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Cooking for One

Quick, Healthy, and Inexpensive Meals for One Person

Cooking for One In This Article

Cooking for one doesn’t have to mean heating up a TV dinner or a can of soup. Takeout, fast food, or prepackaged dinners may be the easy option when you’re dining alone, but eating this way on a regular basis can lead to serious health problems. Preparing your own meals can help you take charge of your health. No matter your age, living situation, or culinary skills, you can learn to cook tasty, healthy, and inexpensive meals.

The benefits of cooking for one

Cook at home, weigh less

A recent study showed that people who cook at home consume an average of 200 fewer calories a day than those who eat out.

As well as the extras calories, dining at a fast food or full-service restaurant can add about 3 grams of saturated fat and 300-450 mg of extra sodium to your daily intake.

Source: Environmental Nutrition

Today, more and more of us live alone, either through choice or circumstances. As a single person, finding the motivation to cook for yourself can be difficult, especially after a long day at work. And coming up with meal ideas and finding recipes for one person can seem like chore, even if you know how to cook and have a full kitchen at your disposal. While eating out, hitting the drive-through, or throwing a frozen dinner in the microwave can seem like the simple answer, regularly eating convenience food can take a toll on your physical and mental health, as well as your waistline. Fast food and TV dinners tend to be low in nutrition and high in unhealthy fat, sugar, sodium, and calories. Often, for less money and only a little more time, you can create healthier, better tasting meals yourself.

Even if you live in a dorm room, bachelor apartment, or other accommodation without a full kitchen, you can learn to cook quick, inexpensive meals that not only taste great but can boost your energy, stabilize your mood, and keep you as healthy as possible. The key to cooking for one is to master a few basic skills, stock up on essential ingredients, and get creative in making meals that work specifically for you. After all, that’s the great thing about cooking for one: you don’t have to please anyone but yourself.

Benefits of Cooking for One
Health Benefits Emotional Benefits

Preparing your own healthy meals can reduce your risk of illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It can give you more energy and help you better manage health problems.

The simple process of cooking for yourself can be very empowering. Taking charge of your diet and taking the time to care for yourself can improve your mood and self-esteem.

In women, cooking healthy food can help reduce PMS, boost fertility, and ease symptoms of menopause.

Adopting a diet of healthy, home-cooked meals can make you more resilient to stress, anxiety and depression.

If you’re on a special diet, such as gluten-free or vegan, or trying to lose weight, control diabetes, or switch to a heart-healthy diet, it’s much easier to ensure you’re getting all the right food when you prepare and cook meals for yourself.

Living alone doesn’t mean you have to always eat alone. Inviting friends, family, or dates over to sample your cooking is a great way to get together with others and expand your social circle, which in turn can help alleviate stress and add joy to your life.

Eating well at home can sharpen your mind, fight cognitive decline, and decrease your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Eating wholesome meals can even make you happier. When your body feels healthier, you feel happier—inside and out.

Cooking for one doesn't mean eating alone

For some single people, cooking for one just means having to spend more time alone. You may choose to regularly eat out—even if it just involves sitting alone in a fast food restaurant—to feel a connection to other people. Eating out means you’re more likely to meet new people, strike up a conversation with a stranger, or at least break the monotony of another evening alone. However, cooking for one doesn’t have to mean eating alone. With some creativity, you can cook healthy, inexpensive meals at home, and still find that connection to others that we all need.

  • Cook a little extra and invite a coworker or neighbor to join you. Everyone loves a home-cooked meal and most people who live alone are in the same boat as you. They probably feel just as awkward about reaching out as you do. Be the one to take the initiative. You may even be able to share cooking responsibilities—one prepares the entrée, the other dessert, for example. Cooking with others can be a fun way to try out new recipes and deepen relationships.
  • Make your food at home, then eat out at park, picnic area, museum, food court, coffee shop, or ballgame. Having enough food to share with others can be a great way to break the ice and make new friends.
  • Shop for food at a community or farmer’s market instead of a grocery store or supermarket. People here are more likely to take the time to discuss the food and give cooking tips, making it easier to strike up new friendships.
  • If you don’t have people in your life that you want to eat with, find ways to meet new people. Take a cooking class, join a club, or enroll in a sports team or special interest group that meets on a regular basis. Volunteering for a community organization such as an animal shelter or senior center is another great way to expand your social circle and find future dining companions.

