How To Cook Healthy When You Are Single

September 19, 2013   18 Comments

I happen to love it when people send me questions that I can attempt to answer.

Single Grocery Shopping

Do I always know the answer? No, but I love a challenge.

This e-mail came from Malvin:

As a retired Military Officer, Widowed & Single, I like to get more information on: Foods for Widowed & Single advanced in age people like myself. I find it not so easy to go shopping and buy food(s) for a single person.

I can’t help but want to try and help him. As I try to put myself in his shoes, I am amazed at how hard it can be to buy a small amount of food. Have you seen a bag of chips at Costco?

But, Malvin doesn’t want to buy chips. He wants to be healthy or he wouldn’t be reading Snack Girl. Here are some ideas for the single shopper and home cook:

  1. Buy salmon from the frozen section. The fish is in pre-portioned sizes so you don’t have to thaw more than you need. Then, try this recipe: Healthy Fast Food For Nights You Don’t Have Time To Cook.
  2. Buy a salad spinner and pre-wash a head of lettuce. Store the lettuce in a plastic container and use it as you go - check out this post: The Easiest Way To Make Salad Part of Every Day
  3. Make some main dishes and freeze smaller portions. You have to be sure that these meals will freeze well. I ALWAYS have some chili in my freezer ready for a quick meal. Try making the pumpkin chili that I featured earlier this month.
  4. Buy some healthier frozen meals for nights when you can’t stand to cook. This post: The Best Packaged Frozen Meals For Dieters has a great discussion on the healthiest brands and meals in the frozen section. I learned a lot when I read the comments. Give a few a try.
  5. Make meals with snacks. Many of my readers put together a few of my super easy snacks for dinner. I know it sounds crazy but they write and tell me this is what they eat. Roast some cauliflower, make a english muffin pizza and you have dinner.

Do you have any suggestions for Malvin? Please share. I am sure we could help each other with this challenge.

Here is another resource: WebMD Single Person Food Tips

Other posts you might like:

Pantry List

What Does Snack Girl Have In Her Pantry?

Like this guy, I spend a lot of time looking at packages in the supermarket....

Farmers markets

The Healthiest Place To Shop

Snack Girl has an aversion to shopping. I hate the indecision, time, and money involved....

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What you are suggesting to do with a head of lettuce, you could also do with carrots, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, -

You can keep them in water in the fridge and

1. snack on them
2, make them part of a salad
3. make them part of a stirfry

4. make them part of a soup, made on the stove or in a slow cooker. You can get a smaller slowcooker or freeze leftovers.

Your suggestion #3 was what I did when I was single. I would cook on Sunday for the week and then not have to worry about it. I'd have things frozen for lunch & dinner. Good luck Malvin :)

I LOVE this post -- It's something I deal with on a nightly basis, being a single living on my own, as well. I find that the pre-portioned fish are lifesavers. I also rely heavily on produce to bulk up my meals. Weight Watchers has a cookbook -- "Simply Solo" -- that has meals for one or two people. I highly recommend it.

Malvin- Snack Girl posted this a while back and the gem in that post (to me, anyway) was this:

"I will say that during grad school (when I got smarter), I would always have a can of black beans, fresh salsa, and grated cheese.

"I would make myself a "burrito bowl" in the microwave as a cheap meal that was big on nutrients and low on calories and preparation time."

I realized that it's time to unearth the Boy Scouts motto here: Be Prepared.

Staring at empty cupboards/fridge/freezer = eating out = hard to be healthy.

IMO, the easiest way to combat that possibility is to find canned beans you like (black beans are a favorite of mine), stock up on those and some healthy topping (e.g., salsa, hot sauce) and when you're hungry, train yourself that you'll have a bowl of the beans before you call for pizza or head to a sit-down restaurant or, worse, spin through the drive-through of the nearest fast-food place.

Alternatively (or in addition), you can set aside an hour or two (maybe on Sunday afternoon) to prepare a bunch of healthy foods for the week. Canned beans tend to have a lot of salt, so making your own beans for the week is a good step up, if/when you're ready.

Of course, nobody's suggesting that you eat only beans for every meal, but when you're in hunger-panic mode (as my wife and I would be for years), having a (literally!) off-the-shelf solution helps buy you time to make healthy decisions.

Write back and let Lisa know how you're doing so she can share your progress with all of us!

What works for me is to stop at the grocery store salad bar when I want salad. It's a bit more expensive, but it's fresher and I don't end up wasting anything if I go through a phase of not wanting salad or not eating at home.

Doing Weight Watchers as a single person: I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables. A lot. Baby carrots are my best friends sometimes, and I've also started cutting up cucumber and sprinkling it with some Mrs. Dash seasonings.

I have learned to love leftovers -- they give me the night off from cooking and I don't have to resort to any frozen meals, not even healthy ones, which I think are too expensive. I do rely on frozen vegetables and fish, though.

Frozen fish doesn't have to be thawed to be cooked: After spraying frozen fish with olive oil and seasoning it with lemon pepper or whatever, I wrap it loosely in aluminum foil and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or so. I am also a big fan of lean boneless pork chops, which I could eat every day.

Sometimes I make a meal of snacks, which I can do as a single person, and it feels delightfully naughty: Laughing Cow cheese wedges on four or five Ritz crackers, turkey pepperoni, cheese sticks, grapes, apple slices, carrots or cucumbers: mix and match for a quick meal!

Thanks for the ideas, Snack girl. I too share this concern. The websites on salads in jars have helped me prepare ahead.

I often buy chicken breasts, clean them and cut large ones into two servings if necessary then I freeze them in individual bags or wrap in parchment paper and freeze in one bag. Then you can just thaw out what you need.

