One of the key reasons I think I have been able to lose 25kg (55 pounds) is that I have gotten serious about cooking my own meals from scratch and examined the ingredients in some of those packaged foods I was using. Not that all packaged food is bad for you and I was often surprised by what was packed with calories and what wasn’t. Some things had some very sneak amounts of calories hidden in them. Plus a lot of the packaged food is not designed for the single person and so I would buy a sauce designed for a meal for two and eat most of it. This is changing and there are a growing number of convenience foods for the single person but it is still not the norm.
I have found the best way to know what I am eating is to make it myself. I know some people find cooking for just one person quite challenging and feel it isn’t worth it. But I think I deserve to eat well and good food always makes the day just that little bit better.
There are loads and loads of recipes out there on the internet but I found that most of them are for 4 people. However, a large number of them can be reduced so that they serve one or two. Cooking two batches is often a good way to go in that you can then pop it in the fridge for the next day. Many dishes such as curries often taste better that second day after the flavours have settled and seeped in through the ingredients.
Not all dishes are easy to reduce though so here are my top tips for successfully cooking for one:
1. Read the recipe and decide if the ingredients can be halved, quartered etc.
This is perhaps the most obvious tip. If a recipe calls for say a tablespoon of soy sauce, that is easy to halve but if the recipe calls for one egg, things start to get tricky. So be savvy about what you try and change. For some ingredients, it isn’t so obvious, such as onions. I have found that the secret with onions is to have an onion keeper and then the leftover onion can be safely kept in the fridge for a few days and I don’t normally have a problem using it up as a lot of recipes I make have onion in them.
2. Expensive ingredients may not be worth it.
There is a recipe I keep looking at that requires this expensive ingredient that only comes in fairly large packets. I know that the likelihood of using all of the ingredient before it goes off is low. So whilst the recipe looks enticing, I am just not going to make that recipe any time soon. There are too many other good recipes out there to try
3. Accept that some foods are meant to be shared.
Ok so you probably could reuse that whole roast chicken over the course of the week but that is a lot of chicken to get through on your own. I have taken the attitude that some foods are meant for large groups and save them for those occasions. Having said that, there are some great baked chicken recipes out there so you can still get a good chicken fix.
4. Use appropriately sized cookware
When I first started getting serious about cooking for myself I found that often when I reduced the recipe but not the pan I was cooking in, the sauce would be spread too thin and would burn and evaporate. Using a smaller pan than the recipe suggests is often the key to successfully reducing a recipe.
5. Reduce the cooking time
If you are cooking smaller amounts they often cook quicker than the recipe suggests. When you are first making a recipe, it pays to keep a close eye on it and not be afraid to whip it out of the pan or oven earlier than the recipe suggests so you don’t overcook food. Shorter cooking times is one of the benefits of cooking for one. If you are worried about undercooked meat then I strongly suggest investing in a meat thermometer to check on the progress. There is a great article here on what temperature meat should be.
6. Some pre-prepared products are your friend
One of the pre-prepared products I use frequently is minced garlic. Minced ginger would also be up there. I know they are not quite as good as fresh but if you buy the right brand – I like ones that look like it is still garlic in the jar – then they can help you get half a clove if that is what is called for without wasting food. I also use some pre-prepared food when I want a time consuming meal quicker, such as using pre-prepared pasta sauce for a lasagne.
7. Minced meat is also your friend
Healthy portion sizes are so easy with recipes that use minced (ground) meat. Very easy to measure the right sized serve. There is good quality mince around now, that is low in fat and has the added bonus of still being fairly cost effective. Keep an eye out for recipes that use for minced meat as they will be your friend. Similarly stir-fries are easy to make in an appropriate sized serve. Recipes that call for whole chicken breasts can be trickier. You can chop up the chicken breast – which I do – but I often find the chicken cooks too quickly and dries out. This is when the meat thermometer comes in to its own.
8. Plan your meals ahead
This applies to everyone, but particularly the solo cook. If you are buying an ingredient that has a short shelf life, see if you can plan a few different meals that incorporate that ingredient so you don’t waste it.
9. One pot meals are another friend
If I am just cooking for myself, I don’t want to create an absolute mound of washing up. It is ok every now and again but if I make too many meals that use numerous pots and other utensils then I start to get fed up with the whole cooking process. The packaged meals start to look tempting again. Keep an eye out for recipes that require minimal cooking equipment and build up an arsenal of one pot meals. Cooking and eating should be fun.
10. Leftovers are good up to a point
Some but not all recipes taste better the second day. I try and incorporate in to my meal plan at least one recipe that I know reheats well so I have a night off from cooking but still have a great home cooked meal. However, I try and limit it to only one extra serve. I don’t want to be eating the same meal for the entire week. I sometimes make up extra batches for freezing but I only have a smallish freezer so can’t do too much of this. There is of course some food that does not freeze well. This list from the kitchn is mainly about fresh products but also includes some other foods that don’t freeze well such as fried food and sauces made with flour. I am always very wary about how long I leave things in the fridge. There is some good information on how long to keep food here.
I hope these tips help you when you are just cooking for yourself. Do you have any tips on cooking for one or for many?