SALT LAKE CITY — Most people who cook for one tell me how much they hate cooking and how they hate having to eat leftovers night after night after night. They usually think the solution to leftovers is single-serving recipes.
Single-serving recipes are great for anyone cooking for one. Making just one serving of anything means that you don't have to eat that same meal for four or more days (which can get boring pretty fast).
When I started cooking for myself, I'd cook one or two recipes a week and eat those throughout the week. I quickly lost my appetite for food and dreaded eating. Of course, we all have different relationships with food, so this experience would be different for everyone, but as a food-loving, nutrition-student-turned-new-dietitian, that was a struggle. Deep down I loved food, but couldn't enjoy it.
I thought the solution to this problem was one-serving recipes. But throughout my 10-plus years of cooking for one, my experience working with nutrition clients who also cook for one and just talking to people, I've realized that we need to look beyond single-serving recipes — although they completely have a place in cooking for one. We need to plan meals or cook in a way that fits in our lives.
Below are three types of meals you should know about when it comes to cooking for one. Planning meals for one and cooking for one is all about flexibility and adapting. It's not about following a program or a plan exactly or scheduling your life around food, but rather about making eating the stress-free decision you deserve.
And if you don't enjoy cooking, giving yourself permission to do whatever makes your life easier and tastier (even if that's grabbing takeout or making something that comes frozen). The best option is one that works within your life, not the one that society tells you is the healthiest.
You may have thought that this would be all about why single-serving meals are terrible. But they're not. They're great when you cook for one, especially if you're someone who doesn't like eating leftovers. However, cooking just one serving means that you need to spend time cooking every night. If you have time most or all evenings and enjoy spending that time, definitely do this! You'll get lots of variety and lots of time in the kitchen. You can throw together a quick pantry meal if you just have a few minutes or didn't plan ahead on what to make.
Double-duty meals/batch cooking
Double-duty meals and batch cooking are often overlooked, but this is a method you can try that will give you the ease of cooking just once and the variety of eating single-serving meals. A double-duty meal is one that you can make and use a few of the ingredients in different meals. For example, this steak fajitas recipe is a double- (really triple-) duty meal. You can eat it as fajitas one night and then as a salad with the steak and veggies the next day. To make it even better, you can add quick-cooking shrimp if you're running out of the steak and have fajitas, salad or a burrito with the leftover dish.
Batch cooking is a great way to prepare ingredients without having to spend a whole weekend afternoon prepping ahead of time. Batch cooking means cooking extra servings of something you're already going to cook. Just as double duty recipes turn a dish into something else, batch cooking proteins, grains and/or vegetables gives you the basics that you can make into completely different meals for the week. For example, if you make pulled pork one night, try making four or more servings and have pulled pork in tacos one night, then over a salad another night and then slathered in barbecue sauce as a sandwich, or simmered in tomato sauce for a completely different flavor. You can also freeze individual servings to use later. Personally, I like to batch cook rice, beans, roasted vegetables and other foods that take some time to cook but are super basic. Don't add bold flavors while you cook them the first time, and store in the fridge or freezer for later.
4+ serving meals
These are the traditional meals that you'll find in any cookbook or recipe website/blog and they're probably what your caregiver or parent made for you when you were little. Cooking a meal with four or more servings means you only spend time cooking one or nights a week and get to have something homemade all week. For some, these meals can get boring quickly. This way of eating led me to lose my appetite for food. Eating the exact same thing day after day, regardless of how delicious it was to begin with, didn't work for me.
If you've cooked like this for a long time and don't know whether it's helpful or not, try checking in with yourself before eating every night. Ask if you're excited about eating dinner or if you're dreading it? Acknowledge your feelings about eating. That'll help you get an idea of whether this way of cooking works for you or not and you can adapt if necessary. Again, this isn't a bad way of eating. It's not something that I discourage, but this way of cooking tends to be the default for some people and I encourage you to see if it's truly helpful for you.
Now that you know about these three cooking methods, you may be wondering how to determine which to use? I recommend writing down your schedule and planning meals/cooking around that. For example, if you're busy in the evening, don't plan on spending much, if any, time cooking that night. You'll just end up hungry, tired and hating it. You might even end up using all three of these methods. Find whatever combination of convenience, tastiness and ease works for you when planning and making yourself meals.
Budgets definitely need to play a role in deciding what to eat and satisfaction needs to play a role, but external diet talk does not. You deserve to enjoy food and feel satisfied with what you're eating.
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