Creating a meal plan for the week will make it easier for you to prepare healthy meals. It will also help ensure that you have all the right ingredients on hand when you’re ready to cook. As you make a meal plan, think about ways that you can:
- Cook once and eat twice (or more) by cooking larger meals and freezing single portions to eat another time.
- Get creative with leftovers, by using them for additional meals.
- Use the ingredients you already have in your cupboard.
Sample week menu
When you plan a weekly menu, it may look something like this:
Oatmeal w/ fruit
Egg & Toast
Burrito w/ leftovers
Tuna, quinoa, veggies
Pineapple Chicken, rice & veggies
Healthy Fried Rice
Barley soup w/ sausage & greens
Tacos Beans, cheese veggies
Dinner out with friends
Meatloaf with potatoes, broccoli
Bread that's starting to get a little stale is perfect for this recipe.
- Sliver of butter or teaspoon of oil
- One egg
- ¼ cup liquid (milk, milk substitute or water)
- Dash of vanilla (if you have it)
- Dash of salt
- 2 - 3 slices of bread depending on their size
- Beat egg with liquid, vanilla, and salt in a medium flat bowl.
- Soak bread slices in the liquid until saturated on both sides (~2 minutes per side)
- Place a small or medium sized pan on medium heat hotplate or stove top. Melt butter or add olive oil to the pan.
- Place bread in pan and cook until golden brown on bottom side. Flip and cook other side until it is also golden brown.
- Serve with applesauce, jam, nut butter or a little syrup.
This is a very versatile recipe. You can use whatever vegetables and cheese varieties you have available.
- 1 or 2 eggs (depending on level of hunger)
- ¼ cup chopped greens (spinach or other of choice)
- 2 – 3 slices cheese (any type will work)
- Wrap (tortilla, taco, or pita)
- salt & pepper to taste
- In a frying pan cook or heat the greens or other veggies. Season as desired.
- Cook egg however you like it (scrambled, poached, fried).
- If you like your cheese melted you can add to either the egg or veggies
- Place everything in a wrap.
Note: You can add salsa, guacamole, sour cream, or any other sauce you like for added flavor.
You can vary this recipe by using different nuts and fruits or by adding cold cereal such as corn flakes or cheerios.
- ½ cup rolled oats (or other rolled grain)
- ¼ cup mixed nuts and seeds (i.e. almonds, sunflower seeds, pecans, walnuts)
- 1 Tbsp. ground flax seeds (optional)
- Fresh or dried fruit, cut into pieces
- Milk or milk substitute (i.e. rice, soy or almond milk)
- Sweeten with a little honey (optional)
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl.
- Add milk. Let sit for a few minutes if you like a softer texture for the oats.
- 1 Whole wheat English muffin (or 2 slices of whole grain bread)
- 2 pineapple slices (canned rounds) or several chunks
- Cheese slices for melting
- Split open the English muffin so you have two halves. Toast* them.
- Place the pineapple rounds or chunks on each half.
- Add cheese on top to cover the pineapple.
- If you have a toaster oven, broil until the cheese is melted.*
*Note: If you do not have a toaster of any kind you can use a frying pan on medium-high heat to toast the muffins and then assemble them and put back in the pan, cover and melt the cheese using medium-low heat.
- 1/3 cup couscous*
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- ½ - ¾ cup chopped vegetables (cucumber, peppers, cooked beets, etc.)
- ¼ cup cheese, shredded or cubed (fresh mozzarella, jack, cheddar, feta, etc.)
- Italian style salad dressing or 1 Tbsp. olive oil & 1 Tbsp. vinegar/lemon juice & salt & pepper to taste.
- Fresh chopped herbs if you have them go great with this (parsley, basil, cilantro, chives, or dill)
- Chopped olives
- Add protein (left over from another meal or canned - tuna or kidney beans) for more filling meal
- Boil ½ cup water and slowly stir in couscous and salt.
- Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork.
- Prepare veggies while waiting.
- Add all ingredients and dressing. Toss gently.
- Eat warm or refrigerate covered and serve cold.
*Alternative = use ½ cup cooked quinoa left over from a previous meal
Egg Drop Soup
The base of this soup is wonderfully warming and you can alter it to include already cooked vegetables or even some left-over chicken if you want.