Planning meals for one

Creating a meal plan for the week can make it easier for you to prepare healthy meals. It can also help ensure that you have all the right ingredients on hand when you’re ready to cook. Breakfast can be something that’s quickly prepared before you head off to work or class, such as a bowl of high-fiber cereal, yogurt, or fruit. Leftovers from the previous day’s dinner can often make convenient meals for lunch, as can homemade sandwiches, soups, and salads.

Deciding to start cooking for yourself doesn’t mean you can never eat out or enjoy the convenience of a takeout meal every now and then. There will always be days when you don't have the time or energy to cook, but cooking even a few meals at home each week can improve your health and reduce the amount of money you spend on food. By cooking larger meals and re-using or freezing leftovers, you’ll cut down on the number of times you need to cook new meals from scratch.

Planning a weekly menu

When you plan a weekly menu, it may look something like this:









Oatmeal w/ fruit

Yogurt w/ fruit


Cold cereal

Eggs & Toast

French Toast

Brunch with friends


Tuna sandwich

Quinoa salad

Chicken sandwich using leftovers

Lunch out with work colleagues

Barley soup

Burrito w/ leftovers

Dinner leftovers


Takeout or TV dinner

Pineapple chicken, rice & veggies

Veggie omelet

Barley soup w/ sausage & greens

Tacos, beans, cheese, veggies

Dinner out with friends

Meatloaf with potatoes, broccoli

Cooking for one: the basics

Healthy Soup

Dinner doesn’t have to mean a traditional meal of protein, starch, and vegetables. In fact, when you’re cooking just for yourself, dinner doesn’t have to mean dinner at all. A healthy breakfast of omelet, cheese, and veggies can also work as a healthy evening meal. Feel free to mix things up and keep things interesting for yourself. Cook using the food and combination of healthy ingredients you enjoy, even if they might not be to other people’s liking.

Cooking for one doesn’t have to involve a huge investment of time, either. A microwaved baked potato, filled with cheese or canned tuna, and served with steamed vegetables or a salad, for example, makes a healthy, balanced meal that’s ready in minutes. Loading a slow cooker with chicken, rice, and vegetables in the morning allows you come home to a piping hot meal at night, with minimal preparation and little cleanup.

  • Make cooking fun. If chopping vegetables, boiling pasta, or washing pots and pans doesn’t sound like your idea of a fun night in, find ways to make it more enjoyable. Try singing along to your favorite music, sipping a glass of wine, or listening to the radio, podcast, or a book on tape. See how relaxing it can be to savor the smells and textures of each ingredient.
  • Preparing food without cooking

    Making your own meals doesn’t always have to involve any cooking at all. As well as eating raw veggies and salads, try uncooked probiotic foods—those containing “good” bacteria, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, soft cheese, or vegetables pickled in brine—for quick and healthy snacks or side dishes. Probiotics can boost your mental health as well as your digestion.

  • Cook once and eat twice (or more). Sure, you can take a family-size recipe and divide everything by four or six to make a meal for one person. Or you can cook larger meals and freeze leftovers in single portions to eat another time. Write the date and contents on the packages, and remember to eat the food in a timely manner (for most meals, within 1 to 3 months).
  • Reinvent leftovers. If you don’t want to eat the same meal a second time, having leftovers can be a great starting place for your next meal. For example, wrap leftover chicken, rice, and veggies in a tortilla, then add a little cheese and salsa—and you have a whole new meal.
  • Prepare one-dish meals. For simple meal ideas with minimal clean up, choose dishes that serve as the whole meal, combining different food groups in one pot, like a vegetarian chili, chicken casserole, or beef and vegetable stew. Slow cookers are great for making these types of dishes.
  • Cook your main protein once a week. By roasting a chicken at the weekend or slow cooking turkey breast, for example, you can use the leftover meat to quickly create different dishes during the week. Add the meat to a soup or salad, slice it in sandwiches, use in tacos, quesadillas, or burritos, or combine with veggies and add to pasta or rice.

