Cooking for one
When it comes to menu planning these days, do you find it’s about choosing which frozen dinner you’re in the mood for? If so, chances are you’re one of the many Canadians facing the challenge of cooking for one. But there are ways to beat the microwave blahs. Here are some tips:
Cook more for less. You can use the new “disposable” (they can also be washed by hand or in the dishwasher) lunch containers to freeze any leftovers in individual size portions, and then microwave your own home cooking instead of buying a commercial brand. Just be sure to use them before they’ve been in the freezer for three months To help prevent freezer burn, put the container inside a freezer bag – you can reuse these as well. Here are some things that work well for freezing ahead:
• Crockpot or stovetop veggie-laden chili, stew, goulash, or curry.
• Yes you can freeze your own pasta – this works best with tomato-based sauces but you can also freeze tuna casserole or farmer’s macaroni and cheese.
• Make your own burritos – these can be wrapped in plastic wrap, then foil, and then bundle several together in a freezer bag.
• Makmelon balls the day you buy that cantelope and freeze them in individual portions.
Roam the aisles for ideas. Supermarkets are offering a wide variety of pre-washed or pre-prepared food that isn’t in the freezer aisle. Look for:
• Pre-washed baby spinach – this is a base for salads instead of lettuce, and you can also add it to soups (your own or canned) or sauces to add an iron-rich punch to your diet, before it spoils
• Broccoli coleslaw, available in many supermarkets in the vegetable aisles, packs a nutritional punch and can also be used as a quick stir-fry ingredient or as a topping; just microwave a potato, split open, and top with broccoli and shredded cheese pop back in the microwave for about a minute at full power (microwave ovens vary, so test your own).
• The deli counter: besides pre-prepared meals the deli counter offers a lot of convenience. Mix deli roast beef with bottled vinaigrette, tomato, broccoli, and green onion and serve over romaine lettuce or baby spinach, or buy small portions of chicken, ham, and cheese for a chef’s salad.
Banish boredom. One of the problems with eating alone is that we tend to fall into the same patterns over and over. Try adding some interest:
• Use spice mixes, pickles, chutneys, olives, capers, and pickled vegetables to add zing to a meal without risking a lot of waste – these keep well in the fridge.
• Indulge now and then with a bakery-made fancy single-serving dessert
• Once in a while romance yourself – take a favourite china dish, crystal glass, and serve yourself a well-presented candlelit dinner with your favourite tape or CD on the stereo; after all you’re your best customer!
Corral the waste monster. If you’re used to shopping for a family, it can be hard to adjust to what your actual needs are for a week.
• Wrap and freeze larger portions – not just meat, but bread as well. You can freeze bagels, english muffins, or half a loaf of bread right after grocery shopping to keep it fresh. Toast what you need as you go.
• Plan your produce. You can buy just one or two oranges, plums, or apples.
• Shop at bulk bins or deli counters where you can purchase small amounts.
• Buy smaller cans and boxes even if they cost more per serving; wasted food also lightens your wallet.
Plan ahead. Having a well-stocked pantry and freezer is one of the best ways to make easy meals for one. Keep on hand:
• Canned fish: salmon, tuna and sardines are both convenient and heart-healthy. And canned fish can be used right from the can or as an ingredient in a hot dish.
• Canned legumes: chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans can be added to salads or pasta sauces for a protein- and fibre-packed quick and healthy alternative to meat.
• Sodium-reduced broths and soups: these are super foundations for one-pot meals. Bring broth to a boil. Add a teaspoon grated ginger and frozen chicken strips. Simmer for five minutes; add frozen stir-fry vegetables and some skinny noodles, and cook until the noodles are tender.
• Frozen vegetables: add frozen veggies to soups, stir-fries and pasta sauces. As for nutrient content, they’re frozen at the peak of nutritional quality. Frozen fruits are also handy selections.
• Chicken or beef strips: stock your freezer with these fast-cooking options for soups and stir-fries. No need to defrost.