Cooking for One Doesn’t have to Suck
I am so excited to write for October Unprocessed for the third year in a row and participate for the fifth! I learn something new each you and hope you do too.
Organization and planning is key to success in making it through the month with ease. In the past I’ve showed you how to organize your pantry and kitchen. Today I’ll share how to plan meals for the week when you’re only cooking for one person. I’m often asked “Why bother when it’s just me?” I get it. It can feel like a lot of work but it’s worth the effort because you deserve a delicious meal just as much as everyone else! I firmly believe that cooking for one doesn’t have to suck and with the plan I’m showing you today you’ll be able to have fun in the kitchen while making easy, unprocessed meals.
Side note: these tips will help when planning for more people, too. I’m focusing on cooking for one because that poses challenges that aren’t solved with the popular meal planning techniques that work for larger families.
I didn’t start cooking until after I turned 30. Up until then, the vast majority of food I ate was take-out or from a box. I started slow and eventually got to the point that I was not only comfortable in the kitchen, but I also really loved to cook and got quite good at it. I knew the next step was proper meal planning. From my years as an event planner and catering manager, I could plan a fabulous menu. However, I quickly learned that those principles don’t apply as well for regular meal planning. I scoured the internet for ideas but everything fell up short. It was either enough food for a small army or – worse – told single people to make one big meal and eat the leftovers all week.
So after MUCH trial and error, I landed on my own way that works really well and I’m sharing with you now.
The Cooking for One Meal Plan
The fabulous thing about meal planning for one is that it lends itself SO well to eating unprocessed. Overall it’s less wasteful than eating from processed foods meant to feed four or more and easier because you can purchase only what you need from the produce and other bulk sections of the grocery store.
With this plan, you’ll take some time to choose and prep individual ingredients for the week rather than cooking entire dishes. Once prepped, you’ll mix and match these ingredients to create quick and easy meals through the week. Alternatively, you can also do a combination of whole dishes you don’t mind leftovers of as well as the pre-prepped ingredients. I often make a soup and/or frittata because I never mind leftovers of either.
- Pick one to three dishes you’d like to eat in the upcoming week.
- What other dishes can be made from the same ingredients?
- How can you re-envision leftovers to turn them into something else?
- Leftovers of nut-crusted chicken with whipped cauliflower can become salad and soup. Slice leftover chicken to top a salad. Add a little milk and/or broth to turn the whipped cauliflower into cauliflower soup.
- Write down all of the meal options you come up with. This will be your reference and reminder of what you can make through the week. I like to keep my list on a white board on my fridge.
- Make a list of the ingredients needed for each of the meal options you came up with.
- What do you already have? Cross that off the list. Now go grocery shopping for the rest.
- What can be made ahead or prepped? Brown the meat. Portion out the salads. Mix up some salad dressing. Wash, chop, and portion veggies. Bake up some muffins. Whatever you’ve got. The more pre-prep you can do, the quicker your meals will be through the week.
- It can be tempting to skip this step. Especially if you’re tired. However, doing this will save you a lot of time and energy though the week. Make sure to do it!
To help, I’m giving you a sample plan so you can see this in action. (It also gives some additional tips.) Download it here. [PDF, 844kb]
- Look at your schedule for the week. How busy will you be? How many meals will you be eating out? Make sure you don’t over-purchase groceries for the week because you forgot about happy hour with friends.
- If you get weather-based cravings then look at the forecast for the week while you’re planning. For example, I usually crave soup when it’s raining. Or smoothies and salads when it’s hot.
- Look at what you already have. What needs to be used soon so that it doesn’t go to waste? Make sure to incorporate these foods into the plan for the week.
- Picking a flavor theme for the week (i.e. – Italian, Mexican, etc.) can be helpful in keeping the overall needed ingredient count small.
- Stumped for ideas or food combinations? Look at your favorite restaurant menus for ideas. Follow chefs and other food people on social media to see what they’re creating. (That’s how I “discovered” the pizza frittata.)
The most important tip for this plan is to be brave in the kitchen and have fun. Play around with different options. After all, worst case scenario is that dinner sucks and you go get takeout.
By choosing meals with similar ingredients and then prepping those ingredients separately, you can be prepared for a successful week of unprocessed meals while having variety and not wasting food or money. After all, cooking for one doesn’t have to suck!
About the Author
Melinda Massie is a performing arts marketing coach, writer and performer. Her organizing tips have been featured in Good Housekeeping, Lifehacker, Esquire, SHAPE, Elle Decor, and many other publications. Her books and programs to help you organize your life include Kick-Ass Closets, From Hot Mess to Hot Damn!, and a Fall Meal Plan for One. Find her on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
What a simple and brilliant idea about picking something that you can cook and use in multiple meals without eating exactly the same thing each night. I try and prep food and keep stuff in the freezer for when I need it, but this will help me map out my meals a little better. Thank you!
Hooray! You’re welcome!
Thank you for remembering those of us cooking for one! I also find it handy to try and make leftovers for the freezer. I like to think of my freezer as an exchange system where when I put in something new it means I also get to pull something out to enjoy that I may not have had for awhile and will help mix up my flavor profile for the week.
You’re welcome! It can be challenging to cook for only yourself so when I discovered a better way I’m happy to share it with others!
Freezer exchange system – I LOVE that. I don’t use the freezer much for leftovers because often if I have an easier option (just defrost, heat and eat) vs. cooking what’s in the fridge I’ll default to that and still end up wasting food. But I think I’ll try the freezer exchange and see how that works for me. Thanks for sharing your tip!
Interesting take on how to deal with the one person meal (and thank you for doing this, as there are many of us out there). But what happens when you do mess up and need take-out — only it isn’t available where you live or you are really hungry and take-out will take a while or you are too poor for take-out (all of the above have factored into my life. One thing that I do is the make a large meal and eat leftovers. I do that with meals that I know will turn out well and freeze well (such as enchiladas, chili, lasagna or soup) and then freeze a lot of the leftovers in 1 — 2 meal servings. That way if something does go wrong with a meal or the weather suddenly changes or I get really busy at work and come home tired, there is always… Read more »
Freezing in smaller portions is a great idea. The other night I wanted some soup I had frozen but it seemed overwhelming to wait for the whole big container to thaw! Thawing out a smaller portion sounds a lot easier for those last minute moments when you’re caught without food.
Oh I do that too plus I use them for my work lunch!
Excellent points! Thanks for the addition. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really even think about freezer meals or doing a big batch and then freezing portions because if I have an easier option, I’ll default to that instead of cooking what I already have…even if I’ve prepped and planned! But that is a great idea. I may try it again.
My friends do not cook for themselves, so I’m sending them your post to encourage them to get started! Thank you for the tips.
Awesome! Hope it helps and thanks for sharing!
I cook for myself all the time. I found this posting very useful as I have those days when I’m tired of cooking. This offers some inspiration. I look forward to trying some of these ideas and meals!.
Fantastic! Thank you for your comment and happy to inspire!
What great tips. I cook for 2 or 3 but I know so many people who do cook for just one, so they don’t…don’t cook I mean.