Forget unhealthy takeout food. How about cooking for one?
These tips will help you make it fun and enjoyable, while making the most out of your ingredients. You can save lots of money and time while cooking delicious recipes just by following these simple steps.
Plus, research also suggests that cooking alone can cut down food expenses by almost half! So what are you waiting for?
1. Plan Your Meals Ahead Of Time
This tip will ultimately determine what type of a home cook you are. Everything from deciding the number of ingredients you need and how and when to prep for a meal is included in mean planning. It dictates your cooking style, which makes more sense to you when you’re cooking for one.
Cooking for one isn’t as easy as you think. You have to cook every meal from scratch which involves narrowing down your ingredients in terms of quantity. That is, if you’re following a recipe for 2, you have to cut the ingredients’ portions in half for cooking for one. You can make this process much easier if you make a meal plan ahead of time.
The best way to create a meal plan is deciding what you’ll be cooking every day of the week. And pasting the plan on your refrigerator. In this way, you can shop for all the necessary ingredients when you head out to the supermarket. It’s common sense thathealthy meal plans save both time and money, ensuring you’re making the most of what you’re buying. So no leftovers to give away and no wastage of food.
2. Buy Measuring Tools
Every kitchen needs certain kinds of measuring tools such as measuring cups, spoons, thermometer, scale, and a digital scale. Cooking the right tools for cooking for one is as important as picking out your ingredients.
Using a measuring tool for cooking isn’t a priority for seasoned cooks. But it’s important when you’re cooking for yourself. You don’t cook extra so you don’t have to deal with leftovers. And cooking is much faster when you have the rights tool for it.
Most recipes dictate exact ingredients by different scales of measurement. This includes a teaspoon, tablespoon, cups, and even by weight. These divisions are possible with standardized measuring tools. You can measure wet ingredients such as milk, water, vinegar, etc. is a measuring cup. While dry ingredients work well with measuring spoons and cups.
Measuring spoons are available in a wide range of sizes including 1/8 of a teaspoon, 1/2 teaspoon, 1 teaspoon, and so on. (1)
3. Cook At Night
This is for all working folks. Cooking at night can be a relaxing time if you don’t spend enough hours in the morning at home. You can experiment with simple recipes in the quiet hours of the night. Cooking at night also gives you an opportunity to take home-cooked meals for lunch the next day. So no relying on fast food or canteen-bought sandwiches to get through the day. (2)
Many people stay up late cooking from time to time. You get to pack up leftovers for the following days. Nobody likes eating stale food, right? But food that’s only 12-hours old is fresh and easy to pack. Food that’s been kept for longer than 24 hours, on the other hand, can be tricky depending on what you’re cooking.
4. Repurpose Most Of Your Ingredients
Going food shopping for one can be tricky as you’re bound to buy extra ingredients. But you can make the most of this by choosing recipes that require the same type of ingredients. Since you’re just one person cooking the meal, making the best use of all the ingredients at hand is a great idea.
Plus, you need to use up all the store-bought ingredients before they go bad, right? This can also be a part of your weekly meal plan. For example, if you have some leftover zucchini and cheese, you can make a light salad of your own to go with a main course meal. Small portion servings are healthy when you live an active lifestyle. So repurposing ingredients this way- starting from the second or third day of the week- can be a great idea to save money and food.
5. Don’t Be Afraid To Make Larger Portions
Don’t beat yourself up for cooking a larger meal than anticipated. This just means you can store it in the refrigerator and devour it for the rest of week. There are many ways to store food in the refrigerator. And if you want to eat it after a few days or so, you can even store leftovers in a freezer. According to studies, cooked food can be stored for up to 4 days in a refrigerator.
With that said, make sure you store the food in the refrigerator 2 hours after cooking. If it’s kept at room temperature for more than 2-3 hours, it may go bad. And avoid storing the food in tin cans as the food may develop a slight metallic taste. Freezing food, on the other hand, involves most ingredients such as fish, eggs, meat, baked goods, rice, bread, cheese, and yogurt. You must avoid foods with high water content such as strawberries, tomatoes, or cucumbers. (3)
6. Read Solo Cooking Books
The best way you want embrace staying healthy and cook efficiently- at first- is with a cooking book. Beginners typically enjoy eating what is already out there, so stock up on a few solo cooking books. Such books offer great advice on cooking for one and makes use of healthy ingredients and exciting techniques with minimal cleanup.
You can cook a hearty dinner, as you wish, or everything from grilled cheese to baked macaroni or creamy pasta. The sky is your limit as long as you’re experimenting with professional cook books. And cookbooks always make complete use of ingredients of your choice, so stock wisely.
