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Cooking for just yourself (and maybe a spouse/friend)


Did you recently become an empty nester with kids off to college? Or maybe you are the college student where cooking for one is the norm. By the time you get done with work or school you are ready to eat and don’t want to waste an hour cooking a meal and then have another 15 minutes to clean up. Even with a bank of nutrition knowledge, I find myself settling for a bowl of cereal or PB and J. That’s not too fun ... or sustaining.

Let the freezer become your best friend.

Consider making brown rice or barley and freeze in individual portions using a muffin pan. Once frozen, the discs can be stored in a zip-top bag. Fresh meat can also be cooked, seasoned and stored in individual portions. Consider buying a pound fresh ground beef, adding a packet of reduced-sodium taco seasoning and put in ½ cup portions in the freezer to easily add to a taco, burrito bowl, taco salad, or quesadilla any day of the week. Consider also making a whole meal such as a lasagna and put it into two pans. One to bake now, and another in the freezer to bake next month.

Never throw food away

Cut down on waste at the grocery store, by buying only the produce that you can reasonably eat before the produce goes bad. Take extra grapes or cherries out of the bag and pare down that bunch of bananas to what you’ll eat. If the produce looks like it’s going to go bad before you can get to it, chop it into slices and (again) freeze it to make a quick vegetable stir fry or some yummy fruit smoothies or blueberry pancakes.

Keep some not-so-perishable staples on hand

You can get more creative with more ingredients to mix and match with. Keep your favorite type of canned beans, canned vegetables (such as corn or tomatoes) or jar of salsa on hand to sprinkle on top of a pizza, salad or throw into a stuffed pepper or soup. Eggs can be cooked different ways and with different seasonings to spice up your meal. Kept in the refrigerator, they keep for months so these are an easy way to get in a quick protein.

Eat mindfully

Don’t let your dinner alone be a bag of chips while doing laundry. Use the space to slow down, spark some creativity and do something for yourself. While cooking light a candle and enjoy some relaxing music. While eating, tune into and notice the texture, flavor, color, and aroma of the food you are enjoying.  Be proud of yourself for taking care of your physical and emotional health. This can help you feel accomplished for whatever life throws your way.

Here is a quick idea for an easy stir fry. Sauté leftover vegetables like chopped mushrooms, onions, peppers, carrots, broccoli and celery in sesame oil. When they’ve softened, add in shrimp and stir fry sauce (reduced-sodium soy sauce and/or sweet chili sauce are some favorites). Cook until shrimp are pink (about 3-4 minutes). Add in a beaten egg for the last minute; stir to scramble. Serve over rice.


Monica Nagele is the Montgomery County Extension Educator and County Extension Director, Health and Human Science. She is a registered dietitian. The Extension office is at 400 Parke Ave., Crawfordsville; 765-364-6363. She may be reached by email at mwilhoit@purdue.edu.


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