Easy, practical tips on cooking for one. Even small families can cook healthy recipes and make meal plans on a budget!
I’ve been married for 14 years. Before marriage, I lived with two other roommates. Before that, I cooked for my sister and parents.
I haven’t cooked for one person for very long, but for many of you, this is a big deal, and several of you have asked me for tips on cooking real food for one person. So after speaking with my single friends, here are my best practical tips on cooking for one.
Tips on Cooking for One
#1 – Decide what type of home chef you are
There are two extremes to consider: The person who enjoys making each meal from scratch every night, versus the person who would rather spend as little time in the kitchen as possible.
If you enjoy cooking, then cook dinner every night! Cut recipes in half (more tips on that below), cook the full meal and have leftovers for dinner the next day, or freeze them for a different night.
If you need to save time and don’t want to make dinner every night, cook once and eat twice whenever you can (more on cooking once and eating twice here).
#2 – Create a meal plan for one person
Meal plans save both sanity and money, but they also reduce food waste. Having a plan means buying only what you need, and ensuring you’re using it all up.
It doesn’t have to be complicated – figure out your cooking style, write down a few ideas of what you can make with what you have, and match it up to your personal schedule. Add in a new recipe you’d like to try and consider it done.
Cooking for One: Recipes
You can eat one big meal at the start of the week and eat leftovers for the rest of the week. Meals like creamy squash pasta bake, northern beans and ham soup, and chicken and spinach enchiladas would be great for this.
- Or, you can make a portion of each meal and add other items as needed. An example of this would be browning a big batch of ground beef for shepherd’s pie, adding some to lentil macaroni, and then tacos later in the week.
- Another great option is to make connected meals, where one item from tonight carries over into tomorrow’s dinner. Here’s an example of how this would work:
- Monday: Roasted chicken (prepare either chicken breast or chicken thighs) with autumn rice pilaf (save extra rice)
- Tuesday: Roasted acorn squash stuffed (roast two) with autumn rice pilaf (leftover from Mon)
- Wednesday: Creamy squash pasta bake (using extra roasted squash, plus make extra pasta)
- Thursday: Chicken Creole (using leftover chicken, chop extra veggies)
- Friday: Chicken & vegetable soup OR salad (using leftover chicken and chopped veggies)
#3 – Master the art of making less when cooking for one
Learn to cut recipes in half, or even into quarters if necessary. Use online tools like this conversion calculator to help with the ingredients, and consider investing in a kitchen scale so coming up with 1/4 pound of pasta isn’t that difficult.
Also, learn what types of meals are good for the freezer, and which ones aren’t. This way you’re better prepared to decide whether to halve or quarter a recipe in order to reduce waste.
#4 – Don’t rule out feasts.
It can be difficult to balance the desire to cook a full course meal versus the one table setting, but you don’t always have to choose one or the other. Invite friends and family over and let your inner hospitality shine!
Don’t limit feasts to just the holiday season. Purposefully schedule nights where you can go all out and make appetizers AND dessert. Pulling out all the stops like this allows the creative inner chef to shine, and you won’t feel restricted by the number of plates on the table.
#5 – Always keep soup and fresh bread in the freezer
Inevitably, there will be times when you need something fast for whatever reason. Having something on hand that can be warmed up in just a few minutes will make it easier to stay away from store-bought comfort food, and ease the load when it’s just you taking care of you.
#6 – Consider a cooking club when cooking for one
I’ve heard of many families doing this, but you can do it as a single person too. Personally, I think this is a great way to get out of a cooking rut and try new healthy meals that you wouldn’t ordinarily try.
#7 – Consider a canning club
Along the same lines, but specifically geared for those who like to can and enjoy the rewards of the garden. Team up with a few friends (or families) over the spring and summer and swap homemade canned goods!
#8 – Consider a gardening club
Once again, team up with like-minded people and share your gardening strengths. If you can grow tomatoes like crazy but stink at zucchini (me), then swap goods with a friend who has an abundance of zucchini and zero tomatoes.
#9 – How should you shop for one person?
Consider shopping in bulk with a friend! Coordinate shopping with a friend to take advantage of bulk pricing while not having to keep so much food on hand (both in terms of keeping food fresh and finding a place to store it all).
#10 – Learn what to do with aging food
- A gallon of milk is cheaper than a half-gallon, but if you can’t go through a whole gallon fast enough, try making your own buttermilk, ricotta cheese, yogurt, and kefir instead of throwing it away. You can then use those items in recipes, like buttermilk pancakes, banana bread, homemade salad dressings, or smoothies (which can be frozen for single servings, by the way).
- Eat fragile vegetables like spinach and green beans first, and save the sturdier vegetables like squash and potatoes for later.
- Enjoy freshly baked bread on day one and two, sandwiches or avocado toast on day three and four, and then make croutons, breadcrumbs, or Panzanella when the crust becomes too hard to chew.
#11 – Keep meals simple
Lighten your load by keeping breakfast and lunch simple, then pull out the big pots and pans for dinner.
#12 – Make cookies for the freezer for single servings
Make a half batch of cookies (like chocolate chip or peanut butter oatmeal) and freeze the dough before you bake it. Then you can pull out one or two balls of cookie dough and bake them fresh. And you won’t have dozens of cookies staring you in the face when you’re done.