single-serving recipes
December 28, 2007 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Cooking for one: I need some tasty, healthy single-serving recipe ideas!

I love cooking, but I tend to cook way too much, resulting in me totally pigging out and/or keeping gross leftovers in the fridge that make me eat out just so I can avoid being in my kitchen. I'd really like to learn some recipes that make exactly one serving... right now, all I can think of is a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich or a grilled chicken breast with a baked potato.

I try to avoid pre-packaged/processed foods, so I'm looking for meals to make from scratch. Ideally, the recipes would include ingredients that either are available in small quantities or last a really long time. (I tend to buy a loaf of bread, use two slices for a sandwich, and then throw the rest of the moldly loaf away a week later.)

Any suggestions?
posted by logic vs love to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 88 users marked this as a favorite
French dip sandwiches? Get some roast beef from the deli, some nice crusty buns, an onion, some swiss cheese and beef broth.

Toast bread. Saute onions until carmelized. Assemble sandwich - roast beef first, then onion, then a couple of slices of swiss cheese. Wrap in foil. Heat in toaster oven until cheese is melted. Serve with a jus.

Bread freezes really, really well. If your bread is getting moldy, freeze part of it for later. Or, at the very least, store the loaf in the refrigerator and it will keep longer.

Roasted sweet potatoes are a great side dish. Cut into slices or rounds, sprinkle with salt pepper, and herb of your choice (I like rosemary). Add some chopped garlic. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and toss to coat. Roast until sweet potatoes are soft.
posted by Ostara at 1:37 PM on December 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

I like chicken wraps. Brown a chicken breast, cut it up, put in a bowl, add some feta cheese (the crumbled with basil and sundried tomatoes is really good), a tomato, maybe some walnut pieces and spices if you like that, a little splash of olive oil and wrap it up in a spinach wrap (or tomato or whole wheat or whatever kind of wrap you like). It is an under 20 minute meal and it makes 1-2 wraps and the filling keeps for a day if you make too much.
posted by 45moore45 at 1:45 PM on December 28, 2007

Leftovers only work if they're done correctly. I use pasta for this (look a few threads down for great marinara options). I cook a big pan of sauce on saturday and after it cools, freeze it in single serving glad ware type containers. then every day make a single serving of pasta, heat up the sauce and you're done.

Eggs are good for one - i do a simple scrambled dill egg with a little white cheese - less than 200 calories for 2.

fajitas - cut up the veggies, store what you're not going to cook to munch on at work the next day. i'm a vegetarian so i find the morning star chick'n strips work best because they're already cut and i can just cook a few at a time (for those cooking most fake meat products, pro tip - put them in a hot pan, cook off ALL the water, dry them out, then add veggie stock or the juice from canned tomatoes or a marinade and cook over high heat until the pan is dry again - all the juice gets sucked up and those things actually taste good).

cous cous with some added veggies

stir fry
posted by nadawi at 1:46 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

For sandwiches, try whole wheat tortillas for wraps as they last a lot longer than yeast breads. Or freeze the sliced loaf of bread and have toasted sandwiches instead.

One person meals:

1. [something tasty] in a wrap.

a) Sauteed garlic, onions, peppers, maybe mushrooms and a single small chicken breast, small steak or pork steak, sliced thinly before or after cooking. Use any kind of Asian or Latin American flavouring that appeals to you.
b) Scrambled eggs (or one egg and about 3 egg whites from one of those cartons that's good for a week) on a base of finely diced onion, a bit of shredded cheese and some fresh or dried herbs like rosemary.
c) Hummus (homemade or storebought) OR black bean dip plus crunchy veggies.
d) Peanut butter, crushed almonds and cinnamon.

2. Soup to go with a wrap:

a) Quick tomato soup (makes two servings, but should be tasty enough as a leftover). Dump a can of diced tomatoes in a soup pan and heat gently. Add a little salt and a lot of pepper and dill weed. Puree with an immersion blender, then add a little yogurt and puree some more. Add a little shredded cheddar or Parmesan if you like.
b) Quick chicken soup: finely dice some onion, celery and carrots and let sweat in hot oil until tender. Add 2 cups chicken broth from one of those tetra packs that keep in the fridge for a week after opening and heat until boiling, then turn down to a simmer. Add sliced chicken and gently cook and stir until cooked.

If all else fails, make a larger recipe of something awesome that can be frozen in one serving portions. Potatoes and milk based dishes (except for cheese) don't freeze well.
posted by maudlin at 1:48 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

The grill pan is the single-serving cook's best friend. You can expand beyond chicken breasts to things like fish, beef, chops, etc. - pretty much any of these can be purchased in single servings, or small packages (freeze the rest for later).

