When I first started my cooking career and I was cooking for clients, the last thing I wanted to do when I got home was cook for myself. But knowing the value of healthy foods, I made a pact with myself to make a delicious and nourishing meal after coming home from my busy day. How did I do it? I learned to be prepared.
I learned to plan and shop ahead, to have fresh ingredients and staples in the house to work with. Leftovers become a welcome part of life. When you’re not feeding 4 or 6, everything can be repurposed! It was quite luxurious, since I only had my own likes to think about. I was deeply content with a hearty bowl of soup for dinner (or breakfast or lunch!). I could eat a slice of frittata and a salad, no problem. That’s not everybody’s thing (like my husband), but it works wonderfully for me.
Over the years I’ve discovered that it’s not just the physicality that can turn us off from cooking for one – there’s a mindset, too. People will say, It’s just me, and I hate it. Even if they know how to cook, they’ll reach for prepared foods rather than cook just for one, JUST for themselves. I call people out on this. It’s so not fair, and not true! Who is more deserving of health than you?
There’s something about offering an homage to yourself. I went from thinking, I have to nourish myself to I want to! My kitchen is now my haven. When my husband goes on a trip, I cook for me. I can whip up a little something something that is nourishing and wonderful for me. I’ve developed my cooking-for-myself muscle over the years. You can, too.
Top tips for cooking for one.
Your primary strategy is to plan ahead, so you’re not always feeling like you have to stop at the store on the way home (like my friend who told me she had pretzels and a glass of wine for dinner the other day). Look at recipes, and if they’re written for 4, fine! It’ll all be for YOU, whether fresh in the moment or frozen for later.
Let’s say it’s wintertime and you’re a soup person (an easy scenario for me to imagine). Great broth is the key to GREAT soup. Make a bunch on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and have it ready in quart containers in your freezer (read more on this topic in my recent Food52 article, 5 Ways to Make Your Favorite Soup Even Better).
Whip up 2 soups over the next weekend and freeze half, enjoying switching back and forth with the fresh halves during the week (dinner/lunch!). Have a pantry stocked with the grains you like (quinoa, rice, wild rice), black beans, chickpeas and lentils, as well as other essentials like tamari, good olive oil and favorite spices. Now you won’t run out. Keep lemons, garlic, onions, fresh greens, parsley and mint on hand. You’ll be all set to make a quick chili and salad. Eggs are ALWAYS great: frittata, omelet, salad nicoise. A quick stir fry or roasted vegetables are easy after a busy day, especially if you’ve made a big pot of grains earlier in the week.
Roast off some chicken thighs or boneless, skinless breasts and have them ready in the fridge to turn into soup, salad or a garnish on a quinoa bowl. Or grill or broil a piece of salmon and the next day make a scramble with leftover salmon and tomatoes, goat cheese and chives. It’s very do-able. You’re just cooking for one!
Feel free to raid the salad bar at the store. They all have shredded carrots and beets. Toss with the juice of an orange, a little lemon, olive oil, fresh mint, parsley or basil — done and delicious! A healthy side.
Strip and rip kale (it’s FUN!) so you have a bag of greens ready to go, or buy the ones that are already triple washed.
Sometimes I’m cooking for two, but I’m really eating for one -- having leftovers the next day!
Here’s a little recipe directory of favorite recipes and videos to adapt for one.
Triple Greens Frittata - You can make Triple Greens Frittata in a snap. Instead of the large pan in the recipe, you can easily do a frittata in a 10” cast-iron frying pan with 3 eggs, a handful of greens, a little feta if you want, or whatever you have! You don’t have to be exact. Leftover frittata makes a GREAT lunch the next day.
Food Prep: Kale - See how easy (and fun!) it is to rip, strip and store your kale ahead of time so it’s ready to go into a recipe with no further ado.
It’s squash season! Pick up a butternut squash or feel free to grab pre-chopped in a package and quickly turn it into a Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut and Lime. So easy and yum!
Grilled Chicken with Za’atar with My Everything Drizzle
Can you say “za’atar?” Sure you can. In fact, if you lived in the Middle East, you’d be invoking the name of this herb-and-spice mix nearly every day. Both the za’atar and My Everything Drizzle can turn regular into fabulous, and so are terrific to have on hand. Why not treat yourself?
Mediterranean Chickpea Burgers - Make a big pot of brown rice and stir fry or roast vegetables one night. Make these delicious chickpea burgers, which incorporate brown rice, the next. Leave the leftover uncooked mixture in the fridge, covered, and make as needed over the next few days. It’s such a treat to have these ready in minutes! No buns needed, actually.
Garlicky Leafy Greens - This is a quick, delicious, super-healthy side for any dinner, any night. You’ll find it easy to compose beautiful, nourishing little meals in a bowl, with your favorite grain, some beans or lentils or roasted chicken, greens, and a colorful array of vegetables.
EXPERIMENT! PLAY! I’VE CREATED SOME OF MY BEST RECIPES BY TRYING THEM OUT ON MYSELF. I CALL THEM CONCOCTIONS! IF THEY’RE REALLY TASTY, I SCRIBBLE WHAT I DID BEFORE I FORGET ON THE BACK OF AN ENVELOPE. WHEN YOU’RE COOKING FOR ONE, SUIT YOURSELF!