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2 cups broth (chicken, vegetable, or water & bouillon cubes)
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1 tsp. soy sauce
- ¼ tsp. grated ginger
- salt & pepper to taste
- ¼ cup chopped mushrooms (optional)
- Place all ingredients except the egg, into a pot. Bring to a boil and then turn down to simmer.
- Slowly pour the beaten egg into the soup while stirring gently. (The egg will cook immediately and form ribbons.
Napa Cabbage Salad
This type of cabbage is softer than white or red cabbage. It can be eaten as a salad but stays fresh longer than lettuce. It also cooks quickly – chop it and add it to a stir-fry!
- 4 leaves of Napa cabbage, cut into thin strips horizontally
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. white vinegar or lemon juice
- 1 tsp. sugar
- Dash of salt
- Mix oil, vinegar, sugar and salt in a bowl.
- Add the cut up cabbage to the bowl and toss well.
This is a very tasty expansion of a grilled cheese sandwich. You can use any type of sliced meat and melting cheese. The pickles and mustard add a great tang to the sandwich.
- 2 slices bread or one roll sliced open horizontally
- Yellow mustard
- 4 – 6 thin slices baked ham, roast pork and/or turkey
- 2 thin slices provolone cheese
- 2 dill pickle slices
- Butter, room temperature
- Lay the bread open and spread each side with the mustard.
- Divide the ingredients evenly among the slices of roll. Start with the ham followed by the pork, cheese, and dill pickles. Bring the tops and bottoms together.
- Butter the outside of each side of the sandwich.
- Heat a small pan over medium heat (you can use a panini maker or sandwich press if you have one).
- Place in the pan and press down firmly with a spatula. Flip when golden brown. Cheese should be melted.
- Serve warm.
- Healthy Fried
- Ground Meat &
- Arroz con Pollo
(Rice with Chicken)
Healthy Fried Rice
This is a fun and tasty way to use cooked rice that is left over from a previous meal.
- ½ cup cooked brown rice (left over from another meal)
- 1 egg
- ½ cup veggies (i.e. - frozen peas, shredded/sliced carrots or zucchinis, chopped spinach or bok choy, sliced peppers, a mixture of any)
- Seasoning (i.e. soy sauce, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, etc.)
- Crack egg in a small bowl, beat, and set aside.
- In a small frying pan on medium heat, cook/thaw the veggies you are using.
- Add the rice part way through so it can begin to heat up.
- Add a tablespoon of water and cover for about 2 minutes to steam cook/heat them.
- Add the beaten egg and stir/cook the whole mixture until the egg is done.
- Add soy sauce or other seasonings for flavor.
Makes a great light lunch by itself or you can eat with leftover grains or bread and a side salad as a full dinner.
- 1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 - 2 Tbsp. oil (olive oil if you have it)
- 3 cups broth or water (bouillon cubes & water if you have them)
- 2 - 3 tsp. Spices (various mixtures will work i.e. cinnamon, cardamon, cloves, cayenne pepper, or curry, cumin, turmeric)
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Place oil and chopped onions in a pot over medium heat. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add spices to the pot and stir. Sauté for another minute or two.
- Add pumpkin and liquid, salt and paper. Stir to combine.
- Let simmer on low until soup is hot.
- Optional: You can add a dollop of sour cream if you have it, or a little cream/milk to your bowl just before serving.
This recipe is also great with canned salmon or chicken instead of tuna.
- 2 tsp. oil
- ½ can of tuna
- ½ cup grated or sliced cheese (any type will work. I like jack or mozzarella.)
- ½ cup cooked vegetables*
- 2 whole wheat tortillas
- Seasonings, if you like
- Pour one-teaspoon oil into a medium frying pan and place one tortilla in the pan. Turn onto medium low heat.
- Sprinkle half the cheese evenly over the tortilla. Then add the tuna and veggies evenly throughout and end with the other half of the cheese.
- Place the second tortilla on top and pour the other teaspoon of oil on top.
- When the bottom tortilla is golden brown, gently flip over and let it cook until that one is also golden brown.
- Cut into quarters, serve.
