SALT LAKE CITY — There are a lot of people who are cooking for one.
I hear so many stories about the challenges people who cook for one face. It may not seem like it, but there are some significant differences between cooking for a family and cooking for one, even two people.
But those differences aren't enough to throw in the towel and grab takeout every night — unless that's a viable option that works for you. Cooking for one requires just a bit of tweaking to make meal planning and recipes work so that you're not eating leftovers for five days, or ending up with tons of produce you can't eat, or no food at all.
After talking to nutrition clients and friends, and learning from my own experiences, I've developed a short list of tricks to help everyone who is cooking just for themselves. These tricks are meant to simplify the cooking process, reduce stress and help you plan for what you'll actually eat versus what a family of four eats.
1) Have a well-stocked pantry
This is your best bet to eat delicious food at home without having to plan ahead of time. Meal planning is a great concept, in theory, but many people find it hard to continue for long enough to make a difference in their life. Instead of feeling like you always have to plan meals or eat cereal, a well-stocked pantry will provide you with ingredients you can throw together into a delicious, 15-minute dinner. No need to plan or run to the store for an ingredient or two if you've got what you need on hand for a quick meal that also doesn't taste like you just threw it together.
2) Plan for fewer meals than you think you'll eat
This may seem counterintuitive, but hear me out. How many times do you end up with more food than you can eat, or more servings than you want to eat? Instead of dealing with this week after week, cut down on the amount of meals you make ahead of time and leave some room to clean out your fridge by making a simple meal with what you've got on hand. This will help you use up the ingredients and prepped food before they go bad. It will also save you money and allow you to eat something easy without having to have the same leftovers for several days. Besides, if you do run out of partially prepared food, you've still got a well-stocked pantry to raid.
3) Cut your recipe down to 1-2 servings
This is a game-changer for a lot of people. If you're someone who doesn't like to have the exact same leftovers night after night, either separate out the components of your recipe and batch cook them, or just scale your recipe down. Arithmetic is hard for me to do in my head, but cutting a recipe in half is pretty simple. If you've got a recipe that makes four servings, just cut that in half. Now you've got a dish with two servings instead of four and that's a great place to start.
4) Batch cook/prep ingredients
Instead of cutting down on the number of servings in a dish, you could cook extra basic rice, beans, chicken, roasted vegetables or just chop extra vegetables. Do that, for example, while you're already making rice for dinner. Then refrigerate or freeze the leftovers to use throughout the week or month. This will save you lots of time without having to prep for a few hours during your cherished weekend.
The important part of batch cooking or prepping is to make the foods really simple (i.e., don't add seasoning beyond salt and pepper). This allows you to use that rice in a soup, burrito, grain bowl or a salad. You can add spices and seasonings when you turn those ingredients into a meal.
5) Rely on your freezer
A freezer is such a great tool for anyone cooking for one or two people because you can batch cook ingredients and freeze leftovers. Buy larger, less expensive items and freeze leftovers (citrus juice, cheese to shred, grains, etc.) for easy access to make a quick meal. You can also freeze extra portions of a leftover meal for when you're not tired of that meal anymore.
Two tips to keep in mind about freezing leftovers and ingredients are:
- Freeze leftovers in single-serving portions
- Freeze ingredients like rice, cheese and beans on a cookie sheet. Then transfer the ingredients to a bag or container so they don't freeze into one large clump.
At the end of the day, the point about planning or doing some batch prep for cooking is to reduce stress in your life. If any of your cooking habits or practices stress you out, they're not going to help you in the long run. These tips have helped many people streamline their cooking to make it easier and more enjoyable to cook at home and to save money along the way.
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