How to Cook for One–and Eat Well Doing it!

How to Cook for One–and Eat Well Doing it!

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  1. Yes, as many singles have discovered, cooking for one can certainly be boring and leave you resorting to fast-food, delivery pizza, or reaching for that sack of junk food. But it certainly needn’t be that way. It’s actually quite easy to cook for one and have a much more varied, exciting, and nutritious diet than many who cook for more. You just have to follow these 10 basic tried & true rules!


    #1: Always cook more than you need.

    No matter what you’re cooking, always plan to make leftovers. If you’re preparing a dish that calls for three potatoes–use five. Half a head of cabbage–use the whole thing. Three carrots–throw in six. Always think in terms of cooking for a few, even though there’s only you. Creating leftovers is the first step to an exciting and healthy diet for one!

    #2: Throw nothing away (until you absolutely have to).

    Get out of the habit of throwing away that last little morsel of rice pilaf or that baked potato you brought home in a doggie-bag. The second shelf of your fridge is now the designated “leftover shelf,” used exclusively for leftovers you’ll accumulate that will be used later as snacks, hors d’oeuvres, side dishes or entrees, or as ingredients in main courses. Stop shoving leftovers in haphazardly wherever they’ll fit, and start creating an organized arrangement that treats your leftovers like the tasty and choice tidbits they are–rather than future garbage.

    #3: Crock-pot, Crock-pot, Crock-pot.

    For the solo cook, the Crock-pot Slo Cooker can be your absolute best friend. (Get to know it!) This handy and highly versatile appliance can make everything from soups and chili to steamed vegetables and pot pies–and all by itself.

    You can literally fill it with water, carrots, an onion, potatoes, a stalk of celery, and some frozen corn and voila–8 hours later, vegetable soup! And the more you use it, the more possibilities you’ll discover. If you go online, you’ll find literally hundreds of ideas on what you can make with this often over-looked and underrated kitchen tool.

    #4: Pasta and rice.

    As any chef can tell you, one of the smartest things you can do is keep a supply of cooked rice and/or pasta in the fridge. In addition to making those Italian, Asian, and Hispanic dishes virtually effortless to throw together, anytime you can’t come up with a dinner idea, just grab the container of pasta or rice (I find large Ziploc bags handiest for pasta), set it on the counter, and just let my imagination go wild.

    It’s easy to make a pound or two of pasta or rice and just store it next to the leftovers. Take out what you need and stick the bag back in the fridge until the next time. I like to keep a few cups of white and brown rice in there as well. There are literally hundreds of dishes that start or end with rice.

    #5: Invest in plastic storage containers.

    Forget the expensive stuff–Tupperware, Rubbermaid, and the like. You’re better of buying the cheaper brands for a dollar or two that can just be tossed away when they get grungy and stained. With the money you’ll save, you can afford to buy a selection of plastic containers in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. And you should you disobey Rule #4 and forget about that delicious portion of ravioli that’s been waiting in the back of the fridge until it’s now grown mold, you can just throw the whole thing out rather then waste time dumping and scraping and scrubbing.

    And since plastic storage containers come in a variety of colors, you can actually use one color for vegetables, one for fruits, one for pasta and rice, etc. to better help you keep tabs on your inventory.

    #6: Stock up on canned sides and compliments.

    While you certainly don’t want canned foods to dominate your diet (that would hardly be healthy), sides like black olives, sweet potatoes, asparagus, artichoke hearts, and mini corns can add great variety, novelty, and when these vegetables are not in season in your part of the country, great sources of nutrition.

    I keep a variety of beans (black, kidney, lima, pinto, and refried), stewed tomatoes, canned tuna, and a few corn, spinach, peas, and green beans–just in case. And anytime I go to the grocery store, I toss a few more into the cart–especially if they’re on sale. You’d be surprised just how creative you can be in the kitchen when you have a wide variety of compliments waiting to inspire you.

    #7: Think in combination.

    After a week or so of this new approach to cooking, you’re going to look inside your refrigerator and see a wide selection of options, all ready to go–a veritable smorgasbord! That’s when things start to get interesting! Leftover vegetable soup, maybe some black olives, that Greek salad you didn’t finish, half a can of black beans, a few slices of canned pineapple, and maybe the last of the fresh mushrooms. Damn! You have the makings of a first-rate feast! Just because you’re cooking for one doesn’t mean you can’t eat healthy, exciting meals!

    Start experimenting. You’ll find that many foods naturally go together–even if you’ve never thought of them that way. And eating in combination gives you a lot of vitamins you can’t get by eating the typical meat & potatoes diet. And as long at you keep following Rules #1-#6, you can eat this way every day!

    Rule #8: Think beyond what you’re accustomed to.

    One of the things experienced cooks have over the rest of us is that they can look at a selection of ingredients and imagine what could be made with them. If you’ve seen any of the recent rash of TV cooking shows, then you know they’re largely about putting things together that you or I might not consider compatible. But that doesn’t mean that with a little trial and error and experimentation, you or I couldn’t learn to do the same. And if you start with a bed of pasta or rice–and then peruse your selection of leftovers–with a little imagination, you might discover you also have a flair for creative cooking.

    Be bold! Be adventurous! Remember, when it comes to cooking creativity, there are no rules! And the greatest cooks and chefs in the world learned the finer points of cooking great meals by just doing it–and seeing what comes out of it!

    Rule #9: Fruits and nuts.

    Inevitably, a time is going to come when you’re watching TV or entertaining a friend and you’re gonna want to reach for a snack. That’s why you’re going keep a supply of fresh and dried fruits on hand (don’t forget the prunes and raisins), as well as a selection of healthy nuts–especially walnuts, hazel nuts, almonds, pecans, and cashews.

    This habit will serve two very important purposes: Firstly, it will keep you eating healthy while avoiding the junk food habit, and secondly, it will add additional options at mealtime. Nothing says you can’t add a serving of nuts or a sliced banana or handful of raisins to your dinner. So in addition to all the other options you have waiting in your refrigerator, you also have whatever additions you’ve brought home from the fruit market.

    #10: Actively organize and stay on top of Rules #1-#9.

    Adopt the day to day habits that will make this system run smoothly for you. Anytime you stop at the grocery, pick up a can or three of something to add to your canned pantry. (Be adventurous; try something new now and then.)

    When you pass the local fruit market, stop and pick up some apples or strawberries or whatever might be in season. (Now is the time to try a few varieties of fruit you’ve never considered before.)

    Make a conscious effort to keep the left-over selection stocked; if it’s time to make a pot of soup or chili or steamed cabbage and potatoes, do it. If you’ve used the last of the pasta or rice, make a new batch–it’ll become second nature after a while. (Be sure to branch out and try new varieties of pasta and rice–there are hundreds!)

    And once you establish this pattern, you’ll find that you look forward to experimenting in the kitchen and seeing what culinary discoveries you can make. And most importantly, you’ll realize that you feel healthier and more dietarily satisfied than you have, perhaps, in a long while!



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