Making healthy meals for one can sometimes seem like hard work, and it can be tempting to buy ready made meals, or live on snacks. But a bit of planning can make it much easier and more enjoyable to have a varied and healthy diet. If you eat on your own regularly, these tips will help cooking for yourself to be a pleasure.
Enjoy the experience!
Whilst eating on your own may sometimes feel a bit lonely, remember that there are some advantages to cooking for one
- You can cook exactly what you'd like, rather than having to cater to other people's taste
- Prep time is considerably shorter. There's much less chopping required when you're cooking for one;)
- You might be able to splash out on ingredients for one which would be too expensive for a bigger group. Maybe you could trade up to organic for some ingredients, or treat yourself to a few fat juicy prawns
- There's less washing up (more on that later!)
Make a meal for one more special
Most of us tend to bring out the best crockery, or make a special effort to lay the table nicely when we've got friends coming around. But there's nothing to stop you treating yourself as a special guest.
How about buying yourself some special crockery for one - you might not want a whole set, but one beautiful bowl or plate can turn solo meals into a real pleasure. If the weather is nice, set yourself up an outdoor table. And on dark evenings, a candle or some flowers will make your table more welcoming.
Get the right equipment
If your circumstances have changed, you might find yourself with a cupboard full of family sized pots and pans. But unless you plan on eating a lot of leftovers, I'd recommend investing in a few smaller baking dishes. A baking dish of around 6-7 inches by 4 (or 15-18 cm by 10) will be ideal for individual lasagne, shepherds pie etc, as well as fruit crumbles. And a small frying pan is invaluable. As well as individual omelettes, it'll be good for sauteing smaller amounts of onions and other vegetables. If you don't have one, a stick blender is also handy for blitzing smaller quantities of ingredients.
Shopping for one
If you shop in a supermarket, it can seem that everything is packaged for a family of four. Of course, it would be lovely to have a local shop where you could buy exactly the quantity that you want, but that is not always the case. And smaller packs can work out more expensive. So use your freezer to help you out.
Meat and Fish
Properly wrapped, most meat and fish will store for 3 months in the freezer. Make sure that you portion food individually before you freeze it, so that you can defrost one portion at a time. Buying frozen can also work well. Most supermarkets stock a good range of frozen fish, and you can just use what you want and put the rest back in the freezer. Most fish doesn't need to be defrosted before you cook it, and this fish pie and chowder recipe are great for frozen fish. You can even make delicious fish and chips with frozen fish. Canned fish is also a good way to prepare quick healthy meals for one. Leftovers of canned fush such as tuna can be successfully frozen in a sealed plastic container. (This tuna fritters recipe and canned mackerel pate are both easy to make in small quantities)
Fruit and veg
In most places, it should be possible to buy your fresh fruit and veg loose, so you can choose exactly what you want, and buy a good selection. Don't feel embarrassed about buying a small quantity if that is what you want. Of course, frozen can also be useful as you can take out what you need and leave the rest in the freezer. If you've got a little bit of space, consider growing a few salad crops yourself. Salad leaves grow well in a large pot or window box, and you can have fresh whenever you want by just picking off a few leaves.
Most supermarkets also now stock a great range of frozen berries. Berries are so good for your health, and using frozen makes it easier to eat a good variety of different fruits.
Herbs add a great flavour to food, and are excellent source of nutrients, so try to incorporate them into your cooking for one where you can. Woody herbs such as thyme and rosemary freeze well, so just use what you need and pop the rest in a small bag in the freezer. For soft herbs such as basil, try a pot of living herbs on the windowsill. Keep the pot watered, and it should last a few weeks.
Store cupboard ingredients
Provided they are well sealed, dry goods should store pretty well. Most uncooked rice and pasta will keep for at least a year. Pulses are full of beneficial fibre and so good for your health, so don't let pack quantities put you off. If you open a can of beans or lentils and it's too much for one, pop the remainder in the freezer in a sealed plastic tub. You can also cook up a batch of dried lentils or beans, and freeze them in individual portions. This balsamic and lentil salad recipe for one is a quick healthy meal and a great way to enjoy lentils.