Single serving stir fries are another option - buy small quantities of protein/veg of your choice.

Good for you for avoiding the processed/packaged junk!
posted by chez shoes at 1:48 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I do a lot of single-serving cooking for my mom, and I've come to rely heavily on frozen stuff... bags of individually-frozen chicken breasts, shrimp, mixed vegetables, etc. They're great for just pulling a handful out of the bag when you want them and not worrying about the rest rotting.

I usually either do a sort of stir-fry with pasta or rice or do a meat-and-two-veg by putting things on different sides of a skillet in the order that they need time to cook.
posted by Gianna at 1:56 PM on December 28, 2007

Cooked rice freezes well in individual portions, which would support the small stir-fry options without the hassle of making a small portion of rice every time. Plus, uncooked white rice will last forever. Brown rice supposedly runs the chance of going rancid, but I just keep it in the fridge to avoid that.
posted by cabingirl at 2:10 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I cook for one a lot and I know it's hard to do! Definitely read this book, Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. It has a lot of recipes and is really empowering to those who cook for one.

If you feel like cooking something big, make a soup or sauce, then keep it in the fridge to use during the week or freeze it in smaller portions. You can also halve/quarter/whiddle to one serving your recipes so you're not wasting food and money. Or if you feel like making a lot of food, give it away to a friend.

Stock your pantry with versatile herbs and spices, like basil, oregano, sage, cayenne, red pepper flakes, kosher salt, etc. Those can zest up a plain chicken breast or pasta.
Trader Joe's has a lot of single-serving meats and fish in their freezer section.

Or try different ways of preparing eggs. Stuff omelettes with leftover meats, cheeses, veggies; make an egg sandwich or french toast with whatever kind of bread you have lying around.

Hope this helps! I tend to associate "cooking for one" with "fast and easy."
posted by LiveToEat at 2:20 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Any omelet, with a good bread or roll and perhaps some soup. As a fancy alternative make a small souffle (which is really easy, just whip some egg whites, like say 4, and add to a sauce of some flour, milk cheese, spices and some or all of the yolks. you can make it in a teflon omelet pan in the oven for added ease, it is really just a risen omelet)

Tortilla wraps of all kinds. Get some tortillas and fill with beans, meat, chicken, eggs, cheese, corn, and mixtures thereof, with your favorite spicing. Very easy, very fast, and can be quite nutritious and healthy depending upon how you make them. If you use a microwave, keep it open during cooking and put a bit of paper towel or something underneath to catch the moisture so that the tortilla does not get soggy.

Japanese or Chinese noodles, such as Soba, with a bit of Mirin and sesame oil. Soba are also surprisingly good with pesto sauce.

As for your bread, keep it in the refrigerator. It will last a long time. You can freeze part of it as well. It is not as good as bakery fresh, but quite doable. Hard crust breads will lose their crusty crispness though.

Canned soups with a heavy addition of soy beans (Edamame) or leftover meats, other protein sources, etc. Have with breads or egg dishes if really hungry.

Salads, steaks, fish, these can all be purchased or made small enough for a single serving.

Finally, to increase the fun, invite your neighbors over regularly.
posted by caddis at 2:27 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Omelettes! With a bit of toast/english muffin and/or some fruit. Yeah, it's breakfast food, but breakfast for dinner rawks.

If you can cut the amount you make in half, or even quarters, that sometimes works. At some point, the math is too tricky, or it's hard to get half an egg, though. I do that with baking, because I find most recipes make way too much [whatever] for 2 people.

Freezing is a good thing -- I use plastic containers with screw-on caps to save spaghetti sauce and chili in appropriate serving sizes.

I have a vague recollection of seeing "cooking for one" cookbooks in the bookstore; a quick googling for that phrase brings up some likely options. (Actually, I might take a look at some of those myself!)
posted by epersonae at 2:30 PM on December 28, 2007

Eggs. So many wonderful things to do with eggs, all of which may be customized to use up dribs and drabs of stuff. Also keep some foodstuffs that last for awhile in the fridge, like jarred roasted red peppers and artichokes and olives and salsas and hard cheeses. Omelettes, baked eggs in ramekins, poached eggs in leftover wine on toast drizzled with olive oil, huevos rancheros.

Good-quality canned tomatoes make wonderful tomato sauce. The giant cans are cheaper, but the smaller cans give you one generous serving of sauce. Dump tomatoes in pan. Throw in some garlic and leftover red wine. Cook 'till reduced somewhat and divine-smelling. Make appropriate amount of pasta of your choice -- when it's done, dump the pasta into the sauce, stir, eat.

