How to cook for one, two or a few
One way to cook for fewer people is to choose recipes that are easy to divide mathematically.
A few years ago, I bought a large table that can seat 12 with the added leaves.
My children were beginning to resent being seated at a small card table at the end of the dining room table. They didn’t fit very well at the small table anymore.
In fact, they would scurry to an “adult spot” at the table before I brought in the food. I didn’t fit very well at the small table, either.
I got the picture, and I bought new furniture.
Unfortunately, this year the leaves for my large table are not being used. No one came to visit for Thanksgiving and our Christmas plans are up in the air pending the latest public health guidance.
As we planned for Thanksgiving, I sent a text to our son.
“Unfortunately, you need to stay where you are this year,” I told him.
I think I surprised him.
I was saddened to tell him not to come home. We haven’t seen him for several months after he moved to another state.
We can handle some empty seats at a table for a year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our two daughters live at home, and we hope all the chairs are filled with family and friends next year.
My husband and I will be empty nesters in less than a year. Our food preparation habits will change as our family evolves.
I often am asked how to cook for one or two. Sometimes you might not feel like cooking, especially if you used to cook for a family. Remember that good nutrition is key to staying healthy and preventing disease. Homemade meals usually are more nutritious, better tasting and more economical.
Food is a source of enjoyment. Try a new recipe, and take time to savor the flavors, colors and textures of food, whether you made it yourself or you bought it premade. Be sure to eat at a table instead of in front of a TV. Put on some music and light a candle to make the meal pleasant.
Try these tips when cooking for one or two:
- Choose recipes that are easy to divide mathematically. In recipes calling for three eggs, use two eggs and remove 2 to 4 tablespoons of liquid (if present) from the recipe.
- Buy food that comes in individual portions, such as baking potatoes or a pork chop or chicken breast, if your store has a meat counter. If not, buy a package of meat and freeze it in individual portions.
- Use your small appliances. A microwave oven or toaster oven comes in handy when making meals for fewer people.
- Use your leftovers in new ways and consider them “planned-overs.” For example, make a minipizza by topping English muffins with planned-over spaghetti sauce, vegetables and shredded cheese. Add leftover fruit to muffin or pancake batter.
- If a recipe calls for a can of beans or soup and you would like to divide the recipe in half, use what you need and either refrigerate or freeze the remaining food. Label the container with the contents and date.
- Add seasonings gradually. Sometimes you may need to add more (or less) of the spice to reach the desired flavor.
- Check for doneness of halved recipes five to 10 minutes sooner than for the original recipe.
- Use the right pan for the job. To change pan sizes, remember that a 9- by 13- by 2-inch pan holds 14 to 15 cups; for half, use a square 8- by 2-inch pan or a round 9- by 2-inch pan. Reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees if substituting glass for a metal pan.
- Keep notes about what works - and what doesn’t.
What do you do if you are missing a key ingredient in your food preparation? What if you need buttermilk, corn syrup or self-rising flour? We can help. Check out “Ingredient Substitutions” from NDSU Extension. See https://tinyurl.com/NDSUIngredientSubs .
What do you do if you bought a lot of vegetables, fruits, eggs or meat on sale and can’t eat them all before they spoil? We can help with that, too. Check out the resources for maintaining optimal quality of frozen food at https:// www.ag.ndsu.edu/food/food-preservation/freezing to learn how to freeze almost anything.
Here’s an easy recipe for one or two adapted from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Turkey or Chicken Vegetable Soup for Two
1 cup chopped, cooked turkey or chicken
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/4 teaspoon thyme or seasonings of choice
2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
Pepper (to taste)
1 cup cooked pasta (such as bowtie, shells, macaroni, etc.) or 1 cup cooked rice
Add all ingredients, except pasta or rice, to pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook covered until vegetables are tender crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add cooked pasta or cooked rice and cook a few more minutes until pasta or rice is heated.
Makes two servings. Each serving has 270 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 26 grams carbohydrate, 31 grams protein, 1.5 grams fiber and 240 milligrams sodium.
(Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson .)