How to enjoy cooking for one

A theme that has popped up a number of times from this lovely community is the challenge (and possibly also the opportunity) of shopping, cooking and eating for one.

First, I want to extend a validating hug to anyone struggling with the potential loneliness of cooking and eating alone, especially if this is a new experience, or you are finding it hard to adjust to a quiet house when in the past it has been a bubbling, chaotic and chatty time of your day. The connection that comes from sharing a meal is something that can be sorely missed when mealtimes become a more silent affair.

So please know that it’s OK to find this a rocky transition to make. Just like it is OK if finding the motivation to shop and nourish yourself properly is sometimes difficult. You are absolutely NOT alone. I get many messages from people struggling with these exact worries every week.

But, bear with me here. It is not all doom-and-gloom, I promise! I cooked and ate alone for many years. I think we might therefore have an opportunity here, to re-frame the challenge into a chance to practice mindful self-compassion and self-care. Cooking and eating alone could even be seen as a blessing.

Why? Because you don’t need to cater for other people’s moods, whims, tastes or meal timings. You can eat what you love, when you want, and do so whilst dancing madly around the kitchen listening to slightly-too-loud jazz, if you so wish. There is a freedom in cooking for one that can be something to relish. A chance to practice being your own best friend. To make mealtimes a moment of joy in your day.

This starts by accepting that you, alone, are absolutely worthy of the time and (often minimal) effort it takes to eat proper meals. Even if that is just a couple of times a week to begin with. And then perhaps try to get into the habit of properly laying the table for yourself. Complete with your best china, candles and a sneaky glass of wine if you wish. You’re having dinner with the most important person in your world, afterall.

And if you’d like a little more inspiration or ideas, do take a look at the tips below. I’ve also included an example shopping list and a handful of meal ideas (there are hundreds of recipes available online for each of these meals, if a recipe is needed at all) using the ingredients. It’s not a meal plan to follow, but rather a selection of ways to make simple meals for one, without endless leftovers, and a few ideas that flowed from my imagination to hopefully inspire yours.

Here are a few extra suggestions

1. Don’t cook in silence, if you don’t like it.

Find an engaging podcast series, put the radio on, play some great music or download some cheery audiobooks. You could even use hands-free or video calling to chat to a loved one while you potter about the kitchen. You don’t have to be having a constant conversation, but it means you can cook ‘together’, apart if you’d like.

2. Similarly, don’t always eat alone, if you don’t like it.

Start a supper club (I love the idea of a soup club – you simply take it in turns to provide soup, bread and cheese, so the cost and preparation is minimal, leaving everyone free to focus on the conversation), eat with your friends once a week, eat lunch with your co-workers, find local meet-ups, or simply eat in a café or restaurant occasionally (there is something rather romantic about a table for one, I’ve always felt). If you have housemates, arrange to take it in turns to cook once a week for everyone. If this is tricky for any reason, then perhaps arrange a group video call, so you can enjoy a virtual dinner party once in a while.

3. Meal planning

I’m a big fan of meal planning. It helps reduce food waste (as your plan can also include leftovers), makes shopping easier (you know exactly what you need, buying ingredients for actual meals, rather than a motley collection of ‘things that were on offer / looked nice’) and reduces the mental dialogue of ‘should I bother to cook tonight, or just have cheese on toast again?’, because there is a clear plan to follow. Try it for a week with this free printable planner.

4. Get a small freezer, if at all possible

Minimising food waste and making speedy meals is much easier with a small freezer and some nifty containers. Frozen fruit and veg is no less nutritious than fresh, and means you can use exactly the right amount for one portion at a time. It’s also a good idea to keep an odds-and-ends tub of leftover vegetables. Once your tub gets filled, defrost it, add some decent stock and make it into a thick soup. You can then use this as a base for stews, sauces and casseroles as well as a hearty soup. You could do the same with fruit, and turn it into a delicious mixed-fruit compote.

5. Buy meat, fish or cheese from independent shops, or the counter

That way, you can get single portions (as packaged produce always seem to come in multiple quantities), saving both money and potential waste.

6. Don’t worry about eating simply

Good, nutritious food doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple omelette with some mushrooms, tomatoes and a side salad is wonderfully filling and nutrient dense. Steamed fish, grains and greens is both delicious and speedy. Also try my ‘Hero Toppings’ section in Simply Good For You for a whole load of ideas on ways to transform basic toast into a more nourishing meal.

7. Set goals

Have a think about what you feel your ‘baseline’ nutrition or self-care goals might be each day. Perhaps that might be cooking one proper meal a day from scratch, having three portions of vegetables, or always having a portion of protein with breakfast. It could also be non-foodie, such as getting outside for 10 minutes, having a conversation with a friend, or doing 5 press-ups.

It doesn’t really matter exactly what these goals are, so long as they are sensible and achievable, but they offer us a framework to ensure we are taking proper care of ourselves, without worrying about being ‘perfect’.

Illustrations by Ryn Frank
EXAMPLE WEEKLY SHOPPING LIST FOR 1:
  • 6 eggs
  • Milk of choice
  • Yoghurt of choice
  • 1 fillet salmon (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 chicken thighs / chicken breasts
  • 1 – 2 bags washed salad / spinach
  • 1 small head broccoli
  • 1 punnet tomatoes
  • 2 courgettes
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 punnet mushrooms
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 bunch bananas (peel & freeze any ripe leftovers for smoothies / banana ice cream)
  • 1 bag apples
  • 1 bag new potatoes
  • 1 bag carrots
  • Onions / garlic
  • Great quality bread – sliced, and frozen (toasting straight from frozen as required)
  • Oats
  • Mixed seeds
  • Almonds
  • Red lentil / chickpea pasta
  • 2 tins chickpeas / cannellini beans
  • 2 jars chopped tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Tahini
  • Frozen peas or beans

*This total basket cost (calculated using an online supermarket delivery), came to approximately £45, with some leftover dried goods for another week.


Illustrations by Ryn Frank
A FEW MEAL IDEAS TO USE UP THESE INGREDIENTS:

Breakfast ideas

  • Porridge with seeds
  • Yoghurt with fruit & almonds
  • Bircher muesli (oats, yoghurt, seeds & grated apple mixed and left to soak overnight in fridge)
  • Fritatta with mushrooms & spinach / tomatoes & grated courgettes (good for lunch and/or supper too).
  • Mashed banana and tahini on toast (nicer than it sounds!)
  • Poached / scrambled / boiled egg on toast with spinach
  • Smoothie of banana, soaked almonds, spinach and milk.

Lunch ideas

  • Vegetable soup with roasted chickpea croutons and/or toast
  • Simple salad with chickpea croutons, olive oil and seeds
  • Salad with leftover cold chicken / salmon and new potatoes
  • Pea & chickpea hummus, toast, cherry tomatoes & salad
  • Leftover pasta in tomato sauce with extra salad and olive oil
  • Tomato & cannellini bean soup (there’s a great ‘instant’ recipe for this in Simply Good For You)

Supper ideas

  • Salmon, new potatoes, broccoli & peas / beans, tahini dressing
  • Chicken with sautéed courgettes, onion & garlic, and new potatoes.
  • Lentil pasta with homemade tomato sauce
  • Lentil pasta with mushrooms, peas, onions and wilted spinach
  • Chicken with leftover tomato sauce, broccoli & new potatoes
  • Simple ratatouille with peppers, courgettes, onions, garlic and chopped tomatoes, served with chicken, or made into an omelette, or spooned over pasta.
  • Chickpea & vegetable stew, served with a dollop of yoghurt
  • Chicken, tomato & pepper stew with new potatoes