* Vegetables can be leftovers from another meal, frozen veggies that are defrosted before using, or fresh veggies that are sautéed or cooked before being added.
Ground Meat & Veggies Mix
This recipe is a play on shepherd’s pie, but without the baking and without the potatoes on top. You could easily adjust it and make shepherd’s pie if you have an oven.
- ½ lb. ground meat (beef or turkey or buffalo...)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, chopped
- 2 - 3 carrots, cut in small pieces
- 1 zucchini, cut in small pieces (optional)
- Salt, pepper, seasoning of choice (curry or Italian or garlic...)
- On medium heat sauté onions, celery, carrots and some salt for a 2 - 3 minutes
- Add ground meat and break apart into small bits as much as possible as it cooks.
- After 5 minutes add the zucchini. Continue to cook. You may want to cover it for a few minutes to soften the veggies more.
- Serve over grain of your choice for a well-rounded meal.
Arroz con Pollo (Rice with Chicken)
This one-pot dish is flavorful and warming. You can vary it depending on the ingredients you have on hand.
- 2 chicken legs, without skin & rubbed with salt & pepper (& cumin, chili powder, or other spices if you choose)
- 1 – 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- ½ an onion, chopped
- ½ cup uncooked brown rice
- 1 cup liquid (i.e. broth or water)
- Salt & pepper to taste
- In a pot over medium heat sauté chicken in olive oil, turning until all sides are golden brown. Remove chicken and set aside.
- Sauté onions in olive oil for about 3 minutes, then add rice and cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes.
- Add broth, salt and any other items you’d like (i.e. black beans, tomatoes, peppers, corn). Bring to a simmer, then add the chicken back in.
- Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 35 – 40 minutes, turning the chicken once about half way through. Done when rice is tender and juices run clear when chicken is cut into.
Note: You can also serve with fresh cilantro or parsley, sour cream and/or avocado slices. This recipe makes enough for a couple meals – dinner and lunch tomorrow, for example.
Cook once, eat twice (or more)
Most soups, stews, and casseroles freeze well, so you can cook once and then freeze single servings to eat another time. When cooking, thinks about how you can eat leftovers for lunch tomorrow or dinner next week. When freezing food, though, it’s important to write the date and contents on the packages, and move older packages towards the front of your freezer so you remember to eat the food in a timely manner.
If you don’t want to eat the same meal a second time, having leftovers can be a great starting place for your next meal. For example, wrap leftover chicken, rice, and veggies in a tortilla, then add a little cheese and salsa—and you have a whole new meal.
Stay clean and organized
By keeping your pantry, cupboard, refrigerator, and freezer organized, you’ll be able to quickly see which ingredients you have—and which ones you need to restock.
Make use of spices and condiments
A great way to get different flavors into your meals—without adding unhealthy fats or frying your food—is to keep a variety of spices and condiments on hand. These can be added to your cooking or leftovers to turn bland meals into spicy treats. A well-stocked fridge and cupboard might include:
- Herbs & spices such as pepper, turmeric, curry powder, cumin, cinnamon, oregano, and basil.
- Sauces such as salsa, soy or teriyaki sauce, pesto, tomato sauce, olive paste, and salad dressings.
- Vinegars, oils, pickles, mustard, and ketchup.
Don’t be afraid to be creative
Don’t be afraid to try new combinations of foods. Creativity can help you make interesting meals and can also help you use leftovers from other meals. One of the great benefits of cooking for yourself is that you don’t have to try to please anyone else. You can cook using the food and combination of ingredients you enjoy, even if they may not be to other people’s liking.
Your weekly meal plan can help you shop more easily. Purchasing smaller amounts is best when shopping for one. This way your food stays fresh and is less likely to spoil. It’s easier to keep track of what you have in your pantry, and keep track of expiration dates as well.
Stock up when items are on sale
It is helpful to have some single serving meals on hand for those days when you are too busy to cook, such as low-sodium soup cans or low-fat frozen meals. These can be quite pricey, so it is helpful to stock up when you find a sale.
Bulk bins are you friend
Whole grains such as rice, oats, millet, and quinoa, can be bought in small amounts or you can store larger amounts in jars to keep them fresh for longer.
