Cooking And Eating When You Live Alone

Cooking and Eating When You Live Alone

Hello! Welcome to Feed That Nation!

My name is Natalie Nation. I’m a grad student, future RD, educator, content creator, and mac and cheese expert. I love talking about college and health issues to help college students to be more successful, confident, and healthy!

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Today, I’m talking all my best tips for cooking and eating when you live alone!

Dinner for One…

I’ve lived alone a few different times throughout college (though I’m very happy to say that my current roommate is my husband!)

It can be challenging to grocery shop, plan meals, cook, eat, and clean up when its only you. Add in trying to make nutritious meals, try new ingredients, and avoid relying on take-out, and you’ve got a lot of work cut out for you.

But living alone gives you the opportunity to learn, to try new things, and to be more independent, and that’s awesome!

It is possible to cook and eat healthy, delicious meals when you live alone WITHOUT spending hundreds of dollars on groceries and dozens of hours in the kitchen.

One technique I love to talk about when it comes to meal planning for one is my “15, 30, 60 minute meal” method!

The 15 30 50 minute meal method: menu planning for one

The “15, 30, 60 minute meal method”

  1. 15 minute meals are meals that are quick, easy, take very few ingredients, and produce 1-2 servings. My 15 minutes might include heating up soup and tossing a salad, scrambled eggs on toast, sandwiches, making leftovers, or the occasional frozen meal.
  2. 30 minute meals take a little bit longer and produce 2-4 servings of food. Most of the meals my husband and I make on a typical weeknight are 30 minute meals. My 30 minute meals are things like box mac and cheese (spruced up, of course, like my Pizza Mac or my Green Mac and Cheese!), pancakes or waffles, rice bowls, and stir-fries.
  3. 60 minute meals are my labor of love. These meals take an hour or so to make, but they give me PLENTY of leftovers for me to take for lunch the next day, or to eat another night when I don’t feel like cooking. My 60 minute meals might include making soup from scratch, egg bakes or other casserole-type meals, cauliflower wings, a big pot of curry or chili, etc.

Take the time to write out meals that you like to make in category, or meals that you’d like to learn to make in each category.

Having a variety of meals that you know how to make, that take different amounts of time to prepare, and make different amounts of food, means that you can match your cooking to the types of days that you have, whether they are calm or hectic.

Your 15, 30, and 60 minute meals can be anything you like and based around any ingredients you like to work with! (though including fruits, veggies, lean protein, and whole grains is always great!)

Menu Plan Your Week

Once you have your repertoire, plan out your meals for the week.

Does your Thursday start early and end late? Plan for a 15 minute dinner when you get home, or plan for a 60 minute meal the night before so that you have plenty of leftovers and don’t need to cook!

Match your meals to the days of the week, or just make a list of meals that you’d like to make that week.

It’s okay if your weekly plans change after you make the list, but it’s nice to start with a guide!

Make Your Grocery List

Once you your menu plan for the week, grocery shopping becomes a question of “What ingredients do I need to make the foods I want to make?”

Typically, there are foods that I nearly always purchase at the grocery store. Foods like milk, sliced cheese, sliced bread, onions, spinach, canned tomatoes, etc.

For me, these are foods that are common in most of the meals that I make, and are easy to improvise with if my plans change.

Then, there are foods that I only buy when I’m planning a specific meal. If I want to make enchiladas, of course I’m going to need tortillas. If I’m making curry, then I’ll need coconut milk.

Tips and tricks for living alone and eating well

Shopping For One: Tips and Tricks

  1. If you grew up in a big family, you might be used to buying in bulk. But this is not necessary when you’re only cooking for yourself. Buying too much food can be expensive, and sometimes lead to food waste. Consider purchasing smaller quantities of grocery items instead of bulk. A half gallon of milk instead of a full gallon, 2-3 apples instead of a 3 pound bag, and so forth.
  2. Be thoughtful about your fresh produce. I find that I can only purchase one bag of leafy greens at a time, or else they’ll go bad. I can’t eat a full container of fresh strawberries AND a full container of fresh blackberries AND a full bunch of bananas all by myself before they go bad. Be mindful and think about how much fresh produce you’ll actually be able to eat, and then fill in the gaps with frozen or canned fruits and veggies and fruit juice, to be sure you’re getting enough nutrients!
  3. How many treats do you really need?If you’re shopping for one and you’re on a budget, consider how many treats or snack foods you’re buying, and if you need to purchase every single one of your favorites every week. Do you need chips AND oreos AND takis AND popcorn?
  4. When trying new foods, start with one at a time.

