Cooking for yourself: You are worth the effort.

I think this is a lesson that all of us could stand a refresher in, myself included, as we continue down the path toward feeding ourselves like competent adults.

Caveat: Feeling that it’s not worth the effort to prepare food for yourself is very different from literally not having the energy or resources to prepare food for yourself. The latter happens sometimes to all of us – either we are just bone-tired and pressed for time and eating is just not going to happen (or can only happen in rudimentary form), or we honestly don’t have the money to buy the food we want or need, or we haven’t yet learned to cook in the way we want or need. I have personally been in every single one of these situations at some point, and none of them are easy. But they are not what I am talking about in this article, just to be clear.

What I am talking about is that feeling, when you genuinely do have time and energy and food and skill on hand, but you manage to talk yourself out of making food that would truly nourish you because somehow cooking “just for yourself” doesn’t feel worthwhile.

Story time: the last time I was in this situation was when my husband starting working really late hours, not getting home until like 8pm. Previously, we were eating dinner together around 6:30, and then I would have evening clients afterward. This change in his schedule meant we were each on our own for dinner, and I wouldn’t even see him until 9pm.

For the first couple of weeks, I was THE SADDEST, gazing out the window like fat Cyndi Lauper. I completely abandoned the wifely habit of having dinner ready promptly at 6:30pm (smoke detector blazing) and would just sort of listlessly snack on whatever random food came to hand. Toast, cereal, Cheetos, peanut butter from the jar, whatever.

Many cat selfies were taken during this dark time.

I was a tragic, grazing Camille, and inside a week, I felt horrible. Even more horrible than lonely. I soon connected the horribleness to the lack of eating an actual dinner. (Thank you, nutrition degree! $20,000 well spent.) So I resolved that I would Cook An Actual Dinner, no matter what time my husband came home, and I would even dish up a plate for him like the saddest make-believe tea party of all time.

It took some activation energy, no doubt. I had to convince myself to stop dragging my feet, and remind myself that not feeling like crap truly was worth the effort, that my own well-being (and by extension, I) was truly worth the effort. Through the bad-and-wrong feelings and the internal toddler whining, “I don’t waaaaant to,” I did it once. And it was tasty and made me feel better. So I did it again. And again.

I plated my husband’s part, wrapped it in foil, and put it in the oven to warm, just like I imagine many pre-microwave era housewives had done. He was appreciative, and most importantly, both of us were well-fed instead of coasting on fumes.

So, anecdote concluded. Not feeling like death: it’s worth it!

Let’s talk strategies. For those of you with roommates or significant others who share food, the cooking-and-keeping-warm strategy I did above can work if you’re already in the routine of cooking most nights. You could also keep it cold instead by putting leftovers in the fridge. Either way, you’re staying out of the temperature DANGER ZONE. (As well as the Kenny Loggins DANGER ZONE.) And for some reason, just feeling like you are cooking for more than one person, even if that person isn’t physically there, can get you over the hump.

For those of you who live or eat alone, things are a little trickier because you don’t have another person depending on you (and therefore motivating you) to cook something every night. When I was single, I solved this problem by cooking once or twice on the weekend and freezing it in portions. I tell you this as someone who is not a fancy cook: it’s not as hard or as fussy as it sounds. I believe in cooking things in a single pot, if at all possible – especially since at the time, I lived in an apartment whose kitchen was a stove, a fridge, a sink, one rickety square foot of counter, and a cart I bought from Canadian Tire.

More importantly, it is worth it if you are sick of eating out or scrounging. I have five or so basic recipes that I learned can be frozen in portions and reheated rather well: Hoppin’ John with rice, Beans Bretonne with arborio rice, beef stew, creamed chicken and mushrooms with mashed potatoes, and chili con carne. These all have the advantage of being one-pot meals (oh, except the mashed potatoes), and several of them make good vegetarian recipes with small adjustments. I make them all in a Dutch oven.

The trick is to remind yourself that having a stash of frozen meals does not mean you are obligated to eat those meals every single day. If you pressure yourself with this, there will be resentment and tears, trust me. These meals are your safety net for when better plans (going out with a friend, getting a roasted chicken from the store, ordering a pizza) don’t materialize. You will never be in a situation where you regret having a few frozen meals stashed away. Eventually, you may even come to prefer your own cooking to ordering pizza. But only if you don’t force it. Intersperse eating them with your scrounging method of choice.

I still cook and freeze something every other week, so I can have a hot, homemade lunch during the weekdays, and for emergency dinners. In fact, I just finished a nice cup of chili, an apple and some rye bread for lunch. It was delicious. Furthermore, I made it spicy enough that my husband won’t go near it. TIGER BLOOD.

(I know Charlie Sheen jokes are very 2011, but I’m old and time moves more rapidly for me.)

Alright, so here’s where I ask for your input, like a good little blogger: I am a pretty uninspired, workmanlike cook, so I’m sure the rest of you have even more brilliant ideas for 1) convincing yourself you are worth the effort, and 2) using amazing Crock-Pot technologies to sink further into lazy debauchery. Go for it in comments.







109 responses to “Cooking for yourself: You are worth the effort.”

  1. Twistie Avatar

    I really need to start doing the cook a big batch and freeze portions of it thing for times when I’m sick/running around like a headless chicken/whiney about cooking for one/too engrossed in delicious costume dramas on Netflix to cook.

    But I do find myself really looking forward to those rare times when Mr. Twistie is away for a few days. Those times really do re-energize me for cooking because those are the times I get to eat Things Mr. Twistie Won’t Touch With a Freaking Barge Pole.

    Somehow just knowing I can cook Brussels sprouts or winter squashes or lamb or seafood without seeing him fight nausea at the concept really gets my cooking juices going, so to speak. He definitely reaps the benefits in the week after his return.

    I’ve also discovered there are certain dishes that re-invigorate my love of cooking when I do them. For instance, if I haven’t been feeling much like cooking for a few days, I know it’s time to whip up some risotto. I don’t know why, but all that standing there stirring the rice (or barley, because I make it that way, too) makes me remember what it is I love about cooking. Your mileage may vary, of course. I know there are those for whom stirring risotto is a punishment straight out of Dante’s Inferno… but the concept holds. Your thing may be baking a loaf of bread, putting together a stew, roasting a chicken that you can eat from for days, or creating a madly inventive green salad. But I do believe that many people who love cooking have a particular kind of dish that resonates so strongly for them that it gives them inspiration for days afterward. And for me, that’s risotto… and pie. Pie also works really well for me.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Usually what reinvigorates my love of cooking is a clean kitchen and a recipe that requires chopping an onion. It’s very satisfying to use a scrap bowl on the counter and to properly chop an onion.

      1. Twistie Avatar

        Onion chopping is a great favorite of mine, too. I adore onions.

        1. Paulina Avatar

          Risotto is great for me. And you can freeze it, too. When thawing and heating it, you might want to add some chicken broth, so it won’t get dry.
          Also, when I am very bored (yes, cooking is boring for me and has always been), I try some simple dish with different spices. It doesn’t always turn out well, but in that case I consider it a learning experience;-)

          1. TLK Avatar

            Have you tried making a frittata using leftover risotto? It is fabulous! Just beat some of the leftover risotto into the eggs, and continue as usual. I’d like to say this was my brilliant idea, but I got the recipe from a cookbook.

  2. Nof Avatar

    I can’t speak for convincing yourself you’re worth the effort to make food (thanks, depression!) but I can speak to the wondrous power of the crock pot.

    Crockpots are literally magic. And before someone gets pedantic: yes, I do mean crockpots are something straight out of Harry Potter. I have never met the person who regrets getting one.

    You don’t need a fancy crockpot with temperature gauges and locking lids (tbh I avoid temp gauges because nearly all crockpot recipes use low/med/high in the directions and I don’t know what that means in temperature terms). You should base the size on your family or what you expect to cook–1-3 quarts is fine for a single/couple, 4-5 is good for a 4-person family, and 6-7 is good for a big family or someone who prepares and freezes meals in large batches. I use my 6-quart most of the time; it can just hold a double-batch of chili.

    Crockpots are especially suited for two things: soups and tough cuts of meat. Just about any soup can be made in the crockpot, and tough, fatty cuts of meat become delicious when slow-cooked.

    The general rule I’ve heard for how long to cook something is: 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low. This obviously can vary based on recipe, but it’s a good rule of thumb for when you’re going recipe-less or modifying a recipe.

    Chicken and Dumplings: this recipe is great and easy. I usually add a can of Cream of Celery and some veggies.
    Stuffing: this is a little more work than normal because you have to watch to make sure it isn’t burning. But–STUFFING!
    Apple sauce: great in fall when you can get a bunch of second apples cheap. I cut the sugar to taste in this one; depending on apple variety it can be too much.
    Mac and cheese: this isn’t the recipe I use (can’t find that one), but it’s similar. Leave out the eggs if you want a more creamy mac, or keep them in if you want the firmer casserole kind.
    Pot roast: classic. I ditch the onion mix and add my own spices.

    1. Ellen Brand Avatar
      Ellen Brand

      Yes! Also, has some of the most interesting crockpot recipes I’ve found yet. Everything on there is gluten free, since her daughter has celiac, and it is so lovely. The Tangy Lemon Chicken is one of my go-to celebration dishes.

    2. Noel Lynne Figart Avatar

      My word yes, CROCK POT!!!

