7 tips and hacks to make cooking for one easy
The tips in this post are for what I call ' functional weeknight cooking' e.g. the type of cooking that needs to be done night in, night out, week in, week out.
It's tips for staying motivated to cook the meals we need to eat to keep ourselves healthy in order to lead great lives. It's about making the healthy well balanced meals that help us stave off illness and keep weight gain at bay.
Sometimes it's fun, but quite often it's a bit of a grind, especially if it caps off a long day.
So for me this this type of cooking is about maximising the nutritional value and minimising the time and effort required.
As you read through the tips just take on board the ones that might work for you and skip over the ones that cause you to frown, or think, 'why on earth would she do that'!!
Talking to friends about their cooking habits, I've been fascinated to learn how much people vary in their attitudes, so it's unlikely all 6 tips will resonate with you! Some of the differences I've found between friends are:
- freezers vs non-freezers
- love leftovers vs hate them
- want to eat something different every night vs happy to eat the same thing several nights in a row
- love menu planning vs want to open the fridge each evening and 'create'
The Seven Tips that Make Cooking for One Healthier, Easier & More Economical
1. Don't be confined by the specifics of a recipe - look for opportunities to increase the nutritional value and add extra greens or vegetables to your meals.
I find every opportunity I can to add extra leafy green vegetables or vegetables in general to a meal. Study after study says that a minimum of 5 serves a day of vegetables is essential for our well being. So my week night dinners for one are all about creating opportunities to add extra vegetables.
- The recipe for the chicken and corn soup below did not have broccoli in it - but the flavour or deliciousness of the soup wasn't altered by adding it. Peas, spinach and asparagus could also all have been added.
- The picture below that takes this to an extreme, I am pouring broccoli soup over spinach!
- The image on the bottom far right is what most of my cooking looks like. Once I finish cooking a meal or following a recipe, I put a couple of large handfuls of spinach or kale on top, put the lid on the saucepan for a couple of minutes so the greens wilt into the dish.
2. Think about your favourite colour combinations!
I recently discovered (and fell in love with, as in 'how did I live life without you love' - red cabbage.)
Digging beyond the romantic infatuation ... - I realised the reason I have this head-over-heels feeling for a member of the Brassica family is - its colour! Red cabbage is purple and I love purple. And purple looks very pretty with green. (My second favourite colour!)
What that led me to realise is that I am attracted to food that looks 'pretty' and goes together. e.g. my big thing this year has been adding dried cranberries to meals. I have never used them before, but lately they appear in every 2nd meal - as they make it look so pretty!
Obviously purple and green and 'pretty' doesn't appeal to everyone. But you can use the same principal - use your love of e.g. Autumn colours, or rustic browns and oranges to guide your choice of ingredients and help motivate you to cook.
For me the colours below definitely inspire me to cook more.
3. Ruthless de-clutter and organise your kitchen for quick and easy access to the items you use the most
Review what is in your kitchen and make sure that the items you use the most are the easiest to get to.
Recently I did a big tidy up of my kitchen and it transformed how easy it was to cook each night!
I moved all the big fry pans and bowls that I don't use very often to a different section of the kitchen and left what I use every night in a really easy to reach place under the main bench. No more moving 5 things to get to what I need!
I can't recommend highly enough the benefits of spending an hour or two working out how to store things to make your kitchen more functional.
You will reap the benefits in time saved every night.
For example I used to keep my wok and lasagne pan and a huge saucepan under my main bench and had to move them every single time I wanted to get to a smaller pan.
Crazy! Not only are they things I don't use very often. I normally use them when I am entertaining, so I know in advance I will need them, so it's not a big drama to get them from a different cupboard. They don't need to be instantly accessible and they certainly don't need to be making it difficult for me to get to the pans I do use each night.
Also I used to have to fight my way through lots of different things in my pantry to get to what i needed each night.
This included items such as flour and caster sugar that I use for baking. Yet I only bake 'once in a blue moon.' So I decided to remove all the baking items from my pantry and put them together in a plastic container and store them in an out of the way shelf in my kitchen.
This has been soooooo life changing! Firstly, everything is so much more accessible in my pantry because there is more room. Secondly when I want to bake, I just pull out the tub and everything I need is there in once place.
4. Roasting a tray of vegetables takes little effort, but provides a foundation for creating a variety of types of meals that can be eaten over several days.
Check out the variety of warm salads below. All made possible by the delicious caramelised goodness from roasted vegetables.
