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How to cook for just one or two people

Cooking for just one or two people can be a challenge, but it’s worth the effort because it saves your wallet and waistline.

“We are all busy people and don’t have time for hours in the kitchen, but we know that cooking at home can help us eat better, which makes us feel better, too,” says Nancy Waldeck, a chef at Thomas F. Chapman Family Cancer Wellness at Piedmont.

She shares her tips for small-batch cooking so you can save time and money, reduce waste, and enjoy dining at home.

1. Plan your meals in advance

Writing down the meals you plan to cook for the week can reduce or eliminate food waste.

“Although all the veggies may sing to you in the grocery store, there are only so many nights to use them,” she says.

2. Be realistic

Meal planning doesn’t need to be perfect to be a success.

“You can easily get discouraged trying to plan out meals for every day,” says Waldeck. “My goal is planning five dinners a week. That gives me lots of room for enjoying ‘planned-overs’ for breakfast or lunch.”

3. Streamline breakfast and lunch

Planning your breakfasts and lunches can help your whole week run more smoothly — no more pricey takeout or stale office donuts.

“Try having the same breakfast or two different breakfasts all week. That takes one decision off the table,” she says.

You can also use leftovers from dinner the night before for lunch.

4. Do the math

“It’s almost always a challenge when you are cooking a recipe that serves up to eight people,” says Waldeck. “Most recipes can be halved or even quartered. Do the math first, before purchasing your ingredients.”

5. Take a kitchen inventory

“Taking stock of what you already have is a time- and money-saver,” she says. “If you’re shopping and you don’t know what you already have, you may be buying duplicates.”

Make a grocery list before you head to the store and stick to it to avoid impulse buys.

6. Shop smart

Think carefully before buying in bulk.

“Even though the ‘big box’ stores may have great prices, make sure you will use everything you buy,” recommends Waldeck. “When you are cooking for just one or two, it’s often more economical to buy the single veggie or fruit. The same goes for bulk spices.”

If you do purchase something in bulk, look for single servings of fish that are individually frozen in plastic — that way you can whip up a quick, healthy dinner with no wasted ingredients.

7. Stock your pantry

Many pantry staples can last months or even years. Waldeck keeps canned beans, canned tomatoes and dried rice, lentils and ancient grains on hand.

“When you buy pantry staples like these, it's a great idea to put a date on them,” she suggests. “Store your newest purchases in the back of the cabinet — that way you’ll use the oldest items first.”

8. Utilize your freezer

“Carefully packaging your ‘planned-overs’ can save you time and money,” she says.

These foods tend to freeze well and can last several months in the freezer:

  • Dairy. Butter, grated cheese and milk will freeze well for one to three months.
  • Casseroles, soups, stews and sauces. Cool them first and divide into realistic portions sizes.
  • Proteins. Chicken breasts, seafood and ground turkey all freeze well and can be thawed when you’re ready to use them.
  • Most breads, especially breads like Ezekiel. Sliced bread can be toasted from frozen.
  • Vegetables and fruit. You can use frozen fruit for smoothies and frozen vegetables for a quick, roasted side dish.

If you freeze your meals, Waldeck suggests putting the food container inside a plastic bag with a piece of tape that lists the name of the item and the date you placed it in the freezer.

9. Make meal prep fun

Meal prep doesn’t need to feel like a chore. Spice things up while you cook by:

  • Listening to music or a podcast
  • Cooking with a friend, family member or neighbor
  • Enjoying a glass of wine

“I also take a minute to quickly write down on a piece of paper what I am going to serve or make,” adds Waldeck. “This quick review helps me to better time out my meal prep.”

Cooking at home is worth the effort

“Cooking, and planning to cook at home isn’t rocket science, but it does take practice,” she says. “Give yourself a break when learning to cook and eat better. Know that no matter what you are making, you’re making food that is better for you and you’re saving money, too.”

Check out additional cooking tips from Living Better.

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