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Planning and Preparing Meals for One - Five Tips To Keep Meal Preparation Simple

Updated on August 18, 2012
Take a few minutes to create an attractive place setting especially for you.
Take a few minutes to create an attractive place setting especially for you. | Source

Cooking for One - An Enjoyable Affair


I've cooked for one, two, three, and a crowd at different times in my life. It's been a cycle of sorts. While living in my first apartment for the years before I married, I cooked for one. Married, I cooked for two. When our child arrived, I cooked for three. Now, single and with the fledgling out of the nest, I'm back to the start of the cycle, planning and preparing meals for one. I'm enjoying it enormously, because I'm keeping meal planning and meal preparation simple.

The Upside of Cooking for One

I shop and cook less often, spend a lot less money, always have wonderful home-made food for unexpected guests, and, the best part? I eat only what I want to eat.

The Downside

Sometimes I miss the company of family in the kitchen and at the table. Although I am quite comfortable with myself, there are only so many things I and myself can discuss before one or the other of us runs out of subject matter, or before we get tired of listening to each other's same-old same-olds. That's when I pick up a good book, but only after I've already cut my meat into small pieces so I don't have to mess with a knife and a book at the same time.

The Biggest Challenge in Planning and Preparing Meals for One

There are significant challenges in planning and preparing meals for one. Perhaps the greatest is how to purchase the right amount of food, so that nothing goes to waste. We all know never to grocery shop on an empty stomach. But when there's only one to feed, some of us will have to change the years-long habit of eyeballing foods in the market with the old vision of feeding a family.

The Tips

I hope you'll try all of these tips for keeping meal preparation simple.

1 - Make a List of What You Eat in a Week

For one week, write down everything you eat. Be specific about quantities, such as how many pieces of bread, how many glasses of juice, how many fruits, how many bowls of soup (you get the idea). Be specific about what you eat for each kind of meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks). And mark your favorite foods, the ones you really like, with a highlighter.

Use the information you recorded in your list to buy the quantities and kinds of foods that are just right for you.

You might be surprised to find out that you eat less food than your food buying habits cause you to acquire. Even now, I still buy too much bread at one time. Bread is something I'm crazy about, and I have a lot of trouble resisting "twofers" and other great sales. Although I freeze what I don't eat, I still have way too much bread in my freezer.

More Ideas on Cooking for One or Two

2 - Always Cook for Two: You and Yourself

Cooking a single portion can be as time and energy consuming as cooking two. Think about it. If you put a pot of water on to boil for a handful of dried pasta, then you could be cooking two hands full in the same water.

Here are a few foods I like to cook in double amounts.

Sautéed chicken breast. If you want one chicken breast for your evening meal, sauté two instead. The next day, eat the second one in a sandwich for lunch or as the main course for your dinner.

Pasta. Make double the amount and put the leftover in your salad the next day.

Corn on the cob. Boil four ear instead of two. On the second day, scrape the cold kernels off the cob, add some vinegar, diced red and green bell pepper, salt, freshly ground black pepper, and chopped onion for a delightful corn salad.

Cook in Bulk, Freeze in Portions

Here are some foods well worth cooking in volume and then freezing in one-person portions. Look for the section Are You Cooking for One? in each of these Hubs.

3 - Buy Meat, Poultry, and Fish in Bulk

This tip may sound a little odd, because I've been talking about not over-buying. But you can make your meal preparation so simple by buying these foods in bulk, freezing them in individual packages, and defrosting them only as you need them.

Here are some of the poultry, meat, and fish products I love to buy in bulk.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Buy or make your favorite marinade. Put each breast into its own small freezer bag, add a couple of tablespoons of the marinade, seal, and freeze. The marinade tenderizes the meat while it freezes. Defrost the meat overnight in the refrigerator or use your microwave. Sauté or grill, as you choose. The tenderized meat will melt in your mouth.

Eye round roast. This is one of my all-time favorites. I buy two large roasts on "twofer" sales, and cook the roasts at the same time. When they are done, I eat what I want for dinner and put the rest into the refrigerator. The next day, I thinly slice the cold roasts, package individual servings in small freezer bags, and freeze. When I am ready for some beef, I defrost a serving in the bag in the refrigerator overnight, empty the thawed contents into a small saucepan the next day, add some jarred beef gravy, and heat it all up. I also like to use a defrosted package to make an outstanding cold roast beef, tomato, and horseradish sandwich.