      My family has been insanely busy for the past year, and we’ve found that one of the most marvelous things we could do would be to freeze ahead uncooked meals to thaw out and cook during the day while we’re at work and school to just enjoy when we get home.

      I come home HUNGRY, and what keeps me making sure I’m nourishing myself and my family well is that I don’t have to come home tired and then cook. It’s amazing.

  3. TropicalChrome Avatar

    Crock Pot: I make Carne Adovada (pork in mild red chile sauce) – admittedly, from a mix. I’ve made it from scratch and frankly I like the mix just as much, if not more. When I make it I try to make twice as much as we’ll eat so I can have some fast food available in the freezer. And curries. You can make scads of different curries with the same ingredients just by swapping in different curry powders/pastes. It feels like cheating.

    Cooked rice freezes well, too. I like brown rice but it takes forever (especially at this altitude), so when I do cook it, I cook up a lot, then freeze it in ziplock bags in single meal portions. A couple minutes in the microwave and it’s ready.

    For revitalizing cooking: souffles. They’re just baked scrambled eggs that have a good PR agent. They’re really not particularly difficult and they look so impressive coming out of the oven – and if they don’t rise all the way, so what? The fallen souffle still tastes really good. They don’t hold worth a darn, but if I’m cooking for only me, I’m ready to eat when it is.

    1. Toni Avatar

      I never thought to cook rice and freeze it! Thanks for the idea…I end up wanting rice as a side at the last minute, and then don’t make it because it takes too long..I will definitely cook and freeze.

      As far as making meals for just myself, it’s only usually during the day, because evenings it’s about the husband and sons eating also..with one son being a very selective eater..and husband liking not everything I like to eat…but this could work for lunch also…I always end up hungry and picking at lunch time and never really consuming a meal, unless I’m out to I will remind myself I am worth the effort.

  4. Elizabeth Avatar

    I find it helpful to not-cook-and-freeze, too. It’s amazing how having a couple of chicken breasts vacuum-sealed in a marinade can make my life easier. I rarely cook for one any more, because I have kids now, but it can be even harder to motivate yourself to cook for kids who don’t like anything you like and whine incessantly.

    If you have money to throw at the problem, I love my sous vide cooker. I don’t make fancy molecular gastronomy food in it – I throw in the above-mentioned chicken breasts vacuum-sealed in marinade, straight out of the freezer, before I leave for work in the morning. When I come home, I have perfectly-cooked chicken at whatever time I want it. Depending on what it was marinating in, I often whip up a roux and stir the marinade and chicken juice into it until it bubbles to make a quick sauce. That sounds fancy, but it’s actually just dumping butting and flour into a pan, waiting until it turns light brown, and stirring in the hot marinade. That plus frozen vegetables and rolls from the supermarket is a darn fine meal that everyone in the family will (usually) eat.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Good point! I need to start doing this more – I have a couple of marinades that I use and it would definitely make life easier to have them pre-prepped and frozen.

    2. Lita Avatar

      Elizabeth, that is exactly my problem. My kids are teenagers and they are more picky and seem to dislike everything. They ate better when they were little. Most days, I just don’t know what to cook, and my motivation is low with all of the complaining. So discouraging. ; (

      1. Barlow Avatar

        Lita: Have you tried making a simple “base” dish like chicken and rice or whatever and then having extra options to zip it up like sauces frozen or something? Stuff like tacos where everyone can customize and have different options?

        Or, shocking, I know, but think about making something you want to eat and they can either eat it or make something themselves if they don’t want to eat what you make because you’re not a short-line cook and they’re going to be adults who have to feed themselves one day? You could try having a day with each of them where you – TOGETHER – make and freeze a handful of meals they’re guaranteed to like like spaghetti or whatever.

        You could also do the same thing, but have a day each week where you get together as a family and decide as a family what you’re going to eat that week. You could also decide that on the day that the person chooses dinner, they have to help MAKE dinner. Make THEM get on Pinterest or Pioneer Woman or look through your cookbooks or whatever to decide on meals. You can have a rule like each meal might have a protein, a grain and a vegetable, etc, if you want.

        Honestly, I’m… not exactly a fan of the whining, especially in teenagers. You’re not a restaurant and they are going to have to feed themselves eventually when they move out. Why not now, instead of complaining about your cooking? :P

  5. Arpita Avatar

    I love chopping onions, too. I can shed as many tears as I like and tell myself, “It’s the onion, not the fact that you live alone!”

    I kid.

    I love living alone and cooking for myself. I cook enchiladas on Sunday and freeze portions for eating throughout the week. Risotto is also good, and you can make a vegan version in the oven that requires no stirring:

  6. Heather Avatar

    I live by myself and never, ever just go to the trouble of cooking just one meal. I cook at least two portions at a time, one to eat now and one to put in the fridge to eat in the next couple of days. Or I cook up a very big meal (eg veggie chilli or curry) and freeze the extra portions.

    When I cook rice, beans or lentils, I always do extra and freeze individual portions for later (just be careful with rice – freeze as soon as it cools because you can get food poisoning from rice left sitting around at room temperature for too long).

    Doing it like this means I don’t have to cook more than three times a week, and I’m more motivated because doing the work feeds me several times.

  7. Susan S Avatar
    Susan S

    Ohhh, Hoppin’ John. I like to add fava beans between brown rice and okra & tomatoes (Michael Twitty–really sweet, intelligent, fun guy to talk to–has a great recipe here). I call it Hoppin’ Achmed. :D Man, I need to pull my summer okra out of the freezer and make a batch. Okra soup/okra & tomatoes turns out especially well, IMO, with the addition of some high-quality cinnamon and a pinch of allspice. A little bit of chile never goes amiss, either. God, I need to study North African and Sephardi cooking.

    I don’t get to COOK cook very often, due to a combination of energy-draining health problems, living with mess-hating parents (well, Mom hates mess), and dietary restrictions. I try to fix a real breakfast at least once a week, though, usually Bob’s Red Mill GF Hot Cereal, and make an effort to eat SOMETHING at least once a day. (That’s not as easy as it sounds. My digestive system is “idiopathically” fucked to begin with, though I suspect I have a malabsorption issue of some kind probably related to dairy, and each of my meds causes anorexia. One wouldn’t be bad, but when you hit a full spreadsheet, well, let’s just say it’s not unheard of for my friends to say, “What have you eaten this week?”) I miss being vegan. My abusive ex forced me away from it, though he only got me to lacto-ovo pescetarianism, thank Elvis, because I DO NOT DIGEST meat or poultry. Thankfully, my girlfriend understands dietary limitations, so if that continues to work out, I’ll be able to eat GF primarily-vegan or GF primarily-ovo-veg in a supportive environment. (Eggs and I get along well.)

    Oh, Michelle, there’s a form of self-loving cooking I do that doesn’t involve food, but that some of your followers with dietary restrictions, sensitive skin, or love of luxury might enjoy: making custom lotions and skin-care items. I don’t mess with anything like soap-making–I leave that to the professionals, ie a good friend of mine in NM, who has the best Etsy shop ever–but I mix my own oil cleansers, the occasional lotion, and some shimmer creams and oils that I can’t get anywhere else. (I’m so pale I can wear an ice blue shimmer and make it look good.) Last night, because I’m so sick of my lips erupting in a dermatitis that’s baffled dermatologists for years, and the tips of my fingers splitting wide, I mixed up an overnight skin sealant. It’s pretty much:

    Two ounces of beeswax (or candelilla wax for ethical vegans–you’ll want to double the oil)
    Two ounces of skin-safe oil (I used jojoba and avocado)
    Two or three drops of essential oil, if desired and tolerated (I threw in three capsful of natural almond extract, ’cause that’s what I had)

    You just heat it over a double boiler in a bowl you can scrub, then let it set in a HEAT-SAFE container. It’ll be hard, but you let a little soften between your hands, then rub it in. I put it on my face at night to seal in my moisturizers. Works great, and for those of us who can’t necessarily eat much, it’s a good way to keep up our cooking skills AND love ourselves. Dish detergent cleans everything a treat, and the cooled sealer comes straight off surfaces.

    Ohohoh! A good, non-veg use for a (large) crock pot: take a roaster hen, stuff it with olive oil, a couple of handfuls of peeled garlic cloves, two whole lemons with slits cut in the sides, a bunch of fresh thyme, a few peppercorns, and a teaspoon to a teaspoon and a half of coarse salt. Stitch or tie shut if you have kitchen twine, otherwise don’t worry about it. Pour about 1/4-1/2″ of olive oil in the bottom of the crock pot, set the hen inside, cover liberally with more oil (and I mean drench this lovely, fat bird that died for your dinner), and sprinkle with more coarse salt, some cinnamon, some sumac if you’ve got it, and optionally some ground chile. (If you really like your heat, get a pastry brush before you pour on the oil and paint the skin with harissa.) Make sure everything is oily, clap on the lid, set the pot to low, and cook the bird all night and all day until it’s 185F inside and the meat is tender and gorgeous. (The lemons add flavor and act as a meat tenderizer, in addition to the long cooking time breaking down connective tissue and leading to tender meat, like slow-cooked brisket.) Save the broth, skin, and carcass, break the thigh bones CAREFULLY, and boil it all up in the same pot with enough water to fill in order to make the best lemony chicken broth ever.

