5 Things to Learn That Will Remove the Hassle and Make it Easier to Consistently Cook Great Dinners for One Person
5 Things to Master to Make Cooking for One Quick and Easy
5 things to learn that are not about freezing, batch cooking or eating chilli 3 nights in a row
One thing I get tired of is reading 'how to cook for one person' articles - only to find that it is another list that tells me to use my freezer, cook recipes for 4 - 6 and freeze the rest or, my favourite, invite people over for dinner!
Good ideas (!) - but not necessarily practical. Well inviting people over for dinner every night certainly isn't! Plus some people are really organised and can batch cook and use their freezer - others not so much.
I'm also tired of seeing round ups of meals to cook for one that involve some form of eggs on toast. Admittedly many of the photos and cooking ideas are of gourmet dishes and look absolutely delicious - but eggs on toast 5 nights a week isn't going to work.
These posts are often written by people who normally cook for others and occassinally find themselves cooking for one. For them it is a rare treat, so 'breakfast for dinner' or some delicious egg dish is a treat.
But if you are cooking for one person, night in, night out, month in, month out, you need more practical tips that will ensure you can quickly and easily cook meals that are:
- healthy & nutrient dense
- simple, quick and easy
- allow for a variety of foods during the week
- ensure that you are meeting the guidelines for eating 5 serves of vegetables a day
- don't cause you stress or anxiety
- are easier and more economical than getting takeaway
So as a person who has regularly cooked for one person for a long time - and has times when it is both effortless and times when it is a complete struggle, these are my tips of what to learn so that even if you face an evening when you are not organised, meal planning fled in a bunch of deadlines and work or life pressures or you were too busy socialising, working, exercising, bingeing on Netflix to get to the supermarket, meal prep, batch cook or fill your freezer - you can come up with a decent meal.
1. Learn about what textures and flavours you like and what defines a 'good dinner' for you
By this I mean find out and know what flavours and textures are most likely to tempt you. For example I know that if food looks good and has a lot of texture I am more likely to be inspired to cook and eat it. Last year I discovered red cabbage and pomegranates and realised that cooking greens and creating purple and green meals, made them really attractive to me.
I know for regular week night meals my biggest driver is creating something healthy, so I am more attracted to something I can add spinach, broccoli and the like to.
2. Learn to identify and remove the obstacles to cooking well each night
This has been an eye opener for me. It's really the simple things and will be different for each person, e.g the little things that annoy one person, won't even be noticed by another.
Things that were obstacles for me and what I've done to remove them are:
- Dislike the smell and mess of opening tins of salmon or tuna. Now I open several at once and 'flat pack' the ingredients to store them in the freezer. E.g. do the messy job I hate once all in one go, once every six weeks or so and don't have to deal with it each time.
- Sorting through all the pots and pans I have to find the one I need. I did a massive clean-out of my kitchen and removed the things that I don't use each week, e.g. casserole dishes for making lasagne - and moved them to a different part of the kitchen. That way everything I needed, an ONLY what I needed was at my fingertips and I could easily access each night. The lasagne casserole dish that I used to have to lift up and move to get to my favourite saucepan each night - has been moved to the back of a corner cupboard - as I only use it about once every 5 years!
- Not cooking many curries or international dishes because my spices are allmixed up and hard to access and put away Another thing that stops me cooking recipes I'm interested in or adding more variety to my week night cooking repertoire is that my spices are all bunched up in a plastic container in the cupboard. I still need to sort out a solution to this - but I know when I do, it will all of a sudden be much easier to cook dishes that use multiple spices.
3. Learn to love leftovers - to the extent of sometimes deliberately cooking more so that you have leftovers to 're-purpose'
Through the course of talking to people about food for this blog, I have discovered a whole tribe who hate leftovers and don't like cooking with them. This surprised me as I thought everyone loved leftovers!
That's because you can create a completely different meal with the same ingredients, but with little effort. We always had bowls of odd bits and pieces of leftovers and they were always the things that my sister and I fought over, quite often the best parts of a meal.
4. Learn to create 'mix and match' meals
I think this is essential if you want to make really easy meals each night with little effort. This way you can pre-cook proteins such as meat, chicken, pork etc. and some carbs or 'fillers' such as rice, pasta, quinoa etc. and sauces such as tomato salsa, mexican enchilada sauce and then select a combination of protein and filler with whatever vegetables you have available to create anything from a warm salad to a shepherds pie to a past a ragu to a dish such as this one pan salmon. It allows you to be imaginative based on what's available, or, if you can't think of anything to turn to a staple such as the meal featured in this post.
Learning about cooking 'separates' was a game changer for me.
I could mix and match what protein and what filler I wanted, and ideally what sauce. It doesn't replace cooking and freezing complete meals for nights when you don't want to do anything at all, but is a great complement.
5. Learn to be imaginative and think in terms of nutrition or tasty vs recipes
This relates back to the first principle, knowing what textures and flavours you like. This eventually helps you put together a simple meal more quickly because it means you don't always have to follow a recipe. You can learn to take a more 'free-form' approach to putting together a meal. This means you can look in the fridge or pantry and based on seeing what's there and what textures and flavours you like, you can invent a meal on the spot. This is how I come up with a lot of the 'warm salads' I make for dinner many nights.
The process goes like this:
- Procrastinate about cooking because I can't think of what to eat or can't be bothered getting off the sofa and into the kitchen!
- Eventually realise the problem on being hungry and needing dinner isn't going to solve itself.
- Waste extra time wishing I had been grocery shopping on the weekend and done some meal - prep.
- Realise I can't go back in time and need to deal with the circumstances in front of me right now - e.g. that I'm hungry and I only have what I can find in the pantry and fridge to work with
- Spend a bit more time staring in the pantry and fridge
- Have an ah-ha moment.
- Wonder why it didn't hit me sooner.
- Get excited about what I can make, for example seeing a half used can of tomatoes and remembering there is some pasta in the cupboard and that I can combine that with garlic clove to make a super simple tomato pasta. Or seeing leftover roast vegetables and thinking if I cook some barley, chop and heat the roast vegetables, drizzle them with lemon and I could create a delicious warm salad.
The key to being able to do this is knowing what flavours and textures excite you so instead of seeing limp lettuce or the piece of salmon you should have cooked yesterday you see lettuce cups with savoury mince or a piece of salmon that you can stick in foil, roast in the oven and instantly have a healthy meal with no washing up.
- 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