Buy chicken breasts in bulk. Rebag into individual bags. Make any chicken breast recipe.

Buy good-quality sausage. Cut links apart. Bag into individual freezer bags. Take sausage out the night before to thaw in the fridge. Put in hot pan with some beer or wine or water or broth and some thinly sliced onions. Cover. It'll steam in the liquid in about 20 minutes and the onions will be soft.

Get a bag of salad and eat some with whatever you make every night. If you need to use up a bunch in a hurry, it'll be omelette night.
posted by desuetude at 2:32 PM on December 28, 2007

I am single and live alone, but I'm not the most efficient cook - not a lot of frozen leftovers, and I don't always have time to make stock from leftover veggies, etc. However, I tend to like making enough food for 2-3 days, because I really like fresh vegetables and whole grains, so I want the food to live in the fridge (not the freezer) for at most a couple days after it's cooked. Most often I'll make 1.5 lbs. of boneless chicken breasts, baked, such as lemon dill or lightly seasoned, or sometimes fish (although leftover fish isn't always great), some sort of rice or other grain like quinoa, and a mess of steamed or stir-fried veggies - there is great variation you can do with veggies. Sometimes I'll put it all together in a stir-fry. I also like to make a huge spinach salad at the beginning of the week and eat off it for days, and sometimes soup to go with it. But I don't like single-serving food because it takes too much work to cook for every meal, but I also prefer making food from scratch, so I don't like the prepared frozen stuff. I also don't like eating the same thing every day for too long, so 2-3 days is a good amount of time for leftovers for me (and my freezer isn't that big). So, not exactly single serving, and not exactly recipes, but that's my strategy anyway.

I'm still learning, but learning to cook fresh food has made a tremendous difference in the way I eat. I recommend some good, basic cookbooks like Joy of Cooking, Better Homes and Gardens, New Moosewood and Julia Child's Art of French Cooking vols. 1&2.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:15 PM on December 28, 2007

Start with the following basic:

- 2 tsp olive oil
- 1lb ground beef (lean if you like)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 3 pieces of garlic, chopped
- salt, pepper
- optional: some mushrooms, finely chopped

- Put the olive oil in a pan, brown the meat, add the veggies.

Now you can keep this in your fridge all week and convert this into several different dishes as desired:

- Add tomato sauce, oregano and parmesan cheese to make pasta sauce, boil some nooodles.
- Add avacado, cilantro, black/refried beans, fajita/burrito seasoning and burrito/taco shells to make burritos/tacos.
- Add kidney beans, black beans, tomato sauce, chili powder (and habenaro!) to make chili.
- Add steamed rice, tomato sauce and put in green bell peppers cut in half, then bake with cheese on top to make stuffed peppers.

Spice all of the above to taste.
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:32 PM on December 28, 2007 [7 favorites]

Also, you can do Joy of Cooking's Chicken Piccata for one by dividing the recipie in half (or in fourth, don't recall how much it makes right now).
posted by jeffamaphone at 3:33 PM on December 28, 2007

Additionally, you might enjoy Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone by Jenni Ferrari-Adler, it doesn't have a lot of recipes, but a bushelfull of lovely essays on the subject of cooking, and dining, alone.
posted by dawson at 5:06 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Did someone say Eggplant?!?

Cold egplant is a delicious, no bother dish. Just get 3-4 japanese style eggplants, clean them, remove the stems by slicing as near the end as possible. Then throw them directly in boiling water and cook them, covered, until they are soft enough to get a fork halfway into them without force (maybe 15-20 minutes. I'm really bad at guessing time, so better watch it ever few minutes for your first try). Turn off the heat and let them cool. Take them out of the pot. You should be able to pull them apart with your fingers (start at one end and break them apart lengthwise). Put them into a bowl and season with salt, lemon juice, half a clove of garlic very finely minced (or put through a garlic press) and some hot pepper flakes. Let it sit for a little bit to soak up the flavors.

This will keep for a few days and is delicious to munch on.

You can do a similar thing with a full-sized eggplant. First, burn both sides of the eggplant under a broiler, then toss in a pot of boiling water to cook (might take a bit longer, not sure). Theoretically, you can do all the cooking under the broiler but I've found you either burn it too much or can't get the inside of the eggplant soft enough. Once cooked, remove from pot, peel off the skin, and then mash the flesh with a bit of olive oil, garlic, salt, and a dash of cumin to make baba ghanoush.

