Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Friday, January 11, 2008

How to Cook for One: Tips for Singles, Part I

If you're like a lot of singles, you don't much like to cook for one. Heck, if you're like a lot of singles, you don't much like to cook, period. But unless you want to put your hard-earned income in a delivery boy's pocket every day, it's a necessary evil.

So you're in the supermarket again, wheeling past harried housewives and babies who look too small for lungs that big, their carts overflowing with "family packs" of chicken fillets and half gallons of milk.

You, on the other hand, would like to get a quart of milk because you don't have a spouse and two sets of twins at home, and you know a half gallon will go bad in a week. But as you approach the dairy section, you see that, once again, they have every variety of milk--whole, skim, 1%, organic, chocolate, strawberry--but only in the standard half gallon container. You turn away, crestfallen.

(Note to grocers: Singles need to eat, too.)

Every week, you're faced with the same quandary: What can you buy that's quick and easy to prepare and doesn't come in Brady Bunch-size portions that will spoil before you can eat it? Today I'm going to share the grocery shopping strategies that have worked for me as a single woman--who can cook, mind you, but doesn't often want to be bothered. :)

--Half gallons of milk! They'll be spoiled faster than you can say "Paris Hilton." Buy quarts if you can find them. If not, consider skipping milk altogether. Unless you cook or eat cereal regularly, you won't miss it.
--Ice cream. You either have to watch your tub of chocolate chip cookie dough mercilessly consumed by those heartless crystals, or you have to eat it in one or two sittings, which can't be good for your waistline. The personal pints may be sized for singles, but they're also expensive. Use this as motivation to drop the ice cream habit.

DO Buy
--Yogurt. It's the perfect no-prep meal! It comes in every flavor known to man, it's packed with calcium, and it's available low-fat, too. It's also the perfect no-mess, no-stress kind of snack to drop in your bag on the way to work.

--Bread. That oven-fresh loaf that smelled so good in the store is going to be slowly and torturously eaten alive by mold. Give it a better fate. Let one of the housewives feed it to her children. Remember, it's full of carbs and isn't good for you anyway.

DO Buy
--Pasta. I know what you're thinking: "But--but--it's a carb!" The fact is pasta is made from semolina, not white flour, and has a much lower glycemic index than other carbs, which means it doesn't dump massive amounts of sugar into your bloodstream. In fact, it may even be better for you than whole-wheat bread. What's more, it's quick to cook and exceptionally versatile. Just pour it in a pot, let the boiling water work its magic for a few minutes, and you have a meal that you can easily dress up with tomato sauce, cheese, vegetables, oil and garlic, soy sauce, or whatever your heart desires. Leftovers are edible if refrigerated.
--Rice. Rice is another of those meals that cooks itself, and as long as you avoid white rice, it's good for you. I especially recommend packaged rices like rice pilaf or mexican rice, which include the seasonings in a separate packet. The directions are never more than three or four steps, and one of them is opening the box. Leftovers keep well if refrigerated.
--Potatoes. All right, they're starchy and should be eaten in moderation. But when you need a quick, easy meal for one, there's nothing like a baked potato. Use a fork to punch some pin-sized holes in it so the steam can escape, then pop it in the microwave on high for six to eight minutes. All you need to add is sour cream, butter, or bacon bits, and you're good to go.

--Large cuts of meat. Yes, I know they have post-Thanksgiving turkeys on sale, but just who do you think is going to partake of that bird? More to the point, who do you think is going to prepare it? The answer to both questions is: "Not you."
--Cold cuts, unless you're going to eat them all today. Know the limits of what you can eat and buy accordingly. And, whatever you do, unless you're the kind of person who has to have two all-beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun, don't have the deli guy make you a sandwich. He'll charge you double the cost of the ingredients for his culinary masterpiece. Here's what you do: Get eight to ten slices of meat, get a bun, get a jar of mustard or mayo, and put it together at home.

DO Buy
--Small packages of fresh steaks, ground beef, chicken breasts, and the like. These are higher quality than the frozen bulk packages, and you can freeze them yourself until you're ready to eat them. And fear not. You don't have to turn them into grandma's famous chicken cocovan. The chicken is perfectly edible when fried in a pan with oil and sprinkled with oregano and thyme, a process that takes no more than 20 minutes. Ditto for the steaks, which can be broiled in a toaster oven. Experiment with the seasonings until you find the taste you like.
--Frozen hot dogs. Keep 'em in your freezer, and pop 'em in the toaster oven on broil till they're done. You can even walk away and leave them there. They'll be done in about 10 minutes. Try chicken dogs for a healthier alternative!
--Frozen shrimp. They're precooked and ready to go. When you want them, heat them in the microwave or a pot of hot water. A satisfying meal with a little cocktail sauce.

--Whole fruits and vegetables that weigh more than a pound each. Do not get that luscious watermelon. Put down the pineapple. Put back the head of lettuce. You will only invite ants into your kitchen to feast on the leftovers. Trust me.
--Salad bar food. It's like those marzipan candies at grandma's--it looks so mouthwatering and tastes so awful. Not to mention that it's expensive and only lasts for one meal. Plus, it's been sitting out in the open for who knows how long, getting coughed and sneezed on by who knows who and walked all over by who knows what. My advice: buy fresh produce and make your own salad.

DO Buy
--Packaged lettuce. It's prewashed and chopped for you, and it keeps pretty well. Plus, it's not as intimidating as a whole head of lettuce. A great base for your salads.
--Small plastic cartons of cherry or grape tomatoes and berries. Because you can eat these as finger food or sprinkle them over other dishes (i.e. breakfast and dessert for the berries, salads or pasta for the tomatoes), you'll be more likely to dispense of them quickly than whole tomatoes.
--Packaged fruit slices. This is how you can satisfy that craving for watermelon or pineapple! Keep an eye out for packaged slices, which are perfectly sized for singles. They'll also save you the work of carving that melon or other tough-shelled fruit.
--Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables. Yeah, they're not as tasty as they are fresh off the vine, but if you want ease of storage and speed of use, you can't beat them.
--Fresh fruits and vegetables--but not too many. Go ahead and buy a few of those high-gloss apples, pears, plums, peppers, cucumbers, and what have you. They require absolutely no prep time, and you can pack them for work without any hassle. Just be sure that you don't overstock your cart. Be realistic. If you know you only eat one fresh fruit or vegetable with breakfast and dinner and none at lunch, make sure your bag holds no more than 14 apples, oranges, etc.

Other DO's to Buy:
--Waffles. If you crave pancakes but don't want the bother of cooking, frozen waffles may be for you.
--Instant oatmeal. For those who would rather spend their last few minutes of the morning perusing the paper than slaving over a stove.
--Canned soup. It doesn't get much faster or easier than this, and each can is just the right size for a one-person meal. With so many varieties on the market, there's something for everyone.
--TV dinners. Premade dinners get a bad rap. They may not taste like your mom's home cooking, but many of them are just as good or better than what you could get at your local diner, and you don't need to tip a waiter. They're conveniently microwavable and come in disposable containers, which means less dishes to do. Yes, some of them will taste like foul words, but don't let that stop you from experimenting until you find a few that you like.

Now that you know what foods to buy when you're single, tomorrow we'll talk about how to buy them and, if I'm feeling chatty, three rules of thumb for preparing them.

Fun Link of the Day


doubtful dater said...

I loved this, especially the singles need to eat too note! Thanks for the great tips!

Clever Elsie said...

Thanks for stopping by! I hope the tips are useful. I have some more in today's new post.

Unknown said...

This has actually helped me when I go to buy food. I never really know what to buy, but I want to stop constantly buying fast food. A great guide!