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Cooking for one or two

Here are some tips on how to make cooking small meals more fun

When there’s just one or two of you around the dining table, it can sometimes be hard to get motivated about cooking. For some people, the temptation to make easy meals, such as toast, can take over. But these ‘pretend meals’ don’t provide the balanced nutrition you need to live well. So here are some tips on how to make cooking small meals more fun.

Rewarding yourself for making the effort

Treating every meal like a special dinner helps to make it seem worthwhile. You could set a nice table, use your good dinner set and glassware, maybe light a candle or arrange some table flowers, turn off the TV and put on some relaxing music.

If you’re cooking for one, remember to tell yourself what you enjoyed about the meal and thank yourself for preparing it. You could even offer to do the washing up (for yourself) in return.

Keeping it social

Maybe you have a friend you’d like to invite to be your dinner buddy. One night a week, you cook for them; on another night, they do the same for you. Shared dinners with a friend will give you a night off cooking and might introduce you to some new meal ideas. It often pays to agree up front that this is not a competition, just a chance to share meals. Maybe choose a night when there’s a TV show you’d both like to watch together after eating. That way you’ll get dinner and a show!

Meal planning

Creating a healthy menu for the week makes it easier to shop for groceries and cook ahead for later meals. You may find that your appetite is less than when you were young, so it’s important to make sure there’s plenty of goodness in what you are eating.

Like most things in life, it’s good to aim for variety and balance. When it comes to nutrition, that means eating something from the four main food groups at every meal. Aim for plenty of fruit and vegetables. Be sure to include carbohydrates, like wholegrain cereals, potatoes, grains, rice, pasta and bread. The third main group is dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. The final group is protein-rich foods, such as meat, chicken, seafood, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes (cooked dried lentils, peas and beans, such as baked beans).

If you’re looking at your plate, a half should be fruit and vegetables (not counting potatoes), a quarter carbohydrates and a quarter protein foods. For more see our article on nutrition.

Cooking ahead

To reduce time spent in the kitchen each week, some people like to cook once and eat twice. That means making a larger batch of something, so that you can set some aside for later. You can keep most cooked food in a sealed container in the fridge for a day or two. Putting it in the freezer gives you more flexibility; just remember to label the container with its contents and the date it was cooked.

Cooking ahead doesn’t have to mean having ‘left-overs’ or the same meal again. With a little planning and imagination, it can be easy to cook ahead for completely different meals. For example, extra cooked steak could be sliced into a delicious sandwich for lunch the next day and stir-fried with vegetables and a dash of Asian-style sauce for dinner that night.

One pot meals make life easy

Creating balanced meals cooked in a single pot, like a tasty casserole or stew, is a great way to simplify time in the kitchen for both cooking and washing up. In summer, you can create a fresh salad for one in a good-sized dinner bowl, then toss through some cooked chicken slices, sprinkle with cheese and have some whole grain bread on the side.

Shopping for one or two

A weekly menu plan makes it easy to create a shopping list, so you’re less likely to forget something important. Keeping a pen and paper on the kitchen bench helps you to write down pantry items you’re running low on as soon as you notice them. Writing your weekly shopping list in roughly the same order as things are laid out in the supermarket also helps.

Buying small quantities of a grocery item tends to be more expensive than buying in bulk. One way around this is to buy larger quantities of the things that keep well or you can divide up at home to freeze for later meals.

This won’t work with fresh fruit of course, but you can try to choose some that’s ripe and ready to eat, and some that will keep and ripen for later in the week. You can also briefly blanch or microwave vegetables then freeze them in small parcels, ready for use in cooking later. Already frozen fruit and vegetables from the supermarket are still very nutritious and a good way to use a little at a time without food going to waste.

Another good idea is to keep a stock of non-perishable items like canned tomatoes, lentils and pasta sauce. That way you’ll have a backup supply of ingredients in case you run out of fresh food or can’t get to the supermarket for some reason. When you use one of these items, remember to add it to your shopping list straight away, so your backup supply is always there.

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