10 Best Ingredients for People Who Cook for One
Dining solo just got more delicious.
If you're cooking for one, you might not have much motivation to cook every night of the week, or spend two hours whipping up a dish with the works. Plus, your portions will be smaller, unless you're intentionally cooking in bulk to have a few meals for the week. So, you'll want to keep the right ingredients in your kitchen for when you need a quick meal that's ready in a few minutes and can feed you well without requiring too much work or leaving waste.
Not sure what to keep on hand? Here are 10 best finds according to dietitians who know how difficult cooking can be when you're only looking out for yourself.
1. Almond Butter
"My go-to breakfast almost every morning is toast with almond butter. I take two slices of sprouted grain bread — I love Ezekiel or Dave's Killer Bread — and spread one to two tablespoons of almond butter total, plus some all natural jam," says Ilyse Schapiro MS, RD, CDN. You can also top it with berries and sliced banana for some fresh fruit, or go the savory route (especially great for lunch or dinner) and top with seeds or even grilled chicken. (Think of how tasty Thai chicken with peanut sauce is.)
"The almond butter contains monounsaturated fats which can protect your heart, and also keep you full for a while. The sprouted grain bread is high and fiber and protein, which also keeps you satisfied," she says. In general almond butter (or peanut butter if you like) is a great staple for those who cook for one, as you can use it for smoothies, toast, protein toppers for oatmeal or yogurt, rolled into energy bites for portioned snacks, or used in dressings and sauces for salads and meat.
Avocado is a great source of filling fats and protein to boost satiety and there's so much variety, as you can use it in dressings, dips, eggs, tacos, and more. You can also eat avocado plain and add toppings like diced chicken or beans. And, of course, don't forget avocado toast.
"Smash one-fourth to half an avocado total on one to two slices of sprouted grain bread or even sweet potato slices," says Schapiro. "You can slice a sweet potato into four or five thin slices and use that as the toast."
Sweet potato is another great item to always have for single person cooking, too. "Top with avocado and sprinkle with one tablespoon chia seeds or Everything But the Bagel Seasoning. The combo of the good fat from the avocado, plus healthy carbs, will sustain you for a few hours," she says.
3. Frozen Fruit
"I always have frozen fruit in my freezer for whipping up a quick smoothie, which makes a healthy breakfast or snack. Personally, I love to keep frozen blueberries in my freezer because they are picked at the peak of ripeness, so this helps preserve their taste and nutrition, such as fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese, and potassium," says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD. They last a while and can also be used for yogurt, oatmeal, and dessert too. "I throw those into a smoothie with some Greek yogurt for protein and banana for natural sweetness, and it's a complete meal on the go," she says. And that's easy for those who cook for one and don't want to dirty up the kitchen.
Pictured Recipe: West Seattle Sweet Potato and Kale Bowl
4. Canned Beans
Canned beans can be used for a variety of dishes, and they're cheap as a pantry staple. "As a vegetarian, I eat canned black beans almost daily. I just rinse them, throw them in a whole wheat tortilla with some cheese and put it in a panini press for 5 minutes to make a quick quesadilla," says Rizzo. "Throw in some spinach and Sriracha and you've got a quick lunch on the go with plenty of protein, fiber and iron," she says. Of course, you can also use them for grain and bean bowls, tacos and burritos, salad toppers, and even healthier brownies when you get the urge.
5. Dried Legumes
"Lentils are one of my pantry staples. They are loaded with iron, protein, and fiber and are low in calories. I make a batch every week to use as the base for a grain bowl or for soup," Rizzo says. You can make them in bulk too, which is super helpful for those who cook for one so you can just cook once and have a bunch of meals on-hand for the week. "I love both of those types of recipes because you can make them in batches and eat for a few days straight," she says.
Eggs are versatile, affordable, and contain important nutrients, like protein, Vitamin D, and antioxidants. And they can be used for more than breakfast: think hard boiled for a snack, a frittata for breakfast, or over easy on a burger for dinner. "I eat an omelet after a workout because I can whip it up in less than ten minutes. Just combine eggs, your favorite veggies and cheese and cook," says Rizzo. "Or make a batch of egg burritos to freeze and microwave whenever you want them," she says.
Pictured Recipe: Paleo Pecan-Maple Salmon
7. Individual Frozen Fish Filets
Health experts recommended that we eat 8 to 12 ounces of fish per week, and most of us fall too short. Frozen fish like salmon, tilapia, or barramundi are so easy to make and quick to cook for one-person meals, especially when you buy them in their portioned filet size. "Buy the individually wrapped frozen filets and simply defrost in a bowl under cool running water for a few minutes before cooking, Take out an extra to cook once and eat twice," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. "Fish is super easy to bake in a toaster oven or sauté on the stove," she says. No need to turn on the large oven for a single serving.
8. Canned Fish
Canned fish is another easy way to reach our recommended seafood goals for the week. It's affordable, shelf-stable, and ready whenever you need it for quick salads and sandwiches for lunch or dinner. "Use it for lunch or dinner on days you don't have time or don't want to cook a fresh meal. Tuna, salmon and sardines are all amazingly nutritious choices to use in salads, pasta dishes or sandwiches," says Harris-Pincus . "Look for canned options where the only ingredients are the fish and salt. That means it is cooked in the can so it retains all the heart-healthy omega 3 fats," she says. Plus you can avoid all of that grease and extra calories from oil-packed varieties.
9. Frozen Veggies
Frozen veggies in steamer bags are a fabulous way to meet your veggie goals. "Frozen produce is oftentimes more nutritious than fresh because it is frozen within a few hours of harvest, allowing retention of more nutrients than fresh, which sits in warehouses and travels long distances," says Harris-Pincus. And then you don't have to worry about it going bad too soon, especially since when cooking for one you might not cook every night of the week. "Microwave a bag, and add to your lunch or dinner and refrigerate any extra for the next meal," she says.
10. Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese is an excellent source of protein. "Blend some into a smoothie with frozen fruit, milk of choice, and some chia or flax seeds or nut butter. Once the texture is blended away the cottage cheese creates a creaminess that's less tart than yogurt so you will need to add less sweetness," says Harris-Pincus. Or top cottage cheese with berries and nuts for a quick, protein-packed breakfast or snack.
You can also use it as a topper for pizza and toast. "They have these new squashed zucchini crusts, which you can top with a little tomato sauce and cottage cheese. You can also put the cottage cheese on top of sweet potato slices or sprouted grain bread," says Schapiro. You'll have an easy meal ready in mere minutes.
Yet, take a look at the label to choose the best variety. "The protein content can vary from 10-16 grams for the same 90 calorie 1/2 cup serving. Some brands add starches and fillers which creates a higher carb and lower protein content for the same calories," Harris-Pincus says. So be on guard when purchasing.