How to Cook for Just Yourself

As a single person, feeding yourself may be a challenge. Getting yourself motivated to begin considering something besides a premade TV dinner box can be daunting. Regular-sized food packages at the supermarket are not suitable portions for one person to eat. It's tempting to always rely on convenience foods or eating out. If you're ready to eat better, you'll need to cook.


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    Find your motivation. When it's just you eating, there's a greater tendency not to bother cooking because nobody is watching. But, cooking for yourself can help you save money and eat more healthful foods instead of eating fast food or prepared foods. If you try, you can learn to prepare a variety of foods you like.
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    Plan ahead.
    • More time spent in the supermarket means less time spent cooking, so try not to go too often. If you have an idea of what you will make for a few days, you can save yourself several trips.
    • Keep a shopping list and take it with you. You will make better eating decisions in your kitchen than in the store, and you can check whether you already have items.
    • Keep a master list of recipes you have tried and liked. Use it whenever you need ideas.
    • Aim for leftovers, but only for a meal or two. If you're cooking for yourself, it is always your turn to cook. Leftovers give you a respite from cooking, but don't overdo it or you could end up eating the same dish all week. If you do make too much, share it with a friend or freeze it for later. You can even try once a month cooking.
    • Try new recipes now and then.
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    Cook one main dish meal each day and keep the others simple. For breakfast, try oatmeal, eggs, fruits, yogurt, and toasted bread or bagels. For lunch or dinner (whichever is the lighter meal), have sandwiches, soup, salad, cheese and crackers, a simple rice bowl, veggies and dip, and so on. None of these foods requires much preparation.
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    Maintain a pantry Keep a supply of non-perishable staple foods in the pantry. When you need to restock an item you used up, put it on your shopping list so that you can buy it on your next shopping trip.
    • Your freezer is an extension of your pantry, but you must be mindful of expiration dates.
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    Buy smaller packages. Rice, flour, peanut butter and oatmeal keep well on a shelf in a cool, dry place. Canned goods will last until you open the cans.
    • Buy fresh vegetables and fruit. These are good for you. They're usually sold by the pound or the piece, so, for example, you can buy one cob of corn at a time, if you prefer. It is easy to microwave one cob of corn, a potato, or a single portion of veggies. The result is similar to steaming.
    • Get creative. Does your store sell pre-formed burger patties? Is it noticeably more expensive than ground meat in bulk? Get a stack of these and use one or two, crumbled up, for a skillet meal.
    • Use precooked, deli, and convenience foods if they inspire you to cook. Look around your favorite markets for salad bars and pre-washed greens to buy in moderate quantities. Buy a bag of pre-mixed, frozen stir-fry veggies and use only as much as you need for a meal. Choose frozen, boneless, skinless chicken pieces and use the microwave to defrost just the one or two you need for a meal. Buy frozen ravioli or tortellini and prepare only as much as you plan to eat.
    • Big containers may cost less than little containers. Often, the difference in quantity between a smaller and a larger package is not proportional to the price. For example, if a half gallon of milk costs $2.50 and a gallon costs $3, it may be less expensive to buy the larger size, then use what you can, and dump any that spoils. A ten-pound bag of potatoes may even cost less than a five-pound bag. If the idea of wasting food bothers you, try to find a friend who will share larger containers, or freeze the excess.
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    Split food with a friend, neighbor, or relative. If you like to buy the larger sizes, see if there is someone who is willing to trade a bit of this for a bit of that.
    • If you find such a person, consider trading off the cooking itself or starting a freezer cooking group. Or invite each other to dinner now and then.
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    Prepare or buy mixes. If you love baked foods, try making your own muffin mix or pancake mix. Assemble only the dry ingredients. You don't need to cook it immediately. Simply add liquid ingredients when it is time to cook. If you like, you can make yourself only enough muffins or pancakes for breakfast. Search the web for "homemade mixes" for ideas.[1]
    • You can make mixes of things like homemade granola and muesli. You can freeze portions of these if you wish.
    • Make your own seasoning mixes.
    • Make your own soup mixes. Divide larger bags of beans and rice, barley, or pasta, and add soup base packets or dried vegetables. Remember, though, that beans and pasta will need different cooking processes, so keep these separate if necessary.
    • Store baking mixes in an airtight canister. Label your mixes! Include instructions and quantities to use.
    • Homemade mixes make good gifts. Package a portion or two in a mason jar with a decorative tag or lid.
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    Freeze food in suitable portions.
    • Freeze uncooked food in single-sized portions. Go ahead and buy the three-pound package of ground meat, then divide it into half-pound or smaller pouches before you freeze it.
    • Freeze cooked food for ingredient use. For example, you could sauté a quantity of ground or chopped meat with onions, garlic, and perhaps a seasoning of your choice. Drain off the excess liquid and let it cool for a few minutes; then pack it into containers or freezer bags for later use in all sorts of things. A mixture like this can form the basis for a whole variety of meals. Try it as a jumping-off point for omelets, spaghetti, jambalaya, sloppy joes, or whatever else you like.
    • Freeze ingredients with a sauce or marinade in a freezer bag. Try chicken breasts with pesto sauce or the salsa of your choice. Prepare several smaller bags at once. When it's time to cook, defrost one or two portions overnight in the fridge and let it marinate right there in the bag.
    • Freeze completed meals in portions. This is a splendid way to avoid eating many days' worth of leftovers at once, and you won't need to cook when you feel uninspired. See our article on once a month cooking.
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    Try cooking sequences that reuse common bases. This easy crockpot chicken starts as soft tacos, but the leftover meat can be used in several different follow-up recipes. A roasted chicken can be eaten with side dishes (e.g. mashed potatoes and veggies) the first day, contribute to a chicken skillet, and wind up as the basis for soup. You can do similar things with any other meat. You can either freeze the remaining portion or keep working through it.
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    Keep some backups on hand. There will probably be days when you don't feel like cooking or don't have time. These are the days to pop some frozen leftovers in the microwave, or to make something simple for your main meal. An omelet or tuna melt can be prepared quickly and with minimal effort.
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    Treat yourself. Make your own one person chocolate cake in a mug. Make fresh bread or muffins for yourself. You can freeze the dough or the finished baked goods, depending on what you are making.[2] You can freeze cookie dough, too.
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    Make it special. Even if you're eating alone, eat at the dinner table. Get out the real dishes, the good ones, if you like. Light a candle. Settle in with a favorite book or some soft music, and really dine.
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    Keep up with the dishes. Nobody likes to enter a messy kitchen and have to clean up before you can cook. If you'd like, collect the dishes in a dishpan or the dishwasher until you have enough to wash as a batch. But remember, pots and and pans are easiest to clean while still warm. Save yourself a pile of dishes by making a habit of cleaning a pan as soon as you remove the food.


