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After four years of college, and almost two years post-college without a serious relationship to speak of, I’ve had a significant amount of experience cooking dinner for one.
I know all too well the temptation of prepackaged frozen meals. I’m a major fangirl for all of Amy’s Kitchen products, but having these types of meals every day isn’t feasible for your wallet or waistline. Even organic frozen foods have some preservatives, and the portions tend to be a little small for the calorie content. It’s best to cook your own meals in order to save money and receive adequate nutrients, and you can actually do that for one person.
Cooking dinner for one person can feel a little lonely and overwhelming, but it’s actually pretty simple—and with the right attitude, it can be a lot of fun. So stop feeling sorry for yourself, pour a glass of wine (or two), and follow my expert tips.
Maximize your ingredients.
A common pitfall of cooking dinner for one person: one week + several different recipes = wasted food. It’s normal to want to have varying meals throughout the week, but cooking recipes that are completely opposite can mean you’re buying perishable items that won’t be used, like raw chicken (in which case you should throw that chicken in the freezer.). Choose two or three recipes that have a few common ingredients, like a main vegetable or meat, so you get the most bang for your buck.
My go-to meal combination is spaghetti and turkey burgers. This way I can use half of the ground turkey in the spaghetti and the other half to make the burgers. Then all I have to do is purchase whatever vegetables I want to eat that week.
Plan meals in advance.
Take some time to plan out what you’ll eat during the week ahead of time in order to keep grocery shopping within your budget and to make sure you’ll have enough food during the week. When you’re cooking dinner for one, it’s easy to underestimate just how much food you’ll eat.
Sit down and actually think about the number of meals you’ll be eating during the week and the snacks you’ll want. For me, that means three medium meals a day and two to three well-sized snacks. Be honest with yourself here. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll only have three meals a day and they’ll all be salad. You’re not a box turtle, so that’s unrealistic. Plan your food for the week according to your actual food needs.
Cook the right portions.
Unless you’re cooking a large batch of something to eat throughout the week, it’s crucial that you only cook the amount of food that you need. Personally, I think it’s always best to cook enough for leftovers for lunch the next day, but if you don’t want leftovers, then keep the portions realistic. Listen to your body when deciding how much to cook of a certain item, but remember that your eyes can be bigger than your stomach.
If you know you won’t eat leftover zucchini, then only cook what you’re going to eat that night, and save the rest for something else. Likewise, if you have a deep hatred of reheating food, then don’t cook more than you’ll eat. Otherwise you’ll have extra that either will go bad in your fridge or end up in the trash immediately.
Freeze perishable food you won’t eat.
It isn’t always possible to make your ingredients go further, so when this happens, freeze the leftover item. You can pull it out at a later time to cook with, and you won’t waste as much food or money. Not all produce can be frozen when raw so I recommend cooking it in a freezer safe recipe and saving it for a crazy week. When freezing food, make sure to label the containers with the food item and date frozen so you know what to eat first.
All veggies can be frozen, but will become mushy when reheated, so they’re best in soups and casseroles. Meats are all freezer-friendly, and even bread and pastas are great to freeze for later. If you choose to freeze fruits, then designate them for smoothies and baking. They become unbearably gooey when thawed whole. It’s best to just avoid that.
The most perishable, but entirely necessary foods, are herbs. Those leaves can go bad before you even realize you forgot about them. To avoid this, chop up the herbs toward the end of their shelf life and place in ice cubes tray with olive oil. You can toss these cubes into a saute pan later.
Try recipes meant for one person.
A good way to acclimate to cooking for one person is by following recipes that only yield one serving. Personal tortilla pizzas, topped with your favorites, are a great and quick recipe to whip up for yourself. All you need is one tortilla and a small can of pizza sauce, plus your choice of toppings.
It’s also incredibly easy to make pasta for one. Follow the packaging instructions for cooking one serving and stick to the right portions when cooking the other ingredients. If you’re looking for some inspiration, search through Pinterest for single recipe ideas.