    Yeah. I love to cook. I just wish I could do it more often. (The chicken, btw, is a modification of a recipe I came up with for use in an oven.)

  8. CraftyLuna Avatar

    I live alone and just got a crockpot as a gift but I haven’t used it yet.

    What I usually cook is basically rice or pasta + meat + veggies + sauce. I cook most weekday evenings. What I’m making isn’t usually that involved, so I don’t mind doing it when I get home. I usually make enough for leftovers for lunch the next day. Two meals in a row of the same thing, sometimes three, is my limit, then if there are still leftovers after that, they go in the freezer.

    I feel like the stuff I make is really so simple it’s barely cooking. Boil some water, make some pasta shells. Cook some ground sweet italian sausage in a pan. Add some cooked frozen spinach. Dump a jar of alfredo sauce in there, scoop it out on the pasta. Ta-da, dinner!

    Change out the sausage for ground beef, the spinach for sauteed mushrooms and onions, the shells for spaghetti, the alfredo for tomato sauce, there’s another meal.

    Chicken, bag of frozen stir-fry veggies, rice, jar of tikka masala sauce.

    Shrimp, spinach, pasta, creamy pesto.

    You get the idea.

    I get dinners and lunches I enjoy, the nutrition I need, but it doesn’t really feel like “real” cooking. I don’t make my own sauces, I avoid chopping vegetables, I hardly ever use the oven, just the stove. But when my boyfriend comes over and I make us dinner, he’s always like “I love your cooking!” Good thing he’s so easy to please!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Most of my weeknight cooking is barely-cooking too, because otherwise it would be “not cooking at all.” (You would also be shocked at how many people are seriously impressed by this level of cooking.)

    2. ksol Avatar

      Why that most definitely IS real cooking, in my book. :)

      I have a hard time with this idea that unless we’re all making our sauces from scratch that it’s not real cooking. I think it scares some people off of cooking or makes them think it’s too much trouble. If I thought the only real cooking was slaving over wild mushroom risotto every night, I’d throw up my hands and order a pizza. There’s a pretty wide spectrum on the cooking front and food’s actually pretty forgiving (says the woman whose operating instructions in the kitchen are “so it looks right.”)

      1. KellyK Avatar

        Absolutely. I feel like if you’re mixing multiple ingredients and putting things on the stove, that’s real cooking. Anything more than heating up canned soup or making Kraft mac & cheese is definitely cooking (and there’s nothing wrong with doing either of those things too).

  9. Megaera Avatar

    I’m single. I used to cook a big batch of something on Sunday, then eat off of it all week until I couldn’t look it in the eye any more, usually by Friday, then I’d pitch the rest of it and go out to eat.

    Then I learned how to cook for my freezer. I eat out of my freezer at least four or five times a week, more if you count using home-packaged and frozen ingredients. I don’t look at it as an emergency stash. This is how I eat normally. There’s nothing better than not having to think about what I’m going to eat at 6 pm after a long day when my blood sugar is low.

    Every two or three months I have a cooking binge, where I cook up a big batch of a recipe every night for a week or two to fill up my freezer, then I’m set again. I keep a notebook of recipes — some I make every time I refill the freezer, some I make maybe two or three times a year (I have a lot of seasonal recipes).

    I eat about twelve times better than I did before freezer cooking, and I waste very little food. It’s the only way to go, IMHO.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I need to try this. I had one client who did this and it sounded like the best thing ever.

      1. Daniel Avatar

        I can vouch for this. I’m a bit lacking in the “recipes that freeze well” department, but Sunday is my day to spend 3-4 hours in the kitchen so that I spend less than 2 minutes throughout the week to throw together a lunch and take it to my internship with me. Plus I usually have some staples (e.g. roasted vegetables, cooked grains and beans, greens, etc.) prepped up so I can just toss it all into a bowl, toss with a bit of whatever dressing I made that week, and call it a night.

        Once you do it a few times, see how it simplifies your life, and make a habit out of it, it creates enough motivation in itself to keep you going, IMO.

        1. Michelle Avatar

          Yay, internship! I hope it’s going great.

      2. Elizabeth Avatar

        Hey, I think that was me! I started out by going to Dream Dinners and cooking up twelve entrees in an afternoon, which worked but was exhausting and kind of expensive. Nevertheless, I kept doing it, because it was working. Then the one near me closed. I bought a cookbook, and now I cook on weekends when I don’t have other stuff going on – not every weekend – and can fix dinner in under half an hour most days.

        If you like the idea of freezer cooking but can’t bring yourself to start, I think that Dream Dinners or one of its clones is a great possibility for transitioning. It’s sort of exhausting on the day that you cook, especially the first time, but it is addictive to have all that food in the freezer, labeled and dated and with cooking instructions right there in the bag.

  10. ksol Avatar

    Although not as popular as crockpots these days, pressure cookers are amazing. I love mine. Tonight I’ll crank out a falling-apart-tender beef roast in less than an hour in the thing.

    We have our go-tos in our house. My husband’s are homemade pizza and stir fry. I do a lot of bean soups, usually either in the crockpot or the pressure cooker. I think it’s tough to go wrong with soups. A weird one I make that is a hit when I take it to potlucks: red lentils + canned tomato + sweet potato, blended with an immersion blender. Sort of a thick, protein-y tomato soup. The sweet potato takes the place of the sugar you usually have to use to cut the acidity when you make tomato soup.

    1. KellyK Avatar

      My hubby is big on the homemade pizza too. Yay for having a bread machine!

      Homemade pizza is also great for using up odds & ends of veggies or meats, because random bits that you couldn’t do much with otherwise can be thrown on a pizza.

    2. Amianym Avatar

      COMPLETELY agree on pressure cookers. Pressure-cooking is the only way I can stand to deal with beans, which are typically my main protein source. I’ve never really had the planning ability to do the slow-cooker thing, but a pressure cooker generally turns out similar results in far less time. Mine is an electric pressure cooker – specifically this beautiful beast and I love it to bits. It also does rice!

      1. Michelle Avatar

        I eat a lot of beans, which means I soak a lot of beans overnight. I’m going to have to seriously consider this pressure-cooker thing.

        1. Lisa Avatar

          So there’s this great thing called “The Power Soak”, which I used twice today (once for black beans and once for pinto!). Stick some dried beans and water in a pot, bring to a boil, let boil for 3 min, turn off the heat and let sit for 2 hours.

          Then cook as usual! It has the added benefit of reducing the complex sugars that make people fart more. Or so I’ve been told – beans have been our main protein source for so long we’ve acclimated.

  11. Lynn Avatar

    Wow, this is timely! My husband’s away for two weeks and I actually sat down today and wrote myself a menu plan (nerd!) so that I would cook and eat properly while he was gone and, yes, not graze my way through all the microwave popcorn, crackers, and cheese we own because I’m bored, unmotivated, and LONELY. Grazing is delicious, yes, but after a few days I too feel pretty awful and start hating myself for how I feel.

    So, menu planning is key and the “reward” for being alone is that, like Twistie, I can cook all the brussels sprouts (red cabbage, bacon, etc) my little heart craves. The important thing is that there’s a choice of meals in the fridge ready to reheat when I come home from work. I’m not making this complicated — I’m roasting a pan of salmon and vegetables on Sunday and then portioning it out for later. Ditto slow cooker vegetable beef barley soup and steak salad.

    I’m also taking my kindle out to dinner once each week, because otherwise I won’t leave the house (no “we-ness” to cover my social anxiety) except for work.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I love that you’re taking yourself out to dinner once a week, too.

  12. Linda Strout Avatar
    Linda Strout

    Taco meat!

    One onion chopped (or one bag of chopped frozen onion) and garlic in a pan over medium heat. Put a little oil in the pan first. Also, I found little tubes of garlic and other spices in my vegetable section at the store, major score!

    Cook until the onions are translucent, you may need to turn the heat down a bit.

    At this point, add about a pound of hamburger (or other ground meat). Cook until the meat is browned. Stir regularly to break up the meat.

    As the meat is browning, add spices to taste: salt, pepper, chile powder, paprika and cumin. Red pepper if you like a little heat. Don’t taste until the meat is cooked.

    You can freeze this, but be sure to put it into small portions, because the meat will freeze together into a block.

    I haven’t tried pre-making burritos out of this and freezing them, but I suspect it would work out okay.

    1. Mary Cay Martin Avatar
      Mary Cay Martin

      My version is slightly more versatile. For each pound of ground meat, chop about one cup of onions. Cook onions in a bit of oil. then add ground meat and cook until meat is browned. Minced garlic to taste may be added with the meat. Two generous cups equals one pound meat plus one cup onions; one generous cup equals one half pound meat plus one half cup onions ,etc. etc. \I have cooked as much as four pounds of mat and four cups onion and divided it up for the freezer.The uses are practically infinite – tacos , spaghetti.casseroles.loosemeat sandwiches, casseroles…When you warm it up, even before seasoning it, the smell is wonderful!

  13. Cath of Canberra Avatar
    Cath of Canberra

    Tougher meat cuts are the best in the crockpot. Google up a zillion recipes for pulled pork, or invent your own – basically a pork shoulder, half a litre or so of liquid, & spices, and leave it all alone for hours. I make one with tinned tomatoes and cider vinegar and chilli that maybe is a Carolina BBQ style? And a chipotle version is brilliant. The meat just falls apart and is great with rice, or a big baked potato. Or if you like the American classic, in bread rolls with coleslaw. Turkey thighs & legs work well, too – if your crockpot is big enough to cope.