  • Have someone over now and then to share your food. You'll have company during the meal, and you'll be more inspired to cook something a little fancy.
  • Use appliances and gadgets to your advantage. Do you have a miniature or medium-sized crock pot or slow cooker? Do you have an electric grill or griddle? Do you have a rice cooker or bread machine? Let them do the work for you. At least start the pasta or rice cooking while you prepare whatever goes with it.
  • You can save a lot of money cooking at home. Why not try to calculate what you save in a month of eating out only once a week and cooking for yourself or carrying your lunch to work the rest of the time? You might be able to finance a grand vacation on your savings!
  • Notice how prices are structured. Many stores arrange price tags to encourage you to buy more, but not all require it. Something that says "buy one get one free" usually requires you to buy two to get the better price. Something with a price such as "3 for $6" should cost the same regardless of how many you purchase unless it is specifically noted that you must buy three.
  • Label frozen foods with the contents and date, and keep a list of them if you have trouble remembering.
  • Consider growing some of your own food if space and conditions permit. Even a few pots on the balcony or patio can provide some fresh veggies or fresh herbs on demand.
  • It's okay to eat out or eat convenience foods now and then, but challenge yourself to cook for yourself most of the time. Perhaps you could plan one night every week or two to be lazy. Or, cook a bit extra and freeze it to make your own convenience foods.

Sources and Citations

  1. Or try to find the bookMake-A-Mix Cookery by Karien Eliason et. al.

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