Frozen Meals and Take Out Meals

Frozen meals are SO convenient! Just put it in the oven, bake till golden/bubbling/hot, and it’s all ready to go! Same goes for restaurant and take out food. Super convenient, fun, and you don’t have to make it yourself.

However…frozen meals and restaurant food can be expensive, and don’t always have a lot of fruits, vegetables, fiber, or other nutrients we need to feel good and stay strong.

Convenience and taste are HUGE parts of why we choose the food we choose, and we are 100% allowed to incorporate frozen meals and restaurant food into a balanced eating pattern.

Think about ways that you can supplement frozen meals and take-out meals with homemade items.

Could you eat an apple and a handful of pretzels alongside your frozen pizza? Toss some frozen veggies into your ramen?

Consider making entirely new meals out of your leftovers as well. Leftover takeout fried rice would be AMAZING with fresh roasted veggies and a scrambled egg on top!

Meal and Ingredient Prepping

Everyone has a Pinterest board full of aesthetically pleasing, identical tupperwares full of gorgeous, healthy meal prepped food.

If that is your jam, then totally go for it! Some people LOVE meal prepping everything they want to eat for a week over the weekend, so they don’t even have to think about it.

I am NOT one of those people. I get BORED if I eat the same foods every day for more than a day or two.

An alternative concept to meal prepping is INGREDIENT PREPPING. I first heard about this concept from Casey Seidan, who wrote a book called Meal Prep for Two: 8 Weekly Plans and 75 Recipes to Get Healthier Together.

Ingredient prepping is meant to make your life easier and set you up for success in the kitchen, without actually having to make a full week’s worth of identical aesthetic tupperwares.

You can cook a 4 pack of chicken thighs and dice them ahead of time, so that when you need chicken for your stirfry on Tuesday, and your chicken parmesan pasta on Thursday, it’s already to go.

You can also cook enough rice for 3-4 meals at once, but leave it open ended what you’ll use the rice for. Enchiladas on Monday, Rice Bowl on Tuesday, Soup on Wednesday, the choice is yours!

Sample Grocery List for One

I made a sample grocery list that mirrors lists I would have shopped with as a college student living on my own.

This is a SAMPLE grocery list. I am not saying it is a perfect list, nor is it the most nutritious list out there. But for those who are needing a place to start, look at your 15, 30, and 60 minute meals, think about what you might need to make them, and base your list around those items first. Then add in breakfast foods, pantry staples, snacks, and treats.

Sample vegetarian grocery list for one

Practice makes Pasta (Pizza, Panini, Pan-fried chicken, etc)

Its okay if you are new to cooking. It can take time to learn and get comfortable in the kitchen!

There can also be trial and error when it comes to getting your grocery shopping game nailed down. I make mistakes all the time!

Sometimes I buy too much, sometimes I don’t buy a critical item like coconut milk and don’t realize till I’m knee deep in a curry recipe. But it’s a learning experience, 100%, and I’m happy that you’re taking your first steps!

Other resources for cooking and eating for one!

“Eat Well Together — Meal Prep with Casey Seidan.” Crave Nutrition RD Podcast (hosted by my friend Lindsay McCoy, MS RD!). Listen HERE.

“The Healthyish Guide To Being Alone”. Bon Appetit Foodcast. Listen HERE.

Watch this episode of Feed That Nation, where I break down more tips and give you more ideas for cooking and eating when you live alone!

Minnesota-based grad student, future RD, educator, content creator, and mac and cheese expert! Natalie is currently a Masters of Public Health student and dietetic intern at the University of Minnesota, and is on-track to becoming a registered dietitian-nutritionist. She earned her bachelor's degree in Dietetics in 2019 from St. Catherine University.

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