More often than not, I’m cooking for one. Between Norah’s soccer schedule, her food preferences, and having her with me just half the time, many of my meals are eaten by myself. And I know I’m not alone. My clients, colleagues and friends are also cooking for one – at least a few times per week. They either live alone or they’re just busy moms (and dads!) with busy kids who tend to eat on their own.
Cooking For One
There’s definitey a mindset shift that has to take place when cooking for one. My clients tell me all the time they don’t want to cook a “real” meal just for themselves. Oftentimes they end up having a bowl of cereal (or two) and calling that dinner. The problem with this is an hour later they’re back in the kitchen, looking for a snack because they don’t feel satisfied. I totally get it, and that’s why I’ve created a fairly good arsenal of meals for one that take very little time and effort, yet still feel like dinner.
Over the years I’ve come up with my own set of tips and strategies to get a quick, easy, mostly plant-based meal on the table when I’m cooking for myself.
Here are 15 of my best tips to help you bring some joy to your own table for one!
Create Assembly Meals
Assembly meals are meals made up of already cooked individual ingredients. This strategy utilizes food you’ve already made, pre-cooked pantry staples, and frozen food. You can make a big batch of quinoa, roasted veggies or rice on the weekend to create assembly meals all week long.
Here are a few great assembly meal ideas:
- Buddha Bowls (rice, roasted veggies, beans, dressing)
- Taco salads (lettuce, veggies, chicken or beans, salsa, cheese)
- Fried rice (using frozen veggies, frozen rice)
- Salads (using bagged lettuce, canned salmon or tuna)
- Poke Bowls
- A protein with 2-3 veggie sides and a whole grain (ex. grilled shrimp, whole-wheat couscous, and roasted veggies
Batch Cook Grains & Freeze Single-Size Portions
Making a large batch of grains and freezing single servings in a muffin pan makes an easy heat and eat side for later. Once they’re frozen solid, just pop them out and put them in a freezer bag, label and store. When you’re ready to eat them, just remove from the freezer bag and microwave for a minute or so. You could also freeze single servings of sauces like pesto, spaghetti sauce, etc.
Ideas for single serving cooking & freezing:
- Brown rice
- Spaghetti sauce
Cut Recipes For Four In Half
Cutting recipes for four in half makes the perfect dinner tonight and lunch the next day. This is great if you’re not a fan of having threeor more servings of leftovers. For recipes where this has been done for you, America’s Test Kitchen has a great cookbook called Cooking for One. It has a lot of great recipes that are scaled down for one and tons of tips for reducing food waste, too!
Make Cast Iron Skillet Meals
A cast iron skillet is perfect for making sheet pan dinners for one. If you don’t have one, get one! They’re are great addition to your cookware line-up. From frittatas to enchiladas, they are fantastic for roasting perfect one-person meals in the oven. I love using frozen shrimp to create a quick cast-iron skillet dinner. This baked shrimp with tomatoes and feta from Ellie Kreiger was on repeat at my house for months!
Here are a few recipes for skillet dinners for one:
Buy Frozen Veggies For Dinner Prep
Frozen veggies are awesome for use in meals or a quick dish. I love using stir fry veggies or fajita veggies for a quick dinner. Just cut open the bag, pour out what you need, roll up the bag and place it in a freezer bag for later.
Dice Onion, Carrot & Celery and Freeze Them
If you’re making a recipe for one, chances are you don’t need a whole onion. While you’re prepping, spend a little extra time chopping onions, carrots, and celery. Put them in labeled freezer bags for grab and go convenience later. They’ll keep longer and you have pre-chopped veggies ready to go, making meal prep that much easier.
Roast Veggies That Are Close to Going Bad
For those times you got a little over zealous with the buy one get one free sale on produce at the grocery story, roast or bake them and then freeze them for a quick and easy meal option later. From bananas to berries to spinach and broccoli, you can pretty much freeze any fruit or veg. You can also toss ripe bananas or berries in a skillet with a little sweetener and butter for a yummy sauce to go over frozen yogurt, pancakes, or waffles.
Make a Full-Size Batch of Cookie Dough, Roll It Into Balls & Freeze It For Later
Who says only families get to have fresh baked cookies? My mom used to freeze cookie dough when were kids and there’s nothing better than a fresh baked cookie after dinner – straight out of your toaster oven! Make a batch of cookie dough and freeze it in balls to bake a few cookies when you want them. You could also make some of my energy balls and keep them in your freezer, too.
Bag Salads Are Amazing
If you follow me on social media, you know that I love bagged salad kits. They’re such a great way to make dinner for one super fast. Split the bagged kit into two meals, add beans, fresh veggies like cherry tomatoes or cucumber and a lean protein like canned salmon or tuna and you have a tasty meal ready to eat in just a few minutes.
Make Salads In a Jar
I like to make a couple of jar salads for a simple grab-and-go lunch or dinners. They are perfect to pack for work or a road trip, and they’re so easy to make.
Use Your Slow Cooker
Slow cookers don’t have to be for huge family-size meals. You can downsize recipes to use in smaller crockpots or place an oven-safe dish in your crockpot to create a smaller meal. Looking for a little inspiration? This post has a few great crockpot meals for one.
Shop The Bulk Bin Aisle
This might sound crazy because buying in bulk is generally not great when cooking for one, but shopping the bulk bin aisle is. But it’s actually genius, because you can literally buy just what you need!
Shop the Butcher Counter
Shop the butcher counter for single servings of meat or fish. If you want to purchase family packs, slice up larger cuts of meat or salmon and package them in smaller single-serving amounts to freeze for quick meals later.
Buy Smaller Baking Dishes
I’m not a huge baker myself, but if you like to bake or make casseroles, purchase smaller baking dishes to use for pared-down recipes. This way you can enjoy treats or casseroles without having to make family-size portions.
Small Cookware for Baking
A 5-inch (13-cm) baking dish
An 8.5-ounce (250-ml) ramekin
A 10-ounce (300-ml) ramekin
A 6.5-inch (17-cm) cast iron skillet
A 9.5-inch (25-cm) baking dish or loaf pan
A small muffin pan
A rimmed baking sheet
Don’t want to buy new cookware? Just make the full-size version and freeze half of it for later (make sure to label the containers!).
Have Fun With It!
The greatest thing about cooking for one is that you’re not tied down by the tastes and opinions of other people. If it sounds good, try it! Always wanted to try Asian fusion or red beans and rice? Find a recipe and try it. You can also practice getting more confident cooking without a recipe. If the only thing left in your fridge is a random hodgepodge of veggies, throw together a veggie scramble or make fried rice – no recipe required!
Cooking for one fun can be FUN! Throw a solo kitchen party. Play some music. Dance or light candles. Pop open a glass of wine or pour some kombucha. Enjoy creating food to nourish your body and lift your spirits at the same time.
Be sure to follow me on Instagram @food.confidence.dietitian for more table for one ideas!