Are you sick of seeing recipes for 6-8 servings when you're cooking dinner for one or two? The culinary world seems slanted toward that idyllic family of four. Yet there are plenty of folks these days cooking for one or two -- whether it's because they're single, divorced, widowed, or have a traveling spouse or an "empty nest."
Though I'm personally still in the "family of four" phase of my life, I can relate to making lunches or breakfasts for one, since I work at home and often find myself alone and hungry during the workday.
Making dinner for one, however, is admittedly a lot more challenging. Your options are basically to go ahead and make that lasagna and freeze most of it, or to make a mini-lasagna and enjoy exactly the amount you want for dinner that night and maybe for lunch the next day.
It is possible to eat fresh, home-cooked meals, even if you live alone or with one other person. Here are some tips, tricks, and recipes to get you started.
Tips and Tricks for Cooking for One or Two
Here are a few cooking techniques, products, and kitchen equipment that help when you're cooking meals for one or two:
- There's no reason why you can't make eggplant Parmesan or tuna noodle casserole for two. Make a half or quarter of your favorite casseroles by halving the ingredients or dividing by four. Bake it in a loaf pan (9 x 5-inch), or a mini-loaf pan (5 3/4-inch x 3-inch) instead. If you halve a recipe that calls for a 9 x 13-inch dish, use an 8 x 8-inch square dish or a 9-inch pie plate instead. If you're making one-fourth of the recipe, a loaf pan might work best. Cooking time might be a bit less, though, so keep an eye on that.
- Enjoy breakfast for dinner every now and again. Remember, eggs come in one-serving portions naturally. If you don't go through a dozen eggs in a few weeks, you can buy eggs in a carton of six instead. Make your omelets lighter by using an egg substitute, or use one egg and 1/4 cup egg substitute, or two egg whites. Make an omelet a meal by adding vegetables and serving over whole-wheat toast.
- Sauces are usually difficult to make for just one or two servings. Why not use bottled and frozen sauces that taste great? That way, you can spoon out what you need and the rest goes back in the freezer or fridge. There are all sorts of bottled marinara sauces to choose from, and in the refrigerated pasta section, you'll find some light white sauces, too. Pesto sauce is available bottled, refrigerated and in the freezer section. Salsa and enchilada sauce come canned or bottled in the Hispanic section of most supermarkets. Teriyaki sauce and other Asian sauces, such as sweet & sour, hoisin, or plum sauce, are available in bottles in the Asian section of many markets.
- Fancy sandwiches make a nice dinner for one. I like to grill my sandwiches, and an easy way to do this is to use your George Foreman as a panini press. Just lightly coat the outside slices of bread with canola or olive cooking spray, and cook in your indoor grill for about four minutes.
- A toaster oven or indoor grill comes in handy when you just want to broil a chicken breast, salmon filet, or burger. No need to fire up the whole oven or outdoor grill this way.
- It's easy to make main-dish green salads in one- or two-serving sizes. The bags of baby spinach and chopped Romaine work great because you just take as much as you need, seal the bag back up, and you still have washed and ready lettuce for the next time. Top it all off with bottled light dressing and you're good to go.
- Whole-grain bread products make a great beginning for meals for one or two. Multigrain tortillas keep well in the refrigerator, as do whole-wheat pita pockets. You can use pitas as sandwich pockets, or cut them completely in half around the perimeter and use as a pizza crust or tortilla.
- You can make one or two baked potatoes in minutes in the microwave. To make it a meal, add veggies, any sauce, shredded cheese, and canned lean chili, beans, or shredded chicken.
- Certain vegetables lend themselves to making two servings, such as one eggplant or one acorn squash, one large zucchini, or one small head of cauliflower.
- Most smoothie recipes make one or two servings. Pop whatever you want in the blender and push the button (frozen fruits work great for this).
Grocery Shopping for One or Two
When cooking easy meals for one or two, the freezer is your friend! For example:
- Buy frozen ravioli or tortellini and just boil the amount you need. Prepared sauces, like bottled marinara or frozen pesto, make meals super easy. Just defrost or spoon out the amount you need and the rest is ready in the freezer or fridge for the next time.
- Frozen shrimp can be bought cooked or uncooked, and you only need to defrost the amount you need.
- The same goes for individually frozen boneless and skinless chicken breasts.
- Keep frozen fruit and vegetables on hand. Just warm up the veggies you need from the bag and the rest goes in the freezer. Frozen fruit can top your waffle or be whipped up into a smoothie. Some of my favorite frozen fruits are blueberries, raspberries, and mango.
- Frozen shredded hash brown potatoes are available in 24-ounce boxes in most supermarket freezer sections. Just make sure you get the kind with no added fat. These are super convenient when cooking for one or two because you just take out how many squares of hash browns you need and the rest go back in the freezer (I recommend two squares per person). If you use canola cooking spray to help brown both sides of the hash brown squares, each two square serving would contain around 120 calories, 4 g protein, 26 g carbohydrate, 0 g fat, 2 g fiber, and 20 mg sodium, depending on the brand.