Fish. Buying fish in bulk and freezing it in individual portions takes special care. Most important is that you want to work with fresh fish, not previously frozen fish. Check with your fish market before you buy fish in bulk. Make sure that the catch has not been frozen. Once you have decided on your bulk purchase, ask the fish seller to slice it for you in 6 to 8 ounce pieces. Take it home and freeze it immediately in single portions.

4 - Pick One Day a Week To Cook Ahead

Pick a day that works for you. Maybe it's a weekend day. Maybe it's an evening after work when you just want to unwind with some creative activity like making a hearty soup, or some mindless activity like washing lettuce and chopping onions and carrots.

Soup . When you make soup, cook like you are feeding an army. Wait until the soup cools before you freeze it in single-size portions. In the winter, I sometimes make soup in the evening. When it's done, I put it outside on the covered porch, against the wall of the house, to cool overnight. In the morning, it's ready to dole out into individual portions for freezing.

Salad . Clean salad greens and vegetables, cut the veggies the way you like them, and store everything in separate containers so you can have a salad bar at your finger tips every day.

You will love yourself when you get home from work at night, starving, and all you have to do is pull a container of soup out of the freezer and throw it in the microwave, toast a couple of pieces of good bread, and make yourself a fresh salad using the beautiful greens and vegetables you prepared earlier in the week.

5 - Keep Your Pantry Stocked with Staples

Staples are items that have a relatively long shelf life in dry storage or in the refrigerator and are used frequently to prepare the foods you like. Make sure your staples are always fresh and available, because there's nothing worse than looking forward to a quick salad from your refrigerator salad bar and discovering that you don't have any dressing, oil, or vinegar on hand.

Here's a sample list of staples based on the cooking I do and the foods I like to eat.

Herbs and spices including Mrs. Dash salt-free seasonings

Salt, pepper, sugar

Oil, vinegar, mayo, and salad dressings

Canned or boxed chicken, beef, or vegetable stock


Peanut butter

Jams and Preserves

Pasta, rice, and dried beans and peas


Tea, coffee, bottled juices

Salt-free butter

Ketchup, mustard

When Company Arrives Unexpectedly

While you've been planning and preparing meals for you and yourself, you've also been stockpiling a wonderful array of home-prepared foods in your freezer. Unexpected guests? No problem. Microwave portions from the freezer and open the salad bar!

Resources for Appetizing Recipes for One or Two

To make your experiences even more rewarding, you might also want to try our easy weekly menu that includes some sensational recipes, and another selection of delicious recipes for one or two from Utah State University.


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    • monitor profile image

      monitor 9 years ago from The world.

      Great hub. Your tip on freezing fish needs to be told to as many people as possible. Your staples list very simliar to mine. Interesting.

      Thank you for your effort.


    • trish1048 profile image

      trish1048 9 years ago

      Wonderful ideas! No wonder I always feel pampered when I come to visit :)

      Food just like mom used to make! As you know, this wonderful idea can't happen in my house as I simply don't have the time. Any 'spare' time I have is spent doing laundry, paying bills, running errands that I can't get to during the week. So, it's nice to know, when I get a hankering for some good home-made food, I just have to come visit :)

      Great post, thanks dear friend


    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Mon, thank you so much for your comments. I believe, from reading your hubs, that you and I have many similar interests...and now we have a similar staples list, too. How cool!

      Patty, you are welcome at my home any time, my dearest friend.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Mon, a is tricky to keep beyond the day you catch it or buy it. Maybe you would do a hub on this topic?

      Warmest regards, S.

    • annemaeve profile image

      annemaeve 9 years ago from Philly Burbs

      Great advice, Sally. I love the image of cutting up meat before sitting down to dinner with a book. Meals can always be perfectly planned, no matter how small!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      annemaeve, thank you for your thoughtful comment! Your fan, S.

    • Kat07 profile image

      Kat07 9 years ago from Tampa

      Great tips! Thanks for sharing!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Thanks for the good words, Kat!

    • marisuewrites profile image

      marisuewrites 9 years ago from USA

      Yummy ideas and now that my husband and I are suffering from empty nest and cooking for the crowd of 3 sons, numerous foster kids, and all the friends they could bring home....we still buy too much, eat much less than we think, and waste....I enjoyed your article and google ads. Marisuewrites

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Marisue, it's really hard to get the waste under control. Why we waste probably has many roots.

      For my mother's generation, a lingering fear of not having enough to eat comes from the Great Depression. Those who grew up at that time having little to eat and less to possess have a tendency to overstock on food as well as possessions in later years.

