If you live alone or have different dietary needs or preferences from the rest of your household, it can be hard to find the motivation to cook for yourself. Rather than facing a messy kitchen or more leftovers than you can eat, just having eggs for dinner, microwaving a frozen meal or getting takeout can seem like the easier options. But there are many ways to make a nourishing and satisfying meal for one and to have fun doing it. Plus, you can save money, limit your food waste and eat whatever you want without having to please others. Here are some helpful tips to make the most of your solo time in the kitchen:
Plan ahead. Whether you’re cooking for one or ten, it is always best to start with a plan. This will help you know what to get from the grocery store, resist impulsive cravings and feel motivated when dinner time rolls around. Get ideas and inspiration from recipes in cookbooks, magazines or by searching ‘cooking for one’ online and make your plan from there. Start with one or two homemade meals a week, leaving room for leftovers, eating out with friends or pulling from pantry staples for an easy salad or pasta. If you just don’t have the time or energy to cook during the week, dedicate a couple of hours once a week to prepare a few meals and snacks that you can freeze or store in the fridge to set you up for success.
Reinvent leftovers. Some people love leftovers, but if you find them boring and repetitive, transform them into new meals. Yesterday’s chicken fajitas can be tomorrow’s stir fry over rice; your roasted veggie side dish can be blended with vegetable stock to make a seasonal soup; or meat chili can top a baked potato with sour cream the following day. Repurposing your leftovers does take extra time and creativity, but it will keep things fresh, interesting and delicious.
Use your freezer. When you’re cooking for one, your freezer is your best friend. Bread, tortillas, herbs, portioned raw and cooked meat and butter all freeze well. Frozen vegetables are also an economical and underrated option. If a recipe calls for a vegetable, you can use what you need and put the rest back in the freezer without worrying about waste. Invest in some good-quality freezer and microwave-friendly single serve containers for your leftovers and weekend meal prep. Ice cube trays also work well for portioning out larger batches.
Try a toaster oven. Instead of using a large oven, heating up your whole house or dirtying baking sheets, consider investing in a toaster oven. It can help to quickly and easily bake, roast and toast many single-serve recipes. Toaster ovens are also handy for making one or two cookies with a small amount of cookie dough from the freezer, baking a piece of fish, making a slice of avocado toast or reheating leftovers that might get soggy in the microwave.
Scale back and adapt. Most recipes are designed for families and although leftovers can be great to freeze or save for another day, if you want to cook more single-serve recipes it can be done. Don’t be afraid to halve or quarter recipes, just be sure to reduce cooking times and the size of your pot or pan as needed. There are helpful conversion calculators online and many food blogs will manually adjust the ingredient ratios for your specific serving size. Feel free to try adapting recipes to make use of what you have at home. For example, making homemade buttermilk instead of buying a whole carton, using beans and cheese interchangeably, or if you don’t have a spice or ingredient, add a little flavour with mustard, horseradish, or miso paste depending on the recipe and what you have on hand.
Buddy up on groceries and leftovers. Find a friend who is also cooking for one and see if they’re interested in getting the food you both want at bulk prices. Share a bulk store membership and shop together focusing on non-perishable items like canned food and snacks and split up proteins, produce and freezer goods. You may also want to swap leftovers or cook together sometimes to increase your variety of items.
While there are many challenges to cooking for one, preparing your own meals can help you take charge of your diet, improve your overall health, mood and self-esteem. Like anything else, cooking for yourself is a habit that will develop over time. Start slowly, be realistic about what you can actually do and try to find joy in the process. Recreate a beloved restaurant dish, listen to your favourite music while you cook, take your dinner outside on a warm day or read a good book while you eat. Enjoy your food exactly the way you want it.