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Cooking for one person requires just as much preparation and planning as cooking for 10. The same rules apply: Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables and round out your meals with whole grains and lean protein. The key, of course, is making sure you have ingredients on hand – but not so much that fresh items go bad.
By maximizing leftovers, repurposing ingredients and getting creative with meal plans, your food will be more wholesome and nutritious and you’ll be able to do the prep work for several meals in one shot. Here’s how:
- Make a plan. Take some time to plan your meals before you hit the grocery store. You’ll be better equipped to prepare healthy, delicious meals when you plan ahead instead of grabbing takeout on your way home or sitting down to a cold bowl of cereal. A bonus: When you plan meals, you’ll be able to think through how to maximize leftovers.
- Stock your freezer. If you don’t have time to cook during the week, schedule a cooking day on Sunday and prep a few meals to freeze. Don’t have a big freezer? Buy and freeze individual ingredients. Marinate a batch of four to six chicken breasts then place them in individual freezer bags. Make a batch of brown rice and portion servings into individual bags. When it’s time to eat, round out your meal with frozen veggies and you’re good to go.
- Buy frozen fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the cornerstones of any healthy diet. Trouble is, they’re also the first items to go bad. That’s where frozen and canned fruits and vegetables come in. These frozen items are especially good when you’re dining solo because you can take out exactly the amount you want, reseal the bag and return it to the freezer. They’re already cleaned, cut and ready to eat when you follow the package cooking directions.
- Use main ingredients for multiple meals. If you find leftovers boring, get creative by maximizing main ingredients. Make a roasted chicken with vegetables on Sunday then use the leftovers to make quesadillas, sandwiches and salads to carry you through the week. When all the meat is gone, use the bones to make a nourishing broth. Eating chili for dinner? Put a spud in the oven the next day and make a chili-topped baked potato with the leftovers.
- Learn to scale down recipes. Granted, sometimes it’s tough to portion down a recipe that feeds eight to 10 people. It’s also more economical to cook on a larger scale and freeze leftovers. But if you really want to cook single-serving meals, you can cut recipes for two in half; and those for four into fourths. Tools like Google and Suri can be your friends when determining how many tablespoons are in 1/6 cup. Along the same line, familiarize yourself with the butcher counter where you can purchase solo chicken breasts or 1/4 pound of shrimp.
- Keep it simple. There’s no reason you have to go BIG for dinner. Whip up a smoothie bowl, make breakfast for dinner or heat up soup and make a sandwich. Better yet, use up fresh produce that’s about to go bad to cook up an omelet. Spinach, mushrooms, peppers and broccoli make colorful additions to this already nutrient-rich meal.
- Eat mindfully. Just because you’re dining solo doesn’t mean you can’t have an enjoyable meal. Set the table rather than standing at the kitchen counter to eat. Light a candle or make a centerpiece of fresh spring flowers. Remember, too, that you don’t always have to eat by yourself. Invite a friend over to enjoy a home-cooked meal. Maybe they’ll return the favor the next time around.
While dining alone can be a bit quiet, there are some perks, too. You can cook exactly what you’re craving, you can eat in your pajamas and you don’t have to worry about catering to anyone else’s preferences or special diets. You can also experiment and try new dishes and ingredients.
Bethany Thayer, MS, RDN, is director of the Henry Ford Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. She enjoys communicating with people about healthy living and eating and was a national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for 9 years. Beth is the president of the Michigan Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which also named her as the Outstanding Dietitian of the Year in 2012.
This story is provided and presented by our sponsor Henry Ford Health System.
Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.