With a little effort, singles can dine like kings in their castles

March 30, 1994|By Laura Reiley | Laura Reiley,Special to The Sun

At the last census there were 94,000,000 households in this country. There were 23,000,000 Americans living by themselves. That means every fourth household may harbor someone popping a frozen dinner in the microwave, or gingerly leaning over the sink nibbling from a saucepan with a wooden spoon.

March is Nutrition Month, and high time for single households to turn over a new culinary leaf. Singles have long justified eating out, pigging out on prepared foods. They lament that it just isn't economical or time-efficient to really cook for themselves. Well, with a handful of purchasing, storage and preparation strategies, those 23,000,000 Americans will find solo cooking cheaper and more healthful than the alternatives.

The purchasing mantra of the lone cook should be, "no waste."

This means buying small quantities, foods that are easily portioned and frozen or foods that have a substantial shelf life. Jane Doerfer, director of Going Solo in the Kitchen, a cooking school in Apalachicola, Fla., devoted solely to teaching cooking for one, advises shoppers to "get your grocer to work for you." Buy meat from a butcher who will gladly sell you single servings, buy loose produce rather than prepackaged fruits and vegetables and purchase pasta and legumes in bulk to accommodate your own ideal portion size.

Steer clear of large and ephemeral foods that aren't easily divisible -- that overripe beefsteak tomato or that huge head of delicate red leaf lettuce. Instead, head for roma tomatoes (they're smaller and more durable) and a Belgian endive or small head of radicchio (they'll keep for a week or more), or pick up a single serving of the loose baby greens now sold in most grocery stores. Root vegetables are perfect substitutes for zucchini or other easy-to-spoil green vegetables, as they last for weeks in dark, cool places.

Suzanne Bagley, a Nutrition Support Dietitian at the University of Maryland Medical Center, says, "Buy low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods in realistic portions."

She advocates frozen vegetables, as opposed to fresh vegetables that spoil more quickly. Frozen vegetables are easily portioned out and heated for a quick side dish. For breakfast, she suggests English muffins or bagels that can be stored in the freezer and popped into the toaster as needed. She also counsels the single cook to stock up on items like low-fat yogurt, which will keep for well over a week and works as a breakfast, snack or dessert.


Keeping your refrigerator clean is the first step in avoiding waste. Knowing what you have already in stock alleviates duplication and helps to dictate meal planning.

George Jacobs, author of "Cooking for One, By George!," suggests portioning meats in individual baggies before freezing. In the refrigerator, meat keeps longest on the bottom shelf in the back, and marinated meat will keep a day or two longer than plain. Wash lettuces and greens and place them in large plastic bags with a damp paper towel.

Fresh herbs may be frozen -- but freeze delicate basil or mint in water.


The key to successful cooking for one is to maximize your return on time spent in the kitchen. If you spend an hour making dinner, it should yield not only a delicious meal and leftovers, but extra sauce for another use, the base of a soup, a filling for an omelet or sandwich, etc.

If you find that during the week your cooking time is limited, put some time aside on Sunday to make a couple of one-pot meals to reheat during the week. The time spent making your own tomato sauce on Sunday will be justified when you use it to top a pizza on Monday, accompany pasta on Wednesday and smother eggplant Parmesan on Friday.

The single cook is prone to whipping up one-dimensional, monochromatic meals. Make sure your meal contains something from each of the food groups and provides you with a variety of colors, consistencies and tastes. Take a moment to arrange your plate nicely and to actually set a place at the table.


Unfortunately, cookbooks on the subject are few and far between. Arlene Gillis, owner of Books for Cooks in Harborplace, says there just isn't much call for books on cooking for one. Aside from George Jacobs' book, several other small presses put out nice volumes on the subject. "Cooking for One or Two" is a title used by both Bristol Publishing Enterprises and Publications International, Limited, for their small, helpful books published in 1993. Prosperity & Profits Unlimited publishes a booklet on how to locate cookbooks for singles' cooking. They can be reached at (303) 575-5676.

The following recipes make a meal for one, with leftovers to use in a variety of ways.

Each recipe has been chosen as an example of the kind of easy, economical and healthful food the solo cook can master in no time.

Chicken breast with mixed herb 'pesto'

1 half skinless, boneless chicken breast

2 cups loosely packed fresh herbs (a mixture of basil, mint, rosemary and cilantro works well)

1 teaspoon lemon zest

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