3 items that ensure you can always prepare a basic dinner for one
If you only read one post on this blog please make it this one!
A strong statement, but it's because what I did to make this meal represents all the tips and habits I use to consistently make cooking healthy, delicious dinners for one simple and quick.
The challenge of consistently cooking economical, healthy meals for one person
Despite having cooked for one for a long time and being a fairly competent cook I still struggle with consistently cooking a proper dinner for one each evening.
Some evenings it is no hassle to whip up a great tasting healthy dinner. Other nights, like this one it seems mission impossible. Not only don't I feel like cooking, I can't think of what to cook.
This evening I actually spent about half an hour trying to convince myself I wasn't hungry because the whole dinner thing seemed such a chore!
It wasn't so much that I didn't want to cook, I just couldn't think of anything to cook with what I had on hand. Most of all I didn't want to have to contend with the cleaning up. (Obviously menu planning failed this week!) It was one of those days I really wished there was someone around to say 'you cook, I'll wash up!'
BUT that person didn't magically appear and I finally saved myself from having chocolate biscuits for dinner and came up with a meal that took minutes to prepare - and best of all ticked all the boxes of being:
- healthy & nutritious
- one pan
- budget friendly
- almost mess free
How to always be able to cook a healthy meal for one person
3 habits to follow
However I did come up with a meal - and it was one that turned out to be great. So today I'm sharing the principles that made that happen.
Three habits to adopt to always be able to come up with a basic dinner for one
The secrets revolve around doing some meal prep every month or couple of months and keeping a few basic ingredients on hand.
1. Always have canned Tuna or Salmon in the cupboard
- I used to hate any form of canned fish, and still don't love it. But what I do love is having it as a cheap, easy pantry staple that can be turned into a lot of ideas for dinner
2. Always have frozen peas in the freezer
- The 'pop' of green that peas bring make everything look good and it is an easy way of adding an extra serve of vegetables to your day
3. Always have frozen 'fillers' or carbs 'flat-packed' in the freezer
- These are the 'fillers' that bulk out any meal. Examples are rice, pasta, barley, mashed potato, quinoa and cauliflower rice.
- See my post on why you should never just cook rice for one meal
- See this post on why I am passionate about 'flat-packing' freezer items and how to do it
- *Links to come - leave a comment if you would like to be notified when they are updated.
It was these 3 habits that made it so easy to put together this meal.
If you follow these habits you have a base, that you can then add to with whatever foods or ingredients you happen to have to hand. In my case, tonight it was half a cob of corn that needed using up. I'm still in a 'Turmeric phase' so I added 3/4 of a teaspoon of that for flavour. Then while the Tuna and corn were cooking I remembered I had pistacios in the cupboard - and immediately thought they would be great for colour and texture. However, even without the pistacios I would still have had a good (well for a desperado dinner!) meal with the tuna, quinoa and frozen peas.
Why these habits increase the likelihood of eating a healthy meal vs takeaway
Good meals usually consist of some form of protein, vegetables and quite often a carb-type element such as rice or pasta.
If you need to cook the carb, it almost always means two pans, one to cook the rice / pasta / quinoa and the other for the protein and vegetables. So the secret is to always have pre-cooked carbs in the freezer.
Which is nowhere near as hard as you think. This is because if, for example you are cooking rice for one meal - it takes exactly the same amount of effort to add a couple of cups and cook rice for several meals. All it means is that at the end, you need to wait for it to cool and then put it into freezer bags. Yes it's a bit fiddly, but so worth the effort it because:
- saves a lot of time and effort each evening
- no need to wait for water to boil and the 10 - 15 minutes grains like rice take to cook means dinner gets on the table faster
- one less pan to wash
How tonight's meal could have been made even healthier
To be honest I could have made this meal even healthier by adding broccoli, which I had and spinach, which I didn't.
I looked at the broccoli, but just couldn't be bothered with washing, chopping and cooking it! (Was feeling VERY lazy!). But that is where having frozen peas is so great. I allayed my guilt about not having any greens.
PS: Don't be put off thinking this is only for those who eat quinoa and cauliflower rice!! It's equally applicable to pasta, rice or any other form of carb or what I call 'fillers'. Indeed I have a mix of these in my freezer.
Want more tip for cooking for one?
- See this post where I show 5 ideas for using freezer portions of pulled pork, along with before and after pictures
- Read here for my 7 tips for making it possibly to consistently cook a quick, healthy dinner for one person each night
- Learn about how to be part of the Dinner Desperado Community and get help from others who cook for one, e.g. post a picture of what's in your fridge or what ingredients you have to work with and ask the group for their ideas on what they would cook with those ingredients