    Slow cooked lamb is another favourite – in this case you start dry, no liquid. An onion, plenty of garlic, a couple of chopped lemons, preserved lemon if you have it, maybe some fennel, some oregano and it’s greekish lamb. Chuck in a few potatoes for the last hour or two, and nuke some greens and it’s an easy meal, with lots of leftovers for sammiches. Preferably wraps with fetta or hommous and tabouli. Omnomnom.

    With a crockpot roast (the lamb style above, which also works with chicken etc) I like to drain off the liquid in my fat separator jug and use the juices for gravy. Save the fat if you want to cook things in it later – potatoes roasted in herby lemony schmaltz – but it’s too greasy for my taste just as it comes.

  14. Sandra Allison Avatar
    Sandra Allison

    What motivates me for cooking great meals for myself and/or loved ones is seeing how many meals I can make out of one piece of meat. From Turkey, to pot pies, soups and sandwiches, I love stretching the meal dollar with healthy homemade dishes.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I can vouch that your turkey minestrone is out of this world. I have never eaten soup so fast in my life. Those two big jars you gave us were gone within a week.

  15. Andreae Avatar

    I don’t usually have any trouble getting supper together – I have a spouse and four kids, and I’m a stay-at-home mom with enough time to cook most days, so I’ve managed to fine-tune my supper system (read flyers on the weekend, see what’s on sale, plan meals accordingly). Where I fall down is lunch – I usually end up making it through the day on the kids’ sandwich crusts and half-eaten apples and IT SUCKS and by 3:30 pm I am hungry and evil.

    What I’ve tried to do lately – and this could totally work for supper, too – is, on the weekend, make a big huge hearty salady-type thing, like a pasta salad or something with rice, or a cabbagey-broccoli-carroty slaw, or whatever. Then at lunchtimes over the week I take a pile of that, add some leftover meat or hard-cook some eggs or throw a handful of nuts at it, and grab some bread and butter (and MAYBE if I’m really on the go I’ll cube up some bread and fry it in a lot of olive oil so it’s kind of like croutons but still warm and crispy, kind of like a grilled cheese sandwich, but just bread) and with practically no effort I’m eating a real, live lunch! And I get through the day hardly wanting to strangle anyone at all!

    Oh, also – you can put almost anything in a pan (leftovers, scraps), throw some beaten eggs on it, put it under the grill, and it magically becomes a delicious frittata. I made one last week with leftover roasted potatoes, bacon, and feta. A-mazing.

    Ooh! Ooh! And also also, there are people who dedicate a ton of time to making slow-cooker-ready freezer meals and then blogging about them. If you just search “crockpot freezer recipe” or something like that you’ll find loads of them.

  16. Sara Avatar

    Awesome. I feel like you must have written this for me. Yesterday in fact I just journaled about the need to start actually cooking because as you have said, not feeling like death is worth it. Can you post your five go to recipes? I don’t have any at the moment.

  17. Bronwyn Avatar

    Love this! I recently began to really do this as well, mostly because I a) got tired of omelettes b)realized I felt more satisfied with a real meal and c) could help my clients better if I had a better range of recipes.
    Yeah the last point is a bit of a motivator, to make it about more than just me. But I also have just started to really pick up on if I want to think of myself as someone who values myself, food is a part of that, and thus cooking for myself is a part of that.

  18. Laurin Avatar

    Having gorgeous fresh veggies and planning out meals definitely motivates me. My problem is when I shop but don’t plan, and I often get slack and eat toasted sandwiches/peanut butter toast for dinner. Still feeding myself, but I know I feel better if there are veggies in there somewhere!
    It’s hard atm because it’s so hot on Australia- the next few days where I live are going to be about 39 degrees Celsius and my crappy little flat gets very hot, so motivation for cooking and hearing up the flat goes out the window lol. I’m gonna try and sort out salads for lunches this week, and maybe cook one meal and freeze if for the week. :)

    I’ve got a le creuset French oven that I have to remember to use, too!

    Great article and comments, as usual! Awesome inspiration!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      One summer when our air conditioning broke, I got this cookbook from the library (I know I’ve mentioned it before) called Cool Kitchen. It was mostly non-cook recipes, and a few of them were keepers. I can totally sympathize with the too-hot-to-cook thing, ugh. 39 Celsius is just inhumane.

      1. Laurin Avatar

        Ooh, non-cool recipes are good, I might search around for some more. I’ve been doing lots of salads :P
        Believe it or not, this is nicer than the other heat wave a couple weeks ago, where it was above 40 lol

        1. Laurin Avatar

          Bahahaha I meant non-cook. Kinda funny what it auto corrected to tho ;)

    2. Susan S Avatar
      Susan S

      Oh, UGH. That sounds like a summer in Oklahoma. :( The past few years, we’ve had temps in the 40’s. A couple of summers ago, I saw an unofficial-but-reliable temperature of 50.6. (Yes, that’s C. AND IT WAS NOT A DRY HEAT. OH, NO, IT WAS NOT.) That was the year we were hotter than Death Valley for more than two weeks in a row. I have to cover against UV at all times, so I said screw clothes and went around in a cotton abaya and my underthings, and a headscarf treated to reflect light and heat. Nobody could figure out why they were sweating buckets in shorts and tank tops, while I trotted around dressed like Severus Snape, happy as could be. XD

      I tend to rely on my rice cooker, which has a steamer basket, for a lot of my cooking in weather over about 35C. It’s a big, sealed jobby, so I can plug it in outside and set it on the patio table with some lentils, rice, olive oil, a little salt, some onion, a few spices, some raisins or dried apricots, and some whole garlic cloves in the main body, and maybe a few veg (locally grown! I love living in an agricultural area) in the steamer basket. There’s no danger of animals or falling plant parts getting into it, it’s too heavy to blow over, and rice cooked with enough oil stays moist while chilled. Moist, oiled rice means chilled rice and lentils (lazy cold mujadarrah!), and cold steamed veg are amazing.

      Good luck beating the heat!

      1. Laurin Avatar

        I love your strategy for beating the heat, that sounds fabulous :D
        Thanks for the rice cooker suggestion, that sounds great!

        Yeah, it’s pretty crazy, and Canberra isn’t even the worst- apparently Adelaide has been having temps more like you’re describing! A couple weeks ago in the first heatwave, on one day it was the hottest place on earth. Goodness tho, 50 degrees! 40 is bad enough!!! And yuck at humidity too!

        Just gotta make it til the heat breaks ;)

      2. Michelle Avatar

        We had one or two days of 50 C weather here last summer. It was so not cool. I wanted someone to be arrested for it.

  19. Ani Avatar

    I have been reading the freeze-portions-in-advance advice for years, but never without the kind “don’t force it!” caveat that you have given.

    Turns out — I hate reheated food. I despise most one-pot meals. Who knew? I thought I was supposed to love them because they were easy.

    I recently learned to cook with a wok. That combined with a rice cooker, and I am finally on my game. I am actually in the exact situation described above — boyfriend doesn’t get home until 9pm one night of the week and I am the saddest little kitten. But I’m soooo excited about making myself a beef stir fry that does not in anyway include vegetables other than mushrooms and uses both his and my portions of beef in an excellently saucey sauce that magically appears when I pour my drab brown liquid into the magic wok! It’s not the most healthful, technically, of meals, but it’s waaaaaay better than scrounging for sad pretzels and luna bars. And I enjoy the hell out of it, which I think is probably better for me than an added dice of broccoli.

    I like that the prep-work for wokking can be done ahead of time (I’m not concerned about losing the freshness of my vegetables because I am actually eating vegetables and that is a huge step forward, so I figure, let’s not push it), and stored in glass containers in the fridge which then immediately upon leaving the fridge become fancy mise-en-place setup! I can set my rice cooker ahead of time and this chronically ill girl is suddenly eating two servings of vegetables, friendly digestible rice, considerably less meat (but tastier meat) 5 nights out of 7. I love my wok. I named her Lizzie. I really enjoy watching the progress of Lizzie as she turns from a baby wok to a teenage wok to an adult wok (those are really the terms of seasoning a wok, I promise!), and I am consistently fascinated that nothing sticks ever, and that with prep already in the fridge, I can have dinner ready in ten minutes, tops.

    Which is not to say that everyone needs a wok. They do require a lot of learning before use, a lot of learning to maintain them. But the key, I think, is to find something that you actually LIKE using, not just what other people like using. I always felt so sad, so weird pulling food out of the freezer. I’m just not a leftovers girl — and that’s okay. It’s totally okay to be a leftovers person, too. Just know what you are, eh?

    1. Twistie Avatar

      And there in a nutshell is the Best Advice Ever. Know they cooking self, and work from that.

      You adore wok cooking, and it works for you. Me? It’s just not my thing… but they can have my Le Creuset braiser when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers. Why? Because I’m a low and slow kind of gal, and that’s all there is to it.

      So any of you out there who haven’t found your ‘thing’ that gets you cooking just for you? Maybe a little experimentation is in order. Maybe you just don’t like crock pots or freezers or whatever handy thing you think you’re ‘supposed’ to do. But there’s no wrong way to do this. Keep looking. For you the magic may be in a panini press, or always having a selection of ready-made pasta sauces just waiting, or making sure you always have carrots in the fridge.

