Time to talk cooking!! Cooking meals for yourself can not only stimulate your mind as you learn something new but can also ensure you eat a balanced, healthy diet in your first apartment. And the best of all, it WILL save you tons of money! A major challenge for many apartment-dwellers is how to effectively cook for one person. Instead, they turn to greasy fast food, expensive take-out, or endless snacking on packaged foods.
To get you started on a healthier, cheaper habit… Check out these basics of Cooking for One!
Make a Meal Plan
Take 10 or 15 minutes each week to peruse Pinterest or your favorite cookbook and select a few different recipes to make for the week. In theory, you’ll need a plan for breakfasts (oatmeal, muffins you can bake in advance, or other to-go items), lunches (I try to choose 1 recipe to make and package for each day of the week), and dinner ideas.
When meal planning, especially when cooking for one, select recipes that use similar ingredients. If you’re craving an asparagus salad, try to find a dinner recipe that pairs well with sauteed asparagus. Making tacos for dinner one night? Incorporate the tortillas and avocado into your lunch selection. Grocery stores often sell items in larger sizes for families, meaning you’ll likely have food left over. Instead, be strategic when meal planning so you use everything you purchase!
Pro Tip: Any leftover dish with sauce re-heats well in a microwave. Crispy, fried dishes re-heat best in the oven.
Grocery Shop Once Per Week
After you’ve made your plan, grocery shopping is a snap! Swing through the store, pick up all you need for the week, and head home to prep. This will help you stay organized (and dedicated to your cause!) without feeling like you’re spending every waking moment in the grocery store aisles.
Pro Tip: Use grocery store apps to save on your shopping trip.
As you start meal planning, don’t feel the need to go 100% right away. If you still love takeout, or have consistent plans to meet up with friends a couple times a week, start by planning your breakfasts, 3 lunches while at work, and 3 dinners. As you get more confident in the kitchen, you can add on you other work lunches and a few more dinner options.
Trying to go all-in at once can feel overwhelming and discouraging. Start small!
Focus on Quick Recipes
If you’re new in the kitchen, or new to cooking for one, you’ll want to find simple, quick recipes to get started. Nothing is worse than getting home from a stressful day and facing a long, detailed recipe to cook for dinner! If you choose too complex of recipes, you’ll be less likely to actually cook. So, when you’re meal planning and searching for new recipes, choose those that take 30 minutes or less. That way, they don’t feel overwhelming… and are still delicious!
Pro Tip: Fish is a great, fast and healthy dinner alternative. Add couscous and sauteed spinach for sides and dinner is on the table in 15 minutes or less.
Clean As You Go
If a long, complicated recipe is bad, tons of dishes to clean once you’re done eating is worse! As you start to cook, clean dishes as you go. Cooking generally includes some down time – waiting for water to boil, fish to bake, veggies to stir-fry – use that time to clean any prep dishes and cutting boards and wipe down your countertops. By managing your mess, the clean-up effort once cooking is through won’t feel too cumbersome.
Supplement Fresh Food
Finally, don’t feel that every item you make at home must be fresh from the farm! There are tons of frozen and canned options to help supplement (key word: SUPPLEMENT!) your meals. Eat your baked fish with a side of canned green beans or frozen broccoli. Heat up a can of soup to eat with your dinner or lunch salad. Munch on frozen edamame as a snack, or heat up frozen meatballs for your spaghetti. There are tons of options! This is a cheap and easy way to keep cooking for one simple. When you purchase, try to choose items that aren’t packed with sodium, and remember that these foods should supplement the fresh vegetables and fruits you normally eat.
Pro Tip: Check out a pasta brand beloved by Italians called Rana. Their refrigerated pastas, raviolis and tortellinis are sold in many supermarkets, about $4 for two ample servings, and they cook in 4 minutes.
See?! Cooking for one doesn’t have to be a huge chore. And remember, no pressure! With a few minutes of prep, you’ll be enjoying freshly prepared food in your new apartment!