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Fed up with limited healthy meal options? Tired of eating leftovers all the time? Annoyed that you must throw food away because the package contained more than you could eat?
If you usually cook for one or two people — or if members of your family rarely have time to eat together — you probably face such frustrations. But small-quantity cooking can be made easier and more interesting even for small numbers. Here's how:
- Shop with convenience in mind. Purchase foods that are individually frozen, such as fruits, vegetables, chicken breasts or fish fillets. These foods allow you to thaw out only the amount you need. Also, keep on hand low-fat frozen meals and prepackaged single-serving foods, such as ready-to-eat, low-fat, reduced-sodium canned soups, seasoned rice, pasta and instant hot cereals.
- Take advantage of your freezer. Storing food in your freezer helps prevent waste and keeps foods fresher longer. Most foods freeze well, including breads, meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts and seeds. For best quality, freeze food while it's fresh. Don't wait until it's been refrigerated or on your counter for several days.
- Cook meals in advance and freeze single-size portions. For example, make a casserole or stew and freeze individual-size servings. Then take out only the food you need. Be sure to write the date and contents on packages and move older packages forward as you add food to your freezer.
- Prepare one-dish meals. For quick and simple cooking, choose a dish that serves as the meal. A good choice is one that includes foods from several food groups, such as meats, whole grains, legumes and vegetables. Healthy examples include beef, barley and vegetable stew; chicken, vegetable and rice casserole; turkey and bean casserole (made with turkey breast, white beans and tomatoes); or vegetarian chili with diced vegetables.
- Use leftovers wisely. Plan meals so that you can use the extra food in other dishes. For example, cook rice as a side dish for one meal, then use the leftover rice in a casserole or rice pudding. Bake chicken breasts for a meal and use what's left in sandwiches, soup or a stir-fry. Or make a meatloaf mixture and bake some as a meatloaf and freeze the uncooked portion for later use in meatballs or stuffed peppers.
- Redefine a 'meal.' If you're short on time or energy, make a nutritious snack rather than a full meal. For example, spread a brown rice cake with ricotta cheese and fresh strawberries or low-sugar, spreadable fruit. Or try spreading it with herbed goat cheese and sliced olives. Other snack-turned-meals are corn muffins served with apple and cheese slices; or fat-free refried beans mixed with salsa, a small amount of low-fat sour cream and baked tortilla chips.
- Invite others to eat with you. Make cooking more rewarding by inviting friends or relatives to join you for a meal. Or recruit people for a cooking club, which provides a good opportunity to try new recipes and makes preparing meals more enjoyable.
- Look into cookbooks designed especially for one to two people. Not only are cookbooks a good source for recipes, they also can provide practical advice and helpful tips on such things as selecting healthy foods, planning menus, shopping and reading food labels.
If you're cooking for one or two, don't settle for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or a bowl of cereal every night. Get creative. Try new recipes and experiment with what works for you. With a little planning and some quick cooking, you can create healthy meals for you and your dining partner.