Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday Throwback: Last-Minute Little Dinners for One - Tips, Ideas, and 25 Recipes

Every Saturday, we post a piece from the CHG archives. Today's comes from March 2009, right after St. Patrick's Day.

A few months ago, our own Jaime posted a piece called Little Meals for One. It was a brief, well thought-out article all about simple, small-scale home cooking. I loved it, as did many readers who were looking for both inspiration and validation. (A spoonful of peanut butter IS TOO a meal, dangit.)

Because sometimes? You just want food in your mouthhole. You want it in a single portion, and you want it a.s.a.p. Why? Well, maybe you’re late coming home from the office. Maybe it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon in August, and you have no great urge to further heat your already-sweltering apartment with a 450ºF oven. Maybe you’re just really hungry, and whipping up a whole lasagna for one person seems totally freaking insane.

Unfortunately, quick, single-portion recipes are hard to come by, probably because it’s difficult to prepare most gourmet meals in smaller serving sizes. So, how do you do it? How do you make a convenient, speedy meal without resorting to A) expensive and unhealthy processed food, B) takeout, or C) licking crumbs off your kitchen floor?

Well, first, it’s good to keep tricks these in mind:
  1. Keep your refrigerator, pantry, and freezer stocked with food easily portioned into small servings: eggs, cheese, pasta, etc.
  2. When you buy bigger packages of food (meat, veggies, etc.), portion them off in smaller grab-and-go bags as soon as you arrive home from the supermarket.
  3. Look for recipes where you broil, grill, steam, sauté, boil, and microwave. Avoid recipes where you roast, braise, soak, brine, or marinate.
  4. Keep low-cost, high-impact condiments and ingredients handy. Stuff like soy sauce, capers, olives, roasted red peppers, parmesan, curry powder/sauce, Dijon mustard, and horseradish can lend big flavor to tiny dishes in a hurry.
  5. Don’t limit yourself to traditional dinner cuisine. Breakfast and lunch foods taste just as good at 7pm.
  6. Don’t limit yourself to traditional American cuisine. Soups, curries, and stir fries are healthier and just as fast as burgers and hot dogs.
  7. Consider raw fruits and vegetables for side dishes. They’re healthy as all get out, and take zero time to prepare.
  8. Load up your freezer to your heart’s content. Frozen meats and produce can be defrosted quickly and cooked even faster. Consider canned versions of certain foods, as well, but be discerning when it comes to both sodium content and taste.
  9. Before you do anything, scan your fridge for ideas and ingredients. Bits and pieces can become ingredients in larger, more delicious meals.
  10. Speaking of bits and pieces, consider using many smaller foods to create one large meal. Eggs, a piece of fruit, and a side of refried beans never killed anyone.
  11. Most of all, K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple, Sistah)
    After that, it’s always a good idea to refer to the basics: a.k.a. Dinners You Learned to Make When You Were 12. Often, these are the easiest options because you already have the ingredients on hand AND you're familiar with the foods. Like:
    • Bagels (with low-fat cream cheese, lox, butter, PB&J, etc.)
    • Baked potatoes
    • Breads (with dips, cheese, veggies, or quick soups)
    • Chicken or turkey sausages
    • Cottage cheese
    • Couscous mixed with anything (chopped vegetables, beans, etc.)
    • Crackers with toppings of your choice
    • Eggs (omelets, scrambled, sandwiches, baked, etc.)
    • Fruit
    • Grilled or broiled chicken or pork tenders
    • Mashed black, pinto, or cannellini beans
    • Oatmeal (sweet or savory, a la Mark Bittman)
    • Pasta (with sauce, vegetables, cheese, etc.)
    • Pierogies (boiled/steamed)
    • Pizza bagels/English Muffin pizzas
    • Portobello mushrooms
    • Raw vegetables with simple dips (hummus, baba ghanouj, etc.)
    • Rice mixed with vegetables and/or salsa
    • Salads (vegetables, fruit, bean, or otherwise)
    • Sandwiches (hummus, PB&J, grilled cheese)
    • Shish kabobs (meat, veggies, or fruit broiled on a stick)
    • Smoothies
    • Steamed or sautéed veggies
    • Stir fry
    • Turkey burgers
    • Wraps and/or soft tacos
    • Yogurt
    If those fail to float your boat, you might want to do a quick search for some recipes around the web, using the terms "Meals for one," "single serving," or "15 minutes or less." Here are some fast, simple, cheap, healthy suggestions from CHG. All of them can easily be rescaled to feed one person.
    Sweet readers, how about you? What do you eat when you need something small, fast, and nutritionally sound? Do tell. Let's make this the biggest single meal list, ever.

    Stumble Upon Toolbar

    7 comments:

    Afford-Anything.com said...

    Here's an easy one that I JUST ate, that takes less than 5 minutes and has a great combo of protein/carb:

    1) Put low-carb tortilla in pan, low-medium heat.

    2) Shred low-fat cheese onto it.

    3) Dry-sautee mushrooms for 2-3 minutes in another pan.

    4) Put mushrooms on top of warm cheesy tortilla.

    5) Eat!!

    Liz said...

    I think it's a lot easier to make stir-fries for one than for many (the pan gets too cold when you crowd it with ingredients!) I use bags of prepped veggies, and buy (from my local Indian foods store) jars of combined ginger, chilli and garlic that are supremely handy. Have been mulling over a post on the subject myself... I actually really like it on the odd occasion when I have nobody to please but myself and can make exactly what *I* like to eat!! Often, this involves anchovies (pasta puttanesca.... mmmm....)

    NJ Survivor said...

    I just wanted to share that I utilize my toaster oven when I want, say, a single roast chicken breast or something else that is to be baked/roasted in a single or double portion. That way I don't have to unload my oven and I don't have to heat up my whole kitchen for a small piece of chicken.

    Tanya said...

    I love this list of meal ideas. So nice to have suggestions for dinner that won't leave you eating the same leftovers for a week!

    Anonymous said...

    Lately, my quick go to has been french toast, with a syrup of microwaved frozen berries.

    Paula said...

    Sopa de ajo (garlic soup with a poached egg) has been my favourite fast, warming, CHEAP meal for years.

    Sally said...

    I'm a single and cook mostly for myself. Some things I don't want leftovers, so adapt recipes to serve 1 or 2. Other things (soups, stews, etc.) I make larger amounts and feast on the leftovers for days. I rarely freeze leftovers (or planned-overs) -- I'm just not fond of reheated frozen dishes.