How to Cook for One without Wasting Your Time or Money!

Scored a solo apartment? Next challenge: How to cook for one.

woman in the kitchenI grew up in a family that loves to cook. My mom goes to the grocery store every day, both for emotional well-being (there’s something so soothing about grocery stores) and for her food obsession. As I got older, I learned to cook mostly by making mistakes– forgetting to put flour in cookies, cooking rice with a random amount of water, etc, and I learned to cook for a family of four hungry humans. Awesome for impressing parents with my new adult skills… Not so awesome when I moved out on my own. I learned that the hard way, as I tend to do.

First thing’s first, people: Most likely, when you’re in your twenties, going to the grocery store every day (and cooking a new meal every day!) is NOT SUSTAINABLE. That paycheck and your hard earned time off can only take so much. Below, I’ve compiled a list of tips, based on mistakes that I’ve made already, so you can cook for one (or even two) with minimal “oops” moments. You’re welcome.

1. Know how much you eat. Before continuing to read here, checking in with your body will be helpful. Some people eat whenever and whatever, like a shark, and some eat only a couple times a day. I fall in between– three good-sized meals and a few snacks thrown in here and there. Define that intake amount for yourself so you can figure how much to buy, how much to cook, and how much to save.

2. Invest in Tupperware/plastic containers in all shapes and sizes. Big ones are good for storing bulk leftovers; you know, the foods that you pair with different sauces/veggies/beans to get a whole new meal. (Rice, soup, chili, pasta.) Smaller ones are perfect for taking to work with you. I suggest buying both round and rectangular ones– nothing more discouraging than trying to fit a delicious double-decker club sandwich into a round plasticware.

Bonus tip: Instead of — or in addition to —  plastic containers, invest in covered glass containers, like these Pyrex ones.


They are bit bulkier to store, but you can use them in the oven and safely microwave in them without worrying about the chemicals in plastic.

3. Plan ahead. On your weekends, figure out what you’ll bring to work this week and what you’ll eat when you come home. If you’re traveling away from your apartment during your weekend, do not cook a huge batch of whatever the day before you leave! Most fresh food only has a leftover life of a few days (a week is really pushing it. I warned you!)

4. Know when to play and when to plan. Having your own kitchen is an AWESOME space to play. No judgement, no siblings licking the bowl. If you mess up, you’re the only one who has to eat it! I encourage you to play, especially if you’re still the microwavable-rice-in-a-bag kind of person. (Microwaves are for reheating, not cooking. It’s time to be an adult now.)

BUT. Sometimes it’s been an excruciating day at work and all you can do is collapse on your couch. We’ve all been there. In order to avoid your lazy butt going to bed with just a two-day-old pb&j in your stomach (we’ve been there too), have some quick and nutritious meals lined up and ready to heat up. THAT is what your microwave is meant for.

Have some of your easy favorites on hand for when you get lazy. These will be different for everyone. I love frozen mushroom ravioli– boil them up for 8 minutes? That’s exactly the amount of time it takes for me to get into my sweats, take my contacts out, and take a breath or two. And voila, dinner is waiting.

5. If you’re like me and you like to support local farmer’s markets and grocers, learn what to freeze. Buy fresh bread and freeze it. Fresh fruit? Freeze it. Fresh veggies? Freeze! You can freeze fresh spices (basil, bay leaves, etc) in ice trays, and melt down those spice cubes when you’re ready to cook up something delicious.

Bonus tip: You can buy at the supermarket inexpensive small packs of mixed herbs (for example, sage, rosemary and thyme) marked “roasting blend” or “poultry blend”. They last a couple of weeks, just long enough for you to use all the herbs.
poultry blend

6. If you’re a hungry person, consider buying in bulk. (Only if you’re going to eat it, people. You eat like a bird, you buy like a bird.) A huge bag of something is usually more for your dollar than two small bags. But don’t get too excited. There are some things that will come back and bite that bulk in the butt.

– Go big: rice, pasta, quinoa, canned/dried beans, nut butters, frozen fruits/veggies, frozen meat/veggie burgers/edamame/other protein sources, oats

– Stay small: fresh fruits/veggies, dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese), deli meats, tortillas or wraps

The most important thing in cooking for one is to pay attention. Know your body, and what/how much you eat. Notice expiration dates. Think ahead to your work/fun schedule. Take yourself to the grocery store and explore (stay away from the microwavable mac n cheese aisle!!). Play, experiment, and make mistakes. Share with us what you learn!

Also, remember to turn off the stove. Renter’s insurance can only cover so much “oops” at once.

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Author My First Apartment

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A recent college graduate, Eliza Kenney is an avid dog-lover, amateur artist, and dancer. She currently works long hours in direct care services and spends her off days bumming on the couch in her awesome new apartment, although she has recently been trying to be more productive. She has big dreams of starting her own adaptive dance company, and loves random, spontaneous adventures.

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Comments (2)

  1. Avatar Hannah Sloan

    I find that dollar stores have a lot of the longer shelf-life items at a rate my paycheck can afford. Rice, pasta, beans, canned vegetables. Some even have a freezer section with things like french fries or hashbrowns. And check your local food store’s flyers.Kroger in Virginia has “manager special” foods, which are close to, but not quite at, their expiration dates for large discount prices on Wednesday. If you have a flexible schedule, it might be worth it to try to shop first thing Wednesday morning – especially on refrigerated items you can freeze to prolong the shelf life. Thanks for these tips!

    • MFA Editors MFA Editors

      Hi Hannah,
      Great tips, thanks. In addition to Kroger’s, all major supermarket chains have their weekly discount programs. Usually, you need to sign up to get the best savings. If you don’t want to carry a bunch of store loyalty cards, they are often connected to your phone number and you get the discounts by giving your number to the cashier.