One of the most frequently asked questions I hear are about how to cook for one person. Whether it’s from someone at the gym, from a friend, or from a Facebook connection, the popular opinion is that turning on the stove and dirtying a pan for just one person seems like a waste of time.
Cooking for one person isn’t scary or depressing, and it doesn’t need to take a lot of time or preparation. Instead, I feel it is empowering to take control of your diet and enjoy healthier recipes. Cooking for yourself can be even more than a chore—sometimes it can be a welcome escape from everyday life as you ignite your five senses and get lost in the meditative process of chopping, stirring, and seasoning.
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My Top 5 Tips for Cooking for One:
1. Pasta—Think Outside the Box
With the variety of whole grain pastas available now, this starchy staple is finally losing its stigma as an unhealthy food. Whole wheat pasta has fiber and protein and is particularly handy since it cooks so quickly. Often, in the time it takes to boil the water, you can assemble and cook all of your toppings or make a quick pasta sauce.
Before you say how tired you are of pasta—think outside the box! There’s more than just spaghetti out there. There are brown rice shells that work great in a quick soup. Whole wheat orzo makes a satisfying pasta salad. Brown rice pad thai noodles boil quickly for a gluten-free stir-fry. Buckwheat soba noodles cook in just 3 minutes, which means dinner is ready faster than you can dial-up your favorite Asian take-out.
2. Get Help! There’s No Shame in Frozen Veggies and Canned Goods
I’m a chef, but even I usually want a quick and easy dinner after a long day of work. Since I don’t have a sous chef to steam all of my broccoli and simmer all of my lentils, I use frozen vegetables and canned goods to help me through the week.
Frozen broccoli and a couple of microwaved potatoes with your favorite dressing makes for a quick, tasty potato bowl. You can do also do a “nacho” baked potato with canned black beans and salsa. Be creative and whip up some quick stir-fries, curries, and soups with these pre-prepped veggies and beans. Frozen edamame is also my standard go-to snack. A bag of beans and a sprinkle of salt? So simple and yet so satisfying.
3. Spice it up!
When was the last time you spent some time perusing the spice aisle? Spice companies like Frontier and Mrs. Dash offer plenty of pre-made spice mixes, and they often have salt-free options. If you currently have unused individual spices dying in the dark hole of your spice cabinet, then these pre-made mixes are just for you. Experiment with spice blends including Mexican, Italian, Lemon Pepper, Creole, Berbere, and one of my favorites, the North African Ras al Hanoujt.
Slow Cooker Simple Soup Recipe:
1 can of beans
1 can of diced tomatoes
2 diced potatoes
1 bag of your favorite frozen vegetables
4 cups of water
2 tsp. of spices
Cook in the slow cooker on “Low” for 6-8 hours.
Chef’s Tip: Just remember spices always develop more flavor when they’re heated. If using in a raw dish like hummus, then warm the spices in the microwave for 30 seconds to get more flavor.
4. Go Slow…Or Fast!
I don’t use my slow cooker as often as I should, but it’s a useful tool that keeps hands-on time to a minimum. There’s nothing better than coming home on a cold winter’s day to a hot and bubbly stew that’s been cooking all day. Freeze half and keep leftovers for lunch the next day.
Along the same lines, a pressure cooker can also be a huge timesaver, especially for cooking beans and braises. It cooks grains, beans, and potatoes in a fraction of their normal cooking time.
5. Keep a Stocked Pantry to Make Your Favorite Meals
As you experiment with recipes and explore new flavors, keep a list of your favorites. You’ll want some no-brainer dishes that are your standbys for when you are short on time and low on energy. Repeating foods and having minimalist meals can actually simplify and support your healthy eating.
Keep your pantry stocked with ingredients to make these favorites so that you’re always ready. Onions, carrots, celery, potatoes, and a well-stocked pantry are your ammunition for fighting take-out temptation. Rather than reaching for the food menus on your phone’s delivery app, reach for this list. You’ll save money, eat healthier, and have a better understanding of what is in your food. With take-out, your salt, fat, and sugar levels are at the mercy of a line cook. When you cook for yourself, you can control your nutrition and your flavors.