipes that fit well together. For example, I'll select two recipes that use the same fresh herb or vegetable. I also take a look at the grocery store specials (we get their flyers in the mail but you can also pick them up at the store) and plan around what main course staples are on sale that week. You'll save money if you know ahead of time what fish or meat is on sale, and work a recipe around that.
Don't Fly the Coup
OK, so it can feel a little dorky to come through the checkout line with a handful of coupons in tow, but you'll feel much better when you see how much you save by clipping coupons each week. To find grocery store coupons, Derek and I purchase the weekend paper every Sunday which usually has tons of coupons inside. You can also print plenty of grocery coupons on the web. Click here for a list of sites that offer printable coupons. Your local grocery store may also offer printable coupons on it's website that you won't find in the weekly mailer.
Go in Strong
With all the appealing products it has to offer, you can go into the grocery store looking for some fresh fruit and come out an hour later with a month's worth of Pop Tarts and three cartons of Ben & Jerry's.
Arm yourself against junk food sabotage with a few simple tricks. First, never go grocery shopping hungry. Your cravings will take over rationality and only after checkout will you realize that you left with three pounds of Twizzlers and nothing that you came to buy.
Next, put it in writing. Come to the grocery store with a list prepared from your weekly recipes and including your other breakfast/lunch essentials and stick to the paper. Even if you realize you need something that wasn't on your list, you'll have to think twice before putting it in your cart.
Finally, try to stick to the outside perimeter of the store - where all the fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and dairy are kept - and only hit the aisles to get items on your list. Avoiding the aisles where processed and packaged foods are kept will help you avoid unwanted purchases.
Just because you're buying for two, don't be afraid to go for the big size. Most grocery stores offer extra savings when you buy the "family size" pack -- especially on items such as poultry and meat. You can divide up these items once you get them home to make them work for two. For example, if you buy a pack of six chicken breasts, put three pairs into baggies, keeping two baggies in the freezer and one in the fridge for a meal that week. You can do the same thing with other perishables, and bulk up on non-perishables you use frequently.
Make it Last
If you purchase a perishable item that you won't use up completely for your meal, don't be afraid to get creative with what's left over. Use excess produce or dairy for other meals throughout the week so they don't go bad (for example when I made this chicken and brie dish, I spread the leftover brie on pears and drizzled with honey and cinnamon for dessert and when I used half a can of pumpkin to make this turkey chili I used the rest for this pumpkin bread).
You can also freeze your leftovers for a later date or designate one night of the week as "leftover night" to use up what you didn't eat and save some cooking time!
With just a little preparation, you can making cooking for a couple simple and fun! Remember to divide your recipe to the right serving size before you begin (sites like allrecipes.com do it for you) and you'll be making two company in your kitchen in no time.