You know the story: It's late, you just got home from work, you're alone, and you have zero desire to pull out your pots and pans to make dinner for yourself.
But before you reach for that box of neon orange mac and cheese (or organic white cheddar-don't fool yourself into thinking it's better for you), just wait a second: Cooking for one isn't as bad as it sounds. One shopping trip to pick up the essentials, and from here on out, you can have a delicious dinner on the table (or couch) in no time.
First: Stock Your PantryFor starters, make sure your pantry is stocked with the basics.
- PantryGrains (pasta, brown rice, quinoa)
- Low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
- Canned beans (garbanzo beans, kidney beans, black beans)
- Canned tomatoes (diced, whole, pureed)
- Nuts (pistachios, pine nuts, almonds, cashews)
- Dried fruit (dried cherries, cranberries, apricots)
- Nut butter (peanut, almond, sunflower)
- Herbs and spices (red pepper flakes, oregano, cumin)
- Coarse salt
You'd be surprised how long things can last when properly refrigerated. Everything on this list should last a few weeks, at least, but make sure you check the expiration dates at the supermarket.
Fill Your Fridge
- Butter (Euro-style is best, like Kerrygold)
- Greek or plain yogurt
- Milk, cream, or half & half
- Dijon mustard
- Soy sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- Honey (I keep mine in the fridge only because I'll remember to use it if I see it)
- Vinegar (white wine, red wine, balsamic, rice, champagne)
Your freezer can be a haven for lots of delectable ingredients. (It can also be a black hole, though, so make sure you clean it out fairly regularly.)
Don't Forget Your Freezer
- FreezerFrozen fruit (strawberries, pineapple, raspberries, mango)
- Frozen veggies (spinach, corn, onions)
- Frozen garlic and herb cubes (find them at Trader Joe's)
- Bread (fancy-schmancy artisinal, sliced sandwich bread, naan, pita, tortillas)
- Pre-packaged rice
- Ice cream (duh, the perfect dessert for one!)
This is where you can get creative, and ward off foodie boredom. Mix it up from week to week, so you can try out new combinations of ingredients. And, though it may be tempting, try not to go overboard-you're cooking for one, not 100!
Write up Your Weekly Grocery List
- FruitLemons and/or limes
- Fresh berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries)
- Other seasonal fruit (apples, peaches, nectarines, pears, pineapple)
- Veggies (mushrooms, tomatoes, onion, garlic, zucchini, peppers)
- Salad lettuces (spinach, romaine, arugula)
- Herbs (basil, mint, thyme, oregano, cilantro)
- Cheeses for grating (Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Dry Jack)
- Cheeses for slicing (Cheddar, Swiss, Provolone, Monterey Jack, Gruyere)
- Fresh cheeses (Ricotta, Mozzarella, Goats Cheese, Feta)
- Roast chicken
- Other meat from the meat counter (steak, pork, lamb, sausages)
- Fresh fish from the fish counter (salmon, ahi, halibut)
- Pre-made turkey burgers or chicken/steak kabobs
Now that you have all of the ingredients, prepare to be inspired by the multitude of meals you have on hand! To help get you started, here are seven of my tried and true favorite combos. No long, drawn-out recipes, no enormous lists of ingredients-just easy meals you can put together in the flashiest of flashes (or, well, 30 minutes at the most). I promise you they'll hit the post-work spot.
Bring it All Together
Tip: Did you know fresh spinach freezes beautifully? If mine's on the cusp of going bad, into the freezer it goes, ready to be used later that month in pastas and soups.
Tip: Cut the dough into two pieces when you get home and freeze one half for next time. Use the leftover asparagus (because they always come in massive bundles) as your veggie accompaniment the next night for dinner. Leftover pizza? Perfect for breakfast the next morning with an egg on top.
Tip: When you bring your chicken home from the store, get the dirty work over with and cut all the juicy meat off the bone-it's so much easier to do when it's warm.
Tip: Buy an amazing loaf of bread, slice into indivdiual portions, double wrap each portion in foil, and freeze them. You can reheat (from frozen) for 5-10 minutes in the oven whenever you want.
Tip: Foodies may shun me, but I'm all for the pre-packaged cooked rice they sell pretty much everywhere. Punch a couple of holes in the top, stick it in the microwave for a minute or two-voilà! Freshly steamed rice.
Tip: Buy your steak at the meat counter so you get exactly the quantity you need. Also, most grocery stores have bulk salad bins, so you can grab a couple of handfuls of lettuce at a big discount to the pre-bagged mixes.
Tip: I always get frustrated with the fact that I can never buy one piece of celery or two carrots. Thankfully, most grocery stores have started to sell pre-chopped mirepoix (that's the fancy French term for chopped carrots, onion, and celery) so you're not left with a mass of extra veggies.
Tell us! What are your go-to cooking-for-one meals?
This article was originally published on The Daily Muse. For more advice on cooking for one, check out:
Buying in Bulk: Your Budget's New BFF
7 Secrets When You're Grocery Shopping for 1
8 Cheap, Easy, and Delicious Workday Lunches
About the Author: Niki Lowry is the Director of Company Relations and Partnerships at The Muse. She ensures we feature kickass companies on Company Muse so you can find an awesome job at a company you love. Prior to joining The Muse, she handled all Marketing strategies for the Lowry Group at MSSB. Niki holds a bachelors degree from the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley and resides in San Francisco. When not musing, you can find her wandering around various Farmers Markets.