- Too much trouble to whip up mashed potatoes for two? Frozen mashed potatoes come in 24-ounce bags (and taste better than the powdered type). Check the label to find the brands lowest in saturated and trans fats. Just take out the frozen mashed potato pieces you need, add some water or low-fat milk, and microwave for about four minutes.
Canned foods are another great option when you're cooking for one or two. You can:
- Dress up canned soup by adding frozen vegetables or leftover meat cut into pieces. Serve it with grilled garlic cheese bread. To make, spread one side of a slice of bread with olive oil or less-fat margarine, sprinkle the top with garlic powder, then dip that side of the bread into a bowl containing some Parmesan cheese blended with reduced-fat sharp cheddar. Heat a nonstick frying pan to medium and grill the bread, cheese-side down, until nicely browned (about a minute). YUMMY!
- Use 6-ounce cans of fish (tuna, crab, or salmon) for sandwiches and salads - everything from green salads to potato and pasta salads.
And here are some reasons to keep your pantry stocked with dried foods when you're cooking for one or two:
- With all the multigrain pastas on the market now, dried pasta is a very healthy lunch or dinner option. If you're using a shape like rotini, macaroni, or penne, measure out about 3/4 cup of dried pasta per serving for each 1 1/4 cup serving of cooked pasta. Cooked al dente, each serving of multigrain pasta has about 200 calories, 36 grams carbohydrate, and 4 grams fiber.
- Baking mixes comes in handy when making breakfast for one or two because you can just use a cup of mix instead of 2 cups and halve the rest of the ingredients, too. As for halving an egg, either use 2 tablespoons of egg substitute or beat a large egg and measure in 2 tablespoons of that mixture. (Also check out the recipe below for Buttermilk Belgian Waffles for Two.)
- Boxed pudding mixes can be halved, too. Just measure out the dry mix and blend half of that with half the amount of milk called for (usually 1 cup). Seal the rest of the pudding mix in a plastic bag, and put it back in the box until the next time.
Cooking for One or Two: Recipes
Here are two breakfast recipes, three lunch/dinner recipes, and one dessert recipe, all for one to two servings.
Hash Brown Breakfast Sandwich
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 sandwich and burger lean meat OR 1 cup "hearty stews, chili" OR "1/2 cup starchy foods without added fat" + 1 egg without added fat + 1 ounce low-fat cheese
A fun and tasty breakfast can be yours in 10 minutes from start to finish.
2 squares frozen shredded hash brown potatoes, made with no added fat
Canola cooking spray
1 slice cheese, any type you like, cut in half
1 large egg (use higher omega-3 brand if available), beaten with 1 teaspoon water (or use 1/4 cup egg substitute)
Pepper or salt-free seasoning blend (like Mrs. Dash) to taste
Salt to taste, if desired
1 medium tomato, sliced (or substitute a sliced avocado)
- Place hash brown squares on a microwave-safe plate and thaw in microwave on HIGH for about 90 seconds. Start heating a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat.
- When hash browns are out of the microwave, spray an area in the hot pan with canola cooking spray. Lay one of the hash brown squares on top. Repeat with remaining square. Spray tops of the hash browns with canola cooking spray. Sprinkle the tops with pepper or seasoning blend to taste and salt to taste, if desired. When underside is nicely brown (about three minutes), flip hash browns over and brown other side (about two minutes more).
- Remove hash browns to serving plate and top with a piece of the cheese. Coat the still-hot frying pan with canola spray and pour in the beaten egg or egg substitute. Let it naturally form a circle shape in the pan. Top with black pepper or salt-free seasoning blend, as desired. When the underside is nicely browned (about two minutes), flip the egg circle over and cook the other side about one minute more. Cut the egg circle in half and fold each half over. Add each egg piece on top of the cheese topped hash brown squares.
- Top with tomato or avocado slices.
Yield: 1 serving
Per serving (using egg substitute and tomato): 256 calories, 16 g protein, 33 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 21 mg cholesterol, 3.5 g fiber, 255 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%.
Buttermilk Belgian Waffles for Two
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 3 pieces pancake, waffle or French toast OR 3 slices bread + 1/2 cup skim or 1% milk
This is a great basic recipe for waffle batter. You can stir all sorts of ingredients, like dried blueberries or cranberries, flaked coconut, and toasted pecans.
1 cup Bisquick Heart Smart Baking Mix
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 tablespoons egg substitute or beaten egg
3/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/8 cup dried blueberries or cranberries OR
2 tablespoons shredded dried coconut + 2 tablespoons toasted pecan pieces OR
2 tablespoons mini semisweet chocolate chips OR
1/8 cup raisins soaked overnight in 2 tablespoons dark rum (drain raisins well before adding to waffle mix)
- Start preheating a Belgian waffle iron.
