5 Rules to Follow When Meal Planning for One

published Jan 17, 2018
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(Image credit: Guy Ambrosino)

So you’re doing the meal planning thing and have no one to answer to but yourself. In a sea of information that sometimes feels skewed to households of two or more, it can be tricky to find something that speaks to meal planning for solo situations. While plenty of the tips and principles of meal planning apply no matter how many you’re cooking for, there are a few consideration that are specific to meal planning for one.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

1. Cook the largest dishes in the beginning of the week.

Remember that slow cooker chili you’ve been eyeing for next week’s meal plan? Don’t fret that it serves up to six people — just make it during the beginning of the week and plan to use some of the leftovers throughout the week, whether for lunch or in other dinners. Making it earlier in the week means you not only have the chance to use it up in other dishes, but also won’t have to freeze it right away. I usually give myself a three-day leftover window before I start freezing food. I never know when I’m going to need the insurance of prepared food in the fridge, so it’s nice to have the extra food as backup.

2. Invite friends over every now and then.

An unexpected delight of meal planning is planning for company. When I know what’s happening for dinner, I know when it’s going to be a good idea to invite friends over for dinner. I’m taking about anything elaborate. This is crappy dinner party-style dining: food in bowl, feet up on the coffee table, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on the television. This is the day I’ll usually make the recipe that feeds many mouths.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

3. Get super-strategic about ingredients.

Just because you cracked open that can of coconut milk for a curry doesn’t mean you have to use it up this week. If you’re cooking for one, your freezer is probably already a part of your meal planning, but don’t just think of it as a place for leftover dishes — it can house ingredients as well. Sometimes, I rifle through the freezer for inspiration in the form of cubes of tomato paste, chicken bones that need to be turned into soup, and pasta to make a surprise meal.

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

4. Think past dinner.

Half the reason meal planning for one works so well is you hardly have to worry ingredients or leftovers destined for future dishes will disappear during someone else’s late-night fridge raid. That also means you can think about meal planning as a breakfast-to-dinner affair. (That’s far trickier when you’re meal planning for four!)

Those sautéed chickpeas from last night? Toss them over yogurt in the morning and you’ve got a satisfying breakfast. Make a recipe for dinner, and portion up the rest of it for lunch for the week and you can count on it being there. When I’m on, I can turn dinners into lunch and breakfast, and still feel like I’m excited about what I’m eating.

(Image credit: Kimberley Hasselbrink)

5. Have Hail Mary ingredients on hand.

What’s your “I’m desperate” meal? Mine is eggs scrambled with broccoli and cheese in any form. Sometimes you’re going to want to deviate from the plan. That’s fine — just make sure you’ve got a backup plan. I always keep frozen broccoli, sharp cheddar, and a carton of eggs on hand because if the tacos I planned on are no longer enticing, I know the eggs will do.

Meal Plan Club with Kitchn

Meal Plan Club is our self-paced 4-week program full of educational posts, downloadable tools, and real-life sample meal plans where we’ll walk you through each step of meal planning — from choosing recipes to meal prep and actually executing each meal — to make you a more confident meal planner in just one month. You can follow along here!