I’ve been married for almost nine years. Before marriage, I lived with two other roommates. Before that, I cooked for my sister and parents.
Essentially, my experience on cooking for just one person is pretty limited. I’ve almost always cooked for at least one other person and haven’t had to consider the difficulties that come with cooking for just one.
But for many of you, this is a big deal.
Several of you have asked me for tips on cooking real food for one person, and I really wasn’t sure where to begin since my experience in this department is fairly limited.
But one of my goals for this year is to talk more about the practical side of real food and natural living on a budget…
- Answering the questions that you ponder as you fall asleep…
- Addressing the topics that seem too difficult to tackle, but still weigh heavy on our hearts…
- Bridging the gaps between reading the how-to on a blog, and making it work for your own situation.
So despite my inexperience in cooking for one, we’re talking about it anyway because it impacts YOU.
After lots of reading and even more thinking, I’m sharing 13 tips for cooking real food for one person. I hope that it helps those who struggle in this area, and sparks new ideas for everyone else!
13 Tips for Cooking Real Food for One Person
#1 – Decide what type of home chef you are.
This is the most important tip because essentially, this determines how everything else applies. Also, because figuring out your cooking style will help make more sense of what cooking for one actually looks like in YOUR house.
There are two extremes to consider here: The person who likes spending time in the kitchen and 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 truly find pleasure in the process of cooking, feel free to make dinner for yourself 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 don’t want to make dinner every night, cook once and eat twice whenever you can (more on that HERE).
This could be cooking 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, this could be making a portion of each meal and adding 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.
Still, a third option would be 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 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)
#2 – Create a meal plan.
Probably the most overlooked concept when you’re cooking for one, but you should always have a meal plan in place. You already know that meal plans save both sanity and money, but a bigger aspect to consider when you’re cooking for one is food waste. Having 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.
#3 – Master the art of making less.
One of the biggest hurdles of cooking real food for one person is cooking too much food. 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 verses 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 a container of soup and fresh bread in the freezer.
Inevitably, there will be times when you need something fast for whatever reason… you’re sick, it’s a busy night, you just got home from a business trip and too exhausted to cook… Having something on hand that can be warmed up in just a few minutes will make it easier to stay away from fast food, and ease the load when it’s just you taking care of you.
#6 – Consider a cooking club.
Simply Rebekah has a great write-up of how a few families did this at her church, but you can do it with singles too. Personally, I think this is a great way to get out of a cooking rut and try new recipes 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. You show up with jars of zucchini salsa for everyone and you bring home strawberry jam and pickles. You enjoy the bounty of the season all year, and don’t have to figure out how to eat a dozen jars of homemade apple butter!
#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 – Share shopping in bulk with a friend.
Those massive bags of rice at Costco are most definitely a huge money-saver, but practically speaking, it would take one person quite a long time to go through 25 pounds all by themselves! 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 what happens if you don’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 and banana bread, homemade salad dressings or smoothies (which can be frozen, by the way).
Tip: Thanks to the fermentation, yogurt and kefir last a REALLY long time in the fridge. We’ve gone up to four weeks before, without any issues!
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 on day three and four, and then make croutons, breadcrumbs or Panzanella when the crust becomes too hard to chew.
#11 – Keep meals simple.
Even if you like cooking, making three meals every day can get tiresome. Lighten your load by keeping breakfast and lunch simple, then pulling out the big pots and pans for dinner. Richly Rooted has a great list of simple meals for singles, and as a perk, there’s less dishes to wash!
#12 – Make cookies for the freezer.
Big pies and cakes are the demise for someone with a sweet tooth who lives alone, so make a half batch of cookies instead, but 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.
#13 – Don’t ignore all the budgeting tips!
Just because you’re not feeding a crowd doesn’t mean you can ignore all the tips you stumble across. Learn to preserve and reduce waste. Buy in bulk and freeze. Shop for good deals. Be smart with your time and energy in the kitchen.
And most importantly, create a grocery budget!