Mini Medical School: A Table for One – Tips for Solo Meals

March 1, 2023

With small-portion recipes and tips for shopping, stocking and storing food in a single-person household, cooking can be easily tailored to feed one, said Suzanne Henson, a registered dietician with University Medical Center.

The secret of making cooking for one successful and enjoyable, Henson said, is not to think of a meal as self-contained but to understand that home cooking is an ongoing process – one dish leading to another.

It’s a way to nourish and nurture yourself, she said. “Preparing a meal for yourself is the ultimate form of self-care.”

During a Mini Medical School presentation to members of The University of Alabama OLLI program, Henson said the first step is for individuals is to determine what is realistic for them. “Consider your schedule. Do you like to do food preparation, throw a meal together, or pick it up? What is your budget?”

From there, decide how often you want to cook: Four or five nights a week? Grill in or out one night? Have a slow cooker or Instant pot night? Have one night out with friends? “Start by planning for a couple of nights and then build on that,” Henson said.

Themed meals are helpful, she said. You can have Mediterranean or meatless Mondays, taco Tuesdays, whatever Wednesdays (clean out your pantry or freezer), takeout Thursdays, pizza Fridays, sheet pan nachos Saturdays and spaghetti Sundays.

During her presentation, Henson described the “tips and tricks” she uses when cooking for just herself. They include planning ahead, utilizing the freezer, repurposing take-out food and re-inventing leftovers.

“For the most part, you can freeze almost everything,” she said.

Portion meat and fish individually and pack the portions in the freezer. Purchase a rotisserie chicken, pull the meat from the bones and store separate portions in the freezer.

Henson said takeout meals or meals purchased in the grocery store can be repurposed. For example, with a salmon salad, you can take out the salmon and heat it, make a side dish of rice and the greens provide a nice salad. “This is a fantastic way to repurpose and reinvent salads,” she said. “Use salad bars for ingredients.”

Also helpful in cooking for one is to reuse and reinvent leftovers. With a rotisserie chicken, Henson said she’ll use the meat for consecutive meals, preparing each one differently – the chicken one night, chicken soup or salad the next, then chicken pizza followed by chicken quesadillas. A steak and potatoes meal can become a steak, omelet and hash browns meal another night, a steak pizza and side salad another night and finally a steak sandwich. “Don’t waste food,” she said. “You can repurpose food and make it something different.”

Henson said to be sure and stock up on essentials, including several sources of protein (chicken, black beans, garbanzo beans and frozen seafood), a bag of leafy greens, several pre-cut vegetables, a quick cooking grain, cheese and several types of fruit.

The Mini Medical School program, an eight-week lecture series presented each fall and spring semester, is a collaboration of OLLI and UA’s College of Community Health Sciences, which operates UMC.