- Add baking mix, canola oil, egg mixture, and buttermilk to a small mixing bowl and beat on low or stir by hand until blended. Add stir-ins now, if desired.
- When the waffle iron is ready, give it a quick spray with canola cooking spray and pour half the batter onto the center of the iron. Close lid and cook according to manufacturers instructions (about three minutes or until steaming stops). Remove waffle and repeat with remaining waffle batter.
Yield: 2 Belgian waffles (each round waffle is about 7 inches in diameter)
Shrimp Pesto Pasta
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 portion frozen dinner light, pasta or rice dish with fish with light sauce + 1/2 cup vegetable with 1 tsp added fat OR 1/2 cup starchy foods with fat + 1 serving lean meat without added fat OR 3/4 cup hearty stew, chili, bean soup
2 cups cooked whole-wheat blend pasta (like Barilla Plus Rotini)
1 cup frozen cooked shrimp, lightly thawed (if the tail is on, remove tail)
3 tablespoons prepared pesto (like Armanino frozen pesto)
2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
1/8 cup finely chopped red bell pepper or 1 medium tomato, chopped
- In medium, microwave-safe bowl, toss pasta, shrimp, and pesto together. Warm briefly in the microwave for a minute or two if needed. If the pasta is hot, it will usually warm the pesto and shrimp quite a bit.
- Top with shredded Parmesan and chopped red bell pepper or tomato and serve.
Yield: 2 servings
Per serving: 327 calories, 25 g protein, 39 g carbohydrate, 8.5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 144 mg cholesterol, 5.5 g fiber, 325 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 23%.
Eggplant au Gratin for Two
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 light frozen dinner OR 1 cup "hearty stews" OR 1 cup vegetables with 1 tsp fat maximum + 1 ounce regular cheese
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch slices
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup bottled marinara sauce
1/3 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, packed measure
1/3 cup shredded reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, packed measure
2 tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat both sides of eggplant with oil and place slices on an ungreased nonstick baking sheet and bake for eight minutes. Turn slices over and bake about eight minutes longer or until the slices are lightly browned. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
- Add both types of cheese to a small bowl and toss to blend. Place about three eggplant slices in the bottom of a 9- x 5-inch loaf pan coated with canola cooking spray. Top this with 1/3 cup of marinara and one-third of the cheese mixture. Repeat these layers two more times.
- Sprinkle the top of the Eggplant Au Gratin with the Parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes or until juices are bubbling and cheese is melted.
Yield: 2 servings
Per serving: 264 calories, 16 g protein, 18 g carbohydrate, 14 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 28 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 820 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 47%.
PMT Tortilla Pizza (Pesto, Mozzarella, and Tomato)
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 frozen dinner light OR 1 veggie burger without added fat OR 2 slices whole grain bread + 2 ounces low-fat cheese + 1/2 cup "vegetables without added fat"
1 multigrain flour tortilla
2 teaspoons prepared pesto (available in the freezer and refrigerated sections of most supermarkets)
1 1/2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced, or 1/3 cup shredded part-skim low- moisture mozzarella
1/2 medium vine-ripened tomato, thinly sliced
- Spread pesto over the top of one flour tortilla. Arrange thinly sliced mozzarella over the top of the pesto, and sprinkle Italian herbs or any salt-free seasoning of your choice over cheese. Then place tomato slices evenly on top.
- Place in nonstick frying pan and heat over medium-high heat for about two minutes, until tortilla is nicely browned on underside and the cheese is melted and bubbly on top. Cut into four wedges.
Yield: 1 serving
Per serving: 265 calories, 17 g protein, 28 g carbohydrate, 12 g fat, 5.5 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 472 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 40%.
Lemon Raspberry Shortcake for Two
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal as 1 medium dessert + 1 portion fresh fruit
You can use a toaster oven to bake the shortcakes. Just decrease the temperature to 350 degrees to ensure even cooking.
1/3 cup whole-wheat flour
1/3 cup white flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
5 teaspoons whipped butter
3 tablespoons low-fat milk
2 tablespoons egg substitute or 1 egg yolk (use higher omega-3 brand, if possible)
Zest from 1 lemon, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/3 cup light whipped cream or lite Cool Whip
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt to medium bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
- To a 2-cup measure, add the milk, egg yolk or egg substitute, and lemon zest and stir to blend. Stir into crumb mixture and stir until a soft dough forms (it will be a bit sticky).
- Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times. Divide dough into two pieces and gently pat each piece into a 3/4-inch thick circle. Place the shortcakes on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool.
- Split shortcakes in half and place two halves on each dessert plate. Add raspberries and powdered sugar to a small bowl and toss to blend. Top each shortcake half with 1/4 cup of the raspberry mixture and a dollop of light whipped cream or lite Cool Whip.
Yield: 2 dessert servings
Per serving: 275 calories, 8 g protein, 45 g carbohydrate, 7.5 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 5.5 g fiber, 346 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 25%.