The Beginner’s Guide to Cooking for One

Photo: Stocksy/Lauren Naefe

"Imagine going to the grocery store when you’re hungry and have no idea what you want to eat," says Food Network chef Bobby Parrish. "You’re there for an hour-and-a-half and spend $200, and then you come back and you’re all overwhelmed and cooking for two hours, then cleaning for an hour. Well, that sucks."

If you live alone, this is probably an all-too-familiar scenario. With no one else to weigh in on recipes and split the workload—not to mention the grocery bill—cooking for one can sometimes feel like it's more trouble than it's worth. (And that's not even considering the awkward portions, leftovers fatigue, and hard-to-resist siren song of Seamless at the end of a long day.)

Before another "yields six to eight servings" line on a recipe makes you want to swear off your oven for good—or at least for dinner tonight—know that cooking for yourself doesn't have to end in a crisper drawer full of spoiled produce or hanger.  The secret to mastering the kitchen as a party of one is to go into it with a plan, says Parrish, whose easy-to-follow recipes have earned a massive following for his blog, FlavCity, and his YouTube channel.

So rather than popping into Whole Foods and leaving with another frozen pizza, Parrish has a few tips to help you master solo cooking—from recipe inspo to meal prepping. Fire up the Instant Pot!

Scroll down for your 3-step guide to mastering cooking for one.

Utilize online inspiration when cooking for one
Photo: Stocksy/Painted Wood

1. Scan the web for solo cooking inspiration—but be specific

The beauty of the information age? Whatever cuisine you're in the mood for, someone (ahem!) has already gone through the steps of making and posting all about it. The key when cooking for one, says Parrish, is making your search as specific to your needs as possible.

"I would not type 'healthy recipes' into Google because you’re going to be overwhelmed. You’re not going to be able to weed out what’s good or what’s bad," he says. Instead, Parrish recommends niche search keywords that will yield fewer—and more targeted—results. "I can literally pull up Google and search '30-minute healthy meal for one' and have plenty of recipes with photos or videos," he says.

Don't forget about other content resources, like YouTube for step-by-step tutorials and the explore page of Instagram, which will show the most popular content under hashtags like #CookingForOne or #SoloCooking.

Plan out your grocery run
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2. Plan your grocery run to keep costs down

Once you've decided on your menu for the next few days, Parrish recommends immediately creating a shopping list of everything you'll need to buy at the grocery store and in what quantities. Whether you copy and paste from your browser to your Notes app or write it down on pen and paper, having a list of exactly what you need to buy will keep your haul within budget. (Kind of important when no one else is chipping in for the meal.)

To ensure the lowest prices possible, Parrish takes his grocery strategy a step further. "I go to two or three different stores—Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Costco. I’ll write down what I need from each store and then I go." He decides what to pick up and where by price and quantity. For wallet-friendly pantry items, Whole Foods' own 365 brand is Parrish's go-to, but he hits Trader Joe's for fresh produce and finally Costco for bulk items like avocado oil, olive oil, and baking ingredients.

Parrish's approach may be more time-consuming than stocking up on everything in one place, but it can help you save money and keep your food waste to a minimum—a win-win.

Cook according to your schedule
Photo: Stocksy/Kate Daigneault

3. Cook according to your schedule

Parrish's biggest piece of advice is not to let being "busy" keep you from healthy, home-cooked meals—something that's easy to do when you don't have anyone to help you out. "I find the biggest excuse to why people don’t cook, whether they’re alone or not, is that they don’t have time," he says. But the great thing about cooking for one is that you don't have to consider anyone else's schedule but your own, allowing you to cook outside of the expected kitchen hours.

So if crazy deadlines during the work week means the kitchen is the *last* place you want to be on the M-F grind, consider meal-prepping on your weekends. Or, if you absolutely can't stand leftovers, plan a menu of single-serve recipes to make each day and schedule grocery deliveries as you need them.

"I pretty much guarantee that anyone who doesn’t like the process, if they do it correctly, it will be a really good feeling," Parrish proclaims. "Whether cooking is a distraction for you or whether it’s therapeutic, it will really bring joy. One way or another." Because when you're cooking for one, you're always the lead cook in the kitchen—so you may as well do it your way.

Set yourself up for success in the kitchen by having a stocked pantry and these cooking essentials on hand. 

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