      For subsequent generations, I believe marketing and advertising have a lot to do with overbuying. It's hard to resist those "twofers", hard not to clip and use a two-dollar-off coupon for something you'd never otherwise buy, hard not to be drawn into a 10-for-one-dollar offer.

      Thanks for the great comment. Meal planning is a challenging subject!

    • MrMarmalade profile image

      MrMarmalade 9 years ago from Sydney

      Like your staples collection.

      Maybe your frozen bread can be used on Sunday afternoons with toasted sandwiches.

      Like Cheese and onions Pefry the onions a little before placing on the cheese.

      Banana and brown sugar toasted sandwiches are super.

      Great hub,

      Incidently we seem to have a lot of people on Sundays for lunch at least two loaves of frozen bread.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      MrMarmalade, it is almost dinner time here, and you have made me so hungry! I have absolutely got to try a banana and brown sugar toasted sandwich. I never heard of that, and now I'm salivating.

      Bread never lasts very long does it? It's a staple of life.

      Thanks so much for your comments.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Thanks D, for stopping by and leaving your comment. Seriously, I don't know what looks yummy to you, or what you think is a great insight.

      But. Butt. I LOVE your pic for your profile. TY for your comments.

    • Peter M. Lopez profile image

      Peter M. Lopez 9 years ago from Sweetwater, TX

      Great tips. Extremely useful hub.

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 9 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Sally! Great hub. I found it hard to downsize the meals to 'just for one'. Finally acting on a brainstorm I bought a few new small pots and frypans. After that it became easy way for me to switch over.

      Great HUB regards Zsuzsy

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Peter, thanks for the good words. Hope you use some of this stuff.

      Zsuzsy, I'm so glad you stopped by. I, too, changed out my pots and pans and made things smaller. Sometimes it was hard to do, especially with utensils that had a special meaning to me. And, quite contrary to downsizing, one day I bought a huge crock pot on sale that I couldn't resist. The good news is that my daughter and I share it for making gobs of food for parties.

      Warm regards to you both.

    • MrMarmalade profile image

      MrMarmalade 9 years ago from Sydney

      You have suggested my next hub. Val and owned a coffee house just

      After we wrere married.Next hub coming up.

      Thanks for the motivation

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      MrM, it is just as much fun to motivate others here on HP as it is to be motivated by them! Can't wait to see your new hub inspired here. Regards, S.

    • cgull8m profile image

      cgull8m 9 years ago from North Carolina

      Invaluable tips Sally, I just buy at random instead of planning ahead like this, no wonder I run out of food items some times. I have bookmarked it, valuable tips. Thanks.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 9 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      You make a very good point. Without planning, it is likely you won't have what you want when you want it. And then I guess that means more trips to the store, more time lost, more auto fuel consumed, and so on.

      Thanks for the good words, cgull!

    • marisuewrites profile image

      marisuewrites 9 years ago from USA

      As foster parents and parents of 3 boys...we always had a crowd...Now, we are suffering from the transition from cooking large to thinking, purchasing, and cooking for one/two.  However, we are losing weight, by cooking less...though I still love my mashed potatoes....ha

      My most fond memories are cooking for a hungry crowd.

      Now, I still find I buy too much; forced then to share groceries with the kids when they stop by...My middle son has become the cook for his brother in their apartment; even asked for a recipe book for dishes with 5 ingredients or less. ha  any recommendations?

      good info here...maybe I'll learn to downsize soon.  sigh, life. 

      Great link of 30 meals in one day....go google! ha

      onward, Marisue

    • compu-smart profile image

      compu-smart 8 years ago from London UK

      Thanks Sally for this trove of titbits..!1

      I too used to cook for more than one and now just one and you have given me some good tips which was extreamly needed!!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      compu-smart, thanks for the good words!

      Marisue, your sons may want to look into this book..."Cooking 1-2-3: 500 Fabulous Three-ingredient Recipes" by Rozanne Gold. And make sure they invite you over to try out their experiments!

    • skatoolaki profile image

      skatoolaki 8 years ago from Louisiana

      Really wonderful and informative hub - thanks so much for the info. When I lived alone I always ran into the conundrum of what/how to cook for just little, old me. I wish I'd had this nifty guide back then!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      skatoolaki, thank you so much for your comments. I confess that during the years I first lived alone, I wasn't very good at managing meals for "just little, old me." In fact, I wasn't very good at cooking, either. But as the years went by and I learned to love to cook, I got pretty good at the planning part, too.

