Easy Cooking for One or Two: Recipes and Tips

Home-cooked, healthy meals for singles and couples.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Are you sick of seeing recipes for 6-8 servings when you're cooking dinner for one or two? The culinary world seems slanted toward that idyllic family of four. Yet there are plenty of folks these days cooking for one or two -- whether it's because they're single, divorced, widowed, or have a traveling spouse or an "empty nest."

Though I'm personally still in the "family of four" phase of my life, I can relate to making lunches or breakfasts for one, since I work at home and often find myself alone and hungry during the workday.

Making dinner for one, however, is admittedly a lot more challenging. Your options are basically to go ahead and make that lasagna and freeze most of it, or to make a mini-lasagna and enjoy exactly the amount you want for dinner that night and maybe for lunch the next day.

It is possible to eat fresh, home-cooked meals, even if you live alone or with one other person. Here are some tips, tricks, and recipes to get you started.

Tips and Tricks for Cooking for One or Two

Here are a few cooking techniques, products, and kitchen equipment that help when you're cooking meals for one or two:

  • There's no reason why you can't make eggplant Parmesan or tuna noodle casserole for two. Make a half or quarter of your favorite casseroles by halving the ingredients or dividing by four. Bake it in a loaf pan (9 x 5-inch), or a mini-loaf pan (5 3/4-inch x 3-inch) instead. If you halve a recipe that calls for a 9 x 13-inch dish, use an 8 x 8-inch square dish or a 9-inch pie plate instead. If you're making one-fourth of the recipe, a loaf pan might work best. Cooking time might be a bit less, though, so keep an eye on that.
  • Enjoy breakfast for dinner every now and again. Remember, eggs come in one-serving portions naturally. If you don't go through a dozen eggs in a few weeks, you can buy eggs in a carton of six instead. Make your omelets lighter by using an egg substitute, or use one egg and 1/4 cup egg substitute, or two egg whites. Make an omelet a meal by adding vegetables and serving over whole-wheat toast.
  • Sauces are usually difficult to make for just one or two servings. Why not use bottled and frozen sauces that taste great? That way, you can spoon out what you need and the rest goes back in the freezer or fridge. There are all sorts of bottled marinara sauces to choose from, and in the refrigerated pasta section, you'll find some light white sauces, too. Pesto sauce is available bottled, refrigerated and in the freezer section. Salsa and enchilada sauce come canned or bottled in the Hispanic section of most supermarkets. Teriyaki sauce and other Asian sauces, such as sweet & sour, hoisin, or plum sauce, are available in bottles in the Asian section of many markets.
  • Fancy sandwiches make a nice dinner for one. I like to grill my sandwiches, and an easy way to do this is to use your George Foreman as a panini press. Just lightly coat the outside slices of bread with canola or olive cooking spray, and cook in your indoor grill for about four minutes.
  • A toaster oven or indoor grill comes in handy when you just want to broil a chicken breast, salmon filet, or burger. No need to fire up the whole oven or outdoor grill this way.
  • It's easy to make main-dish green salads in one- or two-serving sizes. The bags of baby spinach and chopped Romaine work great because you just take as much as you need, seal the bag back up, and you still have washed and ready lettuce for the next time. Top it all off with bottled light dressing and you're good to go.
  • Whole-grain bread products make a great beginning for meals for one or two. Multigrain tortillas keep well in the refrigerator, as do whole-wheat pita pockets. You can use pitas as sandwich pockets, or cut them completely in half around the perimeter and use as a pizza crust or tortilla.
  • You can make one or two baked potatoes in minutes in the microwave. To make it a meal, add veggies, any sauce, shredded cheese, and canned lean chili, beans, or shredded chicken.
  • Certain vegetables lend themselves to making two servings, such as one eggplant or one acorn squash, one large zucchini, or one small head of cauliflower.
  • Most smoothie recipes make one or two servings. Pop whatever you want in the blender and push the button (frozen fruits work great for this).

Grocery Shopping for One or Two

When cooking easy meals for one or two, the freezer is your friend! For example:

  • Buy frozen ravioli or tortellini and just boil the amount you need. Prepared sauces, like bottled marinara or frozen pesto, make meals super easy. Just defrost or spoon out the amount you need and the rest is ready in the freezer or fridge for the next time.
  • Frozen shrimp can be bought cooked or uncooked, and you only need to defrost the amount you need.
  • The same goes for individually frozen boneless and skinless chicken breasts.
  • Keep frozen fruit and vegetables on hand. Just warm up the veggies you need from the bag and the rest goes in the freezer. Frozen fruit can top your waffle or be whipped up into a smoothie. Some of my favorite frozen fruits are blueberries, raspberries, and mango.
  • Frozen shredded hash brown potatoes are available in 24-ounce boxes in most supermarket freezer sections. Just make sure you get the kind with no added fat. These are super convenient when cooking for one or two because you just take out how many squares of hash browns you need and the rest go back in the freezer (I recommend two squares per person). If you use canola cooking spray to help brown both sides of the hash brown squares, each two square serving would contain around 120 calories, 4 g protein, 26 g carbohydrate, 0 g fat, 2 g fiber, and 20 mg sodium, depending on the brand.
  • Too much trouble to whip up mashed potatoes for two? Frozen mashed potatoes come in 24-ounce bags (and taste better than the powdered type). Check the label to find the brands lowest in saturated and trans fats. Just take out the frozen mashed potato pieces you need, add some water or low-fat milk, and microwave for about four minutes.

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