cook for one

An empty nester’s guide to cooking for one

When nearly two decades of shopping for food, planning meals and cooking for a family have taken up a large percentage of your time, adjusting to cooking for one is difficult. It’s tempting to rely on ready-cooked meals and neglect healthy nutrition. This is one of the worst possible times to stop eating healthily. Your body requires better nutrition than ever when you are experiencing stress due to changes in your life. Fortunately, it is not that difficult to improve the quality of your diet in ways that do not require that much effort.

Shop wisely

shopping for oneShopping for a family is very different from shopping for one.  When I first started shopping for one, my mindset hadn’t yet adjusted and I still tended to buy for a whole family.  My fridge was always full of rotting produce. I had to learn to cut down drastically on what I bought. I would also buy impulsively without any proper planning.  It just seemed like too much effort to plan when it was just for me.  I found a simple formula that helped me. Using this formula, I regularly buy certain items on a weekly basis that I enjoy eating and that mix and match easily.

Don’t think that you only have to buy small portions of protein. I love roast chicken so I tend to buy a whole chicken, roast it on a Sunday and then I use the leftovers to make chicken salad or chicken wraps during the week. A roast beef also lasts the whole week and can be used in many creative ways.

Other than your weekly purchases, it helps to stock up on long-lasting staples like tins of beans, chickpeas, brown rice etc. Think about what basic staples you usually use to make your meals and always keep them in stock.

Still cook your favourite recipes

Just because you are only cooking for yourself does not mean you can’t use those favourite recipes you have collected over the years. You can simply reduce the ingredients by dividing. Of course, it’s easier to do this with some recipes than others – try dividing one egg!. It also may seem like hard work to always have to bring out your calculator – it’s probably better to sit down one day and do all the work at once. Remember that if you divide the ingredients, you also need to  adjust the cooking time (I learned this the hard way!).

Find recipes for one

Today it is easy to find a number of sites that offer interesting recipes for one. Jamie Oliver’s site caters for solo cooks with Meals for One Recipes. I also enjoyed these 29 insanely easy healthy recipes for one.

Many cookbooks today are also devoted to cooking for one. Going solo in the Kitchen by Jane Doerfer contains over 350 simple recipes. It also contains strategies for buying to save on wastage. She gives detailed advice on storing foods too – cooked chicken, for example, tastes better and has better texture when stored in liquid (like a broth or a sauce).

cooking for one

Make friends with your freezer

When you live alone it makes sense to utilize your freezer, buy microwave-friendly containers and perhaps even a food vacuum sealing system.  This allows you to make large quantities and then freeze portions for easy meals at a later time. You can still make the lasagna or pot of soup you used to feed your whole family and easily divide it into smaller meals and freeze them. You’ll find that you spend less time in the kitchen, but still enjoy healthy, home-cooked meals.

Scale down your utensils

mini sauce panIt pays to invest in some smaller pots and saucepans. A small amount of food is lost in a large pot or pan and the food is more likely to dry out or burn. Why not keep a notepad in your kitchen for a while –  it may be interesting to jot down what cooking pots and pans you actually use. Do that for a week or two and you will soon be able to decide what you don’t need anymore. Pack these items away for a while and if you don’t miss them, get rid of them. You can always keep a few larger pots for cooking for friends and family.

Enjoy ‘grown-up’ food

Foods, like salmon or steak, that were once too expensive to buy in quantities may suddenly be within your budget. Make simple meals with some fancy ingredients.  Truffle oil, for example, turns an omelette into a gastronomic delight.  You can also phase back into your diet the ‘foods that your family may not have enjoyed but that you love. I hardly ever cooked butternut because my son hated it. I love butternut soup so now I can make a large pot, freeze ‘me-size’ amounts and eat it whenever I feel like it.

Use more spices, herbs and condiments

Dill, chives, sage, rosemary, coriander, ginger and dry mustard can transform plain food. Using them also means that you will tend to use less salt. Items like pesto, sun-dried tomatoes or Dijon mustard can also change ordinary food like pasta, tuna, or eggs into appealing, fast meals.

Store food safely and reheat correctly

Don’t store your food in old containers. Buy certified BPA-free reusable microwavable meal prep containers with lids, label and freeze. When reheating food in the microwave, make sure you don’t leave cold spots where bacteria can thrive. Stir and rotate the food while reheating.

Take a Cooking Class

If your cooking skills have been focused for many years on cooking for a whole family where your repertoire consisted of hearty soups, stews and casseroles, it may be fun to take a cooking class. It can do a great deal to revive your interest in cooking and open you up to new tastes. I attended a cooking class where the theme for the week revolved around a specific country.

Breakaway Experiences Hands on Cooking Class in Ottawa, Canada - $120/person for 3 hours

A final word

You still have to make food – it’s just that the way you think about it and do it has to change. Change your mindset, plan more, buy less, cook less and you will find that it’s easy to still eat healthy, nutritious meals.


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