You're on your own, or it's just the two of you, and making a real, home-cooked meal is too much trouble.
Maybe sometimes, but certainly not all the time. Treat yourself to something more than fast food or take-out. It will probably be healthier and it will also feed the soul -- everyone needs to be more self-nurturing.
Successful cooking for one or two begins with planning, according to Denise Palmeri, of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. Give it some thought, how much food can you use in a week? Check the refrigerator and see what's left there and in the freezer and cupboards at the end of the week. How much did you have to throw away?
Buying less food and buying food weekly can save you money, time in the store and cooking time, Palmeri said in an extension service report titled, "Cooking for One."
Joye Bond, with North Dakota State University Extension, said in another report, "Take a few minutes each week to decide what you want to eat during the coming week. Try to keep your meal strategies simple and easy. A plan you've made can help you take advantage of specials, if you check your newspaper for sales and coupons that fit your budget and menu.
"A plan can help you cut down on impulse buying and help you avoid waste because you'll know he right kind of food and package size to fit your needs. A plan can save you time because you won't have to go back to the store for items you forgot," Bond said.
At the same time, she recommends being flexible and having a few quick and easy stand-by meals that can be simply heated for the times when you're too rushed or tired to cook.
Bond recommends having the following basics on hand:
- An assortment of herbs, spices and extracts such as garlic powder, minced onion, pepper, oregano, basil, bay leaf, chili powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and vanilla.
- Vegetable oil for cooking and salad dressings.
- Low-sodium bouillon.
- Nonfat dry milk for recipes that call for milk.
- Flour, sugar, baking soda, cornstarch, baking powder and salt.
- Condiments such as vinegar, mustard, catsup and jellies.
- Rice and pasta.
- Dry beans and lentils.
- Canned tomatoes and sauce.
- Canned tuna, coffee and peanut butter.
Bond, a NDSU Extension nutrition specialist, has three rules for fast, efficient shopping: organize your shopping list to match the layout of the store, you'll spend less time retracing your steps to pick up items you overlooked on the list. If your list is random, that's how you'll be shopping.
If possible, shop off-hours, later in the evening or during the day Sunday through Wednesday, there'll be less congestion in the aisles and fewer people in the checkout lines. Never shop when you are hungry, studies show if you shop while you are hungry, you spend more money and time in the store.
Suggestions to keep food from going to waste include:
- Before freezing meat, portion it into single servings, then bag each serving, label with date and contents and freeze, thawing a single portion, or two if needed, helps with quick, individual meal preparation.
- When chopping onions or peppers for a recipe, chop the entire thing and freeze unused portion for later.
- Freeze excess spaghetti or other sauces, stews and soups in individual portions for a later, quick meal.
- Freeze bread, put half a loaf in the freezer to keep it from going bad before it can be used.
- Put wax paper between tortillas and freeze them and you can then use individually as needed.
These reports and more are on the Internet and can be found by doing a search on "singles cooking" or similar language.
Included on some of the sites are small-batch recipes.
Tuna Salad Pockets
1 can tuna, drained and flaked
1/4 cup thinly sliced celery
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1 green onion, sliced
2 (6-inch) pita breads, halved
In a small bowl, combine all except bread, then spoon mixture into pitas. Makes 2 servings.
Tomato Zucchini Salad
1 cup torn salad greens
1/2 small tomato, cut into wedges
1/4 cup thinly sliced zucchini
1 tablespoon light mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fat-free French dressing
1 teaspoon wheat germ, toasted
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon vinegar
Combine greens, tomato and zucchini in a salad bowl. Combine remaining ingredients to make dressing and drizzle over salad. Makes one serving.
Honey Lime Fruit Salad
1 1/2 cups torn salad greens
1 (11-ounce) can Mandarin oranges, drained
1 small red apple, sliced
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons limeade or lemonade concentrate
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
Arrange greens, orange and apple slices on two salad plates. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl, whisking until smooth and pour over salads.
Avocado Orange Salad
2 cups torn salad greens
1 naval orange, peeled and sectioned
1 large ripe avocado, peeled and sliced
1 small onion chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
Using two salad plates, divide evenly and arrange greens, orange, avocado and onion. In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine dressing ingredients, shake well and drizzle over salads. Serve immediately.
Stuffed Pork Chops
2 tablespoons chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons margarine
1/2 cup croutons or dried bread crumbs
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon minced, fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 boneless pork loin chops
3/4 cup beef broth
1 to 2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
In a skillet, sauté celery and onion in 1 tablespoon margarine until tender. Transfer to a bowl. Add croutons, milk, parsley, paprika, salt and pepper and combine. Cut a pocket in each chop and fill with stuffing. Brown chops in remaining butter, then place in greased, 9-inch square baking dish and add broth. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until meat thermometer reads 160 degrees. Remove chops and keep warm.
Pour pan drippings into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Combine cornstarch and water into a smooth paste and gradually add to drippings. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thick. Serve with chops. Makes 2 servings.
Stuffed Chicken Breasts
3/4 cup chopped tart apple
1/2 cup finely chopped, fully cooked ham
1/4 cup chopped fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
2 large, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons flour
In a small saucepan, sauté apple, ham, mushrooms and onion in a tablespoon of vegetable oil until apple and onion are tender. Stir in mustard, bread crumbs and lemon pepper.
Flatten chicken breast to about a quarter-inch thickness and top with apple mixture. Roll and secure with a toothpick and coat with flour.
In a skillet, brown chicken in remaining oil then place in 8-inch square baking dish and bake, uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes or until juices run clear. Makes 2 servings.
2 tablespoons pizza sauce
1 whole wheat pita bread
6 pineapple chunks
2 fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
Spread pizza sauce over pita bread and top with remaining ingredients. Place on un-greased baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 4 to 6 minutes or until cheese is melted. Makes 1 serving.