Other meals that can be made from roasted vegetables are:
- Quiche for one
- Root vegetable soup
- Sweet potato & red lentil soup
- Steak or fish and roast vegetables
- Free form vegetable lasagne
Roast vegetables will keep for several days so a pattern I often follow is:
- Sunday: Roast a tray of mixed vegetables. Use the freshly roasted vegetables as a side for a piece of steak or salmon, essentially creating a mini roast for my Sunday evening meal. I find this such a nurturing and healthy way to start end the weekend / start the week.
- Monday: alternate meal. I will often have a dish with steamed vegetables on a Monday. The prep for this can be done on the Sunday when you are preparing the vegetables for roasting.
- Tuesday: Make a quiche using the roast vegetables.
- Wednesday: Combine Barley, rice or cauliflower rice with the roast vegetables, poached chicken, toasted nuts of your choice and possibly a dressing of your choice to make a warm salad.
- Thursday: Use any remaining root vegetables to make a root vegetable soup
The next couple of tips relate to meal prep and using your freezer. I know these are pretty standard tips that appear in any post about cooking for one. I also know that it means being organised and not everyone is. ( .. yep that's speaking from experience!).
However I do use my freezer a lot and I eat a lot healthier, more economically and stay on track weight-wise when I have a back up of cooked meals or 'separates' in my freezer, that I have to include them this in my tips. Giving up 2 - 5 hours everyone 6 - 10 weeks to stock your freezer is a gift that keeps on giving.
5. Once a month meal prep and the freezer are my best friends
I do two types of meal prep.
Type One Meal Prep
This is type of meal prep is about batch cooking a recipe for 6 - 8 then dividing it into single serve portions and freezing those.
Type Two Meal Prep
This is about freezing 'separates'.
A bit like having a wardrobe comprised of shirts, shorts, skirts and jackets, you create individual elements that can then be put together in a variety of different ways.
Most meals are made up of a protein (chicken, beef etc.) + vegetables + a carb or what I call a 'filler' (e.g. rice, barley, cauliflower rice, potato, pasta etc.) and sometimes a sauce or topping for the protein. Cooking and freezing these components separately means that your freezer becomes like a wardrobe. You can 'mix and match' different 'pieces' to create a huge number of different types of meals.
Below is an example of 'mixing and matching' 'separates' from my freezer.
Totally uninspired about what to cook, I resorted to defrosting 'separates' of rice, salsa and lamb mince.
From beginning to end was less than 15 minutes - and the result was absolutely delicious. Best of all - there was only one pan to wash up!
6. Never cook a single serve of rice, pasta, barley or lentils
To ensure that my freezer always has a ready supply of carbs / fillers, whenever I am cooking carbs I always cook at least 2 cups worth.
Boiling water and cooking half a cup of rice takes the same effort and washing up as cooking 2 cups of rice - so it's crazy not to!
Do this and next time you want to make a dish containing rice, it becomes a one pan dish because the rice is already cooked and just needs to be re-heated.
The picture below is from a day I spent meal prepping 'separates'. It shows Barley, Lentils and shredded chicken ready to be split into bundles and frozen into single serve portions ready for freezing.
7. Freeze smartly
Freeze in portion sizes - and in thin packets that will defrost quickly.
Sometimes I am lazy and will stick an entire tray of 2 chicken breasts in the freezer. I always regret this, as I have to defrost the whole thing, which means:
- it takes ages to defrost
- I'm going to have to eat chicken for the next few meals.
I thought I was the first person to think of the freezing and flattening sandwich bags - but it seems to be the big tip offered by many bloggers!
Nonetheless I think it's the basis of using your freezer well. (Scary how passionate one can be about particular, mundane, everyday tasks!) But it is such an efficient space & time saver that I want everyone to benefit!
A secondary benefit of freezing both raw ingredients and cooked meals or 'separates' is that you are usually doing so when you are in a fully rational state of mind - e.g. not driven by hunger or the need to eat immediately, so you freeze 'sensible' portion sizes, which helps with weight control.
Examples of 'flat pack' freezing minced lamb
'Flat packing' means you can fit a lot in your freezer and food defrosts very quickly
More tips and resources for cooking for one
See examples of how I used individual freezer portions of pulled pork to create 5 very different meals
- Menu planning for one - the Options-based method
- Look through my weekly round ups of meals I've cooked to get ideas and inspiration
- Jump over to our Community page and share the tips you have for staying on track and cooking great meals for one.