Cooking for One (or Two)

How to cook daily for 1-2 people? This is the question that I’m asked frequently and also the question I asked myself when I was in grad school and as a newly married individual.

It took some time to figure out how to live as a single and not waste tonnes of food but still fill my belly. If you know me well, I’m not the sort of person who likes to eat the same thing everyday and I am also not the most “simple” eater – I enjoy the occasional gourmet meal and love trying out and cooking new things.  After my first experience in grad school eating 3-2-1 soup for 3 days in a row and almost throwing up on the 3rd day, I knew I couldn’t eat the same thing for more than 2 days in a row. Fortunately, my husband isn’t like that and will gladly eat the same thing for a
whole week (kudos to him).

Living in Montreal as a grad student was almost living in food heaven. Having easy access to wonderful produce and meats (think rabbit, horse) was a dream come true. However, in the first few months I was “overly enthusiastic” with my food purchases and ended up buying too much food. I hated having to throw away produce and at the same time did not want to overeat. Did I mention
I had to keep to a tight budget as well?

My solution – figuring out how much food I needed, buying wisely, learning to freeze produce, meats and leftovers, and cooking in larger batches.

Here’s what I did:

  • The first step is to figure out how much food you need. Will you be cooking for all meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner)? Do you need to pack any lunches?
  • Next, decide how much time you have to cook and whether variety is important to you. For example, if you want to eat at least 2 different things per week, you have to cook at least 2 different meals.
  • Freeze your meals
  • Freeze your ingredients
  • Cook things in larger batches
  • During grad school I had simple breakfasts like cereal and yogurt with fruit. As such, breakfast was usually not considered a “cooked meal”.
  • Lunch and dinner would be considered a cooked meal. As such, for one week I would need about 7 days x 2 cooked meals = 14 meals per week for one person.
  • During grad school, I cooked maybe 2-3 times a week. I enjoy cooking so cooking frequently wasn’t an issue for me.
  • Invest in good reusable plastic containers or Ziploc bags to freeze your food. Click here for more information on what I use to freeze my food.
  • Freeze your meals in portions, not as a whole. This makes for easy reheating and saves you time. For example, if you make a tray of lasagna, that usually equates to 8 meals for one person, so cut up your lasagna and freeze the 8 portions individually.
  • Because you will be freezing your meals, you can even cook a whole week’s worth of meals in one day.
  • Do note that not all meals freeze well. If in doubt, try it out!
  • It’s hard to buy ingredients for 1-2 people. Buying in bulk also helps one save money. However, this means that you would have to eat a LOT of one thing. The solution is to freeze ingredients. For example, if I bought bacon, I would freeze bacon in 2 strip portions (don’t freeze the whole chunk unless you will use the whole chunk when you defrost the bacon). In that way, I wouldn’t have to finish all my bacon in 2 weeks.
  • Ingredients worth freezing include meat, poultry and seafood since they are often bought in packs of at least 6 pieces. Click here to read more about how I freeze my meat and seafood.
  • Vegetables can be bought frozen (e.g., corn, peas, beans). You can also freeze some vegetables (e.g., leeks). However, because our typical home freezer is not designed for “flash-freezing”,  trying to freeze your own veggies might not turn out so well.  As such, for the freezer I recommend buying only vegetables that have already been frozen. For other fresh vegetables, buy only what you need for the week. Veggies like salad leaves spoil easily and usually can’t be kept for more than a week.
  • You don’t have to cook each meal individually. Don’t be afraid to cook more of meal components like rice and stir-fried vegetables. Rice doesn’t really freeze well. As such, if you will be having rice say 4 times a week, consider cooking it all at one go and keeping the rest in the fridge. This will help save you time and energy. Rice will keep in the fridge, just not more than 1 week or so. The same goes for other grains such as quinoa, cous cous and Bulgar wheat. If you are cooking an Asian side dish like a stir-fry, that will also keep in the fridge for about a week.  No need to freeze the stir-fry. After cooking the dish, portion it out in containers to ensure you have enough for each meal.
  • Breakfast oats can also be made in advance. Here is a link for no-cook overnight steel-cut oats and over-night steel-cut oats.

A few things to note:

  • Consider how much freezer space you have. You can be really enthusiastic about freezing everything but if you don’t have the freezer space, then it’s no use. Be careful not to over stuff your freezer (and fridge) as this affects the cooling and air circulation.
  • You don’t have to place everything into the freezer. Freeze only the meals you know you won’t be consuming in 3 days. The rest of the meals can be placed in the fridge.
  • Not everything freezes well. When in doubt, try freezing a small portion first.

I hope these tips help you in your cooking escapades for 1 or 2!

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