Sherri has expertise in landscape design. Some of her hobbies include gardening and cooking.
Cooking for One Is a Challenge
Cooking for just yourself is always a challenge, whether you are starting out on your own and setting up your first kitchen or you are moving on to a smaller household where you'll only be cooking for yourself. How can you eat nutritiously, yet economically? How can you avoid spoilage and waste? How can you make sure you always have a wholesome meal at your fingertips when unexpected company arrives? Perhaps most importantly, how can you do this easily and with pleasure?
The answer? Meal planning using simple foods.
I'm going to show you how to create a weekly menu of foods you really want to eat by using one of my own easy weekly menu plans as an example.
Getting Everything Set Up
Before Getting Started, Consider Your Dietary Needs
Before you begin planning your meal, consider these three items:
- Think about what you like to eat (you want to be excited about your meals; it makes things easier).
- Pay attention to your body's needs.
- Simple is better.
Let's take a closer look at each of these items.
1. First and most importantly, think about what you like to eat.
For each kind of meal—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—ask these questions.
- Do I like cereal, eggs, or pancakes to start the day?
- And what about lunch? Do I prefer something light like a sandwich or soup, or is noon the time of day for my heavy meal?
- As for dinner, what appeals to me for the last meal of the day?
When writing down your favorite foods, rejoice in the knowledge that you are the only one you need to please. Knowing that you will be eating the foods you really like is a big motivator in creating your menu and following through with the shopping and prep work.
2. Pay attention to your body's needs.
Your food requirements and restrictions belong uniquely to you, and you know what's best for you. When I am planning, I tend to adhere to a style I believe contributes to the good health and longevity of my family. Your dietary needs are unique. You might need to exclude gluten or increase the amount of protein compared to other people's diets.
3. Think simple.
Create a menu that is easy to prepare and serve. My goal is always to cook only one or two days a week. On the other days, all I want to do is take home-cooked food out of the freezer or fridge, heat it up, assemble a fresh garden salad, sit down, and eat. I don't want to make five little delicacies that have to come together in a finale of perfect presentation. I want quick and easy.
Building a Meal Plan Menu for One
Now that you've jotted down what you like, it's time to build a menu.
This sample menu is based on my food preferences. I make sure that I have a nutritious proportion of fruits, vegetables, breads and cereals, dairy, and meat protein.
Read More From Delishably
I color-coded the menu so that you can see how the simple foods I prepare and eat are distributed through the week. I'm now going to build my shopping list so that I have the kinds of foods I want and in the right quantity.
Going Shopping With a Plan
"Fresh" Is Important
Fresh foods need to dominate the menu. Ideally, "fresh" means "picked off the vine, pulled from the earth, caught from the sea, or butchered down the block and brought to the table to be consumed." Most of us don't live in that kind of a world. So let's include "fresh frozen" in the definition, because vegetables, fruits, and meat products that are prepared properly for freezing retain almost all their nutritional value. When I create my menu, I focus on choosing fresh over canned, and canned over processed.
What Do I Need From the Grocery Store?
This one-week grocery list assumes that I have staples in my home such as mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, honey, butter, salt, pepper, olive oil, vinegar, sugar, rice, soy sauce, and a selection of herbs. If you don't have these staples and you want to try my menu, you'll have to add them to your grocery list.