      I'm so glad this little guide is useful!

    • Lissie profile image

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 8 years ago from New Zealand

      Great hub - I don't live alone anymore but there are only 2 of us and still over-buy! I have got a lot better given that the current rental has next to no kitchen cupboard space - downsize the kitchen and the rest will follow!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Lissie, why didn't I think of that as tip #6? Just cut your kitchen in half.

      Thanks so much for sharing your creative perspective!

    • proudgrandpa profile image

      proudgrandpa 8 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      Finnally I am justified. There is just my wife and I at home and I went out and bought a 3 gallon soup pot a few years ago. I make a great (humble aren't I?) pot of soup and it tastes better reheated. Now I have your blessing to proceed. Thanks.

      However, I haven't had breakfast yet and I want a pot roast, you are killing me here.


    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      LOL Neil! A soup pot can never be too big, no matter how many people you are cooking for.

      Hey, there's another hub for you to write. Your soup recipe. Now I'm hungry, too! :)

    • marisuewrites profile image

      marisuewrites 8 years ago from USA

      I miss cooking for a crowd tho' at the time we had all those kids and the kids' friends it aggravated us -- it's what we miss the most.

      Sometimes, when I just can't stand it....I'll cook a bunch of food and take it to the kids...(30 min away) food for the

      The empty nest time - for us - is a love/hate relationship. We cry when they leave....and sometimes we cry when they come !!!! haha sooo much testosterone....3 rowdy boys and all the attitudes...sigh.

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 8 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Alls these tips are great for singles like myself. I especially agree with cook for you and yourself because it is great to make dinner the night before and then have leftovers for lunch at work. Great hub!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      marisue, you and I are lucky that our grown children live so close by. So, if we overcook, no problem, just run it over to the kids. Food delivery is always a good excuse for dropping by uninvited, isn't it? :)

      SweetiePie, thanks so much for your comments. I'm glad you like the idea of cooking "for you and yourself". I find that I and Myself can be great dinner partners (in which case I overeat, consuming what would be the next day's leftovers for Myself), or that I can be a restrained eater and a responsible food provider for Myself (in which case Myself gets to eat the leftovers for lunch the next day, just as you say!).

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Monitor, I took your hint and added links to safe fish preparation and storage resources. Thanks for the suggestion!

    • cgull8m profile image

      cgull8m 8 years ago from North Carolina

      I was reading about the fish item, I also buy from the local farms, they sell good fresh ones. I cut them in pieces and shrink wrap them, they stay fresh for a long time. I also would love to learn canning and making dried foods.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      cgull, thanks for stopping by!

      Do you shrink wrap the fish and put it in the refrigerator, or in the freezer? And how long do they keep?

    • Health Conscious profile image

      Health Conscious 8 years ago from South Florida - USA

      Wish I had seen this hub earlier so I could join this discussion about keeping fish.

      A couple of tips from an old salt.

      1st if you live anywhere near the water - locate where some fishing boats dock. Find out when they usually come in. Arrive at that time and offer to purchase as much of the catch as possible.

      Most fishermen sale to vendors so you can get at wholesale straight off the boat. Can't be beat.

      As far as putting up -- of course as soon as possible - don't put it off a min. as soon as you get home :


      divide into single use portions - I don't like left over seafood - always cook what you need only.

      Freeze in enough water to cover - just plain filtered water - everyone should have a filter (this works with any seafood - keeps it from freezer burn and keeps it moist - will keep longer than any other method I have found

      You will have the freshest seafood that can be found short of getting on a boat.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Health Conscious, thank you so much for your good words and for sharing your valuable experience.

      I never heard of freezing fresh fish in filtered water. (Don't know where my education was on that one, since my father and four uncles were avid fishermen.) It makes perfect sense.

      I'll be vacationing in the land of salt-water fish at the end of August, and I will be sure to freeze the catch on the spot, in water, and transport them home in a suitable container.

      One more thought, I do like one particular fish left-over...cod that I've lightly fried in butter, oil, and lemon, and sprinkled with parsley. I put the left-over in the fridge, and have a great sandwich on a bun the next day for breakfast.

    • roastedpinebark profile image

      roastedpinebark 8 years ago from Iowa

      I got alot out of this site as im planning on leaving the nest myself soon. thanks for the info!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Roastedpinebark, best of luck to you in your upcoming adventures. I think these tips will be quite helpful when you begin your college life. I'm glad you found this Hub useful. And I love your screen name!

