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Favorite Meals for 1 or 2?

For the life of me, I can’t figure out how to cook for less than 4 people. It’s like, that’s how I learned to cook and my mind will never understand that I don’t need to feed 4 people at every meal.

I need help tracking down recipes that are good and will feed me for only a couple of servings. I don’t tend to do well with the big batch of whatever and eat it all week strategy, because then McDonalds becomes really tempting :)

I have some freezer space but not a lot, and often get thrown by the fact that I can’t really buy half a pound of ground beef at the grocery store, or open half a can of something, etc. And no real restrictions, except that I'm not a huge meat eater in general.

Any advice?

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  1. I had this problem and was overeating as a result.

    So I subscribed to a Menu Mailer for Two and Saving Dinner dot com.

    Printed out recipes for a few months and put those I like in a binder. It seemed to get repetitious so I stopped the service and use my recipe binder,

    1. The butcher/meatcutter in any supermarket can package a smaller quantity of meat for you - a single chop, a chicken leg, etc. Obviously you can't make certain things for one or two, e.g. pot roast. I live alone but routinely make enough for 3-4 portions, or more. I'll have one of them a few days later, and freeze the rest in single portions. As long as you use these within a week or two, there should not be a freezer space issue. I make 3 qts of soup almost every week, and have soup once a day, sometimes a cup with a sandwich, other times a large serving accompanied by crackers or bread/roll. It lasts a week or more without freezing and is nice to have on hand since heating it is so quick - no temptation for fast food because you're too hungry to cook.

      6 Replies
      1. re: greygarious

        So, my supermarket appears to have a deli counter and a seafood counter, but no meat one. Is that a weird inner city supermarket thing?

        1. re: starburn

          I have no idea. I'm in suburban Boston, where the higher-priced chains have butcher service counters. The others have refrigerated workrooms in back of the meat section - you can see through the window and ring a bell. Someone will come out and take your request. These fellows aren't breaking down whole carcasses but they do divvy up primal cuts into roasts and steaks, etc., grind meat, and pack it for sale.

          1. re: greygarious

            Interesting, I'm in Jamaica plain and even our whole foods doesn't seem to have a meat counter.

            1. re: starburn

              ask the people behind the counter, either seafood or deli, if somebody can help you with meats. i know that was a smallish store when whole paycheck took it over, but there is plenty going on behind-the scenes.

              1. re: starburn

                Both that WF and the new one in Brookline is happy to custom wrap your meat for you. It's part of the meat dept. service.

              2. re: greygarious

                i wait for chuck to go on sale and the meat dept will grind it for free. talking to the butchers, this is what they do for themselves. while i try to get a lot of this superior product while the getting is good, getting a pound or 2 does not seem to be a problem. i would call ahead for later pick up.

          2. just one or two...i like minute steaks, which typically come packed as three or four to a package, which is perfect for two people. I buy smaller packages of chopped meat for smaller servings of meatballs or burgers - love doing burgers for only one or two 'cause then I can make interesting versions of burgers - I don't have to worry about pleasing everyone; just one!

            1. I don't think you have to have a lot of freezer space to buy a pound of ground beef (or anything else), divide it into meal sized portions, wrap tightly in plastic wrap (or Foodsaver) and into a zipping bag. I don't use a lot of canned things but don't have a problem with freezing leftovers.

              1. Hopefully you will be able to see this link. I made these lasagna Rollups this weekend, and they were good. It only makes 8 rollups and I imagine just like lasagna it would freeze well

                Do you have friends you can trade food with? Sometimes I will make a dish, a friend will make a dish and we trade half of it

                Another easy meal I like is English muffin pizza, you can just make as many as you are hungry for

                1. quesadillas or sandwiches. you can always buy single fish filets, small portions of fresh shrimp, small quantities of ground beef, etc., or 1-2 chicken breasts or thighs, and so on.

                  on the side, i do rice in my rice cooker, or buy a baguette and use slices off it (w/ butter or oil+vinegar to dip) for several meals. i buy or make a bottle of dressing, buy or make a bag of croutons, and get a bag or carton of lettuce (rotate herb+baby lettuces, spinach, romaine). i keep shaved, crumbled, or shredded cheese(s) in the fridge, and have nuts or dried/fresh fruit around...salads also often take random produce.

                  1. I live by myself, and although I have the storage space and inclination to do "big batch" meals for week day lunches and freezer fillers, I also like to keep things portion controlled. To keep my booty portion controlled. And I get bored easily.

                    Individual meals - do you eat fish? A single fish fillet en papillote with whatever flavours you like.

                    Stir fries with rice, noodles or no starch at all work for me, because I have plenty of room to store enough dried goods for variety. Pho is good too, or other types of noodle soup.

                    I'll make risotto for 2 (making it for one I always tend to make too much and stuff myself) and either have the second half for lunch the next day, or trade it in the office.