Steam in parchment for a simple one-person meal

Cooking "en papillote" is a fancy term for a simple technique that involves cooking a meal in reusable parchment paper. Place a fish fillet, skinless chicken breast, or firm tofu on top of sliced veggies in parchment. Add spices, seasoning, or a dash of olive oil, and fold it into a tight package. Place on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven. After about 20 minutes you're left with a healthy, steamed meal for one with virtually zero clean up.

Slow cooking for one

Whether you have a full kitchen or live in a dorm room or bachelor apartment, investing in an inexpensive slow cooker or crock-pot can help you create easy, healthy meals. A slow cooker is a plug-in device that slowly cooks food on a counter or table. It’s designed to cook unattended so you can add ingredients in the morning before work and then come home at the end of the day to a fully cooked meal. Slow cookers are ideal for cooking things like soups, stews, stuffed peppers, chili, curry, or anything which requires a long time to cook.

Advantages of slow cooking

  • Simple operation. Slow cookers typically have just two settings: high or low, making them easy to use for even the most inexperienced cooks.
  • Makes inexpensive meals. When slow cooked, even cheaper cuts of meat can taste delicious.
  • Time-saving. Slow cooking saves time because what you cook usually lasts for more than one meal.
  • Environmentally friendly. A slow cooker uses less energy than a conventional oven, and can keep your home cooler in the summer.

Cooking for one: stock up on cupboard essentials

Keeping your cupboards stocked with a small number of staple ingredients means you’ll always be able to whip up a healthy meal quickly and easily.

  • Purchase smaller cans, packets, and boxes when shopping for one. This way your food stays fresh and is less likely to spoil. Once opened, you’ll need to use up canned and boxed goods relatively quickly.
  • Stock up on staples when they’re on sale. Look for discounted canned goods, frozen items, dried herbs and spices, and other ingredients you use regularly.
  • Make use of herbs and spices. A great way to get different flavors into your meals—without adding unhealthy fats or frying your food—is to keep a variety of herbs and spices on hand. These can be added to your cooking or leftovers to turn bland meals into spicy treats.

Cupboard Essentials Checklist

Cupboard Essentials Checklist

Herbs, Spices, & Sauces

  • Dried herbs and spices such as black pepper, cayenne pepper, thyme, curry powder, garlic powder, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, paprika, and basil
  • Low sugar sauces such as salsa, pesto, mayonnaise, reduced-sodium soy sauce, mustard, marinara, salad dressings, and hot sauce

Oils & Vinegars

  • Healthy oils such as cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, and peanut oil rather than  corn, canola or vegetable oils which are often made with the use of toxic chemicals or damaging heat
  • Vinegars such as white wine, red wine, and balsamic

Cans & Packets

  • Canned tomatoes, tomato paste
  • Reduced-sodium broths or bouillon cubes
  • Canned low-sodium beans such as black, kidney, garbanzo (chickpeas)
  • Canned tuna, packed in water
  • Starches such as whole-wheat pasta, regular or instant brown rice, couscous, quinoa, quick-cooking barley

Baking Products

  • All-purpose flour, brown sugar, honey
  • Nuts, seeds, and dried fruit such as walnuts, pecans, sesame seeds, almonds, dried apricots, dates, cranberries, raisins

Frozen Food

  • Frozen fruit
  • Frozen vegetables such as peas, spinach, and mixed bags for steaming

Refrigerator Perishables

  • Fresh onions and garlic, which can last a month or two refrigerated, or garlic in a jar, which can last substantially longer
  • Fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, and salad greens for consumption within a few days
  • Fresh meat purchased in family size amounts and divided into single servings for freezing
  • Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, cheese (cheddar, parmesan, feta) purchased in smaller containers to avoid waste

Cooking without a real kitchen

You don’t need a full kitchen in order to be able to prepare healthy meals for yourself. As well as a slow cooker, other appliances such as a hot plate, steamer, or toaster oven—with a little creativity—can help you prepare tasty meals.

