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April 30th, 2009 No Comments

Table for One? — Nutritionista 

I’ve received a lot of emails about meal planning, especially from people who cook only for themselves. I also cook mostly just for myself (sometimes for my roommate or boyfriend), so I know how difficult it is to muster the motivation to make anything elaborate. I came up with a few tips and tricks to make the process a little bit easier for us solo chefs:

  • Decide how many times a week you can realistically go to the grocery store and plan based on that.

Be honest with yourself. How many times can you make it there? I know myself. I only like to go once every week or two, so I make sure everything I buy will be used quickly or can last up to two weeks. That means I don’t end up eating a lot of meat, which doesn’t last as long as tofu or other vegetarian protein, but that’s okay with me.

  • Buy a combination of fresh and frozen produce.

With only one person eating it, fresh produce can go bad before it’s finished. It happens to me all the time. I’ve discovered it’s better to buy half of my produce frozen and half fresh. If you go grocery shopping every week to two weeks like me, you can use the fresh stuff early in the week and save the frozen stuff for later.

  • Make the whole recipe!

Many recipes make 4 to 6 servings, but don’t halve recipes just because you’re cooking for one. Since most dishes work well as leftovers, you could even double recipes. I usually only plan to make 2 to 3 dinners a week and eat leftovers for the other 3 to 4 nights. Leftovers also make great lunches for the next day. Get some baby spinach and a few other salad veggies and make “salad” out of whatever you had for dinner. For example, if you make roasted chicken one night, throw it on top of the veggies for lunch the next day. Just recently, I made a whole batch of quinoa-black bean burgers. I can eat them for dinner in pita, crumble them onto salads for lunch, or eat them plain for snacks — and I only had to spend one evening cooking!

  • Don’t be afraid of packaged food, just buy with caution.

A lot of packaged food is overly processed, but not all of it. As long as you check the nutrition facts to make sure they’re reasonable for the product and also recognize most or all of the ingredients, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with packaged food. Ask yourself this: If I were making this item from scratch, would I use similar ingredients? If the answer is no, stay away. If not, save yourself some time by making meals from one or two packaged foods. I like veggie burgers Dr. Praeger — motto: “Where you recognize all the ingredients” — makes good ones, as does Morningstar Farms. You can cut them up for stir-fries or eat them on a pita or whole wheat English muffin.

  • You only need to have one “cooking-intense” night per week.

I try to prepare everything I need for the week on one night. That might mean pre-cooking rice, quinoa, pasta, or oatmeal (for breakfasts) to use later throughout week, or chopping veggies for a week’s worth of salad. If you do it all on one night, you can just grab and go the rest of the week.

  • Buy ingredients for specific recipes/meals.

I’ve said this many times before, but ALWAYS go to the grocery store with a plan. Buy ingredients for at least one or two whole recipes/meals on your grocery list so when you want to make them, you have everything you need. I’ve never been successful buying ingredients at random and hoping I’ll turn them into something great. Most likely, I won’t know what to do with them and end up doing something boring that’s not that appealing to eat.

  • Invite people over for dinner!

I’m always more likely to cook if I know I have people coming for dinner. I’ll invite my friends, family, boyfriend, whoever. It’s motivation to make something delicious.

(Photo: Andrew Flavin)