Actually, any kind of cold salads of this nature -- white bean salads, hummos, tabouli, pickled beets -- are all excellent choices because they get better as they sit in your fridge and are meant to be eaten cold, so they will actually look appetizing rather than languishing in your fridge until they die of spoilage.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:04 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Take a good flour tortilla. Thinly spread pesto over it. Scatter some slivers of sun-dried tomatoes over it. Sprinkle small chunks of feta cheese all over. Slip the tortilla onto a baking stone in an approx. 375° oven for about 7 minutes, or until the edges of the tortilla have become golden and slightly crispy. Keep an eye on it. This burns quickly.

Slice into quarters. If you wish, sprinkle with parmesan.

Best thin-crust pizza going. Honest.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:16 PM on December 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

sorry, LiveToEat, my comment shoulda been a 'seconded'...
blame the beer?
posted by dawson at 6:16 PM on December 28, 2007

I'm a big fan of soups and stews. I cook up a double recipe of something wet and yummy, because it takes only slightly longer than a single recipe. Then I parcel it out into separate freezer jars (canning jars with straight sides). As a result, my freezer always has an assortment of home-cooked gourmet soups and stews, and all I have to do is unscrew the metal lid and put the jar in the microwave.

I've also been getting a lot of mileage out of polenta. Cook up a batch with some good romano in it, eat a bowl, & put the leftover glop (while still warm and soft) into a loaf pan or similar container in the fridge. The next day it will be firm. That's when you get to slice and fry it in lots of olive oil.
posted by PatoPata at 6:19 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Fish! Fish comes in convenient one-serving pieces.

A really simple (perhaps unexciting) fish dish. Take a filet of tilapia, coat in flour. Cook some vegetable (I am a fan of broccoli, and you can get crowns or florets in small quantities. Even though it is more expensive by weight, if you're not eating it all, it's less expensive to get less), and some pasta. Pan fry fish (about 6 minutes on medium heat).


The whole process takes about the amount of time it takes to cook pasta.

You can also make fried rice in any quantity. Cut up meats and veggies (get the baby onions for betterness, along with frozen veggies for long-lasting-ness), add some cool rice, fry.
posted by that girl at 6:55 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Lots of mentions of omelettes but a variation that seems to have been missed is omelette with salsa, and sour cream, and black beans (from a tin from Trader Joe's). Quick, nutritious and so delicious.

Also beans: I cook a couple of pounds of pinto beans and eat them over the week. They keep well, cooked, in the fridge or freezer. Soak overnight, cook in the oven at 295 for four hours in fresh water with NO SALT. Season them when you eat them, if you like them seasoned, but do not add salt while cooking or they'll never soften.

Now I've got to try those eggplant ideas.
posted by anadem at 7:01 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

For desserts: Small-Batch Baking?
posted by oldtimey at 8:07 PM on December 28, 2007

My current favorite easy recipe:

Boil a boneless chicken breast until cooked.
Place it in a small casserole dish, and sprinkle seasoning salt on it.
Put 1 or 2 slices of mozzarella on top.
Top with a pineapple ring.
Pour pineapple juice in the casserole dish.
Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.
Broil at 500 for just a few minutes to brown the cheese and the pineapple ring.

posted by The Deej at 8:51 PM on December 28, 2007

I second Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant. It has some great recipes, and such fantastic essays. I also have (and use, constantly) Serves One: Simple Meals to Savor When You're on Your Own - it's just the right size so as not to intimidate, has a great variety of foods and is beautifully organized - I can't recommend it enough.
posted by mewithoutyou at 10:22 PM on December 28, 2007

Also, those roasted chickens that you can get for about $5 make excellent meal starters.

Let roasted chicken cool, then remove all meat from bones. I feed the skin and fat to my pets, but you could also use it (and the bones) to make stock if you were ambitious.

You can then shred the chicken and make BBQ chicken nachos, chicken salad, chicken enchiladas, chicken quesadillas, etc.

We like the BBQ chicken nachos. Just combine chicken with a little bbq sauce. Arrange tortilla chips on plate. Top with chicken. Open can of black beans. Scatter over chips. Add jalapenos if desired. Add salsa. Add cheese. Zap in microwave. Top with sour cream.
posted by Ostara at 10:39 PM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Another option is to make a big bowl of brown rice (TJ's and most groceries have nice brown and wild rice mixes) and use that as a base for fried rice dishes. You can add anything, but man, I love chicken fried rice with thai peanut sauce.
posted by maryh at 12:16 AM on December 29, 2007

I stir fry veggies for one all the time. My favorites are broccoli and asparagus. Throw them in to the skillet with some olive oil and garlic, saute for 5 min, throw in some water and soy sauce until they are tender. delicious.
posted by milestogo at 11:02 PM on December 29, 2007

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