One of the things I do is buy healthy items like almonds in a big bag to save money then I weigh out some and put them in plastic bags so I can grab it if I'm in a hurry and use it to hold me over till I can eat a meal. I do the same thing with powder protein.

Malvin, you've got to cook-up those veges before they go bad! It's been said above, but I'll say it again. Spend some time prepping / cooking / then dividing up meals. I make a bunch of stuff on the weekend and then divide into serving-size containers to be frozen or refrigerated and enjoyed during the week. My latest is Snack-Girl's baked oatmeal for breakfast or when I want a rib-sticking snack. Check out online slow-cooker recipes and food blogs (which are ever-so plentiful, interesting, and entertaining) for new recipe ideas. Lots of weight-loss blogs have great recipe sections. Good luck Malvin - you can do this!

Hi Lisa and Malvin,

Two of the things that I have been doing lately that might work really well for you too, are making different vegetable soups, and vegetable sandwiches. Most of the soup recipes have been from the 5:2 diet, and are super filling, but very low in calories. And I am sure would freeze well. Or simply portion out for later in the week. As for the vegetable sandwiches; my two favorites are cucumber tea sandwiches and fried tomato. The cucumber is the classic old-fashioned butter, black pepper, thinly sliced cucumber on white whole-wheat, and I give it a nice splash of champagne vinegar. (I use the 2nd half of the cucumber for a salad.) For the fried tomato sandwich; I use 2-3 Roma tomatoes sliced medium thick, in a sauté pan with 1T. olive oil, and season with Italian seasoning and granulated garlic. After they are nice and soft, I arrange them on the bread with some flavorful fat-free cheese and grill until toasty brown. Hope these ideas help.

Don't sweat it Malvin! I just cook a regular meal for two and save half for the next day or freeze it in my lock-n-locks. I do the same when I eat out. Restaurant portions are always more than you can (or should!) eat, so take half home for the next day. Order foods or cook meals that taste good as leftovers. Good Luck!

Diane, your fried tomatoe sandwich sounds amazing!

One of my favorites that I have made often is fresh sliced onions, fresh mushroooms, and sliced bell peppers sauted and placed on a sliced French roll. Another favorite is Monterey Jack cheese melted on a multi grain slice of toast and topped with sliced tomato. Melt the cheese on the toast under the broiler, top with sliced tomato and place back under the broiler for about a minute. Also, I used to come home from work and just have a huge bowl of broccoli. I think broccoli and other cruciferous veggies are the best gift you can give your body. : )

I do pretty much all of the above. One of my favourite things to do is bake several chicken breasts at once (just brush with olive oil and sprinkle with your favourite dried herb) and bake in oven at 350 for about 30 minutes (turn once). Then, you'll have a few ready-made main courses for the week that you can easily have with a salad or cooked veggies.

I definitely like to make stuff in advance and then freeze. But what I've been doing even more recently is making a pretty big batch of chicken in my crockpot, shredding it and putting it in the fridge. That way I can add it to sandwiches, salads and whatever else I fancy. I'm not a fan of deli meat, so this works well for me. This is my favourite:

I also buy bagged lettuce, because I'm lazy and don't like to deal with washing it all. The chicken above, some romaine lettuce, sour cream and cheese or avocada is a favourite salad of mine.

I try to do smoothies every morning, but the only real secret I've discovered so far is to freeze my bananas. That way they do double purpose as an ice cube and they're the perfect ripeness.

I also attempt to pre-plan meals. I have a spreadsheet with a sheet of recipes and sheet with a calendar. That way I can copy and paste the recipes in there. I have columns for website address, point values and a rating. I usually just plan supper and take leftovers for lunch the next day and havea routine for my other snacks at lunch.

@Sara- great idea about the spreadsheet. We also have a spreadsheet for calories/fiber/protein of our typical edibles so we can scan and figure out what to eat to give us the most (satiety = fiber + protein) bang for our (caloric) buck.

I Am a Single Person.

I Gradually Fell out of The Routine of preparing

traditional meals or occassionally trying new

items, Now I visit The Snack Girl Websight.

One Manuever I Learned To Perform Is To Take A

Corkscrew Approach To My Shopping Visits.

To Begin With You Do Not Purchase One Dry Good

Item (Pasta) Purchase 2 3 4 Boxes, The Same

Thing With The Canned Items (Low Sodium Beans).

2. Purchase Something You Actual Require Either

Immediately Else Soon (Eggs, Milk, Bread), Then

3. Occassionally Purchase A New Item.

For Example Since I Read Ms. Cain (Snack Girl)'s

Postings I Tried Some Quinoa. It tasteS OK Also

Guess What? My Physician Has It For Breakfast.

The Point Towards To Me Is To Have The Dry Crap,

Long Shelf Life Items Completed Whilst At The

Same Time Taking Care Of Your Immediate


That Way The Next Visit You Can Actual Think

About What You'd Like To Purchase.

P. S. IN Sure Purchase The Canned Low Sodium

Beans Yet While You Are At

Long Expiration Date Land

Purchase The Bottled Kimchi, The Dry Roasted

Seaweed, The Blue Cheese Because They All Have

Inrermediate Expiration Dates.

Peg Bracken, in her "Appendix to the I Hate To Cook Book", had a chapter called "Alone, Cooking If; or, Eating With Your Shoes Off". It's out of print but available from Amazon or One of her most helpful tips is to think of nutrition in several-day chunks: to look at what you've eaten over the past several days and reflect that (say) Tuesday was very proteiny, Wednesday was all about the grains and nuts, Thursday was veggies and salads, and now on Friday you're doing a lot of dairy, so there's your Four Major Food Groups covered and <i>you're eating a balanced diet</i>.

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