There’s always too much planning, too much effort involved and way, way too many leftovers. But takeout gets expensive, and solo diners need to eat healthy, too! We’ve got you covered with helpful hints and tips for small eating that will have you excited to start cooking again.
For whatever reason you find yourself needing solo dinner ideas, you’ve probably experienced a lot of discouraging moments when it comes to cooking for one. Standard recipes produce an impossibly large number of portions, groceries spoil in your refrigerator because you can’t use them up fast enough and frankly, you’re just tired of eggs. We’ve been there before. The key to cooking efficiently when you’re making single-portion meals is to plan, and plan strategically.
The Two-Week Menu Plan
If you’re interested in cutting down the amount of takeout you're consuming and you want to get back in the kitchen, you need a game plan. Or rather, a menu plan. Plan your menu on a two-week rotation. Shopping for one is tricky because grocery stores aren’t necessarily catering to your need for smaller portions. By planning two weeks out, you’ll have an easier time using up larger portioned groceries.
When you’re planning your menu, try and pick meals with similar components so you can use up your groceries efficiently. For instance, if you’re making shrimp stir-fry one night, why not make a batch of shrimp pasta salad another night? Need baby spinach for a sheet-pan chicken dinner? Save the rest of the spinach for an easy risotto. The point is to be strategic about what you’re buying. Each weeknight dinner is not an island all alone in the ocean.
Even though you’re planning your menu two weeks out, you should still stick to a once-a-week grocery shopping routine. Purchase shelf-stable and freezer-friendly components every other week and buy fresh produce and groceries with a short shelf life once a week.
Your Freezer is Your Friend
Solo chefs, your freezer is your best friend. When you buy almost anything at the grocery store, it’s going to be too much, from loaves of bread to packages of chicken. Luckily, lots of things can be frozen. Invest in some freezer-safe, airtight containers and make a habit of divvying food up at the end of every grocery trip. Bread loaves can be split in half with one half going in the refrigerator and the other half going in the freezer (to thaw bread, let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight). Proteins can be frozen on a sheet pan until solid, then transferred to an airtight container. Bagged frozen fruit and vegetables are your friends, too, adding extra nutrition and color to any meal, without the risk of quickly going bad that fresh produce has. Your freezer can also come into play when you make big-batch recipes like soups or casseroles. Half in the fridge, half in the freezer helps break up the monotony of eating the same thing every night by preserving it for a later date.
Easy Recipes for One
There are lots of tasty meals you can make for one. Here are a few of our favorites.
1. Easy Shrimp Stir-Fry for One:
This recipe calls for cooked large shrimp, which is usually found in the freezer section (solo chef win!). You can cut down on waste by freezing leftover cooked rice—simply seal in an air-tight freezer bag and reheat in the microwave.
2. Breakfast Bowl for One:
A grated sweet potato is used in this breakfast bowl, but only half of it! Store the other half in the fridge and repeat the meal later in the week. Keep your fresh herbs fresh by wrapping them in a few damp paper towels and sealing them in an airtight bag.
3. Microwave Loaded Baked Potato:
Potatoes were made for single-serve eating. Buy your potatoes in bulk so you can control the number of taters you end up with, and store them in a cool, dark place to maximize their shelf life.
4. Super Easy Pad Thai:
Cut this recipe in half and you’ve got yourself dinner in a snap. Or keep the portion size as-is and you’ll have yourself a stellar lunch for work tomorrow.
5. Quesadilla Egg in a Hole:
There are only so many ways to make eggs, but we’d be willing to bet you haven’t made one in a quesadilla yet. If you end up with leftover avocado, keep the pit in before wrapping it in airtight plastic wrap and storing it in the refrigerator.
8. Chicken, Asparagus, Tangerine and Quinoa Salad:
Another way to bulk up a traditional salad it to transform it into a grain bowl. Add quinoa, wild rice or orzo pasta to your favorite salad to create a hearty and wholesome dinner.
9. Easy Homemade Pizza:
When it comes to meal planning for one, don’t forget to give yourself some room to play. Plan an easy dinner like this single-serve pizza for those nights when you need to relax.
Cook Once, Eat Twice
The reality is, cooking for one can often feel like a chore. When you’re cooking for a larger group, there’s a sense of accountability that’s missing in solo cooking. No one has to know that you’re ordering in again, right? If you have a hard time cooking every night of the week (and who doesn’t), try cooking every other night. We have lots of recipes for two that can result in delicious leftovers. Just remember, that even cooking at home a few nights a week can save you money and you’ll be eating healthier.