Do you live by yourself, and find that when it comes time to cook dinner, it seems like too much of a challenge or a waste of time? Cooking for one can feel like a serious effort after a long day – particularly when it falls to you to do the dishes after you’ve cooked too!
But when if you don’t take responsibility for looking after yourself, who will? Besides, why should only couples and families get to enjoy tasty, nutritious meals? Cooking for one can be enjoyable, delicious and nutritious if you do it right – without the wastage or hassle!
It’s all too easy to resort to a quick bowl of cereal or a Vegemite sandwich for dinner where you’re only catering for yourself – there’s no one to complain about the menu, and it’s a quick and easy solution requiring minimal cleaning up afterwards.
Thirty-year-old Sarah can relate. She has been living on her own for a year, and now hardly ever cooks meals for herself.
“Before Chris (her ex-partner) and I split up, we regularly cooked meals at home. It was easy then – we shared the cooking and it seemed worth the effort when there was someone else to enjoy it with. Now I have to cook every night – and do the dishes too. I just can’t be bothered most of the time.”
There’s also the issue of waste: how many times have you brought produce, only to have it go off in the fridge before you can use it all? As Sarah says, “Buying vegetables is a problem for me. They go mouldy in my fridge before I can use them up.”
These are common complaints among singles – it seems we don’t go to as much effort when it’s just for ourselves. In fact, a U.S. Department of Energy study found 42% of American singles don’t cook even one meal per day at home, putting themselves at risk of weight gain and long-term health problems.
What’s a single gal or guy to do?
Before you grab the nearest frozen dinner for one, or turn to Uber Eats to solve your problems, consider some of the positives of cooking for yourself:
- You can make whatever you like to eat. You don’t have to worry about anyone else’s allergies, dislikes or preferences.
- You don’t have to worry about others sabotaging your weight loss plans. No one will “accidentally” bring home a 2L tub of your favourite double choc chip ice cream if you don’t! You can keep your pantry stocked with the healthy, low-calorie foods you want to eat.
The how-to tips
While there’s nothing wrong with a bowl of cereal for dinner on occasion, it’s not a great dinner for every night of the week. It comes at the cost of missing out on vegetables and protein – not to mention taste!
But how can you make meals for one, without needing to throw away half the food you buy before you get to eat it?
Try these tips:
- Buy foods packaged in single servings. These might initially seem more expensive than bulk options, but can actually be cost-saving if you end up throwing out half of the bulk packages anyway. Try sachets, mini jars/tins, and individually packaged products, instead of buying family-sized jars and packets.
- Buy foods from self-serve bulk tubs and deli counters. This way you can buy the exact amount you need – and you know it’s fresh! You also won’t feel “obligated” to eat any leftovers, just because you’ve paid for them.
- Don’t leave out fruits and vegetables. Try buying vegetables that have already been portioned into smaller sizes, such as broccoli flowerets and loose lettuce or spinach leaves. Keep your freezer stocked with frozen vegetables – this means guaranteed easy access and prevents mouldy mush in your vegetable crisper. Try tinned or dried fruits (but watch out for added sugar) and choose fresh fruits that are longer lasting, such as apples and oranges.
- Plan your meals in advance, so you can use up ingredients throughout the week, and only buy what you know you’ll need.
- Get into a regular shopping habit and keep your pantry well stocked. You’ll be less likely to resort to Vegemite on toast if there are lots of other tempting options in your pantry.
- Do a fortnightly shop for staples, such as pasta, tinned tomatoes and cereal, and purchase fresh fruits, vegetables and meats more regularly, as needed.
- Separate bulk trays of meat into individual servings and freeze in plastic wrap or freezer bags – these are easy to defrost when you want them.
- Slice bread before freezing. Freeze soon after buying to keep it fresh.
- Leftovers can be eaten for lunch the next day, or frozen in serving-sized portions ready to be defrosted when needed. You can also reuse leftovers in another dish.
Keeping it real
Now you still have the problem of having to cook and clean up by yourself…
The answer: make things easy for yourself. There’s no point attempting elaborate, fancy meals when you simply need to whip up a decent dinner. And if you’re smart, you can save on washing up by cooking one-pot or pan meals – talk about easy washing up!
