Living alone, especially after years of living with your parents and/or roommates, can be wonderful. In your own place, you can decorate, play music, have people over and fill your time however you wish. One of the major downsides, though, is cooking for yourself. Making meals at the end of a long school or work day is challenging enough with roommates or a family to cook for, but when you are by yourself, it can be very easy to fall into a rut of scrambled eggs or takeout dinners night after night. While I never lived alone through school or before marriage, as a military spouse of a Marine who has deployed a lot, I know all too well what it’s like to cook for just myself for months on end. Over the years, I’ve perfected a meal planning system that has me cooking regularly in order to stay healthy and on budget but is simple enough to keep me motivated and satisfied day in and day out!
The key to keeping yourself motivated to cook and eat a variety of meals beyond freezer dinners and cereal is to plan! Planning allows you to streamline your shopping, prepare ingredients ahead of time and know exactly what to make once it’s dinnertime. The other key is to not set your expectations too high by planning to cook every single meal; you can quickly burn yourself out and lose motivation. Across the week, plan a nice balance of fresh meals, eating out, meals from the freezer and “scrounge” days (when you eat whatever is left or easy to make).
A few things about this meal plan:
- Plan to cook two nights a week, making enough to have some left over to create meals for the following days. While old-fashioned leftovers are wonderful, you also don’t have to eat the exact same thing the next day(s). Extra meat can go on salads or into frittatas and stir-fries; extra rice can bulk up a can of soup; and extra sauce can be poured over different noodles or vegetables. Try to incorporate meals and ingredients that can be made into a variety of dishes!
- At least one meal you prepare during the week should be freezable. Make this meal in quadruplicate and freeze in single portions for easy future meals.
- Eat out or order in at least once a week. No matter how much or little you cook, it’s always nice to have a break!
- Over the weekend (or whatever days make the most sense for you), eat meals from the freezer that you stocked up during the previous weeks. Thawing and re-heating is a lot quicker and easier than cooking from scratch, but the food is just as wholesome.
There are a variety of ways to actually plan out your meals. One of the simplest and most effective ways when you live alone is to dedicate a block of time in your planner. This allows you to plan meals around travel and social events and can also serve as a reminder to pull meats out of the freezer or pick up ingredients on the way home.
Whether you live alone or have a family or roommates, it can also be helpful to display meal selections in the kitchen or nearby space. This allows you to check for ingredients in the morning, pull items from the freezer and set your prep time and hunger expectations for dinner. To make a meal planning board, start with a simple cork and whiteboard. If desired, coordinate the board with your décor by adding a stretch of scrapbook paper or patterned shelf liner to the cork side.
To delineate the days of the week, use stickers or vinyl letters on one side of the dry-erase board.
At the start of the week, populate your menu board with a dry-erase marker using the meal planning system outlined above.
A bonus of having your meals planned out for the week is that you can also streamline your grocery shopping. When you make your meal plan, also fill out a grocery list with everything you need for the week. This eliminates the need for last-minute grocery trips and prevents you from buying items already in your refrigerator!
A simple meal-planning board like this one can streamline your entire process by keeping everything in one tidy, accessible spot!
Cooking for one can be tricky, but with proper planning and some creative cooking, you can whip up healthy and satisfying meals night after night without too much hassle. If you need more meal prep ideas, check out our healthy snacking ideas, how to create an at-home salad bar and our five quick healthy meal ideas!