Cooking Meals for One or Two
Sometimes, it can be quite a challenge to cook for just one, or even, two people. You may not know what to make or you simply may not feel like cooking much just for yourself. With a bit of planning however, you can enjoy simple, well-balanced & delicious meals with minimal prep time at all! Here are some tips to help you plan:
- Plan Meals by Following Canada’s Food Guide – eating alone can be difficult for many people, regardless of age. The best place to start when preparing meals for one or two people is to focus on incorporating enough nutritious foods to optimize good health. It may be helpful to remember these key tips:
- Plan to fill ½ of your plate with vegetables and/or fruit at all meals. Eating a variety of vegetables & fruits has been linked to a lower risk for certain health conditions such as heart disease & diabetes. Try opting for different textures, colours & shapes to suit preferences as well as to ensure you consume a wide range of different vitamins & minerals. Canned or frozen fruits/vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh options so long as you look for products without added sugar or salt. These convenience options are also inexpensive & usually have a longer shelf-life compared to fresh produce. It may be helpful to look for canned vegetables with little or no added sodium as well as vegetables that are packed in water instead of sugary syrup. To find the best “bang for your buck” shop for fresh fruits & vegetables that are in season as they are often less expensive.
- Fill 1/4 of your plate with grains at each meal. Try to choose whole grain options more often as they tend to be more nutritious with higher amounts of fibre, vitamins & minerals compared to refined grains. These higher fibre options have been shown to lower the risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke & colon cancer. Quinoa, whole wheat pasta, steel cut oats, brown or wild rice, whole grain breads, bagels, English muffins or crackers are fantastic whole grain options to include in your meal plan! To help save money, try to avoid purchasing single serving cereals packages that also tend to be higher in added sugar.
- Aim to include 1/4 plate of protein at each meal. Getting enough protein each day, especially as we get older, is needed to keep our muscles healthy & can help us to stay fuller longer. Excellent sources of protein include eggs, cheese, dairy (such as skim, 1% or 2% milk), Greek yogurt, lean meats & poultry, nuts & seeds, fish & shellfish, beans, peas & lentils, tofu, soy & soy products. Try to limit intake of processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, salami & bologna, sausages, etc. as these tend to be high in saturated fat but lower in quality protein. Traditional meats can be expensive, so look for weekly deals when out grocery shopping. Low sodium canned proteins such as tuna & salmon are a great & convenient protein option that is relatively inexpensive with a long shelf-life. Plant-based protein foods such as nuts & seeds, tend to be higher in fibre, lower in saturated fat & also tend to be less expensive! Skim milk powder is a great low-cost alternative with a long shelf-life & is just as nutritious as regular dairy.
- Choose water or low fat dairy (skim, 1% or 2% milk) more often as your drink of choice. Fruit juices, fruit juice concentrates, regular pop & iced teas, lemonade, energy drinks, sugar-sweetened dairy products & creamers, specialty coffees (e.g. Iced Cappuccinos), etc. are high in sugar & calories but low in other important vitamins & minerals.
- Have sweets & treats such as cookies, chocolate, pastries, ice cream & frozen desserts, fast foods, etc. in moderation. These foods are often higher in added sugar, saturated fat & sodium. Eating too many foods rich in these nutrients has been linked to an increased risk for certain chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity & diabetes. Try following the 80/20 rule to eating which recommends including sweets & treats only 20% of the time while the remaining 80% of the time is focused on including more nutritious food options from the lists above.
- Plan Ahead by Making a Weekly Menu – it is usually easier to eat healthy if you plan out what meals you plan to make for the week in advance. Planning ahead will not only help to prevent unintended trips to a restaurant or drive-thru when life gets busy, but it can also help you to eat heathier. To help plan, read through your favourite recipes that you intend to make for the week ahead of time to stock up on anything you may need. Once you have a plan in place, make a shopping list using grocery store fliers to help find the latest grocery deals. It is helpful to check your pantry before you go shopping to help avoid waste & extra spending. Make sure not to shop on an empty stomach to help prevent “impulse buying!” Using coupons is a great way to save money as well!
- Stock you Kitchen – to help avoid the “there’s nothing to eat!” dilemma, you may find it helpful to ensure you have the following convenience items on hand to put together a quick meal in a pinch. If it fits with your budget, you may also consider purchasing prewashed & precut fruits/vegetables. Though these are often more expensive, they may be more convenient for your needs.
- Herbs & spices
- Whole grain pasta, brown or wild rice, whole grain crackers
- Dried or low sodium and/or no salt added canned beans and lentils
- Frozen or low sodium/no salt added vegetables
- Frozen or canned fruit packed in water or light syrup
- Frozen breads
- Low sodium canned fish or soups
- Skim milk powder
- Nuts/seeds and/or nut butters
- Whole wheat or whole grain flour, baking soda, baking powder
- Consider Buying in Bulk & Freeze – sometimes it can be more cost-effective to purchase in bulk if you have the means to repackage into smaller portions for one or two people & freeze for later meals. Make sure to date these foods & use up within 3-4 months for freshness. Items such as pasta & rice are great to buy in bulk as they have a long shelf-life.
- Reduce Your Favourite Recipes & Use Leftovers Wisely – many of our favourite family recipes are intended to feed four or more people but there is no reason you need to give up your favourite foods when you live alone! With a little practice, you can adapt any of your favourite recipes to fit your household size by choosing recipes that are easy to divide mathematically. For example, if the recipe serves 4 people, perhaps half all of the recipe ingredients. Alternatively, you can “cook once & eat later” by making the full recipe & freezing the leftovers in individual servings for later. Make sure to label any leftovers with the contents & dates to ensure you eat them up before they spoil.
- Enjoy your meals! – Preparing meals for one or eating alone can sometime be difficult but it’s important to try & keep meals pleasant & enjoyable. Start by choosing a place to sit, perhaps near a window with a nice view, then set the mood by playing some music & setting the table with a nice place setting & décor. If you find cooking to be too burdensome & you have the means, why not consider ready-made meals from Meals on Wheels or Heart to Home Meals for a delicious & nutritious meal with little preparation required a couple of times per week!
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