Despite the challenges, I'd like to say I've gotten a hand (or a spatula) on cooking for one person without drowning in repetition, food bills or constant cooking. And I'm sharing my top 5 tips for all the other single ladies (or gentlemen) partying gluten free in the kitchen.
1. Sales are your friend. By now, the seafood server at my local Sprouts - a kind, older gentleman named Stephen - knows me by name. Not only because I go shopping every week for groceries, but also because I never fail to pick up the fish on sale that week.
Sometimes it's wild salmon. Other times, tilapia or cat fish. I recently tried Crimson snapper for the first time since it was at $6 a pound - sales are the perfect excuse to experiment with a new protein without feeling guilty!
And when I buy, I buy big! This not only saves me money, but also ensures I always have a healthy slab of protein in the freezer for when I need it!
And when no sales are going on? No problem! Cause I already have last week's steal chillin' (pun intended) in my dorm room!
2. Cook like you're catering for the whole football team. Girls often walk into the kitchen and stare at the 1lb of fish I'm pan frying in the skillet. Because I have at least 3 classes every week day, I don't have time to cook each a fresh dinner every night.
Instead, I'll whip up a huge portion of protein, healthy carbs (sweet potatoes anyone?) or roasted veggies on days with big breaks between classes.
Sometimes, I'll freeze portions of it. Turkey meat, for instance, always gets cooked and thrown in the freezer for easy defrosting since I don't eat as often as, say, salmon. Grains like cooked rice and stews also defrost nicely.
When you're a busy lady cooking only for yourself, the freezer is a magic treasure chest to cut down your weekly cooking and keep items from spoiling.
3. The only downside of "go big or go home" mindset can be the mounds of leftovers that don't freeze well. Cooked fillets of fish, for instance, seem to lose their moisture and flavor after being freed from a stay in the freezer. Leftovers don't have to be boring or tasteless, though!
The trick is to tweak ingredients in the whole meal to give your leftovers a whole new taste!
This week, I ate sweet potato rounds for three lunches in a row but didn't even notice because of the other compliments I threw in the meal.
First, I made them into my famous sweet potato salmon sliders. The next day, I changed them up by serving them as side chips to my turkey burger salad. And I finished them off by stacking them into mini BBQ pulled pork sliders. Presto! Change the protein, sauce or base and a whole new dish emerges!
4. Try to loosely meal plan, but don't stress. All of the other tips are related to the idea of scheduling out your daily noms beforehand. Now meal planning saves many people from repetition, stress, and food waste. I know several bloggers who plan out the upcoming week's meals and grocery shop accordingly that weekend. For me, though, it does just the opposite.
The fact is, I don't know what my stomach is going to feel like every day. I may go to bed dreaming of chicken pot pie but wake up craving banana ice cream for all three meals. And that's okay. So instead I promote "loose meal planning."
I check my schedule for busy days and predict open hours of cooking time. I make sure I'm stocked on my diet's building blocks (salmon, avocados, and zucchini always land in my shopping cart!).
Also, I try to cook a "big" meal in terms of servings - like pizza or chicken pot pie - over the weekend or early in the week so I'll have lots of leftovers to tide me over! Besides that? I take it a day (and a craving) at a time.
5. Finally, make sure you have backup meals close by. I've had days where I planned on cooking dinner, but a birthday party overtook my dorm's communal oven. Other times, classes kick my butt and I'm craving food but hating the effort of making it.
That's where easy, one-serving recipes come in. Whether it's my GF and vegan pancakes or ham roll ups with a side salad, make sure you have a few trick recipes that take only a few active minutes to make. This is also where frozen pre-cooked meals and trips to Chipotle earn a golden star!
Some days are easier than others to balance celiac disease and a full load of classes. As I reach the middle of my second semester of sophomore year, though, I've learned more than the phases of the moon and how to analyze poetry. I've learned how to feed myself with minimal effort, medium funds and maximum flavor. Sounds like an A+ to me!
Does meal planning ever work for you? Do you cook most of your own meals? Comment below!