Easy Meals for 1 or 2

Skip the drive-through with these simple cooking tips

From the WebMD Archives

It sounds easy enough, but cooking for just one or two people can challenge your creativity.

I've already gotten a taste of this with my college-aged son's comings and goings. When he arrives home each summer, it becomes a challenge to keep the pantry and refrigerator stocked. Then, come fall, it takes me a few weeks to regain the balance of having enough food without waste. I'm sure it will be even more of an adjustment when my daughter leaves next fall and it's just the two of us.

It's so easy to eat out, or just hit the drive-through and pick up a meal. In the long run, though, that will cost you a lot more money -- and a lot more calories. Cooking for one or two requires a little more thought. But if you plan ahead, you can enjoy home-cooked meals without a lot of extra fuss.

It Starts With Menu Planning

The first step is to pull out your favorite healthy recipes and cookbooks, print out your eating plan, and draw up a weekly menu plan. To make the most of your time at the grocery store and in the kitchen, be creative in planning your meals. Your aim should be to cook once to generate at least two meals

For example, think of all the things you can do with one cut of meat, fish, or a whole chicken. The first night, prepare it simply ­ roast, grill, or bake. The next night, chop, slice, or mince the leftovers and use them on pizza or in a soup, stew, casserole, salad, sandwich or pasta dish.

One of my favorite shortcuts is to buy a family pack of chicken breasts, marinate them overnight in light salad dressing, then grill them. I slice the grilled chicken, and portion it into airtight freezer bags. Then, I use the chicken portions to make pasta, tacos, barbeque chicken sandwiches, chicken salad, chicken Caesar salad, etc. Preparing dinner is a cinch when the chicken is already cooked!

Another tactic is to cook enough food so that you can freeze portions for another meal. Foods like lasagna, chili, soup, and casseroles freeze well because they contain sauce. (Be sure to label and date your frozen leftovers so that you don't forget about them.)

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Clean Out the Fridge

Leftovers can be great even if you didn't plan ahead for them. I like to use up all the leftovers in the fridge -- veggies, meat, cheese, even fruit -- in a big salad, omelet, or pasta dish. You can buy wonderful dry sauce mixes (I love Knorr Swiss brands) and blend them with skim milk to make creamy, low-fat sauces to toss with pasta. Add a side salad from a bag of pre-washed greens, a whole-wheat roll from the freezer, and in 15 minutes, voila, a wonderful meal!

For those nights when you're short on creativity and/or supplies, it's great to have your favorite frozen entrees on hand. Check the nutrition facts panel to make sure you are buying meals that are nutritious (Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice are a couple of good choices).

To make sure they fit into your eating plan, look for meals that are roughly 300 calories (for a "light frozen dinner") or 400 calories (for a "regular frozen dinner"). Also, keep in mind that frozen dinners tend to be high in sodium.

What to Keep on Hand

Another key to quick, nutritious meals is to keep a variety of foods in your freezer, refrigerator, and pantry. Whether you're whipping up a pasta dish, salad, pizza, soup, sandwich, stew, or omelet, a well-stocked kitchen makes preparation fast and easy. In addition to lean meat, poultry, and fish, stock these tried-and-true ingredients:

Freezer

  • Whole-wheat rolls
  • Bags of frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Pre-cooked chicken strips
  • Pizza shells
  • Lean meats, poultry, and seafood
  • Frozen entrees

Pantry

  • Canned and dry beans, peas, and lentils
  • Whole-grain pasta, rice, and other grains
  • Pasta sauce, pesto
  • Cereal (it works as lunch or dinner in a pinch)
  • Dried and canned fruits
  • Canned vegetables
  • Nuts, seeds
  • Salad dressings, oils, vinegars, and mustards
  • Dry sauce mixes
  • Jarred peppers, olives
  • Croutons
  • Whole-grain bread and crackers
  • Canned fish in water

Refrigerator

  • Dairy foods -- yogurt; cheese; skim or low-fat milk
  • Eggs
  • Fresh fruits, vegetables
  • Pre-washed salads in bags
  • Light margarine
  • Pickles
  • 100% fruit juice

As you see, you don't need to spend lots of time or energy to whip up healthy meals for one or two. All you need is a plan -- and a well-stocked kitchen! Bon appetit.

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