- Eggs: 1/2 dozen
- Soy milk: 1 quart
- Yogurt: 3 8-ounce containers
- Sour cream: 1 8-ounce container
- Liverwurst: 10 ounces, sliced
- Roasting chicken: whole, 4–5 pounds
- Pork chops: 4
- Frozen broccoli: 1 10-ounce bag
- Frozen sugar snap peas: 2 10-ounce bags
- Salad dressing: Your choice, or make my Russian dressing
- Lea & Perrin's White Wine Chicken Marinade
- Applesauce: 1 small jar
- Granola: 1 box, or make your own
- Dried yellow split peas: 1 pound
- Crackers: 1 box
- Egg noodles: 1 1-pound package
- Hearty bread: 1 large loaf, sliced
- Oranges: 3
- Bananas: 3
- Grapes: ½ pound
- Lettuce: 1 head iceberg
- Cucumber: 1 large
- Carrots: 1 pound
- Celery: 1 large bunch
- Green bell pepper: 1 large
- Red bell pepper: 1 large
- Red radishes: 1 bunch
- White onion: 1 large
- Red onion: 1 medium
- Fresh ginger: A piece about the length and width of your hand
- Sweet potato: 1 very large
- Baking potato: 2
- Apple pie: 1 small from the bakery
A Day-By-Day Preparation Guide
A One-Week, One-Person Meal Plan
|Day of the Week||Breakfast||Lunch||Dinner|
Sunday (prep day)
Go out for brunch
Eat brunch leftovers
Roasted chicken, baked sweet potato, sugar snap peas, and apple pie
Hard-boiled egg sandwich
Yogurt and a garden salad
Roasted chicken, baked sweet potato, sugar snap peas, and apple pie
Granola, milk, and an orange
Slice, roasted chicken sandwich
Applesauce pork chops, a baked potato with sour cream, and a garden salad
Hard-boiled egg sandwich
Yellow-pea soup with crackers and a garden salad
Chicken stir-fry and a banana, orange, and grape salad
Granola, milk, and a banana
Liverwurst sandwich and apple pie
Yellow-pea soup with crackers, a garden salad, and crusty garlic bread
Granola, milk, and an orange
Yogurt and a garden salad
A pork chop, buttered egg noodles, steamed broccoli, and apple pie
Yogurt and toast
Cinnamon eggs with noodles and some sugar snap peas
Sunday: The Big Prep Day
On Sunday, you are going to:
- roast and divide chicken,
- marinate and freeze pork chops,
- wash and cut fresh salad ingredients,
- hard-boil two eggs,
- and wash and cook the large sweet potato.
While the chicken is roasting, prepare the other items. When all is said and done, it will take about two hours to prepare almost all the food for the week.
Roasting and Dividing the Chicken
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Remove the chicken from its wrapper, and wash it inside and out.
- Place the chicken in a large roasting pan, breast-side up, and sprinkle liberally with fresh ground pepper, garlic powder, thyme, marjoram, basil, oregano, and tarragon.
- Splash on about ¼ cup of Lea & Perrin's White Wine Chicken Marinade.
- Cover, and put in the preheated oven for 60 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, and baste well with the juices from the pan.
- Turn the oven down to 325 degrees F.
- Put the cover back on, and return the chicken to the oven for 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven, and baste again.
- Return the chicken to the oven, this time without the cover, for another 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and baste again, put the cover back on, cook for 30 more minutes, turn off the heat, and let the chicken sit in the oven, covered, with the door closed for another 30 minutes.
- At the end of the three hours, the chicken will be very tender, the skin a golden color and not too crispy, the leg joints should be very loose, and the chicken may even fall apart. But that's OK, that means there will be less carving for you to do!
- Transfer the chicken to a large platter.
- Pour off the pan drippings into a glass bowl or measuring cup, cover, and refrigerate.
- Carve the chicken, making sure you have one or two large breast slices for Tuesday's sandwich. Divide the meat into whatever portions look right for you, and wrap them separately. You will use one package for tonight's meal, one on Monday night, one on Wednesday night, and the rest you will put in the freezer for another time.
- Refrigerate the bones. You will use them later to make the yellow pea soup.
Marinate and Freeze the Pork Chops
- Place each pork chop in a separate zip-lock bag, and add a tablespoon or two of the Lea & Perrin's White Wine Chicken Marinade.
- Press the air out of the bag, making sure each chop is coated on both sides with the marinade.
- Seal and freeze.
The Salad Ingredients and the Grapes
- Wash and break apart the lettuce.
- Wash and pare, slice, dice, or grate the items for the garden salads. Be sure to clean all the carrots, grating or dicing half for salads, and finely dicing the other half for the yellow pea soup to be made on Tuesday. Dice half the celery for salad and just chunk up the other half for the soup. If the celery leaves are in good shape, reserve them for the soup as well. Let all the vegetables dry a bit before storing each in a separate air-tight container or plastic bag in the fridge.
- Wash the grapes, let them drain in a colander, transfer them to a shallow bowl, and put them in the refrigerator just like that. Don't cover or seal them.
- When ready for a salad, just reach into the fridge, pull out the desired ingredients, including some grapes, and enjoy the salad bar!
The Sweet Potato
- Prepare and cook the sweet potato about 20 minutes before dinner. Scrub the potato with a vegetable brush under running water.
- After washing, pierce the potato in 6 or 8 places with a fork.
- Place the potato on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave on high for 9 to 10 minutes, or use the potato setting on the microwave and enter 2 for the number of potatoes. The potato is done when it is soft to the touch.
- Remove from the microwave, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and set aside.
By now, you should be hungry and maybe even a little tired. It's time to pour a glass of wine (if you like) and pull dinner together.
- Follow the cooking instructions on the bag of frozen sugar snap peas. They can be steamed or microwaved. Cook them all.
