3 Tips for Solo Chefs

Okay, so now I have to make the difficult segue from ranting about Black Friday back to the glory that is food.

Blackberries.  Blackberries are food.  They are black.  So is Black Friday.  Huzzah!

Moving on. 😉

I don’t really consider myself to be qualified enough to give tips for anything on this blog, but after almost two years of fending for myself in the kitchen, I thought I could offer readers a little advice on cooking for one, whether they’re teens just starting down the wonderful path of vegetarianism, young adults fresh out of high school or college, or anyone that lives alone.

It took me quite a long time before I finally got the hang of how to feed myself efficiently, deliciously, and (mainly) stress-free.  The transition could be even worse if someone was going through it now, in the midst of all the holiday hustle and bustle, food prep and impromptu dinners and cookie swaps and the like.  Perhaps I can cut that unfortunate time of trial and error down for some people by sharing three little tidbits I’ve learned over the last two years!  (Your first lesson: do not convince yourself that you are going to be The Queen Of Healthy and decide to make a soup with baked tofu, low-sodium vegetable broth, whole wheat noodles, and flaxseeds.  In the event that you actually do eat it, you will have to pinch your nose and trickle it directly down your throat.  You have been cautioned.)

#1: Cook once, eat twice thrice four times five times.  You’ve heard the expression.  Embrace it.

Sure, those single-serving recipes you see everywhere are cute and charming, but if you, like me, are a student, or don’t have enough time for a lot of cooking for another reason, they aren’t practical.

Leftovers will become your holy grail when you’re cooking for yourself on a busy schedule.  On the weekends, make a big hearty batch of something–stir-fries, stews, soups, chillis, burrito fillings–basically any one-dish meal that the recipe tells you will Serve 6.  It also helps to cook up a big batch of some sort of starch (pasta, potatoes, quinoa, brown rice, homemade bread or tortillas, etc) that you can pair with other ingredients for semi-random lunches (and breakfasts) throughout the week.  If the dish you make on the weekend is something you really love (which it should be), you’re unlikely to get bored with it by the end of the five-day week, at which point you will have time to cook something else anyway.

In the event that you do somehow get bored of your food (which, if it’s soup, is just a criminal offense), you can always let your inner creative chef come out to play.  Change it up!  Add noodles, tomato sauce, mustard, beans, pickled beets, serve it over greens.  Whatever you think will go nicely with the dish, just roll with it.  I recommend the tomato sauce–it’s good in pretty much everything.  (Don’t add flaxseeds.  I beg you.  Unless your dish is oatmeal, and in that case, add all the flax you can.  Flax-y oatmeal is the best.)

#2: The freezer is your new best friend spouse.  It’s oh-so-handy when you get tired of one dish halfway through the week but don’t want to waste the rest of it, as well as for compiling little odds and ends for indefinite lengths of time.  As I type this, I have frozen all number of  homegrown and store-bought fruits for tossing in frothy smoothies (especially bananas), several different varieties of pancakes, a huge stash of veggie burgers, and a “sweets bag” full of semi-healthy indulgences like black bean brownies, oatmeal cookies, and the like.  For when a snack attack strikes.  (So, several times daily.)  And, you’ll think I’m crazy, but on a hot day frozen veggies right out of the bag is one of the most convenient and healthy snacks out there!  The freezer is just so dang convenient you’ll want to marry it.  You’ll never starve if you have a well-stocked freezer.

#3: Salad.  ‘Nuff said.  Since I’m veggie, I’m obviously of the mindset that SALADS ROCK THE WORLD.  You should be too.  Not only are they full of the magical antioxidants and vitamins only raw veggies can deliver to your system, they are endlessly customizable and always crisp, refreshing, and tasty.

Are you feeling exotic?  Okay, add some slivered almonds and mandarin oranges to a mix of greens, and drizzle the whole thing with an Asian vinaigrette–or keep it simple with creamy poppyseed dressing.

Starving?  Add lentils, beans, eggs (chicken breast, fish, or other types of meats if you’re not veggie) and some sort of cooked grain to your salad, and top it off with a creamy and rich dressing.

Pressed for time, ingredients, and creative genius?  Mix hummus with water or apple cider vinegar (as per my Hummus Pasta idea, inspired by Sprint 2 the Table), and drizzle it over a simple chopped salad with some tomatoes and chickpeas.  Add some crackers or fruit and cheese on the side, and you’ve got yourself a decent lunch for all days of the week!  Just pick up a big bag of greens and a few dressings (or ingredients to make a few types of dressings) along with some embellishments like dried fruits, nuts, and cheeses on your weekend grocery shopping trip.  Lunches are covered for the week–and not a single PB and J, Cup-o-Noodles, or Ham-and-Cheese sammie in sight!

Cooking for just yourself is all nice and romantic, but it’s easy to get into the rut of choosing heat-n’-eat convenience foods all the time.  It IS possible to fend for yourself on a healthy, unprocessed, relatively cheap meal plan!  (Probably easier than feeding a family that way, as well.)  Enjoy your independence in the kitchen!

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