- Legumes – lentils (red & green), split peas, and beans can also be stored in jars.
- Nuts & Seeds – purchase small amounts so that you are eating fresh nuts and seeds.
- Herbs & Spice – such as cinnamon, basil, oregano, and curry powder, should be purchased in small amounts.
Canned and boxed foods
Once opened, you’ll need to use up canned and boxed goods relatively quickly, so opt for smaller can and box sizes. Even if the larger containers seem more cost effective, they won’t be if you end up having to throw away a lot of unused food. Canned and boxed foods include:
- Legumes – such as beans black, kidney beans, and garbanzo beans—which should be rinsed under cold water before use to remove added sodium.
- Fish – salmon, tuna, sardines.
- Vegetables. Try to opt for low-sodium brands. Again, rinsing under cold water can help remove some added sodium.
- Broth or bouillon cubes.
- Fruit such as applesauce, mandarins, pears, and pineapple, etc. It’s best to look for unsweetened varieties to limit added sugars.
You will want to purchase fresh foods more often and in smaller amounts. This way you will be more likely to finish it before something spoils.
Dairy – milk, cheese, yogurt in smaller containers so you can get eat it before it spoils.
Meat – with a freezer, you can purchase family size amounts and then make into one serving sized packages for the freezer. Be sure to label each packet with the date and move older ones forward as you add new things into the freezer.
Shopping without a real kitchen
No fridge: look for individual/travel serving size packages. More expensive, but you will have less waste from spoilage, so in the end it is more cost effective.
Purchase only what you are able to prepare and eat before food goes bad.
One option is to get a cooler and fill it with ice when you purchase perishable foods. When doing so, be sure to keep the foods sealed from the water as the ice melts.
In winter windowsills (as long as no heater below) can be cooler places.
Shelf life of produce and fresh foods
The amount of time that foods stay fresh without refrigeration varies:
- Root Vegetables such as potatoes, yams, and onions do best stored in a cool dry place above floor level.
- Carrots, celery, and cabbage will stay good for a few days without refrigeration, if in a cool place.
- Lettuce and other greens are very sensitive so spoil quickly. You will need to use them within a day or two of purchasing.
- Meat and dairy products don’t stay fresh without refrigeration, so purchase only what you plan to cook and eat right away.
You don’t need a full kitchen in order to be able to prepare healthy meals for yourself. A few appliances such as a hot plate, a toaster oven, or an electric skillet—plus a little creativity—are all you need to cook some great meals.
Whether you have one or more of these appliances, you can create healthy easy meals for yourself without a full kitchen. Have fun with it. There is lots of room for creativity.
- Toaster Oven. Because it heats quickly, a toaster oven is an economical way to broil or bake. Of course, it is limited by its small size but can be used for heating single meals, roasting vegetables, toasting bread, and making toasted sandwiches, for example.
- Hot Plate. An inexpensive alternative for a full size stove top, a hotplate is ideal for hotel rooms, dorm rooms, and small apartments. Just about anything that can be made on a stove top can be made on a hot plate with a saucepan or frying pan.
- Rice Cooker. Consisting of a metal bowl with a heat source on the bottom, rice is not the only thing that can be cooked in a rice cooker. With a little creativity, it can also be used to cook flavorful one-pot dishes.
- Slow Cooker or Crock-Pot. This plug-in device slowly cooks food on your counter. As it’s designed to cook unattended, you can add ingredients to a slow cooker in the morning before work, for example, and then come home at the end of the day to a fully-cooked meal. Slow cookers are ideal for cooking things like stews, stuffed peppers, frozen meat, or anything which requires a long time to cook.
Using leftovers to create tasty new meals
Using leftovers is a great way to save both time and money. You can take leftovers with you for lunch or have them for dinner the next day. Either way, it’s nice to use these leftovers in a new, creative way so that you don’t get bored of the food.
First, a few things to keep in mind regarding the proper storage and handling of leftovers to maintain freshness and quality (and prevent food poisoning):
- Refrigerate perishable foods and leftovers within two hours of purchase or preparation.
- Let foods cool quickly to minimize bacteria growth. Put large quantities of food into smaller containers to speed the cooling process. These can be refrigerated right away provided the lids are NOT on tightly. Once food is cooled, secure lids tight or cover the container.
