How to Cook for One Person

March 12, 2015

how to cook for one person salmon

Let me guess – if you’re cooking for one, you are probably:

  • Tired of eating leftovers from the recipes you make that serves 4
  • Hate what you eat: cooking for one feels pointless, so you don’t put a lot of thought or energy into it
  • So you end up eating a lot of cheese and crackers.  And take-out.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Learning how to cook for one person is the simplest and easiest cooking of all.

First, you don’t have to worry about what everyone else likes to eat.  No picky kids, no partner with a different set of taste.  You get to pick exactly what YOU want to eat.  And it doesn’t have to be boring.

Here some of my best tips for planning meals for one person.

1.  Know how much makes 1 portion

If you eat meat, then you’ll want to calculate about 1/3 pound per portion.  Do you need protein for lunch and dinner?

If you’re vegetarian, you’ll want to account for 1 to 1 1/2 cups of beans, lentils, tofu, etc per meal.

That’s a little less than a 15oz can of beans or half a small block of tofu.

For grains, 1 cup of dried makes approximately 3 cups of cooked.  You need 1/2 to 1 cup of grains per portion. So 1 cup of dried rice or quinoa will make approximately 4 portions.

1 serving of noodles or pasta is about 3oz.

2.  Pick your protein (or starch)

It helps to start the meal planning process by figuring out what protein you want – fish, chicken, beans, pork, tofu, lentils?

If you’re a heavier carb eater and prefer less protein heavy meals, you might want to figure out your carb first – pasta, rice, rice noodles?

Put that on your menu first, then figure out the rest.

3. Figure out how many vegetables you need

My advice here is to keep it simple.  5 days in a week?  Get 5 veggies.  1 head of broccoli should make 2 portions, same for 1 head of kale, same for a small cauliflower or bunch of carrots.  That is, if you’re eating your veggies.  If that seems like too much or you don’t need lunch portions, get 3-4 veggies, and maybe include a small box of mixed greens.

4.  Keep your pantry and fridge stocked with your basics

We first need to determine what those basics are, as they’re going to be different depending on your diet.

Some ideas for the pantry:

  • A large bag of your favorite grain – rice, quinoa, etc
  • Pasta (but you already know this one)
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Several 15oz cans of your favorite beans (can be turned into salads, burgers, tacos, etc)
  • Canned tuna in olive oil (because the stuff in water is yuck)
  • Canned smoked trout
  • Rice noodles or other fave noodle, like ramen or somen
  • Box of veggie or chicken broth
  • Sweet potatoes (or regular potatoes, if you can’t deal with sweet)
  • 1 bottle of vinegar of choice (more than 1 kind is great, but start somewhere)
  • Onions

For the fridge:

  • Salads greens
  • 1 jar of homemade vinaigrette (because eating salad with homemade dressing just tastes better)
  • Your fave cheese, if you eat cheese
  • A loaf of bread, corn tortillas, whether it’s sprouted, gluten-free, sourdough, paleo, etc
  • Salsa

For the freezer:

  • Frozen fish of choice
  • Frozen ground beef
  • Edamame or peas/corn (canned black beans + roasted corn = delicious salad)

Having protein, starch, and some veg handy makes it so you can make quick meals when you don’t have a plan.

However, having a meal plan makes everything easier.  That is, of course, if you’re willing to spend 30 minutes a day making yourself dinner.

Here’s a 5 day sample meal plan for one person, which includes 2 portions each to account for lunch the following day – download my Meal Planner to help.  Each dinner takes about 20-45 minutes to prepare – less than the time it takes to get take-out delivered to your door.  You could cut up all the veggies on Sunday, make the spice rub, marinade, save a bunch of time during the week.  Frozen meat/fish allows you to shop at once and keep everything fresh – plus, in case you end up with other plans, it doesn’t go bad. Fish takes 30-45 minutes to thaw in a bowl of water on the counter. Ground beef takes a bit longer – 2 to 3 hours. You can also take it out the night before and leave in the fridge.

Sample Meal Plan for one

As you can see, cooking for one takes planning (as does cooking for 2, or 4.)  But cooking a piece of fish or chicken and serving a salad or veggie on the side is easy.  It doesn’t take up a lot of time.

It boils down to understanding portions, knowing tricks to enhance the flavor of your food, and having a stocked pantry.

What are some of your best tips for cooking for one?

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