Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on January 21, 2022
Make a Mug Meal
Mug cakes that you can make in just a few minutes in the microwave have been a (delicious) thing for a while. Recently, mug meals have been getting more popular, too. Think risotto, chicken pot pie, fried rice, or even fettuccini alfredo. Simply find a recipe, get a big microwave-safe mug, pile the ingredients inside, and nuke it for a few minutes. And a delicious, piping hot dinner is ready, just like that.
Try Sous Vide
It means “under vacuum,” and the idea is that you vacuum-seal food in a bag and cook it in water in a sous vide machine. The water temperature is low, so this takes a while. But you don’t have to be right there as your food cooks, because the machine babysits it for you.
Tap Your Toaster Oven
Sous vide too trendy for you? A good toaster oven might be more your speed. It can toast, grill, or bake all in one. Want to warm one slice of pizza? The toaster oven keeps it crisper than the microwave. Need to satisfy a chocolate fix and bake just two cookies for dessert? The toaster oven can do that using less energy than a conventional oven. They’re affordable, too.
Downsize Your Sheet Pan
It’s a super-convenient way to cook: loading up a sheet pan with veggies, the protein of your choice, and a drizzle of oil and spices you like. A full sheet pan is probably way too much food for one. So get some half-sized or quarter-sized sheet pans -- all of the convenience, none of the food waste. Likewise, you might want to choose a smaller skillet to dish up your dinner.
Meal Delivery Kits
If you don’t have time to cook, meal delivery kits are a convenient option (though not always a budget-friendly one). There are plenty on the market to choose from. You browse the menu, order the number of meals you need, and they arrive on your doorstep, pre-portioned and ready to cook. People rave about the nutrition and convenience, though some say the portions can be small.
Use Ice Cube Trays and Muffin Tins
These are great tools for making and storing single-serve portions. For example, if you’re making a big batch of marinara, alfredo, or pesto, divide it up into ice cube trays and freeze them. Then the next time you need a single serving of sauce for your pasta, simply pop one out and enjoy. The same can be true for muffin tins. Use them to make mini-quiches or mini-meatloaves, then freeze the individual portions for easy reheating later.
Slice and Dice Recipes
A little simple division can pare down any recipe. For example, you’re craving blueberry muffins, but your recipe makes 12. Reduce each ingredient by half to make 6. It’s the perfect amount to cover breakfasts most of this week. The same is true for, say, curry. If the recipe serves 4, use a quarter of the amount for each ingredient to make a dish for one.
Invest in a CSA
A community-supported agriculture (CSA) membership lets you get the freshest fruits and veggies, and support local farms. But if a large box of produce is more than you could use before it spoils, ask the CSA if they offer half-boxes. Many do. But if not, consider splitting the subscription with a friend or relative. It’s a great way to enjoy a variety of in-season produce.
Have a Backup Plan
You might love taking on a cooking project that takes a while. But there are those nights when you want to get in and get out of the kitchen. Have eggs, tortillas, and salsa? Top the tortillas with scrambled eggs and salsa. Or fancy up some toast: Top it with peanut butter, bananas, and chia seeds; or smoked salmon and cream cheese; or ricotta with sliced pears.
Glass mason jars are simple ways to tote single-serving salads to work or school for an easy, nutritious meal. The trick is to layer the ingredients so nothing gets soggy or squished. Put the dressing on the bottom, then add sturdy fruits and veggies, like apples or celery. On top of that, layer on nuts or another protein you like, then finish by piling on the greens. When you’re ready to eat, simply shake or dump into a bowl and enjoy.
Your Freezer Is Your Friend
Whether you cook for one all the time or you’re temporarily solo, you’ll need less of each ingredient, but you can’t always buy them in little bits. This is where your freezer comes in. Pre-portion proteins such as chicken breasts or bacon slices in freezer storage bags and freeze them. Do the same with chopped veggies, cookie dough, lasagna, or soup.
Remix the Remains
Eating the same dinner two or three nights in a row can get boring. But turning leftovers into a totally new meal reduces food waste and saves money. Think about what would be delicious. If you grilled extra steak for yesterday’s steak dinner, slice it up and add to a panini or quesadilla today. If you have scraps of cheese and tomato sauce from last night’s spaghetti, use your waffle maker to turn them into savory pizza waffles.
IMAGES PROVIDED BY:
2) FotoCuisinette / Getty Images
3) SweetyMommy / Getty Images
4) 3sbworld / Getty Images
5) Louise.ward / Wikipedia
6) belchonock / Getty Images
7) miya227 / Getty Images
8) Yesim Sahin / Getty Images
9) Manuta / Getty Images
10) OlgaMiltsova / Getty Images
11) Pixtal / Photolibrary
12) margouillatphotos / Getty Images
SOURCES: The New York Times: “The Joy of Cooking for One.”
Gimme Some Oven: “10 Tips on Cooking for One.”
Tasty: “19 Easy Single-Person Cooking Ideas That Won’t Waste Food or Get Boring,” “21 Ideas for Energy-Boosting Breakfast Toasts.”
Bon Appetit: “So, What Is Sous Vide, Anyway?”
Delish: “62 Crazy New Recipes for Your Muffin Tin.”
Epicurious: “The Difference Between Half Sheet Pans, Quarter Sheet Pans, Cookie Sheets … and Why You Should Care.”
She Knows: “23 Delicious Microwaveable Meal-in-a-Mug Recipes.” Taste of Home: “Waffle-Iron Pizzas.”
Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Resources: “Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Farms.”
Dave Ramsey: “Are Meal Kit Delivery Services Budget Friendly?”
Huffington Post: “Freshly Review: Is The Prepared Meal Delivery Service Worth It?”