Cooking for One? Here Are 3 Tips to Help You Get Started.

updated Apr 20, 2020
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Credit: Lucy Hewett

For many of us, self-quarantining has meant an extra-crammed household, with kids and partners home from school and work. But the new restrictions have left many others alone — isolated from friends, loved ones, and cooking or dining companions. Now, more than ever, people are cooking for just themselves and looking for recipes that feed just one.

I began creating single-serve recipes almost 13 years ago, when my oldest son went away to college. Our weekly phone calls quickly revealed that his diet consisted primarily of packaged ramen, which prompted me to provide him with recipes he could make and enjoy on his own. As I I began sending him scaled-down versions of his favorite family recipes, I realized there weren’t many single-serve recipes available online. That’s when I created One Dish Kitchen, where I’ve shared hundreds of single-serve and small-batch recipes over the years.

If you’re new to cooking for yourself, know that it doesn’t have to involve eating leftovers all the time, or wasting a bunch of food. In fact, there’s a huge upside to cooking for you and only you: You get to decide what you feel like making and eating, and when to eat it, too! Plus, I truly believe that the simple act of cooking for ourselves is one of the most nurturing, loving things we can do.

Here are some tips to help you get started.

1. Start with staples that last forever.

Stock your pantry with items that won’t go bad — dried or canned beans, dried lentils, canned tomatoes, rice, dried breadcrumbs, and pasta. Making meals from these ingredients lets you use just a little at a time, without worrying about food waste.

Canned fish such as tuna, salmon, and sardines, which are rich in omega-3s, are excellent budget-friendly pantry options, and can be used for quick single-serve salads and sandwiches for one. (This small-batch tuna casserole is a personal favorite of mine). And don’t overlook canned fruit! I love to add canned pineapple to baked goods, then finish off the rest of the can by blending it into my smoothies.

Keep your freezer well-stocked, too. Here are 7 freezer essentials if you’re cooking for one.

2. Keep a few flavor boosters on hand.

Instead of using a laundry list of ingredients to add flavor to your dishes (which will likely result in waste), opt to keep a small assortment of flavor boosters on hand. Dijon mustard adds tremendous tang to proteins and salad dressings. A spoonful of horseradish can liven up anything from sandwich spreads to savory scones. Miso paste, anchovies, and fish sauce are all savory flavor bombs. Acid in any form can seriously transform a dish, so it’s always good to have lemons or vinegar on hand, too.

3. Make a meal plan.

Planning out your meals for the week will help you use up ingredients more easily. For example, if you roast a chicken or pork tenderloin, you’ll want to have a plan for using it all up — cashew chicken one night, a chicken sandwich the next. Certain dishes, like frittatas, stir-fries, and pastas are particularly well-suited to using up any extra ingredients, so build at least one of those into your weekly meal plan. If you’re cooking from recipes, remember that you can stray from them — different types of beans can often be used interchangeably, as can cheeses. Below are a few plans to get you started.