Cooking for one can actually be fun! Just follow these 10 easy tips and time-saving tricks to master the art of cooking solo. All it takes is a little prep, a bit of patience, and some ingenuity. Here are 10 simple suggestions to help get you started today!
The first of my 10 cooking for one tips is very basic yet SO important! Planning your meals for the week will save you time in the kitchen, help you stick to a budget, and can lead to a healthier diet. Simply pick a time to sit down and write what you want to have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next week. And don’t forget to include snacks!
My meal plans often include several dishes from a single food item. For example, I will cook a big pot of pasta and use some of it to make spaghetti for dinner on Monday; make a pasta salad with spinach on Tuesday; then toss the remaining noodles into a soup for Thursday. This works well for other products such as chicken, beef, tofu, produce, etc.
Some families will prepare a monthly meal plan, but since I’m cooking for one, I like to only plan a week at a time. By planning ahead, I can also include some blank slots for days I want to go out with friends or family.
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Before you start writing your shopping list, know what you have on hand in your pantry and freezer. This is helpful not only in planning your meals for the week but also in keeping the costs down at the checkout line.
Once you have decided what is already in stock and what you need to purchase, start writing the list and decide where you’ll be going to make your purchases. I like to get fresh fruits and vegetables at the local Farmer’s Market and try to go weekly so I can incorporate everything into the meals for the upcoming week.
Avoid going to the store if you’re hungry! I tend to shop early in the morning so I can avoid the crowds and long waits in line.
And frequent the bulk buying section in your local grocery or health food store. This is where you can buy as little or as much as you want, which helps cut down on waste. You can store your purchases in air-tight containers like this Mason jars variety pack which comes with an assortment of jar sizes.
One of my favorite cooking for one tips is keeping a well-stocked pantry. Include basics like vegetable or chicken stock, flour, herbs, spices, pasta and grains like rice or quinoa. These are perfect for making a quick pot of soup or a mixed salad with healthy grains at the last-minute.
There is no shame in buying frozen vegetables and fruits. Besides being affordable and loaded with vitamins and minerals, they help avoid wasting foods.
Some solo cooks create their own mirepoix by filling freezer bags with diced onions, chopped celery, and carrots. Mirepoix is a classic blend using 2 parts onion to one part carrot and celery. It is the perfect starter for soups, stir-fries, scrambles, sauces, and single-pan meals.
You can also avoid food waste by learning how to freeze certain foods and produce. Click here to read an excellent article written by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on how to do this properly.
Another favorite cooking for one tips is batch cooking. Batch cooking is all about making a lot of food at one time to be used in the future. Batch cooking can be a time and money saver, especially for solo dwellers. For example, bake a large pan of lasagne to be enjoyed for one or two meals before dividing into individual servings and freezing.
Some batch cooks put meats or fish into individual reusable freezer bags and add sauces or marinades. If you use a bento-style freezer box like this one, then you can add some batch-cooked vegetables and desserts for future meals.
I typically set aside one morning a month to batch cook and will prepare a variety of dishes for the month ahead. Recently I bought a large salmon fillet and sliced it into eight individual servings. In one compartment of the freezer box, I placed a slice of salmon and put some teriyaki sauce on top of it. Garlic mushroom green beans went into another compartment, and freshly made applesauce went in the other. I made three meals like this then changed up the flavorings on the salmon, added sliced cornbread, and some sauteed multi-colored peppers and onions.
If you decide to become a batch cook, look into getting some dissolvable freezer labels and a quality freezer pen. This way you’ll know what the contents are in a package as well as the date it went into the freezer. You can also add a “use by” date to help prevent food waste.
When converting a recipe sized to feed four into a single serving recipe, you’ll need to have a good handle on your measurement conversions. There are excellent guides such as this magnetic imperial and metric chart. It covers metric and Imperial conversions and stays on a refrigerator door.
When scaling down a full-size recipe, be sure to watch the heat and time to make sure they work ok with the smaller volume of ingredients. You may also need to experiment with the liquids to get the consistency of the ingredients just right. Be prepared to make some slight adjustments before settling on a final version of the recipe. Or find a good cooking for one recipe book and pick some favorites to add to your cooking routine!
Salads are one of my all-time favorite go-to meals, and are healthy options for breakfast, lunch, or dinner! Just wash and cut your lettuce and vegetables, then put them into a salad spinner. Follow the instructions to get rid of the excess water, and store the salad in the refrigerator.
Prepare your favorite salad dressing and store it separately from the lettuce. When you want some salad, simply take what you need, add your dressing and any other desired ingredients.
You can also make individual salads in jars or quart plastic bags. Pour your dressing in first, then add the hard veggies like carrots, onions, celery, or corn. Top with a protein like beans, tofu, chicken, beef, or fish, then add your greens. Top the greens with nuts, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, or other toppings. Shake the jar or bag to mix the salad, then enjoy!
A good contractor will tell you they need the proper tools to do their job properly. The same is true when you’re cooking for one. Maintaining a collection of small-sized cookware and utensils is essential when you’re cooking for one. Plus they will help keep you from making too much or overeating.
Having the right kitchen tools also cut down on waste. The right tools also help turn the chore of cooking into a more pleasant task. One of the essential tools is a vegetable chopper that dices, slices, and stores the food until you need it.
Invest in a quality enamel Dutch oven that can be used on the stovetop and in the oven. I use my 2.75 qt. Le Creuset Dutch oven for soups, cooking rice, stir-frying, or even baking bread in.
Adjust your kitchen to your situation, needs, wants, and desires. If you no longer need to cook for a large group, then donate those extra plates and gadgets to charity. Or pass them on to someone else who can use them. Enjoy the decluttering process and re-evaluate your needs for your situation.
I recently wrote this post called “Kitchen Essentials When Cooking For One” that has even more cooking for one tips.
Avoid temptation from the get-go and freeze your desserts! I freeze single-portions of cookies, pancakes, muffins, cakes, pies, or other goodies so I don’t overindulge. You can also freeze balls of cookie dough so you can make one or two cookies at a time.
(WARNING: this may not ALWAYS work but it helps when you have the raving cravings).
Consider joining one of the many subscription meal programs available today. These meals come pre-portioned and have easy-to-follow instructions.
The meal programs are usually reasonably priced – especially when you break down the cost per meal. They are a great alternative if you’re short on time or less than adept in the kitchen.
The ingredients are pre-measured and the instructions are easy to follow. And there are so many options including plant-based meals and KETO!
Before I adopted my plant-forward diet, I tried Blue Apron and was very impressed. Each meal feeds two people (you can select a number of servings when you register) and the entrees are absolutely delicious. I love the small pre-packaged items of everything needed, including salt and pepper. And they include a colorful cooking card for each meal.
Let’s face it – cooking solo isn’t for everybody. My 80-year old neighbor recently told me she stopped cooking for herself because she is done making meals. Her taste buds aren’t what they used to be and she just doesn’t enjoy the process anymore.
I get it – but I’m not there quite yet. Not everyone chooses to be single. Some become solo cooks because they lose their spouses or leave situations that no longer serve them. And there are the college kids who want to subsist on more than pizza, beer, and dorm food!
A lot of us are cooking for one, and I hope one day the big corporations will take notice. They can start by packaging more foods in smaller sizes. And please don’t charge a premium for this – it’s not fair to penalize solo cooks for not buying in bulk. Plus I think if they evaluated the consumer groups, they’d find there is gold in catering to us solo cooks!.But for now, we can work around this trend by following some of the tips I’ve outlined above.
I may try another subscription service in the future, but since adopting my tips, I really like cooking again. I hope you try some of them and start enjoying cooking again too!