                    If you eat tofu, it's great for individual dinners - a package (in the UK, not sure what the standard size is elsewhere) will only last me 2 meals, 3 at a push. I press the whole block, cut it in half, use one for a meal immediately, then the second half the next night with different flavours - recently the first use I made a sort of gado gado with it - tofu and green vegetables with an almond satay, while the next night I used the same ingredients, but in a red curry sauce.

                    I am lucky in that I have access to a fishmonger, greengrocer and butcher that have no problem selling me small amounts of food, so Iim not entirely reliant on large, pre-packaged amounts of meat, seafood and vegetables that can be sold in supermarkets. When I am (some weeks I'll work long hours and the smaller shops are long closed by home time), I try to use the same ingredients with different flavours and cooking techniques.

                    I also like to indulge myself with a bit of luxury that I couldn't afford to extend to when cooking for more people (or pay for in a restaurant) - picking up some fresh picked crab, or 3 -4 large scallops and making something delicious. Just for me.

                    And, not luxury, but not exactly healthy - breakfast as dinner can be fantastic. Eggs Benedict, scrambled eggs with prosciutto or salmon, an omelette (somethimes with chips, as is done in UK cafes), corned beef hash, a baon and egg sandwich - I very seldom have a cooked breakfast, so I feel ok about having it for dinner once a month.

                    1. I cook for two mainly.

                      To answer specifically the things you've raised.

                      For mince, we buy them in 500g portions here (1.1lb according to google). I split them into 250g portions when I get home, and stick them to the freezer. When i take them out to cook, then they can be used up in 1-2 meals.

                      For a can of something, like tomato puree, I pour the left overs into either icecubes or mini muffin trays. Same with when I make pesto. Then I can just pop two ice cube or one muffin sized of sauce whenever I cook.

                      1. It's only two of us and whole we probably eat the equivalent of three people each meal it's not too hard to make smaller sized meals. I usually buy just the quantity needed at the store, fish and meat are a great option for this. Also many things can be frozen so if I buy a bigger quantity, wrap it well and freeze it.

                        1. You might want to check out this blog:


                          Joe is the food editor at Washington Post and has published two books on cooking for one, the latest of which is vegetarian.

                          1. I have a great book that's for 2 serving meals. It's called One Pan Two Plates by Carla Snyder. It's perfect for weeknights too because pretty much every recipe can be done in under an hour. There are vegetarian recipes in there as well.

                            As for the meat, I buy in bulk, so I freeze things in portions that are reasonable for 2 servings. So even if you can only buy 1 lb of ground beef at the grocery store, you can freeze half to use next week or beyond. I love flank steak but it often comes in 1-2lb slabs, so I just cut it down before freezing and mark my freezer bags with the weight. 1 flank steak can often result in at least 3 meals (6 servings) for me.

                            I too also use ice cube trays to freeze things when I don't use the entire contents of a can. If there's a larger amounts, I use ziploc sandwich bags so they can be frozen flat in 1 cup portions, which take up way less room in the freezer than square containers. Same for ground meats, I freeze them flat as well.

                            1. Maybe just try cooking less.if I have a recipe that calls for eight servings or so, I cut it in half.I have even had success using baking recipes cut in half, but nowadays most people have figured that out already if you do a Google search.

                              I have a friend that is accustomed to the way his mother cooks (cooks enough that leftovers lasts them two weeks, ugh). he just moved out on his own and still will use an entire onion, 4 cans of tuna, a whole box of pasta etc. when he is cooking. so trying to get him out of that mentality is hard LOL

                              Using smaller cookware may help too - a smaller baking dish for lasagna, a smaller pot for soup.

                              1. I find that stew type recipes often don't scale down past about 4 servings - it's hard to cook one serving of beef stew and have it turn out well.

                                I would use your freezer space strategically - use it to store meat, and frozen half cans of stuff (half a can of tomatoes/broth/coconut milk/spaghetti sauce/beans/chickpeas freeze well, as does have a package of curry paste). If you keep stuff from piling up (ie, use your half package within a week or two) it should work well.

                                It's worth getting a couple of those plastic onion/tomato savers, they'll keep half a tomato fresh until you use it.

                                Another approach is planning your menu so you use up the half ingredients later that week. So one night you use half a can of chickpeas in a chickpea salad, and later that week you use the rest in a soup. You use half a can of chicken stock in the chickpea soup, and the other half in a cream sauce for pasta. And so on.

                                Some pasta ideas:

                                Cook pasta, toss in vegetables near the end, drain it all, and toss with tomato sauce, pesto, grated cheese, fresh herbs and butter, olive oil and garlic.

                                You can make a cream sauce or cheese sauce in a one meal amount with a small pot.

                                Make a small amount of marinara sauce with 1/4 of an onion, a bit of garlic and a diced fresh tomato.

