My Advice for Eating & Enjoying More Vegetables When You’re Cooking for One

published Jun 4, 2015
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(Image credit: Dana Velden)

Eating fresh vegetables when you’re a single cook can present all sorts of challenges for the simple reason that it’s your sole responsibility to use up all that goodness before it’s too late. A family of four can devour a whole cabbage in one sitting, but it can take a single cook several meals to accomplish the same thing.

The good news is that this doesn’t have to be a problem if you follow just a few basic tips and practices.

(Image credit: Dana Velden)

1. Don’t worry about always having fresh vegetables.

Some vegetables — such as peas, spinach, and corn — are actually quite wonderful frozen. They are picked at their height of sweetness and processed right there in the field so you can usually be pretty certain of their quality. Always keeping a few sacks of these vegetables in the freezer can be a lifesaver.

A Few of Our Favorite Frozen Vegetables

Canned vegetables can be more of a challenge, but I can’t imagine my cupboard shelves without several cans of tomatoes — whole, crushed, diced — which are perfect for stews and soups and, of course, tomato sauce.

2. Grow a few pots of fresh herbs.

I’ve said it a hundred times, but I’m going to say it again: Grow a few pots of fresh herbs if you can. This way you can snip and pluck what you need, when you need it, and you don’t have to encounter black slime puddles in your crisper drawer from forgotten, neglected herb bundles. Fresh herbs brighten and enliven almost any savory dish and once you’ve started using them, you will never look back.

Here are some more tips about keeping herbs fresh if it is impossible for you to grow them.

3. Consume vegetables just a sliver at a time.

Don’t pass on buying something just because you don’t think you’ll use it all up in one recipe. Variety in your vegetable intake is crucial for nutrition and taste, so it’s important to keep it interesting. Take the red pepper — by using it a sliver at a time here and there, you can make it last for almost a week. Add a slice or two to sandwiches, dice up a handful and add it to salads or sprinkle it on top of store-bought soups or hummus.

Peppers and most other semi-firm vegetables will be just fine in the refrigerator for several days if kept cut-side down in a well-sealed container.

4. Embrace the notion of the pre-prep.

Do you find you don’t eat enough vegetable because it just takes too long for them to cook? Embrace the notion of the pre-prep, a technique I first discovered from Tamar Adler’s book, An Everlasting Meal. When you return from the market or when that CSA box arrives, set aside some time to prep your vegetables for the coming week. Roast the carrots or squash; wash, dry, and roll the lettuce in a tea towel; slice that cucumber into thin half-moons and marinate them in some vinegar for a quick pickle.

This way, when you arrive home — tired and hungry — assembling a quick, veg-centric meal is almost effortless.

5. Eat in order of perishability.

Similarly, eat in order of perishability. Lettuces and other delicate greens go first, so focus on those immediately. Root vegetables can keep for weeks if properly stored, so don’t stress about getting to them right away.

6. Buy produce at different degrees of ripeness.

Avoid purchasing bags or containers of tender fruits and vegetables so you can buy at different degrees of ripeness. If you are purchasing several avocados to eat throughout the week, for example, purchase one that will be perfect tomorrow, another in a few days, and another a few days later. This way you don’t have three avocados ripen all at once.

7. Share larger vegetables.

Be a good neighbor and share larger vegetables. Can’t finish a whole kabocha squash? Cut it in half, keeping one half for yourself and hand off the other to a neighbor or co-worker. Sharing is a great way to keep your vegetable selection versatile and a sweet way to get to know your neighbors.

Wondering how to eat a head of celery on your own? Don’t. It’s not possible. Celery is perhaps the most frustrating fresh vegetable, especially if you have to buy a whole head (as opposed to a stalk or two at a time — which is impossible, at least in my area.) If you must, plan to either share it (see above) or make a large pot of celery soup. Celery can last a while in the fridge if properly stored, but even then, if you’re a single cook, it’s going to take you a long time to work your way through.

8. Take vegetables in many directions.

A big challenge in single cooking is to not get bored with a vegetable as you work your way through it, so remember to take it in many directions. A portion of a whole head of cabbage can be a lively Thai cole slaw one day, a hearty German cabbage soup the next, and a rich Alsatian braise yet another. Each version has it’s own distinct flavor and texture. With a larger squash, such as a butternut or pumpkin, consider a savory dish for one meal and a sweet dish (maybe a pie or a pudding) for another.

9. Give older vegetables a new lease on life.

Don’t be so quick to toss older vegetables: semi-wilted is OK. Not all vegetables need to be super crisp and perky. A slightly past-its-prime vegetable still has potential, especially if you’re making a soup or stew. In fact, a wilted vegetable is often simply slightly dehydrated, meaning it’s flavor has concentrated some, making it actually preferable to it’s fresher, firmer former self.

Single cooks! What helpful tips do you use to be sure you’re eating your vegetables when it’s just you? Is this something you struggle with? What’s your coping mechanism for when you’re alone in the kitchen with a head of celery?