The Challenge of Cooking for One

If you live alone it can be hard to get excited about cooking. Here are some ways to motivate yourself to cook healthy, or at all, when you are making a meal for just one:

  1. Savings:  You will save a lot of money and time if you cook for yourself.
  2. You will eat healthier and have a more enjoyable life if you cook for yourself.
  3. Make a plan. You can always change it if your day gets frantic, but a quick glance in the fridge in the morning and thinking about what you can eat that day may save you a trip to the grocery store, or divert you from fast food.
  4. Tell a friend. Tell someone what you have in the fridge and ask what they would make with it. Think of it as your own Iron Chef competition!
  5. Cook fresh. Buy nice cuts of meat, splurge on fresh fish or shellfish, fresh produce and herbs. No matter how expensive they seem, compare them to the price per pound of any convenience food, or a meal out, and you'll see the savings.
  6. Cook fast. Develop a repertoire of five recipes you can fix in 15 minutes or less, and keep the ingredients on hand.
  7. Cook ahead. Make a pot of stew or soup, split peas or black eyed peas, or a pot roast, and freeze several containers.
  8. Use the slow cooker. In the morning, put in dried beans and water with salt-free spices. A flavorful chili will be ready in the evening, with no fuss on your part.
  9. Plan ahead to use leftovers. When you are shopping, think, "How can I use this chicken for three different meals?"
  10. Use leftovers in interesting ways: in omelets, quiches, tacos, salads, sandwich fillings.
  11. Cook for someone else! You will do a better job, and eat healthier. Share a meal with a neighbor or friend, or start a dinner club.
  12. Grocery store salad bars can be a good place to get a wide variety of fresh produce in a small quantity.
  13. Make your meal special. Set the table with a place mat and a vase of flowers, or light some candles and put on your favorite music. Eating in front of the TV or reading a book while eating means you won't pay attention to your food and will probably overeat.
  14.  Check out cookbooks: The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones (Seattle Public Library | King County Library System) and Cooking for One: 150 Delicious Recipes to Treat Yourself by Amy Willcock (King County Library System) are good ones.

Try this recipe for slow cooker chili. Have chili the first day, fill burritos with it the second day, and top a taco salad for a third meal.

Slow Cooker Chili for One

1 cup dried kidney beans
1 can salt-free tomato puree
1½ cups water
¼–½ cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon salt-free chili powder
½ teaspoon cumin
1 green pepper, chopped

Put everything but the green pepper in the slow cooker and leave on all day. Ten minutes before you are ready to eat, sauté the green pepper and stir it into the chili. Serve with low-sodium tortilla chips or corn tortillas, which are much lower in sodium than chips made of flour tortillas.

Nutritional information (per serving):
Calories: 679, carbohydrates: 129 grams, protein: 45 grams, sodium: 133 milligrams

The information in this column is meant for people who want to keep their kidneys healthy and blood pressure down by following a low-sodium diet. In most cases, except for dialysis patients, a diet high in potassium is thought to help lower high blood pressure. These recipes are not intended for people on dialysis without the supervision of a registered dietitian.

Contributor Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The 2014 recipient of the Susan Knapp Excellence in Education Award from the National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition, she has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See more of her recipes at www.nwkidney.org.