Cooking for one or two can be more challenging than most people think. Most recipes and packaged items are geared toward families of four. Sure, frozen meals and takeout are simple solutions, but they will quickly affect your health and wallet. Trying to cook healthy food can also be challenging. From having a busy lifestyle to wanting a more varied menu, it can be tough to keep things fresh and avoid falling back into bad eating habits.
Here are some ways to simplify cooking for one or two.
- Dine with friends: If you live alone, try and plan meetups with your loved ones on video-chat. This will motivate you to make a good meal and really take the time to enjoy it.
- Plan your week in advance: Meal planning is important for everyone. Go to the grocery store with a list, and know what you want to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This ensures you don’t buy too much food, helps you reduce waste and keep your food budget intact. Plus, you won’t have to think about what to make for dinner after work.
- Try meal prepping: Set a time during the week to cook some meals in advance and divvy them up in single-sized containers. This way, you’ll have readily available and pre-portioned meals waiting for you in the refrigerator all throughout the week. Make at least two or three different recipes for variety. You can also prep ingredients in advance for salads or cut crudites to snack on during the day.
- Thaw meat in advance: If you have meat in the freezer, take it out the night before. Since you should always cook meat within 24 hours of getting it out of the freezer, this will motivate you to get cooking.
- Make large amounts: Finding the time to cook healthy meals every day can be a challenge. There may also be nights when you simply don’t feel like cooking. If you have a few meals in the freezer, you can quickly warm them up instead of choosing fast food. Making large amounts of food at a time is the key. Rather than cooking a small meal, make enough so that you have leftovers. Check out our ideas for meals that are perfect for the freezer.
- Scale down recipes: Eating the same meal every day for lunch and dinner can get old very quickly. For recipes that are not freezer-friendly like salads or most pasta dishes, make one or two portions by simply cutting in half the amounts in the ingredients list. Various resources are also available online to help you reduce amounts. A scale may also be a great addition to your kitchen toolkit. Note: This may not work for all recipes, so don’t expect it to be perfect each time!
- Get smaller pans: If you’re scaling down recipes, big dishes may not make it. Get smaller pots and dishes if the ones you have are too big – like a smaller baking pan, casserole dish or Pyrex pan. You can even find single-size crock pots and smaller food processors.
- Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand: An empty refrigerator is a sure way to stifle creativity in the kitchen. Stock up on pantry staples so you always have the ingredients you need to make simple recipes, and plan ahead before making trips to the grocery store. Check out our tips for making healthy and smart choices when grocery shopping.
- Keep a clean and organized kitchen: Finding the motivation to cook can be a struggle, and a messy kitchen is not exactly inspiring. Make a habit of keeping this room free of any clutter and always clean up after yourself. This way, you’ll have a clean slate to work with when you’re ready to cook. Make sure all the tools and utensils you need are easily accessible. Try different set ups to find the perfect configuration for your needs.
- Step up your sandwich game: Sandwiches are a quick and easy meal. Get your panini press from storage or simply use a pan to make gourmet sandwiches or fancy grilled cheeses in a matter of minutes. There are a ton of original recipes on the Internet and a few changes can take you from a boring lunch to a 5-star meal.
- Freshen up leftovers: Instead of warming up last night’s meal, consider how you could freshen it up by adding some extra ingredients or transform your leftovers into a new meal. For example, use leftover rice to make a stir-fry or rice dish. Use leftover veggies for tacos, sandwiches or wraps, or even in pasta. There are countless ways you can freshen up leftovers. Just use your imagination.
- Look for new recipes: It’s easy to get stuck in a cooking rut. When this happens, people tend to go out to eat instead of cooking at home. There are many great cookbooks dedicated to cooking for one, and there are countless recipes on the Internet – just use the right keywords and you’ll probably find something to match your cravings. Try to add something new to your meal lineup each week to keep things fresh.
- Gather recipes you’d like to try: Take screenshots of recipes you find on social media or on websites and make a folder on your phone that you can easily scroll through when looking for inspiration. Applications such as OrganizEat can also help you collect and organize recipes from different sources (online blogs, cookbooks, etc.).
- Let fate decide: “Decision fatigue” relates to the stress we might experience when we’re making a lot of decisions on a daily basis. To avoid feeling weighed down by all the choices available, enter the recipes you would like to make and use a random selection app to pick your menu. You can also get crafty by writing each recipe on a piece of paper and then making a draw each week.
- Get into the spirit (of cooking): Combine the practical and the enjoyable and take advantage of your time in the kitchen to catch up on your podcasts or listen to your favorite songs.
These cooking strategies will help you save time, money and the hassle of figuring out what to eat. Cooking for one or two can be simple with the right approach and some planning. Bon appétit!
Updated October 14, 2020.