  • Toaster oven. Because it heats quickly, a toaster oven is an economical way to broil or bake. It can be used for heating single meals, roasting vegetables, toasting bread, and making toasted sandwiches, for example.
  • Hot plate. An inexpensive alternative for a full size stove top, a hotplate is ideal for hotel rooms, dorm rooms, and small apartments. Just about anything that can be made on a stove top can be made on a hot plate with a saucepan or frying pan.
  • Rice cooker. Consisting of a metal bowl with a heat source on the bottom, rice is not the only thing that can be cooked in a rice cooker. With a little creativity, it can also be used to cook flavorful one-pot dishes.
  • Steamer. Steaming is the one of the quickest and healthiest ways to prepare food. It naturally preserves foods’ nutrients, while minimizing calories and unhealthy fats. You can use a standalone electronic steamer or a steamer basket that fits into a saucepan heated on a hotplate. Steamed fish, vegetables, chicken, and tofu tastes delicious, and you can add extra flavor by using herbs, spices or stock in the steaming water, or lining the steamer basket with different ingredients.

Steamed vegetables don't have to be boring

We all know how healthy vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green beans, carrots, and asparagus can be, especially when steamed. But steamed veggies can also make a tasty as well as quick and nutritious dish. Don’t be afraid to combine different veggies when steaming, or add fish, thin strips of chicken, or tofu for a complete meal.

  • Cut veggies into florets or thinly sliced pieces.
  • Steam in an electronic steamer or steamer basket for 3-4 minutes. For a flavor boost, add stock to the water.
  • Top with a little butter and/or olive oil, or with a quick and healthy sauce.
  • To make a creamy horseradish sauce: Mix together ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt, 2 Tbsp mayonnaise, 1½ tsp prepared horseradish, and pepper to taste.
  • To make a quick tomato sauce: Heat 2 tsp olive oil over medium heat. Add 2 tsp minced garlic and pinch crushed red pepper flakes; cook until softened, 30-60 seconds. Add 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes, 1 tsp dried oregano and a pinch of salt to taste. Bring to a simmer. Cook until tomatoes have thickened into a sauce, about 10 mins.  

Source: Environmental Nutrition

Preparing meals without a fridge

If you don’t have a fridge, shop for food in individual servings or travel-size packages. While these can be more expensive, you’ll likely have less waste from spoilage, so they can ultimately be more cost effective.

  • Purchase only what you are able to prepare and eat before the food goes bad.
  • One option is to get a cooler and fill it with ice when you purchase perishable foods. When doing so, be sure to keep the foods sealed from the water as the ice melts.
  • In winter, windowsills (as long as there is no heater below) can be cooler places.

Shelf life of produce and fresh foods

The amount of time that foods stay fresh without refrigeration varies:

  • Root vegetables such as potatoes, yams, and onions do best stored in a cool dry place above floor level.
  • Carrots, celery, and cabbage will stay good for a few days without refrigeration, if in a cool place.
  • Lettuce and other greens are very sensitive so spoil quickly. You will need to use them within a day or two of purchasing.
  • Meat and dairy products don’t stay fresh without refrigeration, so purchase only what you plan to cook and eat right away.

Storing and handling leftovers

Using leftovers is a great way to save both time and money. You can take leftovers with you for lunch or have them for dinner the next day. Either way, it’s nice to use these leftovers in a new, creative way so that you don’t get bored of the food.
To maintain freshness and quality (and prevent food poisoning), it’s important to properly store and handle leftovers:

  • Refrigerate perishable foods and leftovers within two hours of purchase or preparation.
  • Let foods cool quickly to minimize bacteria growth. Put large quantities of food into smaller containers to speed the cooling process. These can be refrigerated right away provided the lids are NOT on tightly. Once food is cooled, secure lids tight or cover the container.
  • Cover and store in airtight containers (glass jars with tight fitting lids work great as you can see the contents).
  • Eat leftovers within a few days (four days maximum) or freeze them.
  • Reheat food thoroughly to reduce contamination. The internal temperature should reach 165 degrees F. Stir the food to help it heat evenly and thoroughly.
  • Add water when reheating food, unless the meal already contains a sauce. This will prevent foods from getting too dry.

Cooking for one recipes

Breakfast recipes

French toast

Bread that's starting to get a little stale is perfect for this recipe.


