One of my core principles of personal finance is “if you’re doing something by yourself, do it as cheap as possible.” When I’m alone and not worried about anyone else’s needs or concerns, I go super cheap on almost everything. There’s no real reason to “treat” myself because I’ll probably do some form of that the next time I’m spending time with others. I’m usually just fueling up and preparing for the next thing on my calendar.
So, for clarity’s sake, most days I eat breakfast by myself and many days I eat lunch by myself. My children are in school and my wife is at work and I work from home, so those meals are definitely solo. About once a month, a confluence of schedules will result in me eating supper solo, too, and there’s usually a week during the year where my wife visits her sisters and my children visit the grandparents and I’m going solo, too.
My goal during those times is to eat super cheap while also being at least a little healthy. I usually have four or five options for each meal that I cycle endlessly that produces a meal for myself at a price that’s far less than a dollar. In fact, my usual cost target for a meal for myself is $0.50. If I’m spending more than that, I’m doing it wrong.
Here are some of the inexpensive meals that I eat when I’m going solo.
My goal with breakfast is usually to put a little bit of protein in my stomach, as it helps me feel more energetic and focused throughout the morning.
Fried egg on toast I’ll pull out a skillet, put a little bit of butter or oil in it, and once it’s melted over medium heat, I’ll crack an egg in there, put a bit of salt and pepper on it, cook it until the clear part has turned white, flip it over with a spatula when it’s easy to do so, cook it for another minute or so, and then put it on a piece of toast that was cooking in the toaster while I was doing that. I’ll sometimes sprinkle a little bit of cheese on top, too.
Scrambled eggs Usually, I do this when I have something I want to add to it, like some leftover chopped vegetables or leftover chopped mushrooms from a previous meal. I’ll just crack two or three eggs into a bowl, beat them with a fork until they’re pretty consistent, and add a bit of salt and pepper. Then, I’ll put a bit of butter in a skillet and heat it over medium heat until the butter is melted, then add the eggs. I let the eggs cook slowly, turning them over every once in a while, and then I add the vegetables when they’re just starting to firm up but the vegetables will still mix right in.
A bowl of oatmeal Usually, I do this in a slow cooker overnight and make enough for everyone to have a bowl at the start of the day. It’s easy – the evening beforehand, I just put 1 1/2 cups of steel cut oats, 5 cups of water, and whatever flavorings or sweeteners I want in there (usually some chopped up fruit and some sugar) and turn it on low and let it cook overnight. If I’m truly solo, I put 1/2 cup steel cut oats and 2 cups of water in a large microwave-safe bowl that I can cover (with whatever flavorings I want), mix it thoroughly, and microwave it covered for five minutes. I stir the oatmeal then microwave it again uncovered for five minutes. It’s usually pretty close to perfect.
A bowl of cereal with milk It’s as simple as can be. I usually will eat a bowl of store-brand oat circles with a little milk on it. Nothing fancy, nice and easy.
A couple pieces of fresh fruit This is my “quick” breakfast of choice. I usually have an apple and a banana and a big glass of water when I’m in a rush, as I can just grab them on the way to whatever it is that I’m doing.
A hard boiled egg (or two) If I’ve been planning in advance, I’ll have a bowl of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge, often peeled, so I can just grab one or two for breakfast. Hard boiling an egg is easy – just put some eggs in a pot, cover them with water, add a bit of salt, raise the water to a very low boil, then let the eggs boil for twelve minutes. Immediately remove them from the water and put them in a bowl of ice water for a bit, then you can either peel them or put them in the fridge to peel later.
Lunch / Dinner
My goal with lunch most days is convenience. I usually want something that I can prepare and eat quickly while being inexpensive and reasonably tasty. For dinner when I’m solo, I don’t mind a little more prep time. Here are some of the things I prepare for quick solo lunches and dinners.
Leftovers This is my default lunch most days. I’ll just eat the remnants of whatever we had for dinner the night before, which basically makes the meal free. Usually, I just heat it up in the same small microwave-safe container that I stored it in overnight.
Beans and rice Many weeks, we’ll make a large batch of rice and cook up a large batch of dried beans at the start of the week and store them in two containers in the fridge. I’ll just take a healthy scoop of each, coat it in hot sauce, and microwave it. If there happens to be some leftover chopped vegetables of some kind, I’ll mix those in, too.
Ramen with a hardboiled egg Ramen isn’t particularly healthy, but it sure is cheap and convenient. This is an “every once in a while” lunch for me. I’ll just cook the ramen by the package directions and while the noodles are cooking, I’ll take a hard boiled egg from the fridge (mentioned above) and slice it and put the slices right into the ramen. It’s a great quick lunch, though an irregular one.
Grilled cheese sandwich This might top fifty cents, but it’s pretty tasty. Just take two slices of bread, butter them on one side, then put one butter side down in a skillet over medium heat. Place some cheese of your choice on top, then put the other slice right on top with the butter side up. Let it cook for a bit, flip it, let it cook for a bit on the other side, and serve. Delicious. If the tomatoes are coming in from the garden, I’ll add a slice of tomato to the sandwich.
Peanut butter and banana sandwich Two slices of whole wheat bread. A bit of peanut butter on each. A sliced banana on the peanut butter. Press the two slices together – or eat them open faced. Delicious. Really filling, quite cheap, and reminds me of childhood.
Fruit smoothie Whenever I see frozen fruit on sale, I stock the freezer with it, and I use that frozen fruit for smoothies. I just toss some frozen fruit in a blender, add a little milk, and blend until it’s smooth. That’s it. I often have one of these for lunch, especially when I’m busy. I’ll sometimes add frozen green vegetables to it – usually broccoli – but I mostly use fruit and it overshadows the vegetables. This is often just a “lunch” thing – I typically wouldn’t have a fruit smoothie for dinner.
The Role of “Solo” Meals
It’s important to note here that these don’t make up my entire diet by any means. Rather, they’re just super inexpensive meals I prepare during meals when I happen to be eating alone while Sarah is working and the kids are at school or there’s some other unusual scheduling concern. These meals are all incredibly cheap, most are reasonably healthy, all are super quick to prepare, and they’re filling enough to suit my needs at the time.