If you are divorced, widowed, an empty nester, or just living single at the moment, you may know how hard it is to motivate yourself to cook consistently healthy meals at home and avoid the temptation for take-out. If you are cooking for one, either by choice or by circumstance, try some of my go-to tips to help you savor food you love, stay on track with your health and your budget, and avoid microwave diet dinners and frozen pizza from a box.
Cooking for One
It may seem hardly worth it to take the time and effort to cook full out when you have no “audience” at home. In fact, studies do show that living alone makes for less healthy eating habits. There was a large review of 41 independent studies on the relationship of living alone and food intake – basically concluding that those who are going it solo are actually less likely to include enough fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins in their diet.
But that doesn’t have to be you.
No one is saying you should never eat out, or that pizza is evil, but using these six tips can certainly help you enjoy more home-cooked meals knowing you are doing your body some good, saving money, and gaining plenty of time left over for anything YOU want.
1. Make a plan
Having a menu plan for the week not only helps you know what to shop for, but it helps you avoid last-minute poor choices and gives you an opportunity to rearrange things up front, according to your busy life. Late meeting on Tuesday? Drinks out with the girls on Friday? Plan ahead for those events and always know what’s on the menu.
Make a simple list, use a calendar app, or browse Pinterest for creative meal planning templates. I have a few you can check out and download FREE here (all 21 Day Fix approved)!
2. Cook once or twice per week
Taking a couple of hours one or two days a week to whack out all the chopping, slicing, and dicing of the vegetables that you’ll add to side dishes, salads, soups, or your favorite stir-fry is a great strategy. Bulk cook your proteins and divide them up into portion-sized containers for easy access when you come home from work after a busy day. Slow cookers are also huge time savers, and they are great for making meals that you can freeze for future dinners and lunches later. Check out this easy recipe for crock pot veggie lasagna.
You’ll be a lot less likely to stop at the drive-thru when you know the food is ready-made and waiting for you after work when you walk in the door.
3. Repurpose your leftovers
Repurposing is not the same as just eating the same dinner 5 nights in a row. It’s about converting what you ate on a Monday into something different and creative on a Tuesday. An example of repurposing meals would be having rotisserie chicken one night, then using the leftover chicken for a taco salad, enchiladas, stir-fry, or salad topping over subsequent days. This stretches your food dollar and prevents the monotony of repeatedly eating the old same thing.
4. Banish the bulk
Buying in bulk can sometimes save you money, but when you are cooking for one you don’t always need the industrial sized bag of apples or a big double box of cereal. Instead, but what you need when you need it. Buy a few carrots rather than a whole bag. Shop the market’s bulk bin section for nuts, granola and dried fruits. You can also shop your grocery store’s salad bar – and take home a colorful variety of veggies that are ready for you to add to your dish once you get home.
Generally when you’re cooking for one, avoiding buying in bulk not only saves you money up front, but you won’t have to throw away extra food that goes bad.
5. Keep it simple
One of the biggest excuses people make for not eating well is because they “can’t cook”, but healthy eating doesn’t have to be fancy. Cooking up a simple salmon, some broccoli, and rice or pasta is easier than say, a pork tenderloin with dijon marsala sauce (although that does sound really good!). No one says you have to be a gourmet, so start small and work your way up. Who knows, you may surprise yourself!
6. Give yourself credit
Being in the cooking for one club doesn’t mean you shouldn’t value yourself and your time. On the contrary, when you take the time and make an effort to plan, cook, and savor home cooking prepared by and for YOU, you are honoring yourself because you are taking care of your body. Besides, you may not be single for very long… just think, you could be dazzling your next dinner date with your newly cultivated culinary skills!
Cooking for one doesn’t have to mean having boring, lonely dinners. With these tips you’ll be planing ahead, shopping efficiently, spending less time in the kitchen, cutting waste, getting creative with your leftovers, and savoring simple meals YOU’VE prepared at home.
And yes, every once in a while, give yourself a break and have a pizza night!
You deserve it!