Cooking for one can feel overwhelming, but we all need to feed ourselves. These five cooking hacks will make cooking more exciting, easy and something you won’t dread anymore. (Rebecca Clyde)
SALT LAKE CITY — The two biggest complaints I hear from nutrition clients are “it’s just not worth it” and “I get really bored eating the same dish night after night.”
Let me first say I totally get it.
When I started cooking for myself I would find a few recipes I’d want to make each week, make one, eat it for 4-6 days, get really tired of that dinner, have enough rotting ingredients for 2-3 more dishes, throw it all away, get tired of wasting money and food, and then continue that cycle. I got so bored with the same dinner night after night and hated having to throw away all the food I couldn’t get around to using.
I didn’t know there was another way to cook. I was never taught how to cook for one. In my high school cooking classes, I was only shown how to cook for four to six people. In my college nutrition classes, almost every cookbook, food blog or magazine I opened up had recipes for a family rather than for one person.
If you can relate to my cooking experiences, I’ve got a few simple tips to help get you out of the cooking-for-one-but-really-cooking-for-four cycle. Before I share these hacks, I want to add a caveat: If you feel like you should cook but don’t like to actually cook, then I encourage you to try something different.
Diet culture and some dietitians might tell us that cooking is the only way. And while there are many benefits to it, cooking may stress some people out if they don’t have access to ingredients, or if they don’t have time, or if they simply don’t want to. If that’s the case, remember, you don’t have to cook.
Dietitian Nina Mills once said something along the lines of “we need to feed ourselves” — not “we need to cook” or cook certain things. We just need to feed ourselves. It’s really easy to get caught up in trying to live our lives how we feel like we should, but sometimes that means doing things that make us miserable, take time away from other important tasks, and are not entirely necessary. If cooking simply isn’t for you, other options include frozen meals, getting takeout or grabbing deli meals from the store.
If you enjoy cooking or want to try it out more, here are five of my favorite hacks to make cooking for one super easy.
1. Plan meals according to your schedule
This is hands down my best trick. The traditional way of planning meals is to choose recipes that sound good and decide when to make them. That’s cool and all, until you realize you planned on making beef stroganoff for dinner but have a meeting until 8 p.m. and know you’ll be starving when you get home.
Instead of being left with no time or energy to cook what you planned, start instead by looking at what you have going on in the evenings and plan around that. For example, on that evening with a late meeting, planning leftovers, a quick pantry meal or takeout could make dinner easier (and you less angry).
Here’s more info on how to plan your meals.
2. Batch cook
Batch cooking is one of my favorite tricks. You know the popular meal-prep method of taking a half-day or a full day to prepare ingredients and meals for the week? That can be helpful for families and can make the workweek easier, but it can be hard for many people to stick to. Instead of doing all your prep at once, I recommend batch cooking ingredients.
Here’s how you do it. Say you’re planning on making a rice bowl with chicken, vegetables and a sauce. Instead of making enough rice, chicken and vegetables for dinner, make a couple of extra servings and freeze each component individually. Make them plain then add spices and seasonings later. This way you are cooking extra servings for later without making an extra effort or taking extra time. This will make preparing meals for the rest of the week much easier and give you your weekends back.
3. Reign in veggie buying
Do you find yourself tossing more produce than you’d like to? Maybe it’s time to level with yourself and adjust your buying patterns. It’s easy to want to grab all the vegetables at the store in hopes of cooking healthier meals, but ending up tossing uneaten, slimy vegetables week after week is no fun and not at all motivating.
Instead of buying all the veggies, I recommend sticking to one or two, or at least starting with that. You can batch chop or cook some and have super easy grab-able vegetables if you’re someone who wants to eat more vegetables. Along this same vein, if you enjoy eating vegetables but don’t like or don’t have time to chop/prep them, then get them pre-prepped. Lean into making your life easier.
4. Stock your pantry
This is my broken record statement, but it’s a game-changer. Why? Because having easy-to-throw-together ingredients means that you can make something at home when you don’t have time or don’t have anything planned. Again, let’s live in the real world and accept the fact that we don’t always plan out meals or perhaps what we planned isn’t working out.
If you’re not in a takeout mood, turn to your pantry that may also include your fridge and freezer. I recommend stocking quick-cooking or already cooked grains and proteins, frozen meals and a number of other ingredients and spices so you can throw dinner together in just 5-15 minutes and then move on with your life.
Seriously, having a stocked pantry is the best. Start out slow and pick up something every time you’re at the store or do a big pantry haul. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
5. Make double-duty recipes
As I mentioned before, leftovers can get boring but cooking every single night doesn’t always work. That’s why double-duty recipes are so great. You can make one dish and turn parts of it into a different dish. It’s the best of both worlds. Here are 10 double-duty recipes you can turn into another dish.
I hope these simple tricks give you some ideas to make cooking for yourself easy and more enjoyable. The goal is to feed yourself, as Nina Mills says, but if you’re someone who likes or wants to cook to feed yourself, at least one of these tips should actually make your life easier.
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