4 Ways to Avoid Leftovers When You’re Cooking for One Person
Cooking for one can feel daunting, and for many it seems like more effort than it’s worth. Among the most common complaints by single home cooks are: It’s not worth the time spent if it’s “just” for me; it’s hard to scale down recipes; and big making batches are efficient but boring to eat.
Rather than throwing in the towel, ordering takeout, or just suffering through beef stew 8 days a week, try these four smart shifts in your cooking.
Buy in bulk, and store in small portions.
You don’t have to miss out on the savings from buying in bulk. But instead of trying to cook (and eat) a family-sized pack of chicken breasts, spend a little time repackaging and storing bulk ingredients. Those chicken breasts, for example, can be individually wrapped in plastic and stored in freezer bags. Then, when it’s time to meal plan your week, you can take one or two out, rather than having to thaw and cook the whole enchilada.
Same goes for nuts and grains: It’s often cheaper to buy large quantities, but the oils in the ingredients are susceptible to spoiling at room temperature. Portion out a week’s worth of almonds and freeze the rest—they’ll last much longer. Plus, you won’t feel compelled to eat them by the handful if they’re taking up precious cupboard real estate.
Cook bland grains, beans, and veggies (really!)
Yes, adding spices, herbs, and other seasonings to your food can add lots of flavor without added calories or fat. And yes, cooking large batches of whole grains, beans, and roasted vegetables is a super smart way to meal-prep for yourself. But consider this: Do you really want to eat a whole pot of chipotle black beans by yourself? Flavor fatigue is real, and after a few nights of the “same old thing,” your palate will be ready for something new. That’s when the urge to trash it and order takeout tends to hit.
Game the system by cooking your big-batch staples with just water or stock and a pinch of salt. This allows you to customize your seasonings anew with every meal. Those black beans can take you to Mexico on Monday (just add chipotle in adobo), France on Tuesday (hello herbes de Provence and goat cheese), and Italy on Wednesday (a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and fresh parsley will go great with a splash of balsamic vinegar.)
Get creative with sauces.
The word “sauce” doesn’t have to mean an elaborate French creation with butter, cream, and zillions of spices. A sauce can be as simple as whisking together tahini and lemon juice with a drizzle of honey, or mixing hot sauce into Greek yogurt.
But one thing’s for sure: Nothing livens up leftovers night like a fresh new condiment. Stock your fridge with items that last for weeks or months (such as mayonnaise, soy sauce, and miso), so you can experiment with different dressings and drizzles—without spending a fortune on specialty ingredients.
Make it, and immediately freeze half.
Cooking a large batch of anything—baked pasta, stew, soup—is an efficient and smart way to feed yourself. But even the most leftover-loving homecook grows weary of lasagna after four nights of it.
Release yourself from the drudgery of “leftovers, again?!” by immediately freezing half of whatever you just whipped up. Better yet, package the “for later” portion in individual containers. That way, you can thaw and reheat a singular dinner without having to relive it for another week. Investing in Pyrex or other glass storage containers will serve you well, because you can place them directly in the oven as you reheat (read: fewer dishes to wash!)
Remember this: For any liquid item (such as stew or soup), you’ll want to leave at least an inch of headroom in the container. Liquid expands as it freezes, so it’s best to give it room to do its thing in the freezer.