I hear it all the time, “Cooking for one is too difficult.” I get it. Recipes are always made for 4-6 people. Which either leaves you crunching numbers to divide everything by 4 (what is 1/4th of an egg??) or you’re left eating that lasagna for 2 weeks. Or maybe it’s not the technical part of cooking for one, but that you don’t feel inspired to cook something for just yourself. It’s easier to grab take out or pour a bowl of cereal and move on. Well today I’m going to try and inspire you to bring back the joy in cooking, especially for one person! The best part of cooking for one? You don’t have anyone else that you need to please. No one saying, “well I’m not really feeling tacos tonight” or “I don’t like zucchini.” All that matters is what you want!
So here’s my crash course on cooking for one person.
1. Plan, plan, plan when cooking for one!
Whether you’re feeding one, four, or four hundred, it all starts with a plan. Meal planning is what sets you up for success. You will know exactly what you need to get from the grocery store, and how much to get. Think about what’s going on this week…Know that you’re meeting friends for happy hour on Wednesday or work is providing lunch on Friday? Schedule that into the plan! Come up with ideas for the remaining meals and make your grocery list from there. Yes, it takes time to meal plan but you will be so much happier with your meals when you have a plan. They tend to be tastier and more satisfying when you have all the ingredients and food groups for a balanced meal! One of my favorite tips is to not overbuy produce. This can be difficult in late spring and summer when fruit is at its best. It is easy to load up on all the delicious smelling fruit, only to have it go bad by the end of the week because you physically couldn’t eat it in time. Decide how much produce you need for your meal plan and stick to it!
2. Bulk bins and deli/meat/fish counters should be your friend!
Bulk bins may not be at your every day grocery store, but they do exist, and should be utilized! Take a special trip to Whole Foods or Wegmans to grab a couple tablespoons of chia seeds, 1 cup of rice, or even a teaspoon of that random spice you need for a recipe. Now what about meat, cheese, and fish? You don’t need to buy that four pack of chicken breasts or the 2 lb bag of shrimp. Grab a number at the counter and the grocery store employees will set you up! You can buy 6 oz of shrimp for a stir fry and a small steak to throw on the grill. You can buy 6 ounces of deli meat and a few slices of cheese for a couple sandwiches. Don’t feel obligated to buy what’s on the shelves!
3. Don’t send food to Freezer Limbo.
The freezer is a wonderful tool for meal prep, but you have to stay on top of it! Know what’s in your freezer, and put dates on it! While food lasts longer in the freezer, typically it won’t last much longer than 6 months. By putting a date on your food, you know exactly when to toss it. Here are a few ways to utilize the freezer:
- The freezer is a great place for excess meats. If you buy a couple pounds of ground beef, freeze individual portions in baggies. You can also marinate meat and put it in the freezer to be cooked at a later time.
- Did you accidentally buy too much produce and it’s getting too ripe? Chop it up and put it in the freezer!
- Cook a big batch of pasta sauce and freeze the extras in muffin tins.
- Fresh herbs can be expensive, but it can be difficult to use them all up! Chop up the extra herbs, mix with olive oil, pour in ice cube trays, and freeze!
4. Reinvent Your Leftovers
Leftovers can be boring. You already ate it once, and may not feel like eating it again. Use leftover proteins in a new way to keep things interesting! If you grilled up a steak for dinner, and have part of it leftover, heat it up the next morning for some steak and eggs or chop it up and use it in a quesadilla for your next dinner. If you have roasted chicken with veggies and a potato for dinner one night, use any extra chicken for a Panini sandwich the next day. Extra baked salmon? Flake it up and make salmon cakes!
5. Toast It Up
I often avoid my microwave when cooking at home. Reheating food in the microwave can leave you with a dry or rubbery meal. But I always eat my leftovers. How? I use my toaster oven and I LOVE my toaster oven. This is especially useful for things that should be crispy. Like roasted potatoes, French fries, pizza, chicken fingers, etc. By heating in the toaster oven, it heats the food while also crisping up the outside. No more soggy chicken fingers or chewy pizza for me!
6. Perfect Your Go-To’s
Having delicious, single-serving recipes on hand is key.
There are so many meals that can easily be made for just one person:
- Eggs/omelets (breakfast for dinner!)
- Smoothies (make sure to add a protein!)
- Paninis and sandwiches (sandwiches are great, but a Panini press just makes it better!)
- Quesadillas (add sautéed peppers and onions to get some veggies!)
- Tacos (taco Tuesday is my favorite day of the week)
- Stir Fry (it doesn’t get much easier than throwing meat, rice, and veggies in a pan)
- Pizza (make it on mini naan bread or an English muffin for a single serving!)
- Pasta dishes (sauté some shrimp in a little butter and garlic, add cooked pasta and baby spinach, and you’re good to go!)
- Salad (Can’t forget about salads! Fresh and perfect for summer)
Or check out our video below for inspiration when you don’t feel like cooking!
What are your tips for cooking for one? Let us know!
If you would like more helping learning how you can eat well, even if you are cooking for one, make an appointment with one of our registered dietitians by calling 301-474-2499 or clicking here.
An award winning recipe developer, Dietitian Kaitlin’s mission is to empower others to reach their health goals by encouraging them to get back into the kitchen. Co-author of Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating and Cooking with Diabetes.