      In the end, it’s about you, it’s about how you are comfortable cooking, it’s about how you like to eat, and if it gets you fed, IT’S OKAY.

      1. Michelle Avatar

        Totally cosigned. I would actually love to hear what other novel solutions people come up with, because honestly freezing and reheating food is not terribly exciting, although it does work for me.

        1. inge Avatar

          My freezer is small, so I keep mostly half-raw ingredients there: blanched veggies, fish, meat and bread. I take care to freeze it in a way that I can easily take out a small amount (e.g., freeze veggies in a muffin tray, slice fish and meat into half-portion-sizes before freezing, slice bread).

          So I can take yesterday’s (or day before yesterday’s) potatos, rice or pasta from the fridge, fry them (they won’t fry well on the day of cooking anyway), and add what I feel like adding.

    2. Michelle Avatar

      I am a one-pot meal fan, but I think it is crucially important to know if you are or aren’t, and then to adjust accordingly. No one should eat those kinds of meals just because they’re somehow supposed to, ugh. I’m really glad you figured out what works better for you. A wok sounds brilliant.

    3. Chris Avatar

      I love woks. I haven’t used mine in ages! But they’re sooo good. I am forming plans…

  20. Ani Avatar

    omgomgomg, I have to do a second comment because I learned this when I first got my rice cooker and it changed my WHOLE LIFE.

    You can make steel-cut oats in rice cookers (crockpots too, but I don’t have one). I’ve never eaten oatmeal consistently before because generally, I find it disgusting. But! Steel cut oats ready for me when I wake up with peanut butter and jelly mixed in, and now I’m an oats-eating girl too.

    I make these for my boyfriend for those nights when he gets home late. He eats a giant bowl for dinner, an excellent warming dish after walking home in below zero temps.

  21. anachronistique Avatar

    I am a weekend cook. Weeknights I do leftovers, or very simple stuff because after a day of dealing with people and transit I just can’t. Sometimes I get ambitious and do pearled couscous with spinach – toss in a handful of baby spinach while it’s cooking and it steams/wilts! – and then some kind of protein and some goat or feta cheese. I do tend to make a big pot of rice every so often and then freeze individual portions in sandwich bags. Then I microwave one of those with some frozen veggies and add protein. Condiments help too – hot sauce, salad dressing, Parmesan cheese, whatever.

    But Sundays I love making a big pot of stew or chili or something. Usually I freeze half of it for future lunches and put the other half in the fridge for the rest of the week. I love doing a butternut squash risotto, and I also like hoppin’ john, and chili is grand. Recently I made a white bean, kale and chorizo stew that was great. But I learned to cook with my parents for our family of five, so I’m used to making things in big batches anyway. (That’s the other reason I do a big pot of rice at once: I haven’t figured out how to make a small portion without burning it.) I really like Melissa Clark’s recipes – she has a column in the NY Times and a number of cookbooks, and even if I don’t follow them to the letter they’re great for ideas.

    And my roommate and I have started this year off by deciding we’re going to do a weekly dinner together. The first try was a chicken with herbed goat cheese under the skin, which was messy but delicious; last week was a small ham; this week will be another chicken. I’m excited that we’re doing stuff together. And that we’re making time to take care of ourselves and each other.

  22. inge Avatar

    I love cooking for myself, unfortuantely I’m home very late quite often. Also, I’m cooking either for one person or for eight. So I go for the easily scalable, and for dishes that are either very quick, or can be put in the oven while I do other things.

    Cook pasta, meanwhile rub some peel off a lemon, slice fresh sage leaves. Drain pasta in a sieve. In the pasta pot, heat a bit of butter or olive oil on medium high, fry sage leaves (and maybe a few sunflower seeds). Take pot off the heat, throw pasta back in, and lemon peel, salt, freshly grated black pepper, mix, serve.

    Slice a small hokkaido squash, but in a buttered form, brush with a mix of melted butter and maple syrup. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts, salt. Bake at medium high for 30 minutes.

    Fry white onions and sliced, unpeeled pears in a pan in some butter, serve with rice or polenta and a dollop of cowberry jam.

    Cook figs and onions in a mix of beef broth and red wine until it becomes creamy. While hot, put in an empty marmelade jar, let it cool, put it in the fridge. Serve with freshly-made polenta mush, or stir-fried beef.

    Oven stews, I follow the recipe: Cut everything you want to be in there into bite-sized pieces. Mix with spices and some oil, maybe a teaspoon of sugar. Fill in pot, bake on medium until done. For 2 lbs of food, “until done” is about 1 hour with meat or raw potatos, 30 minutes with veggies, cheese, or pre-cooked starches.

    Swiss stewed cheese sandwich soup: layer whole grain wheat toast without the crust and sliced emmental cheese in a buttered oven form, cover in broth not quite to the top, cover with grated emmental and parmesan cheese. Bake on medium for 30 minutes. Add a layer of browned onions to taste, or add some dry white wine or Kirsch to the broth.

    Blend cream cheese, smoked trout filet, a bit of sour cream, salt, black pepper, mustard, and a bit of lemon juice. Serve on toast.

    Slice a tomato or two, put in a small buttered oven form. Salt. Add some frozen spinach. Put a slice of frozen fish on top, salt and sprinkle with lemon juice. Mix bread crumbs, sour cream, and some chopped herbs to a paste and spread on the fish. Bake for 20 minutes on medium.

    I keep chopped onions, chopped herbs, and a mix of chopped stew veggie mix in the fridge.

    1. tinfoil hattie Avatar
      tinfoil hattie

      I am slavering over here. YUM! Thank you!

    2. Paulina Avatar

      Inge, your pasta recipe sounds really good. I need to try that next weekend (today I already went to the grocery store and got different things to cook today and tomorrow, but next time…)

  23. Teresa Avatar

    I live alone and used to think I hated to cook, but over the last couple of years I’ve become a huge fan of cooking on the weekends and freezing. The frozen meals then become lunches to take to work. I rarely eat them for dinner, and I try to keep a good variety on hand so I have options during the week. That works much better for me than eating the same dish all week, and I feel much better with my homemade frozen meals than I did when I bought frozen meals for lunch.

    Weeknight dinners are more of a struggle, and I sometimes revert to snacking for dinner, which is fine sometimes, but it doesn’t always leave me feeling great. When I do cook ona weeknight, it’s usually really simple–scrambled eggs, pasta, baked potato, salad, that sort of thing. I’d like to get in the habit of prepping veggies ahead of time, so I can throw them in a stir fry or pasta or turn my scrambled eggs into an omelette. After work, the idea of washing and chopping veggies is too much to deal with, especially if I have a class or something. But if they were ready to go, I’d use them.

    I also recently discovered a service called Blue Apron that sends you all the ingredients for three meals that take about 30-45 minutes each to prep and cook. It’s not something I could afford to do all the time, but not having to deal with planning and shopping (and having partially used ingredients left over) makes cooking so much simpler that it’s worth it when I have room in my budget.

  24. Joyce Fitzgerald Avatar
    Joyce Fitzgerald

    I suggest taking a look at My New Roots. There are quite a few easy and tasty recipes there. It has a plant-based focus, but I think you could add in other ingredients if that is right for you. I am loving this Abundance Bowl one pot recipe lately!

  25. Miriam Avatar

    For the last little while, I’ve been a live-in cook for eleven young adults working in a facilities management program. I got fired two weeks ago and I’ve honestly been trying to find the motivation to get back into the kitchen now that it’s just me. I like cooking for others; it’s always felt selfish to make something special just for myself. Food just hasn’t seemed worth it since I came home. I’m not sure what to do about it.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I’m so sorry to hear that! For now, you’ll probably just feel sad and depressed, and that’s okay. You probably need some time to grieve. But after a little while, it will be to your own personal advantage to cook for yourself again. It’s not at all selfish in a negative way – if anything, taking good care of yourself ensures that you’ll be in a better mood and have more energy for the other people in your life.

      Anyway, for a while if you have to eat frozen lasagna or canned soup or get takeout or pizza delivery, do that. Do other nice things for yourself if you can – take naps, have a bath, listen to good music, watch some pretty, uplifting movies. This will pass, like everything.

  26. Rhapsody98 Avatar

    Every month I have a marathon cooking Saturday a day or two after I buy groceries, and freeze a bunch of stuff. Most commonly:
    Blanched green peppers and onions in one bag, marinate flank steak (or whatever is cheap) in a second bag. Thaw and cook. Add cheese and tortillas. Almost instant fajitas.
    3 lbs of ground beef plus bread crumbs, onions, eggs and spices. Roll into balls and bake then freeze for about 4 meals of home made meatballs, ready for my husband to simmer if I’m too busy to cook.
    Any time I cook chili I freeze the leftovers immediately, in little soup containers we don’t throw away after we order Chinese, usually at least three meals I can take to work and let it thaw on my desk before I reheat it for lunch.
    Our bread machine has a dough only setting, and my recipe makes 2 crusts. If I make dough, I make 1 pizza then and then wrap in plastic wrap and freeze the other. When we want pizza again, I defrost in fridge as I leave the house and make pizza another night.
    Make meatloaf in muffin pans, after it’s cooked freeze in individual portions. Great reheated for lunch with leftover veggies/noodles/mashed potatoes/whatever from a separate meal.

