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Just 16 Helpful Tips If You're Cooking For One

From people who live alone and have been cooking for one for years.

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Cooking for one sounds simple in theory, but somehow, making food for just you is a lot more complicated than cooking for a group.

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There are a lot of reasons you might need to prepare food for yourself and only yourself — if you’re single, live alone (or with roommates you don’t share food with), have dietary restrictions, or are just a picky eater that wants to eat their own damn meal. Whatever the cause, it’s important to equip yourself with some best practices so you can eat what you want, waste less, and make the most of your time in the kitchen.

We're two people who live/cook alone and have been doing it for years. Here are some our favorite tried and true tips:

1. Make frozen fruits and vegetables your BFFs.

Frozen produce is underrated! You can easily portion out exactly what you need and the food you don't eat won’t turn to liquid within a few days. Also they are often cheaper than fresh. Win-win-win!
southernplate.com

Frozen produce is underrated! You can easily portion out exactly what you need and the food you don't eat won’t turn to liquid within a few days. Also they are often cheaper than fresh. Win-win-win!

2. Give frozen protein a try.

As a general rule, Terri doesn't cook meat for herself. She's not a vegetarian by any means, but for her, preparing things like raw chicken or beef are a lot more trouble than they are worth when it's just for her. What she does do is buy frozen shrimp when recipes need an extra hit of protein. And Rachel is a fan of frozen salmon; the patties from Trader Joe's or the fillets from Gorton's are great because you can easily make one at a time and they are delicious.
amazon.com

As a general rule, Terri doesn't cook meat for herself. She's not a vegetarian by any means, but for her, preparing things like raw chicken or beef are a lot more trouble than they are worth when it's just for her. What she does do is buy frozen shrimp when recipes need an extra hit of protein. And Rachel is a fan of frozen salmon; the patties from Trader Joe's or the fillets from Gorton's are great because you can easily make one at a time and they are delicious.

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3. And know what other foods you can freeze.

Being able to freeze things like bread, butter, fresh herbs, uncooked pre-portioned ground beef (+ chopped onions, if that's your style), cooked chicken, and half a cake means you can buy the full size or make the full recipe without having to worry about wasting half.
Bravissimos / Getty Images

Being able to freeze things like bread, butter, fresh herbs, uncooked pre-portioned ground beef (+ chopped onions, if that's your style), cooked chicken, and half a cake means you can buy the full size or make the full recipe without having to worry about wasting half.

4. Befriend the humble potato (or sweet potato).

Hannah Loewentheil / BuzzFeed

Eggs are often championed as the ideal easy, scalable dinner for one, but you shouldn't sleep on potatoes! They last forever, are super cheap, and a single serving can easily be cooked in the microwave. A baked potato topped with a can of Amy’s chili and enjoyed with a side of frozen steamed broccoli is a great place to start your cooking for one journey.

5. Check the to-go cold beverage section of the grocery store for smaller portions of milk and orange juice.

Even a half-gallon of milk can go to waste if you’re not a big milk drinker, but, say, want to buy some to dunk your favorite chocolate chip cookies in one week. But you can get 1-2 servings of milk in the section of the store that has ready-to-go refrigerated drinks. (PS If your grocery store doesn’t have this spot, your local gas station most likely does.)
amazon.com

Even a half-gallon of milk can go to waste if you’re not a big milk drinker, but, say, want to buy some to dunk your favorite chocolate chip cookies in one week. But you can get 1-2 servings of milk in the section of the store that has ready-to-go refrigerated drinks. (PS If your grocery store doesn’t have this spot, your local gas station most likely does.)

6. Buy half of a rotisserie chicken instead of a whole one if you can.

Charlotte Gomez / BuzzFeed

If your grocery store sells rotisserie chickens by the half or quarter, you're really in luck. Yes, you can make a full one last for many meals and iterations of chicken-based recipes, but if you're low on space, creativity, or tolerance for roast chicken, a smaller portion is the way to go. And this way, you can get all white meat or all dark meat (if that's your preference), and have it all to yourself.

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7. Cook dishes that will hold up well so you can make the most of leftovers.

This could be a recipe that reheats beautifully (like this taco soup) or a batch of delicious chicken breasts that can be used in multiple different ways (salads, quesadillas, with potatoes and veggies, etc.) throughout the week.
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This could be a recipe that reheats beautifully (like this taco soup) or a batch of delicious chicken breasts that can be used in multiple different ways (salads, quesadillas, with potatoes and veggies, etc.) throughout the week.

8. Come up with a system for portion control.

When you live/eat alone, it can be easy to start eating for two, in part because it can be difficult to eyeball a proper serving size or get a sense of how much food you’re scooping from a pot. Rachel often plates leftovers at the same time she is plating her main meal so she can be sure they are roughly even, and that she’s not starving at the next meal. One of our coworkers said using slightly smaller dinner plates helps keep her from over serving herself.
yearandday.com

When you live/eat alone, it can be easy to start eating for two, in part because it can be difficult to eyeball a proper serving size or get a sense of how much food you’re scooping from a pot. Rachel often plates leftovers at the same time she is plating her main meal so she can be sure they are roughly even, and that she’s not starving at the next meal. One of our coworkers said using slightly smaller dinner plates helps keep her from over serving herself.

