Cooking for one doesn't have to be overwhelming. Healthy, nutritious, and satisfying meals in small portions can even be straightforward, with a few tricks up your solo sleeve. Smart strategies can help you stretch your ingredients, use up your groceries every week, and, in some cases, cook less often while still enjoying home-cooked meals. With a meal plan in place and a thoughtfully stocked refrigerator and pantry, you can enjoy many dishes you love—even when you're eating by yourself.
When you're cooking for one, you might find that some food is going to waste. However, a thoughtfully designed meal plan lets you make the most of your ingredients. Buy foods you can prepare in different ways. For example, you can eat rotisserie chicken as an entree one night and use leftovers to make a chicken quesadilla or protein-rich salad the next. You can bake, dice, or fry potatoes; three different meals to get through an entire bag.
Shop your pantry before you go to the grocery store. Another way to use up those ingredients and reduce food waste is to plan around what's in your pantry. If you have rice on hand, add a stir-fried meal to your weekly rotation. Focus your meal plan on perishable foods first to cut down on waste—those foods can be harder to use up when you're cooking for one.
If you have trouble eating all of your fresh produce before it goes bad, give frozen fruits and vegetables a try. These options deliver the same nutrients and last much longer. You can even portion out larger bags of frozen fruits and vegetables into individual servings for every meal. Then, heat them up or toss them in a smoothie for a nutritious breakfast or snack.
Single-serving foods are ideal when you're cooking for one. Stop by the butcher or deli at your grocery store to see what single-serving meats are available. You can find one-person servings of salmon or steak, for example. Similarly, consider keeping one-off snacks on hand. Divide hummus or guacamole into single-serving cups to make a great dip for your favorite veggies, crackers, or chips.
Leftovers aren't just for the next day's lunch (though they're great for that, too). You can also divide leftovers into individual portions and freeze them. Casseroles, pasta dishes, and many soups freeze well. With a freezer stocked with leftovers, you'll have an easy, homemade dinner option on a busy night. Just pop it in the microwave, oven, or slow cooker, and dinner is done.
Fill your pantry with staples that you can use in different dishes to add versatility to your cooking. Think about the ingredients that you reach for meal after meal, and ensure you have those on hand. A well-stocked pantry filled with nonperishables makes cooking for one easy. Your preferences and diet will dictate what you choose to stock up on, but here are some options:
These foods also have a long shelf life, making them perfect for buying in bulk when they go on sale.
A new appliance can expand your cooking options and allow you to create single-serve dishes you'll love. An air fryer delivers plenty of versatility, whether you want to roast veggies, heat up frozen foods, or prepare entrees like chicken or fish. Some models feature small baskets for easily creating single-serve meals. Alternatively, you can invest in a pressure cooker or slow cooker to make larger batches of food that you can eat for several days. They're perfect for soups, stews, and easy one-pot dishes that you can enjoy for multiple meals, and they don't heat up your whole kitchen in summer.
While stocking up on nonperishable foods is smart, overbuying perishable foods can be wasteful if you're cooking for one. While the per-ounce price of some foods might be slightly less when you buy the larger portion, you might not eat it before it goes bad. When you're shopping for dairy products, eggs, and other perishable foods, purchase only what you'll eat before it goes bad. Check the expiration date before you buy.
If you're in a rut for dinner ideas or don't know where to start, give a meal-delivery service a try. These services deliver meals in individual portions, making them perfect when you're cooking for one. You'll receive all of the ingredients for each meal delivered to your door. Once you find a few dishes you love, you can recreate them again using your own ingredients.
If you're preparing too much food, it's time to scale down your recipe. Use some basic math to cut the recipe in half (or more) so that you're only cooking what you need. Make a note of your revised recipe so that it's easy for you to recreate in the future. You can reduce your grocery bill this way, too.