    I’ve found that we save money because we tend not to eat out as much when I can stash so many meals that are so quick to cook.

  27. Amy in Toronto Avatar
    Amy in Toronto

    This was important for me to read, particularly after the chaotic work-week and getting-prepared-to-move-this-month kind of time I’ve had lately, where cooking for just me seems like One More Task for which I simply don’t have the energy. That, and I got incredibly acid reflux-y and nauseous after ordering takeout from Popeye’s this past week and it solidified my resolve to get back to my own cooking so I can eat food that I’ve prepared, which usually means eating exactly what I want.

    I love to cook and I don’t even mind that I’m only cooking for me. But my life is really chaotic lately and I’m so pressured for time that food prep, grocery shopping and figuring out what I want to eat have taken a back seat to convenience and hunger. After this past week’s stomach upsets, I decided that I need at least one day per week to plan out, shop for and prepare one or two meals that will yeild a few leftover servings for the week’s work lunches or dinners after work. If I can manage more days per week, then great, but sometimes a quick salad with a store-bought rotisserie chicken will have to do.

    Lately, I’ve cooked things that are totally easy, quick and don’t involve a lot of prep. Spinach and mushroom quiche – so easy, so fast, so delicious and so many possibilities for swapping out veggies and/or adding a meat. Tonight, I made sweet corn and chicken congee in my slow cooker and it was absurdly easy and delicious. There’s enough left for a few days.

    It’s hard for me to gauge what I’ll want to eat in the coming week, so I generally stick to 3-5 go-to meals that I can eat every day without feeling bored. Some days, when I make a massive pot of cabbage borscht (which has a beef rib stock as a base), I can eat it every day and never tire of it. Other times, I need variety.

    Thanks for reminding me of how much a gift it is to cook for one’s self. :)


  28. Sara Davis Avatar

    From spring to fall, I get a farmshare, so after a point I have to cook the vegetables whether I have someone around to eat it or not. For me, the best meals are big pots that involve different kinds of veggies, some grain, and some protein, which can then be portioned out for work lunches during the week. Often I’ll just google recipes for the vegetables I have that week (e.g. eggplant + lentils = a rich, velvety curry; tomatoes + potatoes = spicy patatas bravas). So that’s fun, but it’s also satisfying, as you describe: I feel very cared-for when I sit down to a nourishing, delicious meal and a glass of wine. Cooking for myself, when I can manage it, is a feminist act in my opinion.

    In the winter it can be harder to get motivated, but since I tend to be motivated by problem solving, I give myself something to plan. I’ll buy dollar grab bags of veggies from my local market and figure out how to use up what’s in them, or I’ll invite people over and set myself to using up everything in a big soup and veggie roast.

  29. Mich Avatar

    Regarding the Danger Zone, both my parents’ favourite way of defrosting frozen anything is by putting it on the counter for 10 hrs. It’s my understanding that this is the #1 preventable food borne illness: by sticking it in the fridge or microwave. Usually I come and put it in the microwave or put it in the fridge, and then they get all mad, saying that “as long as it’s cool to the touch, it’s fine”.

    1. Susan S Avatar
      Susan S

      Give them a copy of the book Stiff, by Mary Roach, and tell them cadavers are also cool to the touch.

    2. Michelle Avatar

      I occasionally do this, but yes it is a risk. Most often, I defrost in the fridge overnight, or I microwave to defrost right before using a frozen cut of meat. I suspect a lot of cases of “stomach flu” are actually foodborne illness from people doing stuff like this. I hate having angry guts, so I try to be careful about the defrosting. Also, once you learn the defrost setting on your microwave, it can do a pretty good job without cooking the edges.

  30. Lindsay Avatar

    This might be intuitively obvious to most people, but just within the past few months our lives (my fiance and I) have become a lot easier by learning to compromise in the cooking/cleaning department. We always tried desperately to make things equal with regards to food and chores, and when one of us would get lazy/forgetful there was a lot of resentment and things not getting done at all. Until we had a big DUH moment.

    He likes to cook and grocery shop more than I like to, and I don’t mind cleaning as much as he seems to. Solution: he cooks and shops, I clean/do laundry/etc. I can’t believe we didn’t think of it before. It’s been great.

    So, if you can’t motivate yourself to cook but you do live with a partner or roommate, see if they’re willing to pick up the slack/trade you for another chore. That’s my tip :)

  31. Victoria Avatar

    I’m a big fan of cook once for 2 meals. I’ll buy frozen turkey meatballs and cook them all day in the crock pot with crushed tomatoes and spaghetti sauce spices. That night I’ll put half of them on broiled Kaiser rolls with shredded mozzarella cheese. The next night I’ll put them on spaghetti. So you only have to boil noodles the 2nd night. Win.

  32. rebekah Avatar

    My favorite one pot recipe that freezes well is chicken tortilla soup, or vegetable tortilla soup without further ado:

    2tbsp olive oil
    2tbsp garlic
    1 jalapeno, minced
    1-2 lbs chicken breasts, cubed (leave this out for the veg version and add an extra can on beans instead)
    1/2 spanish onion (you could also use 2 shallots for a milder onion flavor if you prefer), finely chopped
    1tbsp ground cumin
    1tbsp ground coriander
    salt and cracked black pepper to taste
    2 cans black beans, rinsed
    1small bag frozen corn
    1 jar salsa verde (I use the el pinto brand which you can find at kroger affiliate stores in the US because the restaurant is in my hometown and I grew up on their salsa)
    2-3 cans chicken (or vegetable) stock or broth
    2tbsp lime juice

    Optional toppings for serving:
    corn chips
    shredded mexican blend (colby jack, chiptole cheddar, pepper jack, or a good sharp yellow cheddar would also go nicely)
    sour cream
    chopped cilantro
    fresh limes

    In a large stock pot heat garlic in oil until it starts to brown. Add chicken, onion, jalapeno, and spices. Cook until chicken is browned on the outside and juice runs clear. Add remaining ingredients. Bring soup to a boil then reduce to simmer. Simmer for 20-45 minutes until soup is the desirable consistency (for you) serve while still warm with desired toppings. The rest can be frozen for up to 2 months.

  33. Amelia Eve Avatar
    Amelia Eve

    We usually bake a pan of chicken legs every week and then use them in various combinations. The first night we tend to just eat them hot and roasted, but later they will turn into salads and burritos or quick-grab cold chicken lunches.

    Another on-hand food for us is quiche. We vary it with different vegetables and cheeses, and it’s another quickie for any time of day. I definitely make a quiche when we are having house guests because there is no prep required for people to help themselves to a snack.

    Lastly, I always keep cous-cous around as a quickie starch. All you have to do is pour boiling water over it and cover for five minutes. You can do it right in the serving bowl, so one less item to wash, as well. If you don’t care for that, plain pasta will keep tightly covered in the fridge for several days if you dress it with olive oil first. It works best with short pasta like ziti or penne — spaghetti will clump.

  34. Gryph Avatar

    I think this is absolutely true. I cook for myself almost every night and people are amazed. I guess as a single lady I am supposed to subsist on lean cusines and my own tears, rather than going to the effort of cooking for myself.

  35. Carey Avatar

    Wow, first time posting on this blog (which I love)! But felt inspired by the idea of “being worth cooking for”, since I fall in that trap a lot. I’m another person who lives alone, so these are my tricks/strategies.

    1) I appease my inner toddler by reminding her I really only need to cook 2-3 dishes a week. Since I live alone, I just cook the full size portion, and leftovers last several days. Cook every night? No. Cook Monday and Thursday? Tolerable. Which leads to…

    2). Planning. I AM BAD AT IT. I am totally in awe of people who can plan out meals that have side dishes and use the leftovers in future meals. That is not me. However, I do look ahead to see what nights I have evening activities; those nights are for leftovers, because I SO won’t want to cook. More than knowing WHAT I’ll cook, I have to decide WHEN I’ll cook. I also try to make 2 meals within a day or two of each other. That way I have variety and don’t get sick of my leftover/frozen meals. Ex: Mon night- cook stew, Tues night- cook pasta, Wed-Fri lunch/dinner- alternate. (Breakfast can always just be cereal)

    3) Produce. I feel so much better if I just have one grown thing with lunch/dinner. I buy fruit that has to be used quickly (ex: raspberries) and fruit that lasts (ex: apples). Then I buy veggies that are low maintenance (frozen green beans, lettuce), and some that require time/prep (brussels sprouts). Fruit is for lunch, eat the quickly perishable first. Dinner: if I “cook” that night, use the easy veggies. If I use leftovers, I cook the veggies and it’s still less effort than a full meal would be.

    I need to expand my crockpot usage and my quick meals. Currently all my spur-of-the-moment cooking is pasta with varying sauces. But browned butter sauce is so easy and delicious!

    1. Twistie Avatar

      Brown butter sauce, yummy!

      Have you ever done aglio e olio? Super quick and delicious if you like garlic. Slice garlic thinly (how much depends entirely on your taste vs how much pasta you’re cooking), toss into some heated olive oil, allow to cook for about a minute, remove from heat, toss with pasta. Prepare for a heavenly culinary experience.

  36. DeAun Nelson Avatar

    I haven’t read all of the comments, so if this has been mentioned, I apologize for the repeat.