  • Sliver of butter or teaspoon of oil
  • One egg
  • ¼ cup liquid (milk, milk substitute or water)
  • Dash of vanilla (if you have it)
  • Dash of salt
  • 2 - 3 slices of bread depending on their size


  • Beat egg with liquid, vanilla, and salt in a medium flat bowl.
  • Soak bread slices in the liquid until saturated on both sides (~2 minutes per side)
  • Place a small or medium sized pan on medium heat hotplate or stove top. Melt butter or add olive oil to the pan.
  • Place bread in pan and cook until golden brown on bottom side. Flip and cook other side until it is also golden brown.
  • Serve with applesauce, jam, nut butter or a little syrup.


Breakfast wrap

This is a very versatile recipe. You can use whatever vegetables and cheese varieties you have available.


  • 1 or 2 eggs (depending on level of hunger)
  • ¼ cup chopped greens (spinach or other of choice)
  • 2 – 3 slices cheese (any type will work)
  • Wrap (tortilla, taco, or pita)
  • salt & pepper to taste


  • In a frying pan cook or heat the greens or other veggies. Season as desired.
  • Cook egg however you like it (scrambled, poached, fried).
  • If you like your cheese melted you can add to either the egg or veggies
  • Place everything in a wrap.

Note: You can add salsa, guacamole, sour cream, or any other sauce you like for added flavor.


Homemade muesli

You can vary this recipe by using different nuts and fruits or by adding cold cereal such as corn flakes or cheerios.


  • ½ cup rolled oats (or other rolled grain)
  • ¼ cup mixed nuts and seeds (i.e. almonds, sunflower seeds, pecans, walnuts)
  • 1 Tbsp. ground flax seeds (optional)
  • Fresh or dried fruit, cut into pieces
  • Milk or milk substitute (i.e. rice, soy or almond milk)
  • Sweeten with a little honey (optional)


  • Mix all ingredients in a bowl.
  • Add milk. Let sit for a few minutes if you like a softer texture for the oats.


Hawaiian toast


  • 1 Whole wheat English muffin (or 2 slices of whole grain bread)
  • 2 pineapple slices (canned rounds) or several chunks
  • Cheese slices for melting


  • Split open the English muffin so you have two halves. Toast* them.
  • Place the pineapple rounds or chunks on each half.
  • Add cheese on top to cover the pineapple.
  • If you have a toaster oven, broil until the cheese is melted.*

*Note: If you do not have a toaster of any kind you can use a frying pan on medium-high heat to toast the muffins and then assemble them and put back in the pan, cover and melt the cheese using medium-low heat.


Lunch recipes

Couscous salad


  • 1/3 cup couscous*
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • ½ - ¾ cup chopped vegetables (cucumber, peppers, cooked beets, etc.)
  • ¼ cup cheese, shredded or cubed (fresh mozzarella, jack, cheddar, feta, etc.)
  • Italian style salad dressing or 1 Tbsp. olive oil & 1 Tbsp. vinegar/lemon juice & salt & pepper to taste.


  • Fresh chopped herbs if you have them go great with this (parsley, basil, cilantro, chives, or dill)
  • Chopped olives
  • Add protein (left over from another meal or canned - tuna or kidney beans) for more filling meal


  • Boil ½ cup water and slowly stir in couscous and salt.
  • Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.
  • Prepare veggies while waiting.
  • Add all ingredients and dressing. Toss gently.
  • Eat warm or refrigerate covered and serve cold.

*Alternative = use ½ cup cooked quinoa left over from a previous meal


Egg drop soup

The base of this soup is wonderfully warming and you can alter it to include already cooked vegetables or even some left-over chicken if you want.


  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups broth (chicken, vegetable, or water & bouillon cubes)
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • ¼ tsp. grated ginger
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped mushrooms (optional)


  • Place all ingredients except the egg, into a pot. Bring to a boil and then turn down to simmer.
  • Slowly pour the beaten egg into the soup while stirring gently. (The egg will cook immediately and form ribbons.


Napa cabbage salad

This type of cabbage is softer than white or red cabbage. It can be eaten as a salad but stays fresh longer than lettuce. It also cooks quickly—chop it and add it to a stir-fry!


  • 4 leaves of Napa cabbage, cut into thin strips horizontally
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. white vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • Dash of salt


  • Mix oil, vinegar, sugar and salt in a bowl.
  • Add the cut up cabbage to the bowl and toss well.


