Cooking for One: Pantry Essentials

Cooking solo doesn't have to mean ramen noodles or a frozen dinner. Stock up on our favorite pantry staples for quick, tasty meals that won't leave you bored (or debating pizza delivery).
Cooking for OneCooking For One

No matter how many people you’re cooking for, it seems there are always leftovers. But whereas a couple or family of four might eat those leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day and move on, if you’re single you'll end up staring at the same meal for days on end. Who wants to eat the same thing all week?

Single home cooks often engage in creative math to divide recipes-for-four into solo meals. And even when they’re successful, they end up with a surplus of perishable ingredients (how much kale can one woman eat?) that spoil before they can finish them. It’s enough to make even the most committed cook throw up her hands and dial for takeout.

Don’t reach for that phone. Instead, use pantry items (many of which last for months) to make standard go-to meals like sandwiches, omelets and stir-fries a little different each time. You’ll be able to whip up unique dishes at a moment’s notice — and you’ll never get bored, chuck uneaten food or go hungry again.

Superheroes in a jar: These versatile, water-packed jarred ingredients are healthy and can be used on anything from wraps to salads, from grilled fish to chicken breasts, and will keep in your pantry (unopened) for months.

  • Roasted red peppers. Add peppers (and some low-fat feta) to turkey sandwiches, or chop them up and sprinkle on a whole wheat pita spread with hummus for a quick snack.
  • Capers. These make a great salty addition to tomato sauces.
  • Anchovies. Though high in sodium, these tiny fish are packed with calcium and protein. And they pack a flavor punch so just a few go a long way. Chop and add to your favorite tuna salad.
  • Olives. Eaten alone or added to practically anything, olives contain healthy oils and won’t go bad quickly.
  • Sundried tomatoes. Add classic Italian flavor to salads and wraps.
  • Tomato sauce. Nothing beats homemade, but shop around for a jarred one you really love (look for no added sugar). Once you find it, you can save time when you want a quick pasta dish.
  • Assorted salsas. Skip the regular tomato and try salsa verde, corn, pineapple or mango salsa to kick up your Mexican dishes.

Canned genius: When cooking for one, hunt for the smallest cans available. That way you won’t have so many leftovers begging to be eaten. When large cans are unavoidable transfer the remains to small storage containers and keep them at eye-level in your fridge so you’re reminded to eat them before they spoil.

  • Artichokes. Toss some into pasta one day and into some low fat spinach dip the next.
  • Water chestnuts. Whole or sliced, they can add a lot of crunch to any number of dishes including Asian stir-fries and salads.
  • Hearts of palm. These zero PointsPlus values veggies aren’t your everyday salad topper, but they can add a nice level of flavor and texture.
  • Tuna and salmon. These pantry staples can stay on the shelf for years. Try our Tuna and Artichoke Melt.
  • Turkey chili. Eaten on its own it’s tasty enough, but try making it into dip (with chopped onions, a little low-fat cream cheese, and hot sauce), adding it to baked-chip nachos or using it as a filling in enchiladas.
  • Mandarin oranges. Add a little zing to a typical garden salad.

Dried and true: Dried and packaged items usually have a longer shelf life than their fresh counterparts.

  • Grains and pasta. Buy quinoa, bulgur, couscous, orzo and farro in bulk – you’ll get a better price and they won’t go bad! Pressed for time? Look for brown rice in single-serving microwave-ready packaging.
  • Dried fruits. Cranberries, raisins and other fruits can serve as a snack on their own, or as great toss-ins to other dishes like oatmeal or even veggie sides. Just don’t have a heavy hand. These little guys are high in PointsPlus values.
  • Nuts. Just a few slivered almonds or chopped walnuts pack a big flavor punch in chicken salad or in your morning yogurt. And when you use them sparingly, you’ll keep the PointsPlus values low.
  • Meal toppers. Items like crispy onions, dried coconut and croutons are so flavorful (in dishes like salads, veggies and wraps) that a little bit goes a long way.
  • Single serving microwave popcorn. A little sweetener and cinnamon can turn this snack into a quick after-dinner treat.

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