    My mom was on a rotation eating plan for her allergies, where she had to rotate her food between different families of foods. My dad was working out of town at the time and all the kids were gone, so it was her eating food that she could not repeat every day. She found that doing things like chopping an entire onion, then freezing it in portions that were perfect for cooking later helped a lot as she went through the rotations. She also tends not to be someone who eats a lot at a time, so the method of freezing meals in portions appropriate for her, as well as small portions of ingredients (like the onion) made a huge difference for her. She is actually an amazing cook too, so her meals were pretty great. :)

    Sometimes it helps to think about freezing more than a full meal in portions too. It allows for more variety in cooking during the week.

  37. nsv Avatar

    I find that designating a couple of “emergency meals” that are just one step above a pb&j sandwich can be very useful. When I’m tired and so hungry that my brain doesn’t function, some part of me remembers that I can make a spinach omelet with frozen spinach quickly defrosted in the microwave. Another dish in this category is the concoction my children have labeled “pasta with jar food.” Directions: cook pasta. While it’s cooking, assemble jars of olives, sun-dried tomatoes, grated parmesan, dried parsley, oregano, and basil. Drain pasta, add some of everything, and eat. Sometimes I get fancy and cook some frozen mixed vegetables with the pasta. The key is that non chopping of vegetables is required. Because I’ve chopped so many vegetables in my lifetime, when I’m tired the idea of chopping even so much as a clove of garlic is enough to freeze me in my tracks. Pasta with jar food gets me past that block.

    1. Wench Avatar

      YES! I have some of these too. Meals that I virtually always have the ingredients for and taste good to me almost all of the time. Some of mine are french toast and scrambled eggs, quiche, quesadillas, and broccoli cheddar rice-a-roni with a little frozen spinach mixed in. I also tend to keep a frozen pizza, and maybe one of those “one bag” stir-fry meals you can get in the frozen section on hand.

      Something I’ve also found really helpful for me is planning what I’m going to eat. If I leave “what’s for dinner” until 5 pm on the day of, the answer is virtually always “desultory snacks”. When I’m not six million months pregnant, I often sit down and plan meals a month at a time, based on what ingredients I have in the freezer and what I think I can get on sale, and what’s in season. I have a big list I keep of dinner ideas – both things we’ve tried and I know we like, and some things that sound good but we haven’t had yet. Right now I’m doing about three days at a time, but I do find that just having an answer to “what are we going to eat” gets me over the worst hurdle most of the time. And if we get to, say, taco day, and tacos sound terrible, we can swap it with something else. The menu needs to not be locked in stone for us.

      Once a week I also plan in a day to order out or go out. I find that really helps too.

      If you’re looking for crockpot recipes, I like a lot of them on The author and her family are gluten-free, if that’s something you need. I used to do a lot of crock pot meals on days when I had internship followed by three hours of classes, and subsequently was getting home at 9:45 at night. My spouse could have his dinner when he got home, then leave the crock pot on warm for me.

    2. Lisa Avatar

      Yes! I also agree re: Emergency Meals. For me it’s sandwiches (what a great reason to make sure I’ve got lettuce and tomato on hand), and pasta with jarred sauce. Those are my two always on hand emergency meals in case I don’t have the mental energy to even think of cooking. When I realized it wasn’t the end of the world if my family ate sandwiches at dinner? LIFE CHANGER.

    3. Kathy Avatar

      Fast go to’s for us are: chicken burgers and fries (both take about 20 minutes in the oven), spaghetti & sauce, and even pancakes or waffles in a pinch.

      I also like make it once, eat it twice type of meals – i.e. last night was salmon fillets, salad and quinoa. I did four salmon fillets, hubby took one for lunch today w/ the rest of the quinoa. I took my fillet and turned it into a salad. I added the fillet to some fresh spinach with some walnuts, olive oil and salad dressing.

  38. Merkohl Avatar

    Thanks for this post! I came over from shakesville, and am interested to read more posts now. :)

    I feel like I really needed this today, as I was definitely having a bad food day.

    CN: disordered eating
    One thing I really struggle with is feeling like eating is work. So, cooking and then eating is just work on top of work. :( Maybe I need to find a post a step back from this; “you are worth the effort it takes to eat something” and then come back to this after that doesn’t feel so controversial. If anyone has resources about lacking motivation to eat, and how to combat that, I would greatly appreciate some pointers.

    End CN

    In any case, I’m loving hearing about everyone’s options — crockpot, freezer, wok — there are more ways to get food fast/easy than I’d considered before, and maybe I can put a few to work while I sort out the underlying issues. Thanks also for the recipes folks have shared; they look fun! I have found that as I’ve “grown up” I like oatmeal more than I used to, so that will definitely be one to try. :)

  39. Inge Avatar

    Batch cooking on the weekends: I do that as well, highly recommended. Other things that freeze and reheat well: quiche (in endless variations), nasi goreng with loads of veggies, and a typical dutch winter meal called ‘stamppot’. Basically, that’s mashed potatoe (regular, sweet or mixed with pumpkin) and veggies like kale, carrot, or sauerkraut. One pot, tasty, my rescue from processed meals or grazing on workdays.

  40. Annie Avatar

    Love this post. I have lived on my own for years and while I certainly do not cook every night, I do eat a balanced and healthy dinner every night that I have cooked myself. I can’t even remember the last time I bought a take out meal, and I also rarely eat out. People express surprise ALL the time when I say I cook a real dinner for myself every night, and even disdain sometimes… like it’s indulgent or something. I do it because it’s a lot easier, cheaper and healthier.

    I cook in bulk once a week (maybe twice, but rarely more than that) and freeze meals, and then each night I prepare some vegetables and either potato, pasta or rice to go with it (assuming the meal doesn’t have that in already). It takes a few minutes to peel and chop vegetables and cook them, and a few minutes to heat through whatever dish from the fridge or freezer to go with it. Certainly less time than it would take me to phone and order a take out and then drive there and back to collect it (and I do live close to may fast food outlets). While my veges are cooking I make a sandwich for lunch the next next day. I can’t remember when I last had to duck out and buy lunch at work either, come to think of it.

    Sometimes I’ll eat the same thing for a week and sometimes I’ll vary it up and take stuff from the freezer. I really don’t mind eating the same thing for a week if I’ve made something very yummy. I try and use different things as meal bases (fish, red meat, chicken, egg, beans etc) to make sure I’m getting variety taste and nutrition-wise. Works well for me. I really don’t see why it’s seen as indulgent or too much trouble. It’s not!

  41. Andrea Avatar

    Thank you for this – it speaks directly to my issues with take out. I live in a city that allows me to never have to cook for myself if I don’t want to – and it’s become something of a ritual – coming home and ordering food to be delivered. I live alone and cooking for myself often feels pointless (before I do it) – though when I do make a nourishing meal myself, I always feel good about it. It’s a good reminder that cooking meals is something that can be it’s own reward.

  42. Barbara Avatar

    I’ve never mastered the crockpot but have a repertoire of recipes that only take about 30 minutes to make. Nothing complicated, lots of fresh produce and always herbs and spices. Sunday dinners are the best with friends. When organized we make soup for Monday/Tuesday. Soup is always better the next day so its not like a left-over. I think its true, cooking for yourself is a really loving thing to do.

  43. Jane Avatar

    Given that crock-pots have already been covered :) my lifesaver in the Actually Cooking department has a been a panini grill — one of those with removable no-stick plates that you can also use as a griddle is awesome, but even the Foreman Grill that litter the shelves of my local thrift store will work. Doesn’t heat up the house in the summer, and panini are so easy, but they feel *fancy* even if it’s just toasted ham and cheese when you get down to it. (Or PB&J. Fig jam, and grilled with those little marks = totally gourmet and indulgent for about 1 minute of effort.)

    (Also, they cook things like sausage and chicken and bacon incredibly fast, because of the grill on top and bottom thing. Almost as fast as the microwave, and much tastier.)

    I eat so much less crappy takeout/drive thru food now, and it’s amazing how much better I feel.

  44. Cath of Canberra Avatar
    Cath of Canberra

    I love wok cooking, but since I’ve been unwell I haven’t had the energy to do all the food prep for it. All that slicing and peeling and chopping – I don’t find it an easy option at all. Though I suppose if you buy pre-sliced meat/tofu and pre-cut veggies, that would help.

    I’ve been trying to make a pinterest board for low-effort cooking but there’s not much on it yet.‎

  45. Mrs mcPutin Avatar
    Mrs mcPutin

    Would like to say something very witty and conversational, but can’t get past loving the cat selfie.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      My cat would appreciate this.

  46. Lynn Phillips Avatar
    Lynn Phillips

    One of my recent shortcuts is to buy prepared vegetables from the salad bar at my grocery store to use in cooking. Since its just me, I can have the variety of vegetables I like without wasting any.

  47. Bonnie Avatar

    I love this blog and these comments. I cook almost everything from scratch now and seldom eat any kind of processed food. (I’m retired, so don’t feel bad if you can’t do it.). I can’t imagine thinking that it’s not worthwhile to cook just for myself. That’s my job! I want to eat the most nutritious and healthy food that I can, in order to stay as heathy as I can. I cook bigger batches of food than I ever did before, so that I’ll have leftovers or some to freeze. One thing I do that I’ve never heard anyone mention is cook two lbs. of pasta at a time, usually half white and half whole wheat, and freeze it in small bags or jars. I love throwing a little in chili, a lot in soup, or making a big pasta salad. It thaws in seconds under running water if you want to do that. Spaghetti or goulash is quick, too, especially if I’ve remembered to thaw tomatoes and if I have already cooked turkey burger in the freezer. I also like to keep spinach on hand for salads and it’s easy to throw big handfuls in soup, or even goulash or mac & cheese. Fresh spinach has such a mild taste that it doesn’t affect the flavor of the dish. Ditto collard greens–they take a while to cook though (unlike spinach) so cook a bunch, keep a bit in the fridge and freeze some. Bags of frozen veggies also make it easy to vege-up your soups and one pot meals. (Not strictly from scratch, but close enough.)

