Cooking for one can be a challenge. It seems like a lot of trouble to mess up the kitchen and take all that time preparing something decent to eat if it’s just for yourself. Most recipes are designed for four or more servings, and it just seems easier to have a bowl of cereal or heat up a frozen TV dinner some nights and call it good. But cooking solo doesn’t have to be a drag. And when recipes make more than you can eat in one meal, you can use that extra food to your advantage.
And don’t forget, cooking for yourself tends to be healthier (and cheaper.) According to one study, people who cook at home tend to maintain a healthier diet than those who cook less frequently. This study found that cooking at home was associated with eating fewer carbs, less sugar and fewer fast food meals, along with frozen meals and ready-to-eat foods. So if you want to be as healthy as you can be (and keep more money in your wallet) but shy away from cooking for yourself, it’s time to break out the cutting board and skillet.
This blog writer, who is single and likes to cook, has developed a few strategies to cope with solo eating challenges.
Solo Cooking Tips
Cook on the weekend and eat well the rest of the week
Making several dishes from scratch on the weekend works really well for me. I usually spend a few minutes perusing recipes online Saturday mornings before writing up my grocery list and heading to the co-op to get my ingredients. Then I reserve Sunday evenings for cooking and end up with 3 or 4 entrees for the following work week. In the winter I almost always make a soup or stew. Casserole-type dishes are also good for portioning and freezing the extra. I also wash and dry a head of lettuce for salads. (here’s how to wash your lettuce and make easy vinaigrette dressings)
Buy fresh meat, wrap single portions in plastic wrap and freeze
This works well for things like burger patties from ground beef or turkey, chicken breasts, bratwurst or Italian sausage, fish fillets, etc. Single portions cook up fast and pair it with a salad or steamed veggie and you have yourself a nice meal.
Make friends with your crockpot (or go buy a good one)
If you haven’t experienced the joy of coming home to the welcoming aroma of a hot dinner ready to go, you haven’t really lived yet. It is super easy to put a bunch of ingredients in the crockpot before you go to work, or you can prep the ingredients the night before to save time in the morning. Then in the evening after you make a toast to yourself for feeding yourself so well and eating to your heart’s content, let the soup/stew cool, save some for lunch the next day and portion the rest into individual sized plastic containers, label and date them (very important!) and freeze. Here is one great crockpot recipe for beef stew.
Rice and Beans are your Friends
Rice and beans together, as most people know, form a complete protein, making them the perfect combo for an economical, filling, and delicious meal. But you can take it one step further and cook more than you need and freeze the rest, making future meals a snap. We recommend soaking your beans and grains before cooking them, which requires a little extra forethought but it’s not a big deal once you get used to doing it. You could also use canned beans but dry beans are the way to go for the most bang for your buck. (Read all about soaking beans and grains here and why it’s important.)
Check out this website for 5 easy bean/rice dishes.
Cooking in parchment paper or foil
It’s fun to wrap food in a piece of foil and throw it the oven or on a grill and end up with a delicious meal for one Parchment paper is another wrapping medium that works great, especially with delicate fish. This cooking method seals in moisture and keeps your dish tender and flavorful. And since you aren’t dirtying pots and pans, there’s not much to clean up after dinner. Here are some great recipes using foil or parchment paper. And one more….
Become a Roaster
Roasting is an easy method of cooking that doesn’t require fussing at the stove. Once you get your ingredients on a pan you just shove it in the oven, set your timer, and forget about it. (Some recipes call for stirring the food half way through cooking.) Roasting intensifies flavors and is a wonderful way to cook vegetables, in addition to meat. The basic method of roasting vegetables is this: cut your vegetables (denser veggies work best, such as root veggies, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, winter squash) into uniform sizes, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs or spices if you desire, spread on a pan, and place pan in the preheated oven.
Here are a few easy roasting recipes:
Roasted Spaghetti Squash
Roasted Romaneque Cauliflower
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
Roasted Potatoes and Parsnips with Rosemary
Roasted Eggplant and Tomato
Roast a whole chicken with vegetables on Sunday afternoon
Enjoy some of the meat and veggies for your Sunday evening meal, pick the carcass clean of the remaining meat, and use it for several other meals. If you are really ambitious, save the bones, toss them in a crockpot with water and a tablespoon of vinegar, and simmer for 24 hours to make a wonderful, nutritious broth for chicken soup. Easy Roast Chicken recipe
Leftover chicken recipes:
Keep your pantry stocked for quick meals at the end of the day
Having a well-stocked pantry makes cooking fast and easy. If you go home after work and stare at empty fridge and pantry shelves, you’re probably going to call for pizza. If you have pasta, pasta sauce, and Parmesan cheese on hand, you can whip up dinner for yourself in less than 20 minutes. Here’s what to keep stocked in your pantry.
Easy meal ideas for one:
Meatloaf – You can get complicated or keep it simple with meatloaf. Prepare it in one regular loaf pan or divide in small loaf pans and freeze the extra uncooked loaf. Enjoy the day you make it, for one more dinner, and for one sandwich for lunch. These recipes make a smaller loaf, enough for one meal and at least 2 other meals.
My lazy meatloaf recipe:
1 lb ground beef
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1 packet Simply Organic French Onion Dip Mix
2 tablespoons ketchup
Black pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, pat into a greased loaf pan, and bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees or until thermometer registers 165 degrees.
My ambitious meatloaf recipe:
1 lb ground beef
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup finely grated carrot
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup celery, finely chopped
oil for sauteing
handful chopped parsley
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
sea salt and black pepper
¼ cup ketchup
- Saute the onion, carrot, and celery in a sauté pan over medium low heat a few minutes until softened. Let cool a few minutes.
- Add meat, breadcrumbs, egg, sautéed veggies, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to a bowl and mix well with your hands. Pat into a greased loaf pan, spread the ketchup evenly over the top, and bake for one hour or until a thermometer registers 165 degrees.
Roasted Turkey Breast with Sweet Potatoes – use the leftover turkey to make turkey salad, turkey soup, turkey quesadillas, turkey sandwiches
Stir Fries – Stir fries are nice because it all goes in one pan and gets cooked quickly. A wok is nice to have for making stir fries but not absolutely necessary. A large heavy sauté pan works well too. Here are 2 stir fry recipes to try:
Shrimp and Broccoli Stir Fry
Asparagus Chicken Stir Fry
Fajitas – Fajitas are fast. It’s very similar to stir fry where you cook your meat, peppers, and onions in a pan (it only takes a few minutes) and eat in a tortilla shell with yummy toppings or heap atop a bed of lettuce with your toppings. Here is one recipe. You can omit the summer squash. (Or keep it; it’s great!)
Beef summer squash fajitas