- Cover and store in airtight containers (glass jars with tight fitting lids work great as you can see the contents).
- Eat leftovers within a few days (four days maximum) or freeze them.
- Reheat food thoroughly to reduce contamination. The internal temperature should reach 165 degrees F. Stir the food to help it heat evenly and thoroughly.
- Add water when reheating food, unless the meal already contains a sauce. This will prevent foods from getting too dry.
Meal ideas that utilize leftovers
Whatever type of food you’ve already cooked, there are plenty of ways create new meals from the ingredients.
Cooked whole grains
Cooked whole grains, including brown rice, quinoa, millet, and barley can be used to create:
- Casseroles– Cooked brown rice can be the base of casseroles. Simply add vegetables, a sauce, some protein, and grated cheese, bake it in the oven and you have a new meal
- Cooked breakfast grain – heat with a little water or milk, add sliced fruit, nuts, and some cinnamon
- A salad topping
- An addition to soup
- Rice salad – add chopped up parsley or basil, some tomatoes or peppers, cooked beans or lentils. Mix everything together with your favorite vinaigrette dressing
- Rice pudding or stir-fried rice
Baked chicken or roast meat
- Slice thinly for a sandwich
- Add meat to a soup
- Green salad topping
- Use in a stir-fry
- In a casserole (i.e. chicken pot pie)
- Cut into small pieces, add a roux sauce (white sauce made with butter, flour and liquid) and serve over a whole grain with a side of veggies
- Use in quesadillas, tacos, burritos, or any other similar dish
- Cut cooked chicken into small chunks, add ingredients to make a chicken salad (tasty on a sandwich)
- Use chicken bones to make chicken stock
Ground meat or meatloaf
When preparing ground meat for meatloaf (or something simlar), mix up double the amount and freeze half to use later for:
- Stuffed peppers
- Juicy hamburgers
- Pasta sauce (add a jar of red sauce and serve over pasta)
- Add to your morning omelet or as a side with any other egg dish
- Use in wraps
- Include in a soup
- Make a frittata
- Use as a pizza topping
Cooked black, kidney, or similar beans
- Add to soups
- Topping for salads
- Reheat, cook an egg, put on a corn tortilla, add salsa and you have a Huevos Rancheros-style breakfast
- Use in quesadillas, tacos, burritos or any other similar dish
- Reheat with a little water, mash, season to taste, then use as a dip, or make your own nachos by putting “refried” beans onto corn chips, adding a little grated cheese and baking
- Make a pasta Frittata
- Pasta salad
- Mac and cheese
Cooking for one doesn’t mean eating alone
For many single people, cooking for one just means spending more time alone. You may choose to regularly eat out—even if it just involves sitting alone in a fast food restaurant—simply to feel some connection to other people. If you eat out, you’re more likely to meet new people, strike up a conversation with a stranger, or at least break the monotony of another evening alone at home in front of the TV. However, cooking for one doesn’t have to mean eating alone. With some creativity, you can cook healthy, inexpensive meals for yourself at home, without having to spend more time alone.
- Make your food at home, then eat out at a food court, museum, park, picnic area, coffee shop, laundromat, or ballgame. Having enough food to share with others can be a great way to break the ice and make new friends.
- Cook a little extra and invite a coworker or neighbor to join you for a meal. Remember, most people who live alone are in the same boat as you. You may even be able to share cooking responsibilities—one prepares the entrée, the other dessert, for example.
- Shop for food at a community or farmer’s market instead of a grocery store or supermarket. People here are more likely to take the time to discuss the food and give cooking tips, making it easier to strike up new friendships.
- Find ways to meet new people that don’t involve food. Take class, join a club, or enroll in a sports team or special interest group that meets on a regular basis. Volunteering for a community organization such as an animal shelter or senior center is another great way to expand your social circle.
Resources & References
Resources and References for cooking for one
Healthy Cooking for 1 or 2 – Tips on making healthy meals, whether you're dining alone or with a companion. (Mayo Clinic)
A Guide to Cooking for One - Helpful tips and recipes for cooking for yourself endorsed by the American Diabetes Association. (Diabetes Forecast)