People who live by themselves have some real challenges when it comes to cooking healthy meals. Most recipes are geared to four or six people, extra half heads of broccoli or lettuce that don’t get used just go to waste and – let’s face it – sometimes it just seems like too much trouble to cook for just yourself. But, as the old saying goes, “forewarned is forearmed.” If you plan ahead and prepare, cooking for yourself can open up a whole new world beyond frozen pizza and instant noodle soup.
- Keep your pantry and freezer well stocked. Having convenient, healthy items on hand makes a world of difference. Stock the freezer with loose-pack frozen veggies and fruits (so you can pour out and use only what you need), shrimp and individual chicken breasts. If you’ve got whole-grain noodles, quick-cooking brown rice, and canned beans, broth, tomato sauce, tuna and salmon in the pantry, you can put together something in no time. Having plenty of condiments and seasonings helps, too. A favorite standby “for one” is a quick soup: Add some buckwheat noodles, a handful of loose-pack frozen spinach and some frozen shrimp to boiling low-sodium chicken broth. When it’s all heated through and cooked, add a drizzle of sesame oil and a sprinkle of ginger and white pepper. Yum.
- Turn leftovers into makeovers. You might love macaroni and cheese, but if you make a big batch, you may not want to eat it every night for a week. Of course, you can put individual portions in the freezer – which is great for nights when you don’t want to cook. But also plan to make the foods you cook do double duty. If you’re grilling chicken, make extra and add it to tomorrow’s pasta. If you’re cooking some fish, make enough to fold into some corn tortillas with salsa for fish tacos tomorrow night.
- Have breakfast for dinner. There’s no rule that says you have to eat ‘dinner food’ for dinner any more than you have to have ‘breakfast food’ in the morning. There’s nothing wrong with having a veggie omelet for dinner or some of last night’s chicken curry for breakfast.
- One-dish meals save you time. Find some one-dish meals that you like – soups, stews, casseroles – that include your protein and veggies all in one dish. That way, you can still have a balanced meal of “an entrée and two sides” without having to make three separate items for yourself.
- Plan to use it or lose it. Plan your meals ahead of time so that you’ll make the best use of perishable items like veggies. You can’t buy a half a head of lettuce, but you can break the leaves, wash them and then wrap them in a towel and store in the fridge, where they’ll stay fresh for four or five days. If you can’t find a single-serving bundle of asparagus, you could grill the whole bunch, have half as tonight’s side dish, and toss the rest into tomorrow’s main-dish salad.
- Adjust recipes when you need to. Most recipes are for four to six people, but you can usually cut most in half without any adjustments. There are also plenty of cookbooks around aimed at the “singles” crowd. But some people figure that if they’re going to go to the trouble of cooking something, they’d rather just make more and freeze the leftovers. That can be dangerous, though … if you’re craving a cookie, your recipe is probably going to leave you with enough dough to make dozens.