- Use shortcuts to take the hassle out of cooking. Try buying products such as grated reduced-fat cheese, pre-washed spinach leaves and tinned tomatoes. Every bit counts!
- Jazz up simple dishes with herbs and spices. Consider buying prepared garlic, ginger, chilli and herbs, available in jars and tubes, for an easy but flavoursome addition to your meals. Or better yet, grow your own herbs.
- Use pre-prepared products as a base for your meals, such as pasta sauces, flavoured rices, soup bases and stocks. Be sure to read the nutritional information to check you’re not adding unnecessary fat, preservatives, sugar or salt, and make sure you add fresh vegetables, meats and grains to each meal.
- Experiment with foods from other cultures. There are many quick, tasty options you might not have tried yet – such as couscous, udon noodles and rice noodles.
- Measure out ingredients until you get familiar with the serving size for one person. It’s easy to accidentally cook for three or four!
Simple, delicious ideas
Here are some simple dinner suggestions. Experiment with what you have in your fridge and pantry. You’ll also find plenty of other great ideas in the Food.com.au Recipe section.
Most of these dishes can be cooked using only one pot or pan, saving washing up time! Even better, you can prepare them in less time than it takes to get takeaway.
- Toss diced fresh tomato, drained chunks of tuna (in spring water, not oil), shredded spinach leaves, chopped olives and lemon zest through cooked pasta. You can also add some chopped chilli, fresh coriander or basil.
- Try individual homemade pizzas, using pita bread, Lebanese bread or English muffins as a base.
- Roast some vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potato, carrots, baby eggplant, capsicum and red onion, lightly sprayed with extra virgin olive oil spray in a baking dish lined with baking paper (this makes the clean up easy!). Toss together salad greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and olives, and top with your roasted vegetables. Drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
- Turn any leftover roasted vegetables into another meal by serving them on couscous or rice with a drizzle of fat-free French dressing.
- Stir-fry thin strips of meat and finely sliced vegetables, and serve with your favourite sauces.
- Marinate skinless, boneless chicken breast in your favourite sauce, such as soy sauce or sweet chilli. Grill and serve with steamed vegetables. Use any leftover cooked chicken in other dishes.
- Try a baked sweet potato, or microwave the potato for a speedier option. Top with your favourite vegetable toppings and serve with a dollop of low-fat Greek yoghurt, if desired. Accompany with a salad. Try cooked corn kernels, broccoli florets and diced capsicum with a little grated cheese. Or, try chopped chicken breast, shredded spinach leaves, diced red capsicum and fresh coriander.
- Make toasted sandwiches with roast beef, tomato, spinach leaves and condiments, such as chutney or mustard. Serve with a side salad.
- Steam chopped vegetables, such as zucchini, broccoli, capsicum and baby eggplant. Toss through some cooked pasta with tomato-based pasta sauce, some chopped chilli and sliced olives. Top with a little grated cheese.
- Fish and seafood cook very quickly and taste great. Buy just enough for one meal, as seafood is best eaten the day you buy it. Try grilled fish, or briefly stir-fry some cleaned, scored (in a crisscross pattern) calamari tubes with chilli and garlic. Serve with lemon wedges and salad.
- Soup is warm and filling – and easy to make! Simmer stock in a large pot and add your favourite chopped vegetables. Cook until tender and mash lightly or blend in a food processor. Try adding beans or poached chicken for a more substantial meal. Soup also freezes well.
- Combine as many vegetables as you can think of to make a salad, such as lettuce, spinach leaves, carrot, tomato, cucumber, red onion, snow peas, sprouts, avocado and capsicum, and top with drained tinned salmon or cooked chicken. Seasonal fruit makes a great flavour addition – try mango, nectarine, apple or pear. Make a quick dressing by combining low-fat Greek yoghurt and your favourite flavourings, such as seeded mustard, herbs and lemon/lime juice.
Remember you’re worth it! You don’t need to be cooking for a group of people to justify making healthy, delicious meals. Your body and tastebuds will appreciate the effort!