Practical Cooking Tips for SinglesSave Time, Money and Reduce Waste
-- By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
Living alone is not without benefits—peace and quiet whenever you need it, undisturbed organization and order (or guilt-free sloppiness), and room to stretch out and relax. But some things are just more fun when you have someone to share them with. Cooking is one of those things.
Cooking for guests usually evokes a sense of pride and accomplishment. But when you are cooking for yourself, it can feel more like a chore. On top of that, a busy lifestyle that includes any combination of work, school, child care and exercise can make it difficult to plan and prepare healthy meals. The following hints will help you prepare tasty, nutritious meals for one or two while saving time and money, reducing waste, and keeping your healthy diet in check.
Use your freezer. Big batch cooking isn’t just for big families. If you’ve been avoiding cooking a favorite recipe just because it makes six servings, go ahead and cook it just for you. Portion the leftovers into containers, seal tightly, label with the date, and freeze for up to two months. Storing your food this way will help with portion control too—you can’t have an extra helping if it’s frozen solid!
Also take advantage of your freezer to reduce your produce waste. Bananas, strawberries, broccoli, and carrots can easily be frozen and used in things like smoothies and soups. Just wash, peel and chop if necessary, and store in an airtight bag in the freezer.
Invest in small appliances. Use some of that money you’ve saved by eating in and buy a few small appliances. A mini food-processor, blender and juicer will not only make cooking a breeze by shortening the preparation process, but might also expand your menu options to include items sure to liven up any menu—pureed soups, smoothies, fresh juices, dips and more. And don’t forget about a toaster oven, which preheats in a flash and can be used to cook personal pizzas, salmon, and other toasty treats.
Take advantage of bulk bins. As a single, you may skip your grocer's bulk bins altogether. But bulk bin sections are perfect for the single shopper. Offering shelf-stable foods like grains, cereal, flour, granola, dried fruits, nuts, soup mixes, dried beans and legumes, these self-serve stations are often cheaper than the packages you buy in the grocery store. Plus, you can fill your bag or container with the exact amount of food you need—avoiding waste and saving money.
Plan your meals. Monday’s roasted chicken and rice can become Wednesday’s vegetable soup with rice and homemade chicken broth. The ultimate in no-waste efficient eating, menu planning isn’t just for the ultra-organized. Just jot down a few dishes that you’d like to make in the upcoming week and then brainstorm about how you can use up the inevitable leftovers in other meals. Plan out when you’ll have time to make and eat all the meals on your list, put together a shopping list for the necessary ingredients, and you’re set!
Limit your snack food options. If you have trouble motivating yourself to cook, grazing on whatever is easy, you might wind up eating crackers and ice cream every night. Instead, buy apples, carrots, celery and other healthy snacks. Wash and chop them as soon as you get home from the store. Snack on these healthy alternatives while you’re waiting for your real meal to cook.
Combine foods. If cooking is not a favorite pastime of yours but you’re determined to eat healthy at home, aim for one-dish meals that incorporate a variety of food groups. Scrambled eggs with sautéed peppers and onions on whole grain toast or a homemade personal pizza topped with broccoli and tomatoes on whole wheat pita are two healthy and simple ideas. Soups are another great way to pack a lot of variety and nutrition into one pot.
Dine in with friends! Wondering “Why cook a great meal if there’s no one to share it with?” Invite some friends over for dinner and benefit from the company and the leftovers.
Do a little research. There are lots of cookbooks out there full of recipes that making cooking for one or two easy (no math skills required). Check your local library, bookstore, or the Internet for ideas.
Keep it safe. To be healthy, your food also has to be safe. Stick to the following food safety guidelines.
- Store leftovers within 2 hours of cooking.
- Discard leftovers if the food has been sitting at room temperature for more than 1 hour.
- Eat or freeze leftovers within 3-5 days
- Eat frozen leftovers within 2 months.
If you live alone, cooking often becomes a thankless chore, with no one to appreciate you for slaving over the hot stove—except yourself. It becomes easier to give in to the temptation of carry out than to cook a healthy meal. But with a pinch of planning and a dash of motivation, cooking solo can be fun and easy, benefiting your body and your bank account.