The Ingredient Tip You Absolutely Need When Cooking For One

person slicing veggies
person slicing veggies - Hiraman/Getty Images

Shopping and cooking for one is a challenge. Although the grocery bill is lower with fewer items in the cart, it can be a tedious task to find ingredients in the right quantities at the best prices for single use. Then, once you get home, it's up to you to prep, cook, and clean up, so shortcuts are a welcome addition to the routine. Making the most of ingredients equates to less waste, money savings, and an enriched diet. In my own kitchen, I've discovered that simply buying and prepping a few basic ingredients when cooking for one goes a long way towards getting tasty, time-saving meals on the table.

Pre-cooking a single versatile ingredient opens up a world of options for grab-and-go daily meals throughout the week. Spend half an hour cutting up a few other ingredients and you'll have the makings for a variety of individual dishes. In my house, transitioning from cooking for a family of five down to cooking for one requires a shift in mindset, in everything from what I'm cooking to how I go about it. Instituting this one swap has streamlined the process, making answering the ever-present question, "What's for dinner?," much easier to answer.

Read more: The 6 Best And 6 Worst Grocery Stores To Buy Produce From

Cut, Slice, And Grate For Easy Grabs

grated cheese
grated cheese - Ryersonclark/Getty Images

When you think about your diet, what are some foods you find yourself repeatedly buying? Ground beef, lettuce, grapes? For me, it's chicken, sweet peppers, onions, and cheese. Once you identify the ingredients you use in multiple meals throughout the week, put your effort into preparing them upfront. Spending time shredding half a block of cheese only takes a minute longer than grating it every time you use it. However, with a container full of recently shredded cheese at the ready, you can toss it onto a salad, top your chicken tortilla soup, make a quesadilla, or throw together a grilled cheese sandwich, without washing the cheese grater each time.

Personally, I chop up a few sweet peppers and an onion at the beginning of the week. Then I add them to soups, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, fajitas, pizza, and pasta dishes. It's a quick and easy way to get the meal started without much prep time and motivates me to get more veggies in my diet. When you're cooking for one, it's often easy to decide it's not worth the effort required to add those extra ingredients, so having them prepped and ready erases the excuses.


grilled chicken breasts
grilled chicken breasts - Tetiana Chernykova/Shutterstock

Another way I make weekday meals easy is by cooking extra of my favorite meals. Preparing a small dish of lasagna, a pot of soup, or an extra pork chop can easily equate to dinner now and additional meals in the following days. You don't want to make so much of a specific dish that you're left eating the same thing day after day, but an extra serving or two is helpful.

Even better than cooking larger meals, I've found that pre-cooking one or two ingredients makes it easier for me to have variety in my diet. For example, I'll cook a few chicken breasts and use them to be a salad topping, seasoned and wrapped in a tortilla for a burrito, made into a warm or cold sandwich, served over rice with a Szechuan sauce, or tossed with pasta and alfredo. I love that preparing a few basic ingredients can offer so many options without a big mess. It's a time-saving tip that also cuts down on food waste and makes cooking for one less of a chore.

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