Spice up your meal life!

Break the Monotony of Cooking for One

by Marianne Giullian


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I talked to my daughter at college the other day, and she lamented that she couldn't make a chicken casserole that she really likes because she didn't have a 9x13 inch pan. She is the oldest of five children, and I never realized I had forgotten to teach her to adjust recipes to her particular stage in life. If she made a big casserole, there would be too much for her to eat, or she would be eating it the whole week. We talked about how she could make it in smaller portions and use smaller dishes. By using some of the following ideas, it may help you to be more successful with your meals when cooking for only one person.

  1. If you are living with roommates, you need to be considerate and not take up too much refrigerator and cupboard space for your groceries. That means not buying large amounts of flour, sugar, potatoes, meat or multiple gallons of milk for one person. The most effective time and money saving strategy is for each roommate to take a turn making a meal one night each week for everyone. Roommates are not always interested in that. I like to save money, but if you are cooking for only yourself, I think it is more important to have variety than saving the few extra dollars. If you buy large sizes, you are more likely to eat more to prevent spoilage or you may end up letting a lot of food go to waste.

  2. Find packages with variety. For example, if you want granola bars, buy a variety pack. That will help break the monotony. Cereal also comes in variety packs. Vegetables come in bags with broccoli, carrots and cauliflower. These may be a bit more expensive, but you will likely save yourself from going out for fast food because you won't be sick of having the same thing everyday. You will also use less space and this is important if you are living with roommates.

  3. If you have a flexible job where you can work a couple of extra hours each week, it may be worth it to work those hours and go out to eat with the extra money. Instead of spending your time in the kitchen, spend it making money and it will even out. You will also save yourself the clean up.

  4. Be wise about the amount of time you spend cooking. It is not worth it to spend three hours to save a couple of dollars. When you do cook, think about making multiple portions and freezing them. Once again, don't get carried away and use more space in the fridge and freezer than is yours if you are living with roommates. If you are going to get pans dirty, make the dish last for at least two meals so you will save time and effort in the long run.

  5. Find single size portions when you shop. Instead of buying a huge can of peaches, buy packages of single serving portions. You will save yourself from eating too much as well as getting sick of the same thing. Buy different soups, different frozen dinners or burritos for variety.

  6. Plan a careful menu and then go shopping. By planning, you can reduce food waste and you can include a variety of meals. For example, if you are going to buy a pound of hamburger, use 1/4 of the pound to make a hamburger one night and brown the other 3/4 of the pound. Divide it into three portions and freeze them in resealable bags. You can use one portion to add to spaghetti sauce, one portion to use with a little bit of taco seasoning and water for tacos, and one portion in a small casserole. Make enough for at least two meals from each portion.

  7. When you have a family, meal preparation and planning may be more of a significant thing, but when you are in college, it is not the top priority. Homemade food probably tastes better, but your time is also very important. Buy bread and cookies. With the current price of butter, you may wind up ahead. When you go home to visit your family, have your mom make the things you really like. She can even make extras to send back to school with you.

Cooking for one is a challenge. With careful menu planning and wise use of food, it can be easy and enjoyable.


Marianne Giullian is a mother of five children who enjoys sharing ideas about saving money and being more organized. She has a B.S. degree in Elementary Education.

Take the Next Step:

  • Find other great tips for Single Living here.
  • Love to cook, but not thrilled to eat the same leftovers night after night? With the holidays fast approaching, now's a great time to put a new cookbook on your wish list. For example, Taste of Home's Cooking for One or Two cookbook may be a great option for you.

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