                                Other ideas:

                                Toss a chicken leg or two (or a pork chop) , a potato, and a halved tomato in the oven for an easy baked meal.

                                I'd recommend a smallish rice cooker - one that will do a single portion of rice. Some of the fancier ones also let you steam vegetables at the same time. Add a diced tomato or some chopped green onion and green peas, or cumin, saffron and butter for flavoured rice.

                                It's easy to pan fry or grill a single chicken breast or piece of steak, or pork chop.

                                Eggs make a fast, small meal. Try an omelette, or baked eggs.

                                1. Have you seen the other threads on this?
                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/813263 is one and there are many more.

                                  1. I learned to cook for 6 but have cooked for 2 for many years now. I pretty much cut every recipe in half and still have plenty for a couple of meals.

                                    The recipes from the cookbook Better Homes and Gardens – Meals for One or Two are great - I've not found a bad one yet and the Chicken with orange-raisin rice pilaf is particularly good.

                                    Food editor Bev Bennett wrote a series of "meals for two" articles that you may enjoy reading/trying. We make her stovetop stew with slivered-almond rice a couple of times each winter - equally good with pork or chicken. I looked for it online, but didn't find it -- it was published in the mid-1990's in newspapers. Here's the ingredients list:

                                    1 tablespoons butter or oil
                                    ½ - 3/4 pounds boneless pork / pork tenderloin, cut into 1/2
                                    -inch cubes (2 C.) or 4 small boneless, skinless chicken thighs
                                    1 clove garlic, minced
                                    1 small onion, thinly sliced
                                    2 T. flour (I omit)
                                    1 cup chicken broth (use rest of can for rice)
                                    1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
                                    1 teaspoon curry powder
                                    1 cinnamon stick
                                    5 crushed peppercorns (about ½ tsp cracked pepper)
                                    1 apple, cored and cubed (peel first if thick skinned like Granny Smith apple)
                                    1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
                                    ¼ c. golden raisins
                                    1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)

                                    Note - remove the cinnamon stick before serving/storing.

                                    1. I'm obsessed with the America's Test Kitchen "Cooking for Two" series of books. I have all of them and love all of them. I've cooked out of all of them and enjoyed everything I've made. It makes very healthy sized portions---I often have enough for lunch the next day (but I eat half the normal size amounts).

                                      I left a lengthy review on the 2013 book on Amazon:

                                      I love them and recommend them. They aren't fast food, they do require time but I've LEARNED how to cook smaller by using them and that's helpful to me. I've learned how to plan a menu out and combine things together so I use up ingredients and don't waste anything. My grocery budget decreases dramatically when I cook solely from these books, there's just no waste.

                                      1. I have a recipe for a faux puttanesca that is more like a Vera Cruz sauce, I think that is for two. I have baked 2 fish fillets and sauced them when plating.

                                        But I often buy the family packs of meat cuts, and repackage into smaller portions at home. I don't have a large freezer, but I have enough to store a few cuts of meat. I don't buy much meat at any one time that way. But I buy whatever is at a good price, and then freeze for later.

                                        I also do use some regular recipes. But we do love our leftovers! So the leftovers often become lunch either as is or transformed some way. A good example would be beans. I might cook a pot and we would eat those for a day or two for lunch and or supper, and they might become soup at some point.

                                        1. I cook for only 2 just about every day so I would normally have the opposite problem and not know how to cook for more than 2 lol.

                                          Anyway, it depends on what I'm making. If I'm making tacos for example, I'll just make a big batch of that and some rice and it will last us for the next few days.

                                          My other common meal throughout the week is grass-fed burgers (I eat them without the bun) and sweet potato fries. Being pretty active, I eat half a pound at a time (2 patties) and my girlfriend can even sometimes eat the other 2 patties.

                                          If you don't like the reheating approach, and you two aren't able to do a full pound of meat or fish at a time, then just have your butcher give you all your meat in 1/2 pound increments and keep whatever you're not using frozen.

                                          1. I still have problems making small meals for myself and my husband. I clip and print recipes all the time. It's been four years since the last one left. I have no problem making a big meal when they stop by for dinner with the wives. Its 8 with all of us together.

                                            1. I have always cooked for 2 (no children). Since we both work full time, I always try to cook for 4 and have the second half a few days later. I find a strategy to make sure that there is a second meal is to plate in the kitchen. That way when we think we want more, we have to get up and go get it. Makes it much easier to realize that we don't "need" seconds. Leftovers are like money in the bank!

                                              Also, it is nice to do something that can be multi-purpose. If I roast an entire chicken, we can have roast chicken the first night. Then I pull the rest of the chicken of the bones, freeze the carcase for stock. The leftover chicken can be made "Mexican" to put in tacos, or "Asian" with stir fried noodles, or made into chicken salad for sandwiches, or whatever. Feels less like leftovers that way.