Cooking for One

There are times in life when we are inevitably by ourselves, be it by choice or circumstances. Whether you are single and living alone or work opposite hours of your partner, preparing a wholesome and delicious meal for one can be quite the challenge. Motivation to cook an elaborate meal for just one person can be daunting and may not seem worth the effort.

I started cooking for myself almost three years ago when I moved into my first apartment in college. I lived with one other roommate and when we first moved in, we had high hopes of cooking for each other a couple times a week. I would make roasted fish with fresh basil and tomatoes on Monday and she would cook up chicken with roasted garlic broccoli topped with Parmesan cheese for us on Thursdays.

Well, that worked for about a month until the maddening life of college set in. We developed opposite schedules and eating times and often only laid eyes upon each other once each day, to say either “good morning” or “good night”. We slowly began buying, cooking and eating our own meals and our little bistro table lay dormant in our kitchen as we took to eating in our rooms while finishing up assignments (ok, or browsing Facebook…).

It was challenging at first, and yes, it still tests my ingenuity and patience at times, but over the past few years I have become a pro at cooking for one. You don’t need to resort to fast food, take-out, or boxed macaroni and cheese when dining alone. Follow these easy tips and start making yourself healthy, nourishing meals that actually satisfy your body and your cravings.

Freeze your bread

Or tortillas, English muffins, etc. This extends the shelf life and prevents mold from growing before you have a chance to eat all of it. When you’re ready, simply take out the portion you need, wrap it in a paper towel and microwave for 30-45 seconds until thawed. When packing your meal, you can even make your sandwich with the bread in the frozen state and it will keep your sandwich cool and will be thawed by the time your ready to eat.

Halve recipes

I don’t need an entire lasagna or a huge 15 pound roast just for me. Not only is this too much food to eat before it goes bad, but it would also get boring eating it all the time! Instead, I take recipes and cut them in half. Sometimes this requires a little creativity. For instance if a dish calls for 1 whole can of tomatoes and 1 can of tomato sauce, I will buy a can of diced tomatoes and will use half, then will puree the rest to make my own tomato sauce. Doing so reduces food waste, saves money, and prevents meal boredom.

Buy individually wrapped meats and divide ground meat in half

Look for chicken breasts, fish filets, and other meats that are individually wrapped. That way, you can thaw single servings at a time instead of the entire package. After purchasing a pound of ground beef or turkey, immediately cut it in half to make two one-half pound servings. Place each portion in freezer bags. This also helps achieve the previous tip when halving recipes.

I purchased a package of chicken breasts and thighs separated them into smaller portions so I wouldn’t have to thaw and eat them all at the same time.


Be creative with leftovers

Made a large pork loin? Roasted an entire butternut squash? Get creative and make new main dishes out of your old ones! For example, make Cuban sandwiches from your pork loin. Layer the pork with Swiss cheese, Dijon mustard, and spinach and grill until bread is crispy, the cheese is melty and the meat is warm. Puree leftover butternut squash with a touch of cream, fresh sage, salt and pepper to make a sauce for pasta. Use Pinterest or the Internet to search for recipes using the key ingredients you want to use up.

I had a leftover sweet potato that was on it’s last leg, so I pureed it with some milk, blue cheese, salt+pepper to make a pasta sauce.


Freeze leftovers

Your freezer is an asset, use it! A lot of foods can be cooked, frozen and reheated perfectly including pasta dishes, grilled chicken breasts, muffins, soups, sauces and much more. Sometimes it can be beneficial to make the entire recipe and freeze leftovers to have for a quick and easy meal at a later date. Here are some specific methods for freezing different foods:

  • Soups and sauces-Pour into freezer-proof Ziploc bags and lay flat in the freezer. They will freeze like a pancake, saving space.
  • Mixed dishes (pastas, casseroles, etc.)-Make single servings by placing individual portions in freezer-proof bags or freeze multiple servings using aluminum foil pans, sealing tightly with additional aluminum foil on top.
  • Muffins-wrap in aluminum foil and place in freezer bags.
  • Precooked Chicken breasts-wrap in aluminum foil and place in freezer bags.

**Remember, it is important to label your dishes before placing them in the depths of your freezer. This not only helps you remember what is in each container, but it also prevents you from consuming food that is unsafe to eat. Use a sharpie to write the name of the dish and the date it was made.

Left: Leftover cooked dried pinto beans I had in excess from a soup recipe I made. Right: Ripe bananas I couldn’t eat fast enough. Can be used in oatmeal, breads, and smoothies in the future.

Although cooking for one does present unique challenges, it doesn’t have to be hard and is well worth the little bit of extra effort. Making yourself a tasty meal instead of mindlessly eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every evening not only provides your body with the nutrients your body needs, but is also something rewarding to look forward to each night.


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