There is plenty of discussion and debate about the topic of cooking for one. Cooking for one is referred to as “depressing”, or not “worth” the effort, or “more expensive” than eating out. While this may be the case at certain times, the more you cook for one, the sooner you will realize that it is a better value financially than dining out or takeaway, more nutritious, and can even be a fun experience.
Benefits of cooking for one
You have the freedom to cook exactly what you want, whenever you want. You do not have to cater to someone else’s dietary requirements or preferences. You can be as flexible and experimental as you wish, trying new dishes and ingredients. You may even learn some new culinary techniques and skills along the way. The experience is essentially what you make of it.
Top Tips When Cooking for One
1. Meal prep prior to going to the grocery store
Planning ahead really does make for a better cook. The meals do not need to be complicated or fussy, simple fresh produce, protein, and some sort of grain will go a very long way. For example, wok stir-fries, sauteed vegetables, or omelette with salad, are all easy, fresh, healthy meal ideas in minutes. Take time in advance to roughly plan out your meals for the next few days. This way when you get to the grocery store, you have a focus and know exactly what ingredients to purchase. The result will be fresh and healthy meals that are well executed and prepared, versus the last-resort cold bowl of cereal, or cold leftover takeaway. You will find that you spend less money and have fewer impulse purchases. Moreover, when you plan meals in advance, you can also determine a plan for leftovers so that they are not wasted either.
If you are used to eating out or ordering in, start small and plan out 1-3 homemade dinners a week, with a few extra helpings for leftovers that you can have for lunch the next day, or freeze.
2. The Deli Counter and Butcher are Hidden Gems
When you are next at the grocery store, take the time to familiarize yourself with the deli counter, butcher, and fish monger. You can easily ask the deli counter for a quarter pound of cheese or single portion of a prepared dish, or ask the butcher for 1 chicken breast or a single pork chop, or fish monger for 1/4 pound of shrimp. You only need to purchase as much as you’re going to need. These areas of the supermarket are staffed with a wonderful resource, specialists who can provide helpful tips and recommendations on what to buy for a recipe, or how to prepare a cut of meat, or what items are the freshest (or best deals) that week. They can also help with preparation, such as removing the skin or bones from a piece of salmon, or taking the fat off a piece of steak. Your local deli will also likely have regularly scheduled specials, so keep an eye out for great deals.
3. Bulk purchase long shelf life items you will use
Certain items that you know you will use, that also have a long shelf life, are usually better value when purchased in bulk. Grains, pasta, canned sauces, beans, lentils, canned tuna, dressings, vinegars, bottled beverages such as seltzer, these are all examples of staples that you may use frequently, and when purchased in larger quantities, work out better financially. Even consider other items to stretch your dollar further, cookware, parchment paper, foil, or storage containers all fall tangentially into this category as well.
4. Avoid bulk purchases of produce
One thing to avoid purchasing in bulk, especially for one, is produce. With most produce, if you are not going to consume it within 3 days, it will already start to turn past its prime. This is the one thing worth going to the grocery store twice a week for. Most fruits and leafy greens fall into this category. Purchasing 10 very ripe mangos for $10 is a bargain, but how many mangos are you going to realistically consume in the next 48 hours before they turn to a sour mush?
Certain produce items last a bit longer than others and can keep for more than a few days, these include root vegetables (potatoes, beets, carrots), squash, cabbage, onions, garlic, celery, broccoli and cauliflower. You can purchase most other non-produce items in bulk once a week, so you do not need to go for a major expedition twice a week. Think about supporting local independent grocery stores mid-week to replenish your fresh fruits and vegetables.
5. Plan to freeze some leftovers
If you make something that cooks better in larger quantities, plan to freeze leftovers in single or double serving portions, to defrost for a meal in minutes at a later date. Soups, sauces, stews, casseroles, lasagne each cook better and easier in a larger batch, but that is no problem. If a recipe yields 6-8 servings, you have 2 dinners or lunches for this week, plus 4-6 frozen meals for the future.
Cooking for one can be a very rewarding, enjoyable, and tasty experience. Enjoy experimenting in the kitchen and you even surprise yourself by having a good time!