The Essentials Of Cooking For One

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Shorter Version

Est. Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Are you tired of eating the same leftovers because you keep cooking recipes that serve a family of four? Cooking for one might seem tricky and overwhelming at first. Many single-living twenty-year-olds avoid cooking because they think it’s boring or lacks variety, it causes food waste, or it’s not worth the effort. But, have no fear! It’s more fun than just cutting a recipe in half or Googling “single-serving” recipes. We’re here to share the good news that with these helpful starter tips and more actionable steps below, you’ll master the art of cooking for one (and even two).

Plan, plan, plan ahead

The first step in beating boredom and food waste is to meal plan. Cooking for one requires extra planning to ensure food safety with leftovers, too. Write down the meals and snacks you want for the week, determine the quantity of each food you’ll need to prepare, and think ahead as to how you will store portions for the week, including leftovers. Of course, be realistic about when you’re able to cook and how much time is needed throughout the week. You only have one set of hands, so keep things simple. The more you practice preparing meals for one, the more efficient you’ll be in the kitchen.

Dietitian’s Tip: Beat meal prep boredom by planning meal components rather than specific recipes.

Components let you change things up when you put your meals together. Mix & match veggies, grains, proteins, and how it’s all assembled (think about filling tacos or quesadillas and topping burrito bowls or a green salad).

Befriend the freezer

Meet your new best friend, the freezer. Freeze individual portions (think of using mini glass storage containers, a muffin pan, or an ice cube tray depending on the portion size) to thaw overnight for the next day. Freeze extra portions of fresh proteins like fish, meat, and poultry before their “best by date.” Store leftovers in freezer-friendly containers. If they’re not eaten within 2-3 days, pop them in the freezer before they go sour.

Dietitian’s Tip: Want to keep it fresh? Buy your meats, poultry, fish, and cheese from the deli and butcher counters which allow you to buy the exact serving portion you need.

Recreate leftovers when cooking for one

Be creative with what you’ve already whipped up to prevent eating the same thing over and over. Keep things interesting by using your leftovers in different ways. Extra chili can go on top of a baked potato, stir fry can be thrown into scrambled eggs or a frittata, shredded chicken can be put in a sandwich, wrap or atop a salad.

Keep it fun in the kitchen

Cooking for one is anything but boring! It’s you, your dance music, a glass of your favorite bubbly (Cheers to a delicious Sunday night in with some sparkling water, kombucha, or prosecco!), and endless options for flavoring up your night. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your cooking. This is the time to learn a new cooking skill, try new foods and flavors, or create your own recipe. You only have yourself to impress so don’t worry about ruining someone else’s dinner. Did you master a meal? Share it with friends or showcase your masterpiece at the next dinner party!

Keep reading the actionable steps below for more tips to make cooking for one fun, affordable, sustainable, and delicious all week long!

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Actionable Steps


Read the longer version

To learn more, read these articles reviewed by our professionals: Tips for Cooking for One or Two by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 10 Tips on Cooking for One by Gimme Some Oven, Healthy Cooking for Singles or Couples by the Mayo Clinic, and 5 Essential Tips in Cooking for One by the Kitchn.


Do your recipe research

If you enjoy following recipes, choose two recipes for the week and reduce large recipe servings of 4 to 6 portions to serve just 2 to 3 portions. Cook on back to back nights then alternate days you eat the leftovers. Or, look for single serving recipes like microwaveable mug meals, pita bread pizza, and mason jar overnight oats. If you’re not a recipe guru, stock your pantry with the staples for creativity or decide what meal components you want to mix & match throughout the week. Read more about meal components by McKel Kooeinga, MS, RDN, LDN here.


Master your meal plan

Refer to the meal plan tips above or in our meal planning article here to help you get started with the ins and outs of cooking for one with the recipes of your choice.


Frolic down the frozen food aisle

While fresh has its place in the kitchen, purchasing frozen produce with no added ingredients helps prevent food waste and allows you to have some variety in the types of meals you prepare throughout the week. These frozen counterparts can be just as healthy as fresh produce, as long as you avoid any sauces and added salt or sugar.


Buy in bulk

Dry goods like different grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, dried fruits, seasonings, and flours can be perfectly portioned when purchased from the bulk section. This helps save pantry space and lets you change up your ingredients more often. On the other hand, if you use these non-perishable items frequently, then buying them in bulk will help save money and reduce packaging in the long run.


Host a meal prep swap party

Have some friends also cooking for one? Invite your friends to exchange meals. Plan one type of meal for everyone to prepare, choose a variety of recipes, prep it together or in individual kitchens, then get together and swap a few meals for the week. This helps add variety to your meal planning so that you don’t have to eat the same thing every day and lets you experience new ideas, foods, and flavors.

Dietitian’s Tip: Go further with your friends and split the grocery shopping. Splitting bulk items and fresh produce with a buddy helps you get more variety in foods without wasting them.


Store leftovers properly

Food storage is key to preventing food poisoning and spoilage. Learn how, where, and how long to store leftovers with this cheat sheet.

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About the Author

shannon costello

Shannon Costello

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

Hi, I’m Shannon! I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Culinary Coach, and Personal Trainer. After dedicating over 8 years to the corporate wellness world, I began my own nutrition practice. Chef Shannon Nutrition focuses on plant-based nutrition and culinary coaching. My passion for culinary nutrition grew when I worked as a cooking instructor for a culinary entertainment company. After several years as an instructor and event coordinator, I moved into the role of Director of Culinary Entertainment where I developed all the recipes, menus, and instructor trainings. My dietetic’s expertise helped the company expand into allergy-friendly and health conscious menus to suit all clients.
Full Bio | LinkedIn | 1:1 Coaching

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