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Cooking for One? Plan to Save Time, Waste Less, Eat Better

bowl of Fettuccine

Perhaps one of the great pleasures of being human is sharing a meal with people you care about. COVID-19 has made it hard to eat together.

It has been even worse for those who live alone. Many people have turned to takeout and delivered meals rather than cooking just for themselves. Unfortunately, these meals are usually expensive and almost certainly are full of salt. A single meal often has more salt than a person should eat in an entire day.

How to cook for one? Planning is the key. A few minutes of planning will save wasted trips to the store, wasted food in the compost bin, and wasted money for takeout.

Start by keeping your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer stocked so you can quickly prepare a variety of foods. Meal planning is so much easier when you have the basic ingredients you need.

And check out what you have on hand before you sit down to plan. What food needs to be used right away? What has a few days to go?

For example, half a package of cream cheese, some sad looking parsley, and a package of noodles might not sound like much. But these are the basic ingredients for a quick fettuccine recipe I got from Gourmet magazine 30 years ago. It is still one of my favorites when there is not much to cook.

My list of favorite quick and easy meals includes nachos, tacos, stir-fried veggies with chicken or shrimp, meatloaf, spaghetti, grilled fish, and a big dinner salad to use up veggies, fruit, and lettuce in the fridge. Try adding cheese and nuts to the salads for more variety.

A batch of cheesy biscuits is another handy “go to.” You can bake them in about 10 minutes and have enough for a great breakfast or lunch the next day.

Make your own list and then keep the necessary ingredients stocked at home.

Quick Fettuccine

1/2 package pasta (or cook the whole package and use half for a pasta salad the next day)

4 ounces (half package) Neufchatel or cream cheese

1/3–1/2 cup boiling water

1–2 cloves garlic, minced and browned in 1/2 teaspoon oil

1/4 cup parsley

1–2 teaspoons basil (fresh or dried)

1/4–1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup of any leftover chicken, meat, fish, shrimp (optional)

1–2 cups of any leftover veggies: asparagus, broccoli, peas (optional)

Start pasta water boiling. Once it is hot, remove about 1/4–1/2 cup boiling water and add pasta. While waiting for water to boil, sauté garlic in oil in frying pan. If adding meat or veggies, sauté with garlic until done. In food processor or blender, mix cheeses and fresh herbs and 1/4–1/2 cup of the hot water. If sauce is too thick, add more water. Pour into frying pan over sauteed garlic (and veggies/meat if you choose). Pour over pasta.

Nutritional information: (per 1 cup serving)

Calories: 304, carbohydrates: 32 grams, protein: 18 grams, sodium: 200 milligrams

Cheesy biscuits

1 cup flour (white or half white/half wheat)

1 teaspoon low-sodium baking powder (or regular)

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup grated cheese (any kind, but sharp cheddar; jalapeno, parmesan or feta all work well)

1/2 cup milk

1 tablespoon vinegar

Fresh herbs, optional (you can add more herbs and leave out the cheese.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Stir together dry ingredients. Cut in butter with a fork or pastry cutter. Stir in cheese and herbs if desired. Add milk and vinegar and then stir several times to mix everything in. Place large spoonfuls of mix on baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 10–12 minutes. Makes about 4–6 biscuits.

Use leftover biscuits the next morning for homemade biscuits and gravy or for your own form of egg sandwich or split and toast. Serve at lunch with egg salad or tuna salad as a sandwich.

Nutritional information:

Calories: 120, carbohydrates: 12 grams, protein: 2.5 grams, sodium: 80


Katy G. WilkensContributor Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition has honored her with its highest awards for excellence in education and for significant contributions in renal nutrition. She has also been awarded the Medal of Excellence in kidney nutrition from the American Association of Kidney Patients.

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