Cuban sandwich

This is a very tasty expansion of a grilled cheese sandwich. You can use any type of sliced meat and melting cheese. The pickles and mustard add a great tang to the sandwich.


  • 2 slices bread or one roll sliced open horizontally
  • Yellow mustard
  • 4 – 6 thin slices baked ham, roast pork and/or turkey
  • 2 thin slices provolone cheese
  • 2 dill pickle slices
  • Butter, room temperature


  • Lay the bread open and spread each side with the mustard.
  • Divide the ingredients evenly among the slices of roll. Start with the ham followed by the pork, cheese, and dill pickles. Bring the tops and bottoms together.
  • Butter the outside of each side of the sandwich.
  • Heat a small pan over medium heat (you can use a panini maker or sandwich press if you have one).
  • Place in the pan and press down firmly with a spatula. Flip when golden brown. Cheese should be melted.
  • Serve warm.


Dinner recipes

Healthy fried rice

This is a fun and tasty way to use cooked rice that is left over from a previous meal.


  • ½ cup cooked brown rice (left over from another meal)
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup veggies (i.e. frozen peas, shredded/sliced carrots or zucchinis, chopped spinach or bok choy, sliced peppers, a mixture of any)
  • Seasoning (i.e. soy sauce, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, etc.)


  • Crack egg in a small bowl, beat, and set aside.
  • In a small frying pan on medium heat, cook/thaw the veggies you are using.
  • Add the rice part way through so it can begin to heat up.
  • Add a tablespoon of water and cover for about 2 minutes to steam cook/heat them.
  • Add the beaten egg and stir/cook the whole mixture until the egg is done.
  • Add soy sauce or other seasonings for flavor.


Pumpkin soup

Makes a great light lunch by itself or you can eat with leftover grains or bread and a side salad as a full dinner.


  • 1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 - 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 cups broth or water (bouillon cubes & water if you have them)
  • 2 - 3 tsp. Spices (various mixtures will work i.e. cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cayenne pepper, or curry, cumin, turmeric)
  • Salt & pepper to taste


  • Place oil and chopped onions in a pot over medium heat. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Add spices to the pot and stir. Sauté for another minute or two.
  • Add pumpkin and liquid, salt and paper. Stir to combine.
  • Let simmer on low until soup is hot.
  • Optional: You can add a dollop of sour cream if you have it, or a little cream/milk to your bowl just before serving.



This recipe is also great with canned salmon or chicken instead of tuna.


  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • ½ can of tuna
  • ½ cup grated or sliced cheese (any type will work)
  • ½ cup cooked vegetables*
  • 2 whole wheat tortillas
  • Seasonings, if you like


  • Pour one-teaspoon olive oil into a medium frying pan and place one tortilla in the pan. Turn onto medium low heat.
  • Sprinkle half the cheese evenly over the tortilla. Then add the tuna and veggies evenly throughout and end with the other half of the cheese.
  • Place the second tortilla on top and pour the other teaspoon of oil on top.
  • When the bottom tortilla is golden brown, gently flip over and let it cook until that one is also golden brown.
  • Cut into quarters, serve.

* Vegetables can be leftovers from another meal, frozen veggies that are defrosted before using, or fresh veggies that are sautéed or cooked before being added.


Ground meat & veggies mix

This recipe is a play on shepherd’s pie, but without the baking and without the potatoes on top. You could easily adjust it and make shepherd’s pie if you have an oven.


  • ½ lb. ground meat (beef or turkey or buffalo... ideally, grass-fed)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 - 3 carrots, cut in small pieces
  • 1 zucchini, cut in small pieces (optional)
  • Salt, pepper, seasoning of choice (curry or Italian or garlic...)


  • On medium heat sauté onions, celery, carrots and some salt in olive oil for a 2 - 3 minutes
  • Add ground meat and break apart into small bits as much as possible as it cooks. Drain the fat.
  • After 5 minutes add the zucchini. Continue to cook. You may want to cover it for a few minutes to soften the veggies more.
  • Serve over grain of your choice for a well-rounded meal.


Arroz con pollo (rice with chicken)

This one-pot dish is flavorful and warming. You can vary it depending on the ingredients you have on hand.


