I'm a Dietitian Who Just Started Living Alone—Here's What I've Learned About Cooking for One
These are the ways I've kept it simple, affordable and healthy, plus some of my favorite go-to dinners right now.
Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.
These days, a lot of us are cooking more at home. However, many recipes don't lend themselves well to people cooking for just one or two. Not to worry, there are several ways to save money, eat healthy and slash your food waste when only feeding yourself or two people— take it from me.
A few months ago, I moved from a home with five roommates and a dog (busy, to say the least) into a studio apartment by myself. I anticipated that living alone would be very different, but my biggest learning curve was in the kitchen. I love to cook, and do it often, but it became apparent that I would need to make some changes without roommates to share dinner and leftovers with. I may still have a ways to go, but these tips and tricks have helped me cook healthy meals for one or two people on a budget.
Make a plan.
One of the best things you can start doing (if you're not already) is making a menu plan and grocery list each week. When you menu plan, you take out all of the guesswork and you'll be prepared with the ingredients you need for meals throughout the week.
I always make sure to plan for leftovers, usually for lunch, to avoid forgetting food and letting it go to waste. One of my favorite meals that's even better after a day in the fridge is our Vegetarian Enchilada Casserole.
Once you have a plan, take stock of what you have on hand and what you need to pick up at the store. Not only will this help streamline your grocery trip, but also it will save you money by keeping you from buying things you don't need or won't use. Bonus: this helps you cut down on food waste, too.
Utilize your freezer.
I am a Costco member, even though it can give me shopping anxiety (I power through for the deals!) At stores like Costco or even your local grocer, it can make sense to buy in bulk for one if you make use of your freezer space. I buy large cuts of fish or meat at cheaper prices, then split them into individual portions and freeze until I plan to use them. This saves me from spending more on smaller portions any time I want to make Creamy Chicken & Mushrooms or Honey-Garlic Salmon.
You can also freeze perishable foods like bread. As one person, it can be tough to get through a whole loaf before it goes bad. Simply slice, freeze and take out one or two slices at a time as needed. Keeping your freezer well-stocked can help you make healthy meals in a pinch. Plus, you can freeze leftovers for a day when you don't have time (or energy) to cook.
Halve recipes and use leftovers.
Unfortunately for us living solo (or as a duo), most recipes are geared towards feeding a family of four or six people. Instead of having an insane amount of leftovers, there is a simple solution: Learn to halve recipes, or even divide them by three if they are meant for six. This allows you to only make the amount of servings you want.
For me, I usually make two servings of any recipe to either share with someone that night, or save for lunch leftovers the next day. This allows me to cook often without being overwhelmed with leftovers. So next time you make Jalapeno Popper Burgers, which I highly recommend, only use half of a package of ground beef, and save the rest in the freezer for another use. Future you will thank you.
These days many of us are feeling strapped for cash, and meat is expensive. In fact, one way I saved a lot of money over quarantine was through eating more plant-based. Not only are vegan and vegetarian protein sources, like beans and legumes, super affordable, but also they are packed with nutrients. There are several recipes that are so satisfying and filling, I don't even miss the meat (I promise!). My current obsessions include our Sweet Potato-Black Bean Burgers and our Beefless Vegan Tacos. Both are super freezer-friendly, as an added bonus.
My "Kitchen-Sink" Recipes
Living alone has led me to love the "kitchen sink" dinner. By this, I mean a few go-to meals that I can sub in any veggies, beans or meat that needs to be used up stat. They also work great for nights when I have "nothing" in the fridge and minimal ingredients on hand. When in doubt, put it in a stir-fry. (That feels like it should be on a t-shirt). Slice up any veggies, throw in frozen beans or edamame and whip together a quick teriyaki sauce. Serve with grains and voila!
Another go-to meal when I need to use up miscellaneous veggies is our Shakshuka recipe. It is great with everything from mushrooms to bell peppers, and the flavorful tomato sauce keeps everything tasting cohesive. Other "kitchen sink" friendly recipes include stews, curries, frittatas and pasta bakes.
Having go-to recipes for food that is near expiration can help you cut down on wasted food and wasted money. Plus, using up leftovers in creative ways might help you discover your new favorite recipe!