Of course, shopping for one could also be more enjoyable if you are able to shop with a friend. You might inspire each other with new recipe ideas, or even be able to split one or two ingredients.
Make use of healthy meal prep
Meal prep could be your new best friend if you are making healthy meals for one. Rather than cooking every element of your meal from scratch, batch cook some of the components. These can then be frozen or refrigerated. It's much more efficient in terms of both time and energy.
Meat and fish: most cooked meat and fish will freeze really well. If you enjoy beef, try this gluten free lasagne or healthy cottage pie, and freeze in individual portions. Or make up a batch of turkey bolognese. You'll be able to whip up a healthy meal for one in no time. Cooked chicken freezes brilliantly. You could even roast a small chicken, and portion up the leftovers for dishes such as ramen noodles, or a chicken salad. If you enjoy fish pie, make one or two extra portions of the fish and sauce mixture. Then you can just make a quick topping for a delicious single serve meal another day. And pop a portion of cooked salmon in the freezer for an easy way to top up your omega 3.
Sauces: A healthy tomato sauce is invaluable in many recipes, and can transform a cooked chicken breast or piece of fish into an interesting meal. Make 3 or 4 portions, and freeze individually. White sauce and cheese sauce also freeze well, or use this quick white sauce recipe to make a small amount quickly.
Veggies: A few vegetable dishes are ideal for batch cooking and freezing, so that you can easily vary your veggies on a daily basis. These easy courgettes in tomato sauce, and delicious slow cooker red cabbage will freeze really well. Both will transform a plain dish such as chicken breast or lamb chops.
Carbs: Cooked rice freezes really well, and it's great to not have to boil a portion of rice for one every time. If you enjoy egg fried rice, you'll need the rice to be cold anyway, so you might as well cook a few portions at once. Some starches such as potatoes and pasta are higher in healthy fibre when they have been cooked and cooled, so add a couple of extra potatoes for later in the week. Roast veg such as sweet potatoes are also a healthy option to have in the fridge. They are great with a salad to make it more filling.
Healthy desserts. So many baked goods freeze really well, so there's no reason to miss out if you are cooking for one. You can also freeze the components of recipes. For example, make up a batch of this delicious oaty crumble topping, and you can have a freshly cooked crumble for one in next to no time.
Use your stove efficiently
Of course, it uses as much energy to run the stove whether you're cooking for one, or 6. So if you've got the oven running, try to use it for more than one dish. Maybe pop in some sweet potatoes for later in the week. Or roast your carrots and broccoli rather than boiling them on the hob. This simple chicken tray bake is great for one, as you can cook everything in one pan. And maybe treat yourself to some healthy breakfast muffins for the freezer whilst the oven is running:)
If you're using the hob to cook your veggies, you may be able to layer a couple of different veggies in a steamer. It's really good to eat a variety of vegetables, but you don't necessarily want to have 3 pans bubbling away.
Be organised, and cut down on the washing up
Of course, it's likely that if you're cooking for one, then you're also going to be the person doing the washing up. And whilst a dishwasher certainly helps, there are usually a few things that need washing up separately. I'd really recommend that, as much as possible, you clear up as you go. It can spoil a lovely meal, knowing that you've got a mountain of mess to clear up afterwards.
Whether you are cooking for one person or six, it's useful to have a plan of what you are going to eat during the week. Once you're in the flow of meal planning and prepping, you won't need to cook from scratch every night. Maybe you'll have some leftover chicken for ramen noodles, or defrost some bolognese for a lasagne. Most of the recipes on this site can easily be scaled down to two servings, so give it a go.
If you've got any other thoughts or questions on healthy eating for one, please do get in touch.