It can be tricky cooking for just one (or two), particularly when many recipes are geared toward making a meal for a family of four to six people. But just because you have a smaller household doesn't mean your cooking days are over, or that your only option is take-out. There are ways to make the most of your ingredients, eat healthy and minimize the amount of dishes to wash afterwards.
The best part of cooking for one is that you get to cook what you like to eat. You don't have to skip having broccoli because the no one else likes it, and you can season your food just the way you like it! There are several things you can do to make dinner-for-one a success, and the first goal should be to make healthy meals a priority. By planning ahead and adopting some health-oriented goals, you can be successful in preparing and eating healthy meals for one.
The first strategy to employ is to make friends with your freezer. When you have recipes that are designed for four to six servings, instead of scaling them down, cook up the full recipe; cook once, eat twice (or three or four times). You can save time, money and clean up by freezing soups, casseroles, chili, or meats. Pull these frozen meals out for a quick meal or for when you don't feel like cooking. If you like to garden or go to the farmer's market, stock up on fresh vegetables and freeze them in a serving size right for one meal. When foods are ready to pull from the freezer and just need to be reheated, it's easy and quick to fix them for a meal.
Quick and easy seems to be what we're looking for when we're cooking for one. When you go to the store and buy fresh produce, some of it you can wash and prepare and have ready to go for the next several days. For example, if you like fajitas with peppers and onions, you can wash and clean the peppers and onions and store them in an airtight container for several days. Then when you come home from work, all you need to do is slice and saut them in a non-stick pan, add a little diced chicken, wrap it up in a whole wheat tortilla shell and you have an entre ready in less than 10 minutes. Add a piece of fruit and a glass of milk and you have all the food groups covered!
Protein foods, like the chicken mentioned above, are other things that can be prepared in a bigger quantity and then frozen in smaller batches. You can also buy meats, like grilled chicken, that is already cooked and ready to use. When I was cooking for my kids when they were home, I employed this tip too. I would roast bigger pieces of meat on the weekend, like roast beef or turkey, and then portion it out into tin foil packets and freeze it. One of my kids' favorite meals was "packet meat."
Grains can also be cooked up in batches and stored in the refrigerator or freezer. You can cook up a pot of barley or a batch of rice and enjoy it in a variety of dishes later on in the week. You can also do this with pasta, but if you prefer to not eat leftover or frozen pasta, it doesn't take much time to boil some water and cook some noodles if the pasta sauce is already to go in the freezer. Just microwave the sauce, boil and drain the noodles and add them to the hot sauce and in 10 minutes you've got a meal of spaghetti.
Convenience foods can also be a part of a healthy, one-person meal. Lots of convenience meals are very high in sodium and fat, but there are quite a few very tasty and healthy TV dinners that are well-balanced and include vegetables, protein and whole grains that are lower in sodium and fat. You can enhance these dinners by adding a salad to your meal or preparing an extra serving of frozen vegetables to add to it. Keeping some of these types of frozen dinners on hand will give you a quick option if you're not in the mood to cook.
By being strategic and having the right things on hand, you can prepare healthy, tasty and well-balanced meals, quickly and easily for just one person. In addition, it doesn't make a lot of dishes and pots and pans to wash. That is an important thing as well -? as there aren't a lot of cooks I know who say that clean-up is their favorite part of making a meal!
Cheryl Rude is registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center.