Planning and Preparing Meals for One - Five Tips To Keep Meal Preparation Simple
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.
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.
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
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 Preparation and Storage Safety
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.
Some Great Books for Making Great Soups and Salads
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
Jams and Preserves
Pasta, rice, and dried beans and peas
Tea, coffee, bottled juices
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!