  • 2 chicken legs, without skin & rubbed with salt & pepper (& cumin, chili powder, or other spices if you choose)
  • 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ an onion, chopped
  • ½ cup uncooked brown rice
  • 1 cup liquid (i.e. broth or water)
  • Salt & pepper to taste


  • In a pot over medium heat sauté chicken in olive oil, turning until all sides are golden brown. Remove chicken and set aside.
  • Sauté onions in olive oil for about 3 minutes, then add rice and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes.
  • Add broth, salt and any other items you’d like (i.e. black beans, tomatoes, peppers, corn). Bring to a simmer, then add the chicken back in.
  • Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 35 – 40 minutes, turning the chicken once about half way through. Done when rice is tender and juices run clear when chicken is cut into.

Note: You can also serve with fresh cilantro or parsley, sour cream and/or avocado slices. This recipe makes enough for a couple meals—dinner and lunch tomorrow, for example.


Meal ideas that utilize leftovers

Whatever type of food you’ve already cooked, there are plenty of ways create new meals from the ingredients.

Cooked whole grains

Cooked whole grains, including brown rice, quinoa, millet, and barley can be used to create:

  • Casseroles—Cooked brown rice can be the base of casseroles. Simply add vegetables, a sauce, some protein, and grated cheese, bake it in the oven and you have a new meal
  • Cooked breakfast grain—heat with a little water or milk, add sliced fruit, nuts, and some cinnamon
  • A salad topping
  • An addition to soup
  • Rice salad—add chopped up parsley or basil, some tomatoes or peppers, cooked beans or lentils. Mix everything together with your favorite vinaigrette dressing
  • Rice pudding or stir-fried rice

Baked chicken or roast meat

  • Slice thinly for a sandwich
  • Add meat to a soup
  • Green salad topping
  • Use in a stir-fry
  • In a casserole (i.e. chicken pot pie)
  • Cut into small pieces, add a roux sauce (white sauce made with butter, flour and liquid) and serve over a whole grain with a side of veggies
  • Use in quesadillas, tacos, burritos, or any other similar dish
  • Cut cooked chicken into small chunks, add ingredients to make a chicken salad (tasty on a sandwich)
  • Use chicken bones to make chicken stock

Ground meat or meatloaf

When preparing ground meat for meatloaf (or something simlar), mix up double the amount and freeze half to use later for:

  • Stuffed peppers
  • Meatballs
  • Juicy hamburgers
  • Pasta sauce (add a jar of red sauce and serve over pasta)

Cooked vegetables

  • Add to your morning omelet or as a side with any other egg dish
  • Use in wraps
  • Include in a soup
  • Make a frittata
  • Use as a pizza topping

Cooked black, kidney, or similar beans

  • Add to soups
  • Topping for salads
  • Reheat, cook an egg, put on a corn tortilla, add salsa and you have a Huevos Rancheros-style breakfast
  • Use in quesadillas, tacos, burritos or any other similar dish
  • Reheat with a little water, mash, season to taste, then use as a dip, or make your own nachos by putting “refried” beans onto corn chips, adding a little grated cheese and baking

Cooked Pasta

  • Make a pasta Frittata
  • Pasta salad
  • Casserole
  • Mac and cheese

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Related HelpGuide articles

Resources and references

Information about cooking for one

Healthy Cooking for 1 or 2 – Tips on making healthy meals, whether you're dining alone or with a companion. (Mayo Clinic)

Recipe ideas

A Guide to Cooking for One – Helpful tips and recipes for cooking for yourself endorsed by the American Diabetes Association. (Diabetes Forecast)

Cooking for One – Recipes specially designed for one person. (PBS)

Meals-for-One Recipes – 51 recipes to cook for yourself. (BBC)

How to Cook En Papillote – Guidelines and meal ideas for steaming single serving meals in parchment or other type of wrapping. (

52 Healthy Meals in 12 Minutes or Less – Don’t have much time to cook? Here are some quick and (mostly) healthy meal ideas. (

Slow Cooker Recipes – This collection of convenient slow cooker meals has everything from slow-cooker burritos, to pasta dishes, roasts, casseroles, stews, and soups. (TasteofHome)

Authors: Maya W. Paul, Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: April 2016.