  48. Chris Avatar

    Yup. Needed that. Thanks! Also, possibly the post with the best ever links.

    I’m not quite sure what’s at hand, but I find myself eating out all the time, and trying to prepare food at home – there’s some sort of resistance to it at the moment. It’s passing, and I’m starting to help myself through it. I still catch myself – with my default reaction of not trying to understand what’s going on, and instead just feeling frustrated that this thing that shouldn’t be like it is, it isn’t the way it should be.

    But when I scratch the surface, I can see there actually are reasons for things, and those reasons can be worked with. Much better than simply judging myself and continuing to beat my head against a non-cooperative wall.

  49. […] Update:  The Feeding Doctor suggested this article for those of you who often have to eat without your spouse.  You are worth it! […]

  50. Mich Avatar

    I bring to you another nugget gleaned from my dad. Today he informed us he saw on tv (or talked to a neighbour) and learned that eating mushrooms prevents the formation of blood vessels in fat (the purpose being to starve fat from the inside?).

    I want to know if there is any truth to this, or just another quack “science” from “The Doctors” and “Dr. Oz”. He watches them religiously.

    1. Twistie Avatar

      Considering that some of the fattest people I know are also the biggest mushroom lovers I know, my guess is that this is pure, unadulterated codswallop. On a stick.

      Frankly, anyone who claims to have found a single food that will destroy fat or stop it before it starts is probably selling snake oil. I’ve seen similar claims made about a dozen or more foods in my lifetime, and people keep on being randomly fat or thin whether they eat the miracle food or not.

      1. Mich Avatar

        Interesting. I hadn’t heard my dad’s “news” before, but I was sure it was total bunkum. Obviously this kind of thinking has made the rounds, and each new generation hears it again and then learns the hard way.

    2. Bonnie Avatar

      Dr. Oz is hardly a quack. He’s a cardiac surgeon at New York-Presbyterian hospital. Columbia, Harvard, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania Medical School–an impressive backgrund. Mushrooms are considered a superfood. I suggest you check out the World’s Heathiest Foods website at The site gives detailed nutritional information on a big list of healthy foods. I’m sure Dr. Oz wasn’t talking about losing weight (although mushrooms are extremely low in calories), but about keeping your arteries healthy, which is what your dad said.

      1. Mich Avatar

        In Europe it is illegal to make claims about superfoods since that term has no scientific validity. As for Dr. Oz, he’s been called out on numerous blogs (medical and otherwise) and he’s on Quackwatch. His most popular show ever was about contacting the afterlife, and he has ties to a Sufi sect that believes in magical powers and astral forces.

        But it appears you are a true believer, so you’re unlikely to be swayed. This guy just gets freakier the more I look into him.

        1. Bonnie Avatar

          I haven’t watched the Dr. Oz show for a couple of years so I’m not a true believer or even a super fan. What I took issue with was the implication (and consequent Dr. Oz bashing) that he said mushrooms would make one lose weight. I know Dr. Oz would never say that in the first place and that he was probably talking about artery health. The Dr. Oz show is not about weight loss, it’s about getting and staying healthy, particularly the heart. A byproduct may be weight loss. The term “superfood” could not be used as a selling point in this country either. That was my word, not his. The term is not used by growers but by nutritionists reporting on studies (yes, scientific) which show some foods have more nutrients, anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory elements, etc., than others. These are single-ingredient foods such as walnuts, beans, broccoli, salmon, green tea, mushrooms, kale, collards, etc. The thing that most impressed me when I first started watching Dr. Oz was that in spite of being a classically educated and trained physician and surgeon he was always willing to listen to and look at alternative teachers and methods, even when he disagreed with them. He shows an open-mindedness not common in the medical profession. Naturally the medical establishment and the narrow-minded disapprove.

          1. Mich Avatar

            I see where some of the confusion might have arisen. My dad wasn’t claiming it was Oz, but from other source. He thinks it was Jerry or someone, or maybe even just one of our neighbours. The point about mushrooms wasn’t weight loss, but that it prevents formation of blood vessels in fat deposits. The implication being that they will become starved of nutrients and rot. I can’t exactly see how this will be good though, having dead flesh inside you.

      2. Michelle Avatar

        Dr. Oz indeed has fabulous training but he has been criticized (rightfully) for promoting really peculiar treatments.

        Even the legendary, legitimate scientist Linus Pauling believed ridiculous BS about nutrition –

        Nutrition: not as simple as it seems, even for smart people.

        Also, argument from authority doesn’t hold much water here. The logic and/or evidence behind a person’s claims are much more important than whatever their training might be. Proper training makes it more likely that a person will be correct or informed about the topic they have studied, but well-trained people still make mistakes, or make specious arguments, and sometimes totally untrained people make logical arguments or base their opinions on good evidence. Training certainly helps, but it is not a slam-dunk for being correct about things all the time.

  51. Noel Lynne Figart Avatar

    I went through a period of not eating dinner with anyone, and I wound up developing some mad saute skilz.

    I mean, if you like eggs, an omelette stuffed with whatever makes you happy (I like cheese, mushrooms, peppers and onions) is an amazing dinner and takes less than ten minutes from fridge to plate.

    Stir frys are also really scaleable. Some people freeze ahead rice. I don’t bother, because I love rice, so would have the stir fry one night and fried rice for dinner a day later. (Or make onigiri for lunch — another personal favorite)

    There are so many one-pan dishes you can make just by tossing in some meat and veggies, the deglazing the pan with some sort of slightly acidic liquid (wine, orange juice, etc.) that seem amazing but are really quick.

  52. Laura Avatar

    I live with a menu plan. I love cooking, and so does one of my housemates but she’s often too sick to, and I get tired very easily, and my other housemate is super busy and can’t cook too often. I find the menu makes the whole, “WTF am I going to eat?” easier and it seems to save me time and energy somehow. We basically plan for every day, varying between loose plans (noodle night) and prescriptive things (tacos), and range from super low effort (stir fried rice with pre prepared stir-fry veg) and a bit more involved (falafels with salad, flat bread, dips). Then we get sick of it after about 3 months and then have a few weeks of eating whatever, which feels wild and exhilarating, and then pretty soon I want the structure of the menu back (a different menu).

    I chop and freeze hardish veg and herbs regularly, so I can either put it in a griddle pan or in the Halogen oven (best kitchen purchase ever except for crockpot), do beans in the crockpot the night before I need them, keep proteins in the freezer in small portions, and keep frozen green veg all the time. I will make double batches of things that freeze well like falafels, pizza sauce, bean stew, and plain cooked beans. In the fridge we keep marinaded jarred food (pickled peppers, marinaded mushrooms, marinaded aubergines, olives, dill pickles) salad, extra rice portions, boiled eggs, smoked fish. In the cupboards, there are are tinned beans (never enough, I get through them so quickly when I’m exhausted), tinned fish. 2 of us are gluten and dairy free so doing super quick things like sandwiches or ordering pizza is out (although I think not having to eat sandwiches is one of the good things about being a coeliac, I never enjoyed them). I bake cakes regularly because I enjoy it although I actually don’t like eating cake very much, and I love making chips (am vaguely thinking of investing in a deep fat frier for chips, bean cakes, etc.).

    I think what works for me is the variety between creative feeling cooking (roast), and throw it in a pan for a few minutes cooking (hot sour noodle soup), and put a carb with some stuff from the fridge and that’s cooking too cooking (gf pasta with fridge things, like the earlier poster’s jarred things), and the structure of knowing what I am going to eat. I got diagnosed with coeliacs when ready made gluten free bread was a brick that you had to mail order, so I’m at least used to cooking although I find it tiring sometimes and occasionally tedious. I usually get into it though. The Halogen oven cooks things super fast and makes proteins super delicious, and also bakes cakes really evenly on a low heat.

  53. […] Cooking for Yourself: You are worth the effort […]

  54. canllaith Avatar

    I know this is an old article but I see the comments are still active!

    I trick myself using a deliberate slippery-slope.

    “I’ll just get the vegetables out and wash them. Then I’ll sit back down again.”
    “Well… while I’m here I might as well chop them”
    *sit down*
    “…. you know, it’s like thirty more seconds to put them in the pan, I might as well get up and do it”

    Before you know it, I’ve cooked something decent by promising myself I only have to do step one and can then sit down and read again. I’m a little less lazy than I give myself credit for I think – once I get started I tend to enjoy finishing rather than leaving a half completed job.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      This is great. I totally do this too. “I’ll just put on a pot of water to boil…” “Well, I might as well put some sauce on the stove too…” And on days when I just don’t feel like cooking, I sit down and watch snippets of Netflix in between cooking steps. There are entire meals I’ve made where, to the casual observer, it appears I’ve just spent an hour watching TV, because I cooked in 30 second installments.