In the kitchen, one can be a lonely number. There’s leftover fatigue or the sad bowl of cereal for dinner – again-rather than cooking. On top of that, spending time making a dish that requires pans and utensils isn’t worth it when it’s just you eating, right?
When I lived alone people asked why I took the trouble to cook dinner for “just me.” Huh? Why wouldn’t I cook for myself? Sure I have always loved cooking, but I really enjoy a good home-cooked meal at the end of the day. I'm not really into take-out or packaged frozen dinners.
Cooking healthy recipes for you and you alone provides much-needed alone time in the Zen space of the kitchen. Home-cooked meals help you feel fortified and energized for whatever little adventures life throws your way. And did I mention that cooking for one is a lot quicker than cooking for a crowd?
You have lots of options when cooking for one. You can cook smaller amounts. Most recipes are for four servings. Cutting them in half doesn’t compromise the end result, and you have some leftovers to freeze or use as part of meal the following day. There’s no real complicated math involved in halving the amounts in a recipe, trust me. Math is not my strong suit and I do it all the time.
Here are my best tips for cooking for one-because, baby, you’re worth it.
1. Use Your Leftovers
Leftovers are inevitable in cooking, especially when you’re cooking for one. But instead of eating the same meal night after night, freshen up your leftovers, turning them into new dishes: cooked beans can become tacos, burritos or a bean sauce for pasta. Cooked veggies can be turned into quick soups or sauces or pureed into a paté to be served with crisp whole grain bread or crackers. Add a fresh salad or lightly steamed greens and you have a great meal.
2. Make a Plan
One of the keys to stress-free cooking for one is planning ahead. Make a meal plan for the week before your weekly grocery shopping trip to keep you on track so that you buy just what you need, which helps keep waste to a minimum. This is a great tip when it comes to more delicate, perishable foods like leafy greens and tofu. If you know you have a large bunch of kale, you can use it in various ways to get the best of it, still have variety and not waste a leaf. From steamed kale, to sautéed; kale chips to kale salad; fresh sliced kale stirred into soups and the infamous kale smoothie.
3. Cook Dinner Back to Back
I’m into re-using leftovers to make fresh dishes but I adore fresh meals. I truly hate eating the same dinner two nights in a row. I discovered cooking dinner on back-to-back nights can help change things up. Cooking on Monday and Tuesday nights for instance, I can use Monday's leftovers on Wednesday and Tuesday's cooked dishes on Thursday.
4. Skip Pre-packaged Foods
Everything from salads to spices can be found in containers, but the quantities aren’t always thrifty if you’re cooking for one. Buying in bulk allows you to buy the exact amount you need, even if it seems teeny-tiny. Does your recipe only call for 3 mushrooms? Buy 3 loose mushrooms and skip the package containing more unless you know you’ll use them all. Also, don’t be afraid to break up a bunch of kale, broccoli crowns or bananas (if they’re being sold by the pound). If they’re being sold by the bunch, take them and plan your meals around that ingredient… or freeze what you might not use right away.
5. Fall in Love with Your With Your Freezer
Cook a large freezable meal that you can divide into single portions to heat and eat at a later time. Cook large pots of soup and freeze them in portioned containers for use as you desire. Freezing allows you to create variety and not be stuck eating the same things over and over.
6. Find A Friend and Do A Meal Trade
My final – and most fun – tip is this. We all know someone else who’s dining solo. Each of you find a recipe that serves two and whip it up. Keep a portion for yourself and trade the second portion. You’ll have two different single-serving meals. And you can turn this little partnership into a group, like a book club! I say the more the merrier when it comes to meal trading. More people means more variety. Make meals that freeze well so you have options, even within the variety you create.
While it can be challenging, cooking for one need not be daunting nor should it discourage you from cooking. Look at it this way: you have no one to please but yourself, no finicky tastes to navigate. So enjoy it and have some fun in the kitchen. Your health will thank you.