Do you have tips on cooking for one?



Cooking for one on a regular basis can become monotonous. There are also nutritional concerns if meals are skipped or not complete.

There are many tasty dinners available in grocery stores. Fast food restaurants and delicatessens also provide food rapidly. In these cases, you pay for someone else's labor. Sometimes it may be worth it to you; other times it may not. You can make most meals for a lot less money and tailor them to your personal likes and diet needs. They are also available without leaving home.

Portioning individual servings and freezing them for later can be a useful solution to the daily cooking problem. Though it takes more time initially, it takes much less time per meal than cooking every meal from scratch. For a slight increase in work, you can have 6-10 portions for later use.

There are also economic benefits to cooking and freezing large quantities. It is possible to take advantage of the normally lower price per pound for larger purchases. When consciously planning to preserve part of the food, there is less likelihood of spoilage problems since there are fewer leftovers. Money is also saved by not going to the grocery store as frequently; thus there is less temptation for impulse buying.

Freezing food can be a helpful way to simplify food preparation for solo cooking. Consider these tips.

· Carefully select freezing containers and packaging. The major objectives in packaging are to keep air from the product and minimize moisture loss from the product. All containers and packaging materials should be food grade. If you plan to take food directly from the freezer to the microwave, use containers sold as microwave safe.

· Cool foods quickly before freezing. Foods should be cooled quickly to retard the growth of bacteria and to help retain the natural flavor, color and texture. The more rapidly the food freezes, the better the quality of the food later. Allow 1 inch space around packages to allow the food to freeze rapidly. Freezer temperature should be 0 F or below.

· Make soup or stew ice cubes. A convenient method for handling soups, stews and other liquid mixtures is to make bowl-shaped ice cubes. After cooking, freeze the mixture in microwaveable bowls overnight. Then run tap water over the back of the bowl and remove the frozen disk. Place them in a plastic bag, press the air out, seal it and return it to the freezer. To use, place a frozen disk in a bowl and microwave it.

· Experiment with freezing family favorites. From a safety perspective, there is much more flexibility when freezing products than when canning. No food becomes toxic due to freezing method. Feel free to experiment by combining a variety of products or seasonings. Boiled potatoes tend to become soggy, but can be included if that is acceptable. Freeze a small batch initially to see if you like the results.

· Freeze individual portions when possible. This works well for berries, vegetables, muffins, slices of pie and cake. Spread food individually on a cookie sheet so it doesn't touch. Freeze overnight or until frozen solid, then transfer to bags or containers and place in freezer. Breads freeze well. Specialty breads can be made in small loaves, frozen in serving portions or individually frozen, then stored in the same plastic bag.

· Be aware that certain items should not be frozen, due to effect on the quality of the product. For example, gravy, pudding and cream pie filling curdle when frozen and thawed. Other items that shouldn't be frozen include mayonnaise, salad dressing, cream to be whipped, sour cream, yogurt, soft meringues, lettuce or other fresh greens, cream or custard pies and hard-boiled eggs. Mayonnaise, salad dressing, sour cream, yogurt and gravies can be frozen if used in combination with other ingredients.

· Be aware of thawing and reheating methods. Most products can be reheated in a variety of ways. Foods frozen in sealed bags can be reheated by placing in boiling water. Bread products and meats, such as barbecued ribs, can be heated in an oven or toaster oven. Toaster ovens are less expensive to run than standard ovens and are usually large enough for single servings. Most products can be reheated in a microwave oven. If bread products are left too long, however, they will become tough and dry. Soups and stews can be heated in a sauce pan or microwave oven. Fried rice is best refried.

· Purchase larger quantities of meats, poultry and fish. It is usually cheaper per pound to buy larger quantities of meat. Do not freeze fresh meats in the packages they are sold in if you want to keep them longer than 1-2 weeks in the freezer. The film over fresh meat is made to allow oxygen to reach the meat so it keeps the bright red color. However, the presence of air with frozen food will lead to freezer burn and rancidity. After dividing into portions, wrap the meat in plastic wrap and freezer paper, or seal in plastic bags for freezer storage. If not dividing the meat, removal from the grocery store package prior to rewrapping is optional.

The same techniques used for cooking for one can also be used for someone in the family with special diet requirements or when taking food to someone who is unwilling or unable to cook. More information can be found at http://extension.usu.edu/files/foodpubs/fn501.pdf

Posted on 15 Jan 2004

Charlotte Brennand
Food Safety Specialist

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