The Single Lady’s Guide to Cooking for One
Whenever I hear someone say that they don’t like to cook, because they live alone and are single, I get a little sad. Cooking is one of my love languages, and there’s no better way to show anyone—yourself included!—how much you care than with a delicious and comforting home-cooked meal. After all, a girl’s gotta eat, right? Just because you’re on your own doesn’t mean that you have to live off frozen pizza and prepared foods from Trader Joe’s. Trust me, I’ve been single and living in a fabulous studio apartment for the past eight years. Here’s how to master cooking for one, single-gal style.
Before heading to the store, make a list of the items you know you’ll eat every day, like apples, bananas, yogurt, and granola. Then look at your schedule. If you’re going to be out two nights during the week, don’t buy too many dinner ingredients. Only buy what you know you can consume.
Some items I always have in the fridge: greens, cheese, eggs, hummus or salsa, seasonal vegetables (like asparagus in spring, tomatoes in summer, butternut squash in fall, etc.), and some sort of starch, be it bread, tortillas, or pita. For the pantry, I like chicken stock, canned beans, canned tomatoes, pasta, tuna, and some sort of grain, be it quinoa, rice, or farro. Your items may be different, but figure out the basic building blocks of the meals you make, and always have those on hand.
Indulge yourself by making the dishes you love. If linguine with clams is one of your favourite dishes, stock your pantry with pasta and canned clams. Love pizza? Purchase premade dough and keep it in your freezer so you can always thaw and make yourself a pie. Take advantage of being alone, and enjoy the mushrooms, anchovies, or blue cheese that you never used to eat, because your ex hated it.
You eat what is on hand, so if you’re trying to be healthier, fill your fridge and pantry with healthy foods and ingredients. Make a hearty dinner salad twice a week. Roast a big batch of vegetables then toss them into sandwiches, pasta, or couscous. Add a handful of chopped greens to everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to bean-heavy soups. Treat yourself to a beautiful piece of fresh salmon. A 4-ounce portion is so much more affordable than the pounds you’d buy to feed friends.
Don’t be afraid of making a dish that feeds four for yourself. If you’re dying to eat roast chicken, make it on Monday night then use the leftover meat the rest of the week to make quesadillas and chicken salad. When you’ve eaten all the meat, use the bones to make a nourishing broth. Make a big quinoa salad with roasted mushrooms, broccoli, pesto, and garbanzo beans and enjoy it for lunch all week long. Supplement it with with cheese and crackers or sliced deli meat.
If you’ve made a big pot of minestrone but are sick of eating it after three days, pour it into plastic containers, label it, and freeze it. The key to this technique is to not forget about the dishes that are in your freezer. The next time you know you’re going to have a late night at the office or have to run errands after work, open the freezer before you leave in the morning, take a look around, and pull out that minestrone to eat later for dinner. Most ingredients are freezable, so if you want a couple of slices of baguette to pair with your pasta pomodoro, buy a whole baguette, slice off what you will eat, and freeze it until you get a craving for bread. Nuts and parmesan cheese can also be frozen, so don’t be afraid of buying them in bulk.
Buy a bunch of asparagus, then see how many different ways you can cook it that week. Sure, it’s delicious roasted on its own, but it’s also great sautéed in butter and mixed with softly scrambled eggs and goat cheese. Or what about shaving it and tossing it with pepper arugula and crispy pancetta? Or why not make spaghetti and toss it with chopped asparagus, smoked salmon, and cream cheese? Choose a different ingredient every time you go to the grocery store.
In the mood for Mexican? Pick up salsa, tortillas, avocados, and a little bit of chorizo. Use these ingredients to make different Mexican meals all week. Make classic quesadillas with cheese and salsa one night. The following evening, mix chorizo and black beans to use as filling for taquitos. The next night, make the aforementioned hearty salad with greens, beans, and crispy baked strips of tortilla. Use the salsa as a foundation for a simple dressing. The next week, head to the Mediterranean market and buy hummus, kalamata olives, fresh oregano, and shrimp. See how many different dishes you can make with these items.
Check the serving size if you’re using a recipe. Some recipes feed eight to 10 people, while others feed just four. If you want to make a dish that serves eight to 10, cut it in half. You’ll still have leftovers, but not a huge amount.
If you know you have a busy week, roast that whole chicken or make that turkey chilli on Sunday. Monday night, toss the leftover chicken meat with cheese and quickly cook a grilled cheese, or simply reheat the chilli. If you don’t feel like spending time cooking, use your oven and make something you can simply assemble and bake, like eggs in purgatory or naan flatbread.
You’re eating alone now, but you won’t always be eating alone, so cut yourself some slack. If you can’t bear another bowl of pasta in front of the television by yourself, treat yourself to a meal out. Go to a restaurant that has a bustling bar, and grab a seat. You aren’t eating alone if you’re sitting in a crowded restaurant.
Want recipe inspiration? Shop a few great books on cooking for one below.