The image of the solitary cook is often a bleak one: A man or woman in an empty apartment, heating up a tasteless microwave meal or hunched over the countertop spooning cereal into their mouths. Just because you’re cooking for one, though, doesn’t mean you have to settle for uninspired, ho-hum meals.
Recognizing the challenges of shopping, planning and cooking for one, renowned food columnist Joe Yonan has published a cookbook with the single cook in mind. Whether you are single, divorced or widowed, Yonan’s Eat Your Vegetables is a useful resource for crafting bold and unfussy veggie-centric cuisine for one.
“I struggle with a lot of these challenges myself,” says Joe, an award-winning food editor at The Washington Post and author of the popular column “Cooking for One.” “How to make interesting food that doesn’t result in a mountain of monotonous leftovers; how to avoid waste; how to avoid eating the same thing night after night.”
Before you succumb to takeout once again, hold the phone: Cooking for yourself can be easy and—yes—fun. Below, Yonan offers several practical guidelines for efficiently shopping, prepping and cooking for one:
1) Do food prep at the beginning of the week. On Sunday evenings, when you have free time, roast a big pan of vegetables or cook up a large pot of rice and store it in Tupperware bins or Ziploc bags in the fridge or freezer. “At the end of the workday, when you’re tempted to call for takeout, you’ll realize that you have enough ingredients on hand to put something together really quickly,” Yonan explains.
2) Scope out farmers’ markets whenever possible. “At the supermarket, you can rarely buy anything less than an full bunch of celery, for instance,” Yonan says. “But at a farmer’s market, I’ve never met a farmer or vendor at a farmers market who wouldn’t let me buy a handful of spinach greens if I wanted to.”
3) Shop strategically. “Buy things you can use in multiple ways,” Yonan says. “Focus on purchasing the ‘building blocks’ of recipes, rather than obscure ingredients you’ll only use once.”
4) Don’t shy away from frozen ingredients. “Include the idea of frozen vegetables into your repertoire to ensure that you aren’t letting things go to waste,” Yonan suggests.
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5) Get creative. “Start with what you’ve got…look at the ingredients you have and get inspired from those,” Yonan says. “I keep a lot of pungently flavored condiments and spices and oils and vinegars around, and then I usually combine them with something that’s already precooked in my fridge or freezer. That usually speeds up my solo-serving meals quite considerably.”
6) Stop stuffing. Don’t cram a bunch of produce into the produce drawer; keep things where they’re most visible. “I call the ‘crisper’ the ‘rotter.’ Generally, if it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind,” Yonan explains, adding that it’s not a bad idea to keep an inventory of everything that’s stored in your fridge or freezer tacked to the refrigerator. “It helps me remember what’s in there.”
Most importantly, Yonan encourages single cooks to discover the joys of solo cooking and get excited about caring for themselves. “With the older demographic, what they need most of all is inspiration. They’ve cooked for a family or spouse for a long time, and their whole notion of cooking is so intertwined with caretaking for someone else,” Yonan says. “They need to realize that they’re worth taking care of, and that they’re important too.”
Rather than resorting to another frozen veggie burger, treat yourself tonight with this no-hassle, delicious three-course vegetarian dinner courtesy of Yonan’s Eat Your Vegetables.