Depictions of people eating alone are often sad and misleading. They’re either wolfing down fast food pulled straight from a paper bag, digging into pints of ice cream with a soup spoon, or standing over the kitchen sink slurping beans from a can.
Believe it or not, the joy of preparing meals for yourself is actually a well-kept secret, and one that you’ll come to treasure, at that. It’ll teach you new techniques, allow you to discover flavors you never knew existed, and make important mistakes that enhance your culinary knowledge. Relish the adventure, post a few pictures of your best work, and eat better than you ever have before.
Boldly Step into a Brave New World
Cooking for yourself does not mean stocking your freezer with frozen entrees and pizzas — but it also doesn’t entail preparing a five-course meal. Start slowly with some of your favorite dishes and build your repertoire with care. Shop at the butcher counter for your meat, poultry, and fish/seafood, where you can easily buy single portions. If you have a standalone freezer, you can save money by buying family packs and freezing individual servings yourself.
Find recipes online. There are plenty of recipes available that only make one or two servings. Save yourself some time by making your searches as precise as possible. “Beef broccoli stir-fry for one” will get you better results than “stir-fry beef” and give you more time to cook. On the other hand, if you need inspiration, try looking up something like “different ways to cook a boneless chicken breast.”
You’re the Boss
One of the most exciting aspects of cooking for yourself is not having to consider anyone else’s preferences. It sounds selfish, but it offers that little slice of freedom that everyone needs now and then. Load up on the hot sauce, overcook your eggs, bravely consume a medium-rare burger, or eat a pile of macaroni without cheese! And when you’re finished, you get to leave your plate on the coffee table for as long as you want.
However, don’t forget the old adage, “You are what you eat.” Figure out how to include fruits, vegetables, and grains into your menu, preferably for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Try cooked fruit as a dinner side for fish or poultry, make a batch of vegetable soup full of grains (you can freeze some to eat for lunch in a week or so), and buy individual portions of unfamiliar grains and beans from bulk bins to see what you like.
One drawback to cooking for yourself is that there’s no one to take your place if you’re just too tired or not in the mood to do it. Fast food is fine once in a while (a couple times a month), but smart shopping is even better. For example, roast chicken is a godsend. Whether you roast it yourself (so much easier than you’d imagine) or pick up a freshly roasted one at the market, it’s sure to feed you for two or three meals.
Most recipes are a tremendous help when it comes to measurements of spices and flavorings. But don’t be afraid to customize your meals to suit your unique tastes. If a recipe calls for three cloves of garlic and you absolutely love garlic, why not toss in a couple more? Ever wonder why tarragon is typically used in fish and chicken dishes but not so much when cooking beef and pork? Try it with those meats and your taste buds will tell you exactly why. Feed your creativity, and you’ll discover that cinnamon perks up a batch of chili and cookies taste bland without salt. Go out on a limb now and then to try new combinations out. A good example: remember the days when topping everything from hamburgers to oatmeal with a fried egg would have been called crazy?
Take Notes and Keep Them
Mastering the art of making meals for one is an ongoing educational process. Whenever you learn something, jot it down in an old-fashioned or electronic notebook. Simple no-no’s like heavily salting pasta water and always adding salt to rice and potatoes before cooking are easy to forget and can ruin perfectly good food. When you stumble upon a recipe you generally like but that has too much oregano or black pepper for your taste, make a note so you don’t make the same mistake twice.
Once you do get a hang of cooking for yourself, you’ll feel confident knowing you can prepare dinner for other people, too. Or you might discover that eating alone is so enjoyable you don’t need — or want — any company.