7. Eat Breakfast For Dinner
This may sound odd to some of you, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Truth be told, eating breakfast for dinner is a healthier choice to avoid junk or fattening food. If your days pass by in the same hectic routine, eating healthy is the least of your concerns. So fixing dinner in a hurry involves throwing in whichever ingredient you find.
But you can change this unhealthy routine by opting for quick breakfast recipe fixes for dinner. According to studies, cooking omelets with nutritious vegetables for dinner can balance your day’s nutritional intake. Consuming high calories right before you lie down is bad for your health and digestion. Apart from weight gain, it can cause gastrointestinal distress. That’s why opting for lighter meals is very important.
8. Make Room In Your Freezer
Not just for leftovers, you can store dry ingredients in your freezer to save them from spoiling quickly or catching moisture. Store the ingredients in their original packaging containers. If you wish to transfer it to a new container for better storage, use only food-grade containers.
You will also need to optimize your freezer settings for storing different types of ingredients. For example, maintain your freezer at 0 degrees or lower. Anything between 0 to 32 degrees can damage the quality of foods and ingredients. Also, make sure your freeze contains an anti-moisture compartment for storing dry ingredients.
In case of a power failure, keep the freezer door closed. A closed freezer can maintain an optimal temperature for 2 full days if left undisturbed. (6)
9. Be Smart With Leftover Ingredients
Leftover ingredients have a shorter shelf life than fresh, store-bought ingredients. This includes pantry items, pastes, and bread-items. But you don’t need to throw such ingredients away. And you don’t need to stuff each ingredient at the back of your refrigerator with the hopes that one day you might need it again.
Invest in storing each leftover ingredient in a smart way; coupled with accurate meal planning and execution. With a simple trick of deep freezing leftover ingredients, you can avoid wasting food right away.
Some ingredients such as nuts, flour, butter, tomato paste, ginger paste, and bread crumbs stay healthy when stored in a deep freezer.
10. Avoid Impulse Buying
While planning ahead can stop you from over-buying certain ingredients at the grocery store. But as soon as you walk in a grocery, the story is a bit different. Impulse buying at the grocery store can mean many things.
According to research, shoppers buy 57% more than what they had originally planned to buy at a grocery store. This is true because retailers somehow encourage impulse buying on a psychological level. With attractive display of food items, discounts, and other offers, you’re easily pulled in to opt for impulse buying. Which, most often than not, leads to wastage of ingredients and expiring. The best way to stop impulse buying is to stop at a grocery store only 2-3 times in a month. This requires meal planning and prepping on a week-after-week basis. Research suggests that people who shop at the store weekly are often found impulse buying. So shopping 2-3 times a week can be a big-time money saver for most of you. (7,8)
11. Consider Buying Pre-Packaged Meals
You will be able to cook a small portion of anything if you buy pre-packaged meals. Instant recipes are a dependable lot when you want to cook quick. You get full control over how much you’re cooking so as to avoid leftovers.
So opt for meals with individual ingredients for a standard meal-for-one recipe. Such instant recipes come with a favorable presentation of ingredients. So you can get creative and experiment with different flavors for cooking cuisines such as Italian, Chinese, and more.
Research also suggests that cooking meal-for-one recipes is healthier compared to eating out. So all you have to do is give yourself an hour for preparing a delicious dinner-for-one meal after a tiring day. Seems easy enough, right?
12. Buy Frozen or Canned Fruits and Vegetables
You don’t want to stock up on pantry items and never use them. Relying on fresh produces, especially when you’re living alone can be tricky. Most of the ingredients you buy will end up in the dustbin. A good alternative to that would be to buy canned food ingredients. This includes canned vegetables and fruit slices.
Grocery stores also provide on-demand frozen ingredients, especially individual servings of fruits and vegetables. These ingredients are good for keeping you on track with your meal plans. While whipping up fresh produce at a minimal amount is almost impossible, you can stock up on ingredients that stay fresh and healthy even when frozen or canned for a long period of time.
13. Consider Buying From A Farmers Market
A farmer’s market has the healthiest and freshest foods available. And if you’re a health-enthusiast, a farmer’s market is the only place you can rely on for whole foods. There’s not only variety in a farmer’s market, there’s authenticity and efficiency.
