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Published on May 28, 2020

Cooking for One

woman cooking

Tasty Tips for Cooking Solo

Frequently feeding only yourself can make cooking seem like a chore, but that doesn’t mean you have to subsist on cereal or sandwiches.

If you like homemade, healthy food, we can help you enjoy cooking for one.

With some planning and the right ingredients, it’s easy to make good meals for yourself – enough for one meal or enough to enjoy the leftovers for days to come.

Many recipe websites allow you to adjust the portion size, and cooking for one has its own category of cookbooks (see sidebar).

Joe Yonan, author of Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One, thinks cooking for yourself can be a very pleasurable experience.

One of his go-to solo foods is eggs. You always have them on hand, they are portioned out naturally, and they are quick and versatile. See Yonan’s recipe for spicy Eggs Benedict Rancheros below.

Try these other ideas to make cooking for one easier and more enjoyable.

Plan. Planning your menu for the week ensures that you have the right ingredients on hand. Plan, too, to cook larger meals some nights so you’ll have leftovers on others.

Turn leftovers into new meals. Roast a chicken one day, then use the leftovers to make Pad Thai the next day and enchiladas the day after that.

Or make a batch of homemade tomato sauce to top pasta tonight, pizza tomorrow (made especially quick if you keep pre-made crust on hand), and eggplant parmesan later in the week.

It takes some planning, but that can help you make the most of your ingredients.

Prepare. Much of the prep time in healthy cooking is spent chopping ingredients.

  • Chop a variety of vegetable at the beginning of the week, store them in the refrigerator, and you’ll be ready to toss together a salad or make a stir fry in a matter of minutes.
  • Keep quick-cooking brown rice on hand to round out a healthy meal.
  • Chop ingredients you use often, like onions or peppers, and freeze small portions. When you go to make a soup or sauce, some of the work will already be done.

Stock your pantry with the right ingredients. Canned beans and broth, whole grain pasta, quinoa, or barley, and herbs and spices give you versatility when cooking.

Use small appliances. A small food processor, chopper or blender can shorten your prep time.

Small indoor grills (like the ones from George Foreman), slow cookers, toaster ovens or microwaves can make cooking and reheating easier.

Try a variety of cooking techniques. A sauté pan lets you quickly cook meat or vegetables as well as stir fry.

Cooking Light recommends cooking “en papillote” – in parchment or a foil packet – to allow you to cook just the right amount for one. Place meat or fish and veggies on foil, add a splash of marinade or spices, fold in the edges to create a seal, and let the packet steam in the oven or on the grill for a delicious meal with no pots or pans to clean up.

Make one-dish meals. Not only are one-pot soups and stews often simple to prepare with ingredients you have on hand, but there’s only one pot to wash!

Do a meal swap. Make a dish that serves 4 or 6, and swap the extra portions with a few friends who do the same. You eat for 4 nights for one night of cooking, plus get to try lots of different dishes that you might not cook yourself.

Or invite those friends over to share that meal and hope that they will do the same!

Make the freezer your friend. Cook a big batch of a favorite recipe and portion it out into freezer-safe containers. Defrost and reheat.

You can cook on the weekend or whenever you have time, and eat great meals even when you’re busy.

Another advantage? Built-in portion control!

Don’t cook. Raw foods like salads don’t require the stove or microwave. Or keep a few healthy frozen dinners or soups on hand for those times when you’d rather not make a meal at all.

Cookbooks for one

  • Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One by Joe Yonan
  • The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones
  • What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin
  • Solo Suppers by Joyce Goldstein
  • The Pleasure Is All Mine by Suzanne Pirret
  • Cooking for One: A Seasonal Guide to the Pleasure of Preparing Delicious Meals for Yourself from The Culinary Institute of America

Waste not

Food is often packaged for households, not singles. If you purchase a large package of a food item, make sure it is still fresh each time you go to use it.

Try these tips to avoid wasting food:

Buy just what you need. Farmers markets and groceries sell fruit and many vegetables by the piece.

Another option when you need small portions of fresh ingredients is to shop the salad bar at your market for just what you need.

Shop in the bulk foods aisle. Bulk doesn’t have to mean “a lot.” Those open bins allow you to select only as much as you need.

Buying grains, beans, dried fruit, and even gourmet spices in the bulk aisle means food won’t go to waste; plus, items here are usually cheaper than pre-packaged.

Freeze your leftover produce. Wash or peel your fruits and vegetables, chop, and then freeze in an airtight bag or container for up to two months.

Frozen bananas are a great addition to smoothies. Frozen vegetables can be tossed into a soup.

Share. If you want to take advantage of a great sale at the grocery store or love the large-size offerings at Costco, share the cost with a friend or two and divvy up the items.


Benedict Rancheros

Grilled Pepper, Onion, and Sausage Calzones

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