Cooking for One

Cooking For One Christmas Dinner Roast Turkey

Cooking for one – what does that mean? It sounds easy doesn’t it, but the phrase means something different for people in different situations.  There is a myth that all people cooking for one are “lucky” as they can “eat what they like”.  Wrong!  Your life becomes one of repeat eating food … because there’s only you to eat it.

For me, cooking for one is the only lifestyle I have known.  For over 30 years I have cooked for one, me.  Nobody’s coming round, I’m not on my own today, nor a first-time student away from home and I’m not an empty nester or recent widow/er.

The differing household types that cook for one add an extra layer of complexity into the thought train – situations are not all the same. By dipping into the way I live, I hope that somebody, somewhere might spot one item they can fit into their needs!  I don’t expect, or wish, people to live like me – but to offer a small beacon of hope for the desperate who simply need a few easy/quick ideas about how to effectively throw food onto a plate!  Food they enjoy, that uses few ingredients, doesn’t require a mountain of fresh/expensive ingredients and just “does the job” of feeding you…

Here are some households you might find yourself in:

  • One person households, who are always one person households.  Living in self-contained accommodation, that’s usually space-limited.  Freezers, if owned, will be smaller, extra storage space will be limited. Income could also be limited, with one income and all the bills to pay, you’re more likely to feel the pinch.  You’re cooking “just for me” – and really find it a chore. This is where I’m at!
  • One person a lot of the time – this is easier as you’re able to push the boat out when others are around and get more variety into the grocery shop.
  • Empty nesters or newly bereaved – you’re more likely to have larger freezers, homes with more space/storage and possibly more “gadgets” as you’ve had larger incomes to spend and more space to store these goodies.
  • Students/first time away from home – possibly without any freezer space, or just one drawer, with very limited storage space and no spare cash for handy gadgets.

Rule 1: It’s YOUR Life

The first thing you have to embrace is that your situation will be different to that of others.  You have to make it YOUR version of Cooking for One.  Nobody else lives how you do, has the same shops access, or the same kitchen/space, or storage – and nobody, except you, eats the range/variety of foods that you like.

When you’re cooking for one and living alone, you do things YOUR way – and there’s nothing wrong with that…. however, it does mean than no single other person will provide all the answers to what to cook for you, you’ll have to dip in and out of a variety of sources.

There’s a lot of “advice” out there that simply doesn’t really fit – most of it given by people who have, actually, never had to do it!  Many writers of Cooking for One books actually live in a family household, or regularly have family visiting/staying with them.  They simply guess what it’s like.  In light of that, I think my main bug bear is:

Freeze It!

Yes, just make something and freeze the extra portions.  Genius… why didn’t I think of that before?  The reality is that freezing leftovers is often impractical.  It’s also “obvious”, so it can be quite patronising to be told to freeze leftovers.  If it can be frozen, we’ll spot that, we’re not idiots … just just live alone.

The issue here is two-fold.  Firstly, do you actually have the freezer space; secondly, so now it’s in the freezer it’ll still need to be eaten before that space can be occupied by something else – and when somebody cooking for one opens that freezer door they’re not going to take a lot out.

My advice on freezing spare portions (yes, spare portions / bulk cooking) – they’re not leftovers if you knew when you started you’d have them – is to cook something and then to TRY to eat as many portions as you can in the coming days.  Freeze what you’ve still not got through after 3-4 days.

You have to think carefully about what’s worth freezing and try to avoid it.

Buy Less

When you’re cooking for one you have to buy less food.  You have to cut down on additional ingredients that will need using up, or go off.   Many recipes have too many ingredients if you’re cooking for one.  There will be some ingredients that set the size of the dish you’re making because of the pack/can size you have to open to make them, but there are other ingredients you can just “drop”, or substitute.

Ultimately, this does mean you’re eating fewer foods, you’re restricting the range and variety of food – but you’re saving money, having zero waste and saving the planet of food miles!  Having a smaller range of food you can eat is part of everyday life if you’re cooking for one.  It’s part of the territory.  If you wish to break that cycle then you need to work out Menu Plans to be able to eat something different. You could, say, work out a 2-monthly food cycle and say “I’ll buy XYZ ingredients and then set out to eat those a LOT over a given 2 month period”

If you’re into that, great, if not, then life’s too short.  I don’t do this.

If you really crave something, then you have to choose whether to buy a ready meal of that item, or suffer and work through how to use up any extra portions and the additional ingredients you had to buy for it.  For some foods I simply accept “I COULD make that myself … but I’ll buy a ready meal instead”.  Not all ready meals are “bad” by default, read the labels if you’ve a particular concern.  I have no concerns – if I want something and it’s for sale at a price I am prepared to pay, that’s “job done” in my book.

Use Dried, Canned or Frozen Foods

I’ll quite often use dried or canned foods rather than fresh, simply to be able to break the cycle of eating the same things every day.  This is why you’ll find me, quite often, using instant potato packs to produce mashed potato – I LOVE potato, but they do sprout, so then you end up using them up and then getting sick of them – so once a bag of potatoes has finished I don’t replace them.  I rely on tinned potatoes and dried instant mash for a few weeks, so I don’t have to think “better use more potatoes, again” at every meal time.

Frozen vegetables can be better than fresh – and you can pull out of the freezer just how many pieces you need.  However, even this is a double-edged sword to some degree as you then realise that you can’t have a good selection of vegetables in the freezer as they’re all taking up space – I tend to buy bags of mixed vegetables so I get a variety.   It can be a good idea to try to buy a different bag of frozen vegetables each time the last one’s used up, to give you more variety.  And, finally, when I get sick of seeing the bags of frozen veg in the freezer, I’ve been known to tip the lot into the slow cooker with a couple of Stock cubes and just let the slow cooker turn it into vegetable soup … however, be aware that you’ve not “used up” this food … now it’s the next problem.

Cooking Food Changes Its Format, Not the Problem

Taking the “turn it into soup” issue above, if you do empty your freezer of bags of frozen veg and make a nice vegetable soup from them – all you’ve done is change the format of that food.  It still exists.  Now you have to eat 6-8 portions of soup … er, or freeze it.  So back into the freezer it goes 🙂  Although it will take up less room as a soup, you will find yourself irritated that your “genius solution” has come back and bitten you as you’ve still got a full freezer!

Don’t Be Food Shamed

Never apologise for what you choose to eat.  Yes, I eat instant mash …. because it solves a problem.  I have no issue with that, the box says it’s 99% dehydrated potato – so it’s really no different, and it’s a heck of a lot easier to store!

Ready Meals

Give yourself a break! It’s tiresome cooking for one all the time, with the repetitive menus and feeling of “Oh God, I have to cook again ….” – give yourself a break and enjoy the occasional ready meal.  I’ve even been known to set aside one entire week where I stock up on ready meals and simply enjoy having a variety of dinners every day without having to think about cooking!  It’s all about balance.

So, above are some of the things to think about if you’re cooking for one – you will need to find your own path.