Farm-fresh foods are organic, GMO-free, and nutritious. Farmers specially participate and adopt chemical-free processes to sell fresh fruits and vegetables. And these ingredients taste much better because they’re cultivated without any inorganic chemicals. And the fact that a farmer’s market is non-industrialized, it’s affordable to buy even in smaller amounts. (9,10)
14. Experiment With Spices And Marinades
Just because you’re eating chicken every night doesn’t mean you have to cook the same recipe. If you have leftover spices and marinades stocked in your refrigerator, try mixing flavors to see what comes up. Contrary to popular belief, eating healthy shouldn’t have to be a boring pursuit. Based on the kind of meat you’re using, mixing up different spices and marinades can create an entirely new vibe.
So if your meal plan restricts you to only a few ingredients, you can experiment with the help of cooking books or cooking videos to prepare the same kind of meat in new ways.
15. Enjoy Dinner Recipes For Lunch
Have leftovers to take the next day may not be on your mind. But it is helpful when you can take your dinner meal for lunch to work. There are a lot of ways to cook for one for 2 so you can cut the recipe in half. Only to feed yourself that very same meal the next day for lunch.
Those nights when you want a simple dinner of mixed greens, chicken, and rice. This is especially helpful when it you don’t have seasoned cooking skills. It’s the best way to save time and effort. But this step involves lots of planning ahead and prepping, especially when you’re cooking for one.
16. Do A Quick Prep
Avoid cooking recipes that take up too much of your time. And even if you do, do a quick run-through for prepping all your ingredients before it’s time to cook. This is one of the keys to successfully cooking for one. Having all the ingredients in place will allow you to control how you’re cooking.
This also helps to keep food from wasting and having minimum leftovers. Because if you think you’re prepping too many ingredients before you throw them in a hot pan, you can reduce based on your eating preferences.
17. Use A Cooking Timer
Just like a measuring tool, a timer helps keep things on track. If you’re multi-tasking while cooking, blunders are bound to happen. After all, we’re not perfect human beings, are we? Cooking regularly with the help of a timer makes things easier. You know how to boil pasta or spaghetti without overcooking it. You know when the chicken is done. And based on your cook book, you know when to stop broiling stew.
Unless you’re using a digital oven or electrical stove, a cooking time comes in handy for planned meals.
18. Cook On Back-To-Back Nights
If you don’t like repeating the same meal in less than 24 hours, cook back-to-back. This means cook every night for 2-3 days. And store the leftovers of each meal so you can eat them two nights in a row. For example, if you cook dinner on Monday and Tuesday, re-eat Monday’s meal on Wednesday and Tuesday’s meal on Thursday.
This way you can repurpose all your ingredients, marinades, and spices without any worry. The same applies to leftover ingredients. You can use Monday’s leftover ingredients on Wednesday and Tuesday’s prep on Thursday. This is for those of you who dislike eating the same meal two days in a row.
19. Look Out For All Kitchen Essentials
This includes using the right kind of kitchen knives, pans, pots, etc. for cooking. Cookware is very important if you want to cook right. And finding the best cookware that you can afford is not that hard. There are many reliable brands to look forward to. And materials such as aluminum, cast iron, or steel have made cookware more durable and efficient to use.
Look for cookware that is skilled at heat conductivity, maintenance, and portability. Another important factor to consider when looking for kitchen essentials is the price factor. The general consensus is to buy the kind of kitchen essentials, especially cookware, that you can afford.
20. Invest In A Versatile Food Cutter
You need the best food chopper/cutter for your home. It saves time and you get to dice, chop, grate, or slice any kind of fruit or vegetable. There’s no problem with using standard kitchen knives, but a food cutter is much more efficient and time-saving. The wise thing to do for cooking for one is to invest in a durable vegetable chopper, either manual or electric.
The best part about vegetable choppers is that they offer several cutting blade options. You can use a simple blade cutter or a cross-blade cutter. The features are all available to you at a cost-effective and valuable price.
That’s all you need to know about cooking for one. What’s left is searching for amazing solo cooking recipes to help you get started. When you’re living alone, you’re often plagued with the trouble of “cooking healthy meals.”
Will you have the time to cook every day? How often do you have to go to the supermarket for groceries? And what if you have leftovers? These questions are bound to send you running towards the convenience of eating out almost every night. But not anymore.
Cooking for one does have its limitations, but these 25 tips will make things easier. Invest in good kitchen tools, cookware, and a stovetop and/or oven, and you’ve got yourself the only things you need to start cooking. It gets easier as you move along and is much less annoying when you have the right recipes by your side.
Repurpose all your ingredients, spices, and marinades by planning your weekly meals. Also, plan your meals in such a way that you only have to grocery shop twice a month so as to avoid impulse buying. You will be able to notice the reduction in food expenses once you stop ordering take-out food. And research has it, that you might even be saving your health, as you get older.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.