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 7 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Just found this Hub. Full of good advice, and the comments are useful as well.

      I sometimes follow your advice. The other Patricia puts aside a 'cooking afternoon' every week - she's more organised.

      Both of us Patricia's have households where the number of diners changes frequently and drastically - doesn't help.

      My other half has several food that he doesn't like. When I am cooking for me, myself and I that means that sometimes I wildly over-cater, because I'm trying to fit all those things he doesn't eat onto my plate.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Your comment put a smile on my face, Patricia. It is so hard to get and stay organized when you can't count on how many people are going to show up for a given meal. My motto is "Be Prepared," and so my freezer and my pantry are my best food friends. When company shows up unexpectedly, I can always whip something up.

      Thanks so much for sharing the joys and tribulations of the cook's life!

    • profile image

      budlaorf 7 years ago

      Thanks Sally! Just moved into a new place and stunned my roommates with an amazing chicken dinner and soup!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      budlaorf, you are so welcome. Thanks for taking the time to read, cook, and comment!

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Cooking for one is definitely liberating!

      Except for buying chicken and beef in bulk, I already use most of your tips. The corn salad sounds yummy, but cob corn is only available in my area in summer, so I'll try it with frozen corn instead. I find baking potatoes a single's salvation. They can be a side dish OR, depending on the toppings, a complete meal.

      As for buying too much bread, I'm amazed bread companies don't offer half-loaves! However, I often splurge on favorite "specialty" breads *because* not a single slice will go to waste. (Try a grilled cheese on cinnamon bread some time - yum!)

      A single friend who buys TV dinners exclusively *cannot* be convinced "our" way (yours and mine) takes no more time than nuking one of her "dinners", plus it's sooooo much healthier. Sad...

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Yes, that is sad. But on the bright side, you and I know the importance starting with fresh foods, and we communicate that to anyone who's willing to listen. I suspect that you learned this importance from your family, as I did from mine. We are lucky.

      A major food chain where my mother lives takes their about-to-be-expired whole chickens, cuts them exactly in half, and sells them on the day of expiration for less than half the usual per pound price. This is a great idea, and speaks highly of this store's inventory management.

      My mother, who cooks for one as you and I do, takes these half chickens home, cooks them immediately (into pieces or soups or whatever) and freezes the cooked product.

      Two things I wish: that my local grocery chain would do the same as my mother's, and that all bakeries and groceries would sell half-loaves of fresh bread!

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      One grocery store marks down its about-to-expire meat as much as 50% around 4 p.m. A great to get the better cuts for less, although as you point out above, they have to be cooked and frozen, or eaten, as soon as you get them home.

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      That's a good enough reason for keeping the pantry stocked with freezer bags and storage containers! How long does it take to throw six pork chops into plastic bags (throw a little marinade in there too, if you have it) and toss them in the freezer? Those half-price sales are huge money savers.

    • marisuewrites profile image

      marisuewrites 6 years ago from USA

      Can I come over?

      I love food, it excites me. Shopping for groceries, preparing a meal, stocking the pantry all turn me on -- it just makes me tick. However, I see some things I can and should be doing differently, having read your tips. I think I also fell in love with your kitchen.

      I never thought about freezing the meat with the marinade! I think you're also way ahead of me on the organized prep of meals, and would love to sit at the table and "watch" you cook. Ok, give me a knife, I'll chop something, just to clear my conscience.

      I have to tell you that your soup cooling on the patio/porch brings to mind the time we put our Christmas beef brisket on the porch to cool, and when we went back out, it was gone.

      Hmmmm the neighbors did seem to be smiling a little more brightly that Xmas, but then, so did their dog.

      An enjoyable read, Miss Sally, as always!!! Did I say I'll be there at 7?

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Marisue, you've had an open invitation for more than two years now. Mi cocina es tu cocina!

      About the soup cooling outside, we do have an active squirrel population here, so I've been known to secure the the lid to the soup pot using duct tape.

      Soooooo glad to see you back!

    • marisuewrites profile image

      marisuewrites 6 years ago from USA

      I'll prepare for the visit by losing weight, so I can enjoy gaining while eat all your delicious meals. I cliced on your link about pickled red cabbage...I am adding that to the list for the holidays around here!

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 5 years ago from United States

      Great post,Nice

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Thanks for the good words, htodd.

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