7 tips and tricks to inspire and reduce food waste.

Cooking for one can sometimes feel like a daunting task, especially when it comes to food waste. It's always a bad feeling when you spend money on food only to let it sit in your refrigerator past its use date. While the tips below can help guide your cooking for one, your biggest tool is meal planning.

Before you head to the store, make a plan. Decide on what grains, vegetables, and meats you will buy. This can help ensure you don't leave it to chance that all that wonderful food you buy will go to waste.

1. Grains

Grains can be your best friend when cooking for one. Cook the exact amount of grains you might need for a dish or cook a larger batch that you could use throughout the week (or longer). Most cooked grains store well in the refrigerator for up to a week or a few months if tossed in the freezer.

Grains with shorter cooking times, like quinoa or millet, work well for quick, last-minute meals while grains with longer cooking times, like barley or farro, are great for the large batch cooking. Leftover grains can be a great addition to morning yogurt bowls, salads, or as a base for meat/vegetables.

Recipe: Broccoli Fried Rice

2. Vegetables

Vegetables can always be the main star of a meal but it can be hard to get through vegetables throughout the week, especially for those vegetables that are only sold in bundles. There are a few ways to maximize your vegetable using powers. For starters, plan your meals so that you will use the same vegetable for multiple meals throughout the week. This is especially useful for items like spinach and kale.

You can also buy vegetables that keep a bit longer such as root vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash. Also, look for vegetables that you can buy in smaller quantities. Many stores sell carrots and broccoli by the piece, making it easy to buy only what you need.

Beyond the fresh vegetables, pick up packages of frozen vegetables so that you always have vegetables on hand. Peas, broccoli, and carrots are a solid trio to always keep on hand.

Recipe: Prosciutto and Spinach Grilled Cheese

3. Meat

One of the reasons I stayed vegetarian through my 20's was the fact that I found it easier to cook for one without meat. I felt like I would always just waste it which led to feeling a bit of guilt when it came to cooking. However, there are a few tips you can use in still eating meat while reducing waste.

Buy larger quantities and freeze to use throughout the upcoming months. For some types of meat, there's a discount the more you buy. Go ahead and pick those meats up and freeze in individual portions so that you can pull out what you need, as you need it. There are also many types of meat that come pre-frozen, individually wrapped.

Or, if you happen to be one of those people that forgets to thaw your frozen items. Your local butcher can also become your friend. Buy the exact amount of meat you need for a week in smaller portions. Also, look for items that are already in single portions. Chicken apple sausages or brats are a great 1-person meal already.

Recipe: Chicken Zucchini Udon Bowl with Peanut Sauce

4. Fridge Clean-out

Even if you carefully meal plan, buying only what you need, inevitably you have a few straggles at the end of the week. Half a lonely sweet potato or a ½ cup of those cooked grains you thought you would use. Never fear: enter the fridge clean-out meal. Everyone needs one or two clean-out meals in their arsenal. Not only does it keep from ordering out, it can also drastically cut down on food waste.

There are many options for this but one of the most universal meals in our house is breakfast for dinner/egg scramble. I've rarely met a grain, vegetable, or meat that didn't go well in an egg scramble. Keep a some English muffins or loaf of bread in the freezer for a hearty breakfast for dinner meal.

Recipe: Egg and Vegetable Scramble

egg scramble

5. Recipes for two

This one might seem a bit more obvious but leftovers can really be useful. Recipes that keep as good leftovers are perfect for dinner one night and lunch the next day. Some recipes, like curries and stews can actually taste better the next day!

This section with recipes for two can be the perfect start for your leftover journey with a couple suggestions of quick chicken parmesan and this quinoa power salad.

6. Leftovers for a Crowd

There are a few meals that are amazing made in large batches then frozen. Making a couple of these recipes stocks for freezer full of delicious meals you can pull out as needed. Most popular in this category: soups, stews, and chilis. Make a batch and follow these tips for the best way to freeze soup.

This tip also works great for pasta sauces. Freeze pasta sauce in ice cube trays then transfer to a freezer-safe container. Pull out a few cubes as needed to homemade pasta, pita pizza, or even a shakshuka for one. These emergency meals are great for staving off the need for ordering food!

7. Premade Meals

Of course, there's not always time to plan and prep or you might have cleaned out your freezer. Delicious frozen meals can be a meal-saver in those moments. Keep a couple frozen meals on hand for when you're really in need of dinner. Luckily, Eating Well has a few solid, healthy options included Vermont Mac & Cheese.

Recipe: Mac and Cheese from Eating Well