One of the most frequent frustrations I hear about cooking is “how do I cook for just one person?” Whether it’s at the gym, among my friends, or from a connection on Facebook, the notion of turning on the stove and dirtying a pan for just one person seems so daunting that the nearest delivery options become standard fare. Yet cooking for one person shouldn’t be scary or, dare I say, depressing. It doesn’t need to take a lot of time or preparation. It will help empower you to take control of your diet, to give you a choice in what you eat, and to give you more opportunities to enjoy healthier recipes. It will also give you an escape from life in a way that ignites all 5 senses and allows you to get lost in the meditative zen of simple physical action.
Here are my 5 Tips for cooking healthy, vegan plant-based meals for just one person:
1) Pasta: Think Outside the Box
With an emergence of a variety of pastas available now, this starchy staple is finally losing its stigma as an unhealthy carb. In fact, 1 cup of whole wheat pasta packs in 25% of your daily fiber needs plus 7g of protein, all for under 200 calories. Besides this great nutrition, pasta is particularly handy for individual cooks as it is done so quickly. Often, in the time it takes to boil the water, you can assemble and cook all of your toppings or make a quick sauce.
“But I’m so tired of pasta”. Think outside the box! There’s more than just spaghetti out there. There are brown rice shells that work great in a quick soup. Whole wheat orzo makes a satisfying pasta salad. Brown rice pad thai noodles boil quickly for a gluten-free stir-fry. Buckwheat soba noodles cook in just 3 minutes, which means dinner is ready faster than you can dial-up your favorite Asian take-out.
2) Get Help! There’s no shame in Frozen Veggies and Canned Goods
I’m a chef, but even for me the reality of a long day of work means I want a quick and easy dinner at night. Since I don’t have a sous chef to steam all of my broccoli and simmer all of my lentils, I use frozen vegetables and canned goods to help me through the week. Frozen broccoli and a couple of microwaved potatoes make a quick, tasty Tahini Potato Bowl. I’ll build a massive bowl with baby spinach, canned lentils, Caramelized Onions, and diced tomato for hearty summer salad. And frozen edamame is my standard go-to snack for healthy vegetarian protein. I’ve even made it an essential for traveling. Flight attendants have commented on my “tasty” looking edamame. A bag of beans and a sprinkle of salt? So simple and yet so satisfying.
3) Spice it Up!
When was the last time you spent some time perusing the spice aisle? Spice specialists like Frontier and Mrs. Dash offer plenty of choices of pre-made spice mixes, often with salt-free options. If you currently have spices dying in the dark hole of your spice cabinet graveyard, these pre-made mixes are just for you. There’s Mexican, Italian, Lemon Pepper, Creole, Berbere, and one of my favorites, Ras al Hanoujt (which is a Middle Eastern blend).
Slow Cooker Simple Soup Recipe:
1 can of beans
1 can of diced tomatoes
2 diced potatoes
1 bag of your favorite frozen vegetables
4 cups of water
2 tsp. of spices.
Mix into hummus for a healthy substitute for mayo.
Or shake with a couple tablespoons of coconut milk for a rich, creamy dressing.
Chef’s Tip: Just remember spices always develop more flavor when they’re heated. If using in a raw condiment like the hummus or coconut dressing, warm in the microwave just for 30 seconds to get more intense flavor.
Recipes to Experiment with Spice:
4) Low and Slow Love:
I must admit, my Slow Cooker is an under-utilized tool in my kitchen. I blame limited counter space and a crowded equipment cabinet for my lack of use, but so many friends and fellow single cookers tout their love for their Slow Cookers. Along the same lines, a Pressure Cooker can also be a huge time-savor, especially for cooking beans and braises. One of my favorite Slow Cooker recipes is for a Cabbage Soup inspired by the buffet of a long-standing Southern restaurant. For more ideas and answers to your Slow-Cooking and Instant Pot questions, I suggest the supportive communities on Facebook:
5) Keep a Backup Supply for Your Favorites
As you experiment with recipes and explore new flavors, keep a list of your favorites. You’ll want some no-brainer dishes that are your stand-bys for when you are short on time and low on energy. Repeating foods and having a monotonous diet can actually simplify meals and support your healthy eating.
Keep your pantry stocked with ingredients to make these favorites so that you’re always ready. Onions, carrot, celery, potatoes, and a well-stocked pantry are your ammunition for fighting take-out temptation. Rather than reaching for the food menus on your phone’s delivery app, reach for this list. You’ll save money, eat healthier, and have a better understanding of what is in your food. With take-out, your salt, fat, and sugar levels are at the mercy of a line cook. When you cook for yourself, you can control your nutrition and your flavors.
These are some of my favorite "Back-Up" Pantry Recipes:
Hope these Tips and Recipes help give you ideas and motivation to eat more plant-based foods...even if you're just cooking for yourself.
Do you have other tips for staying healthy, even when cooking for one? Please share below!
About the Author:
Chef Katie Simmons
Katie is a Personal Chef based in Chicago. She specializes in creating delicious, healthy recipes for those with special dietary concerns like gluten-free, oil-free, plant-based, and low-residue. Outside of the kitchen, she is a Fitness Instructor for Equinox, with over 13 years experience in the fitness industry, and a blogger for Kuli Kuli Foods. For fun, she loves to travel, with her most recent travel involving 10 days of hiking in the Patagonia of Argentina and Chile.