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Thursday, May 03 2007

The key to successful cooking for one is smart shopping and good food storage practices. Here are some great suggestions and a sample menu to get you started.

Vegetables and Fruit:

The down side to vegetables and fruit is that they can be very perishable. The up side is that it is the only department in the whole grocery store that you can easily buy just what you need. It is actually possible to purchase a single cherry. We don’t recommend that, but you could do it if you wanted to.

For items like cauliflower and celery that are sold by the head, try the salad bar. In fact the salad bar is a great way to get a variety of vegetables in a salad without waste.

The key idea with perishable items is to consume the most perishable items first, and work your way to the most shelf stable as the week goes along. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are a great solution, they sell small cans of about everything and it is easy to take just what you need from a freezer bag and keep the rest for later.


Clearly it is hard to use up a whole package of herbs, but you can choose to dry them or freeze them before they get too old. Freeze them in ice cube trays then store in bags in the freezer. Tie bunches with string and hang them upside down to dry in an area with good ventilation, then store in jars. Remember that drying concentrates flavors so use less dried that you would fresh. Herbs are also great for flavoring oils like olive oil to add easy flavor to recipes. You can do the same thing with garlic. It is a nice shortcut when the olive and garlic show up for the party in your pan already married. Another good use of leftover herbs is in compound butters. Mix herbs with softened butter and chill in a log shape in wax paper in the refrigerator. Slice when firm, then store in the freezer. Compound butters are great to add to pasta, just cooked and drained and is also lovely with fish. Add compound butter to fish cooked in foil with vegetables.

Meat and Fish

The butcher is your friend. Pick the grocery store with the most helpful staff, particularly in the meat department and the deli. Many good grocery stores have butchers in the meat department that will happily resize and repackage meat for you. Sometimes you pay a tiny bit more at these stores, but that is usually more than made up for in increased quality and reduced waste. Besides a single gorgeous fillet is usually cheaper than greasy Chinese takeout. That’s another nice thing about cooking for one; you can afford to splurge.


Another great grocery store department for buying small quantities. Easily buy quarter pounds of meats and cheeses for awesome panini sandwiches for dinners, or get olives and peppers too and have tapas for one.


There are a couple of different approaches for bread. You can buy a bread machine a whip out a small loaf at your whim. Or you can buy bread and freeze it in 3 or 4 slice segments. One friend swears by his 12 grain bread; saying it lasts really well on the counter. Bread that is beginning to get stale is great used up as French toast, a Monte Cristo sandwich or whir it into breadcrumbs and store it in the freezer.


Eggs come in half dozens and keep for a pretty long time. Milk can be bought by the pint and cheese keeps well and if the packages in the dairy are too large remember you have the deli too. Cheese doesn’t freeze well, it changes the texture; becoming more crumbly. Butter can be frozen and defrosted a quarter pound at a time. Yogurt and sour cream keep longer when stored in the refrigerator upside down, keeping air away from the seal.

Baking Goods

Flour, sugar, corn meal and the like have a long shelf life. Biscuit baking mix and other item with higher fat contents, like nuts do better in the freezer. For nuts, toast the before you use them to maximize their flavor.


The freezer section is a great source on handy things when cooking for one. Keep bags of frozen vegetables to cook a cup at a time. Keep frozen rolls and thaw 1 or 2 a few hours before you plan to cook them. Grab a bag of freezer fries to bake up as an accompaniment to a steak. Frozen pierogies (little meat pies) cook up very fast and are great served with cabbage and noodles.

Some people have a hard time adjusting to cooking for one when they are used to the bustle of a family. Just think though; you get to eat what and when you want. You can watch the television, read the paper or a book, do anything you like. A friend gave me a book once titled Eat Mango Naked. That’s what I hope eating alone will be for you; an easy comfort and a pleasure.

The following is a sample menu for one from Dinners In a Flash. Please visit our website for more recipes, menus and information.

Table For One:

Sunday: Roasted Cornish Game Hen with Roasted Root Vegetables
Monday: Cheesy Grits with Ham served with Carrots
Tuesday: Salsa Shrimp Cocktail with Crispy Corn Chips
Wednesday: Fried Pierogies with Cabbage and Noodles
Thursday: Grilled Chile Relleno with Grilled Corn Tortilla Quesadilla
Friday: Salmon Patties with Buttered Broccoli and Cauliflower
Saturday: Peppered Steak with Grilled Pineapple Chunks and Coleslaw

Julie Languille

Mom, step-mom, foster mom and adoptive mom and owner of Dinners In A Flash
Easy Dinner Recipes, Menus and Meal Planning for Busy Families

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