9. Look for recipes that have a built-in serving size converter.

If you'd rather eat cardboard than do math, recipes that calculate how to adjust the ingredients for you, like this one, are your fairy godmother. Do yourself a favor and bookmark the blogs that have this feature.
Rede Globo

If you'd rather eat cardboard than do math, recipes that calculate how to adjust the ingredients for you, like this one, are your fairy godmother. Do yourself a favor and bookmark the blogs that have this feature.

10. And if you’re in the habit of splitting recipes, learn how to split an egg.

We recently learned from this recipe that there is a way to use half an egg. Just crack the egg into a bowl, whisk it up so the yolk and white are combined, and then measure out 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of the mixture to use.
Mapodile / Getty Images

We recently learned from this recipe that there is a way to use half an egg. Just crack the egg into a bowl, whisk it up so the yolk and white are combined, and then measure out 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of the mixture to use.

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11. Be strategic about buying in bulk.

We can’t pass up a trip to Costco, even if we have no earthly need for 96 ounces of flank steak or a dozen romaine lettuce hearts. But if you're only cooking for yourself, you probably don't need a three-gallon jug of maple syrup. What you could do, though, is let your friend with the membership take you along, and then buy the individually-packed items you know you already like and use. Look for things you can store for a long time without them going bad, like bundles of granola bars or tea bags, or that you can freeze, like...well, 96 ounces of flank steak, we suppose.
Costco

We can’t pass up a trip to Costco, even if we have no earthly need for 96 ounces of flank steak or a dozen romaine lettuce hearts. But if you're only cooking for yourself, you probably don't need a three-gallon jug of maple syrup. What you could do, though, is let your friend with the membership take you along, and then buy the individually-packed items you know you already like and use. Look for things you can store for a long time without them going bad, like bundles of granola bars or tea bags, or that you can freeze, like...well, 96 ounces of flank steak, we suppose.

12. Don't shy away from canned foods.

Keep a running stockpile of canned foods that you can toss into things like salads and pastas, like tuna, garbanzo beans, and olives. They offer a little pop of flavor, and it takes a really long time for most of them to go bad. A lot of great recipes involve canned goods, and things like cans of tuna and soups make great meals on their own (but you probably already knew that)!
Smitten Kitchen / Via smittenkitchen.com

Keep a running stockpile of canned foods that you can toss into things like salads and pastas, like tuna, garbanzo beans, and olives. They offer a little pop of flavor, and it takes a really long time for most of them to go bad. A lot of great recipes involve canned goods, and things like cans of tuna and soups make great meals on their own (but you probably already knew that)!

13. When in doubt, go for a one-pot recipe.

One downside to cooking for yourself is that you also have to clean up after yourself when you're done. Sticking to one-pot recipes like these means you can have a delicious dinner without glancing over to your sink area and thinking, "Ughhhh look at all of these things I have to clean" after.
thewholesomedish.com

One downside to cooking for yourself is that you also have to clean up after yourself when you're done. Sticking to one-pot recipes like these means you can have a delicious dinner without glancing over to your sink area and thinking, "Ughhhh look at all of these things I have to clean" after.

14. Buy a mini crockpot.

There are so many advantages to having one of these little guys instead of (or in addition to!) a full-sized one. They're insanely affordable, perfect for making individual portions, easy to store, and, oh yeah, they're really cute. Terri has made lots of recipes in hers, and she's found that you don't have to adjust the cooking time if you're making a smaller portion of a recipe. The flavors all still come out on point, and it's all nice and warm and fully cooked when she comes home.Get it from Amazon for $8.90.
amazon.com

There are so many advantages to having one of these little guys instead of (or in addition to!) a full-sized one. They're insanely affordable, perfect for making individual portions, easy to store, and, oh yeah, they're really cute. Terri has made lots of recipes in hers, and she's found that you don't have to adjust the cooking time if you're making a smaller portion of a recipe. The flavors all still come out on point, and it's all nice and warm and fully cooked when she comes home.

Get it from Amazon for $8.90.

15. And get yourself a teeny lil' frying pan.

Tom Vellner / BuzzFeed

Another point in the column for small kitchen items!!! A little frying pan like this guy is literally made for solo dining. Its small size makes portioning a cinch, and is super easy to clean.

Get it from Amazon for $9.99.

16. And invest in some versatile, meal-enhancing toppings.

You’ll be so much happier eating leftovers (or variations on the same ingredients) if you have a bunch of different sauces or garnishes to put on top of them. Terri recently threw a bottle of this sriracha mayo in her shopping cart on a whim, and turns out, it goes well with everything — including (but not limited to) eggs, veggie burgers, crackers, and sandwiches. You could also have a supply of shredded cheese, crumbled bacon, pesto, hot sauce, or eggs — anything that you feel instantly levels up whatever you're eating.
goto.target.com

You’ll be so much happier eating leftovers (or variations on the same ingredients) if you have a bunch of different sauces or garnishes to put on top of them. Terri recently threw a bottle of this sriracha mayo in her shopping cart on a whim, and turns out, it goes well with everything — including (but not limited to) eggs, veggie burgers, crackers, and sandwiches. You could also have a supply of shredded cheese, crumbled bacon, pesto, hot sauce, or eggs — anything that you feel instantly levels up whatever you're eating.