- Cut the cooked sweet potato in half. Wrap one portion tightly and refrigerate for tomorrow's dinner.
- Now warm a dinner plate in the oven (use the lowest setting on the oven and put the plate on the highest rack). When the plate is warm, arrange the chicken, sweet potato, and half the sugar snaps, and eat! Cover the remaining sugar snaps and refrigerate for tomorrow.
Later, if you are still awake, treat yourself to a piece of apple pie.
Monday: The Do-Nothing Day
You've earned some serious time-off from the kitchen. The only thing you have to do today is reach into the refrigerator and pantry, and use the microwave.
In the morning, make a boiled-egg breakfast sandwich. For lunch, open a container of yogurt and design a salad from the salad bar. For dinner, arrange chicken, sweet potato, and sugar snaps on a microwave-safe plate and heat.
Don't forget the apple pie!
Before you go to bed, take a pork chop out of the freezer, and put it in the refrigerator for tomorrow's dinner.
Tuesday: The Soup and Pork Chop Day
The soup will cook for about three hours altogether. But don't panic and think that you are going to spend another night toiling away in the kitchen. Almost none of this time is prep time because you prepared all the soup ingredients on Sunday.
The most important part of making this soup is the timing. You want the soup to cool down before you put it in the fridge for the night or package it for freezer storage. In the winter, when the weather is very cold, I take the pot outside and put it on a table underneath the porch roof to cool down.
Plan on cooking and eating your pan-fried pork chop dinner while the soup is cooking.
Pan-Fried Pork Chop
- Make sure the chop you took out the night before is thawed completely. If it is not, keep it sealed in its freezer bag and place in a pan of cool water for a half-hour or so.
- Place a frying pan on the stove over low-medium heat, and add a teaspoon or two of olive oil. Heat until the oil is hot (let a drop of water fall from your finger into the oil; if the water "pops," the oil is hot).
- Remove the thawed chop, and place it in the pan. Keep the marinade in the bag. Cook the chop at low-medium heat for four minutes, turn, add the rest of the marinade to the pan, top the chop with a heaping tablespoon or two of apple sauce, cover the pan, and cook for four more minutes.
- In a large soup pot, place the refrigerated chicken bones, the refrigerated juices from Sunday's chicken (remove the fat that formed on the top of the jelled juice), the soup-half of the celery you prepared Sunday, a large white onion peeled and cut into quarters, and a washed and quartered white potato.
- Add water to cover the ingredients.
- Turn the heat on high.
- When the liquid comes to a boil, turn the heat down to let it simmer, and cover loosely.
- Check now and again to make sure water still covers the solid foods in the pot.
- Cook for about two hours.
- Meanwhile, peel and dice four cloves of garlic and a piece of ginger. You want about a tablespoon of each. Combine, cover, and set aside.
- Pour the yellow peas into a colander and rinse under cool running water, picking through them to remove any residue or any peas that are not yellow. Set aside to drain.
- After the soup in the pot has cooked for about two hours, strain it through a colander without losing the stock. Discard the solids and keep the rich stock.
- Return the stock to the pot, and add water, if necessary, to reach about six cups in volume.
- Turn the heat on high, add the yellow peas, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to keep the peas at a gentle simmer, and stir every 15 minutes for 45 minutes.
- Add the minced garlic and ginger, the carrots you diced for this soup on Sunday, and ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.
- Return to a simmer, and stir occasionally until the peas are tender and the soup thickens. If the peas are not yet tender, and the soup is becoming too thick, add a little boiling water. Be careful not to let the peas stick to the bottom of the pot; you don't want them to burn.
- When done, cover and remove from heat. Place in a cool area. If it is cold out and you have a protected porch, then you have the perfect environment for cooling.
- Once the soup cools, package it in individual containers. Leave two containers in the fridge for Wednesday and Thursday, and freeze the rest.
Yellow Pea Soup Tips
- For vegetarians: Replace the chicken and vegetable stock with six cups of vegetable stock.
- For smoked-meat lovers: Make a from-scratch stock using about eight cups of water, one or two smoked ham hocks, a whole quartered onion, a whole quartered potato, and a bunch of celery.
Wednesday: The Stir-Fry Day
Breakfast and lunch were a snap today, weren't they?
For dinner, you are going to use:
- a package of chicken from the fridge,
- half a package each of frozen broccoli and snow peas,
- and some red onion, red and green bell pepper, and carrots from your salad bar.
About a half-hour before you want to eat, take the frozen veggies out of the freezer and spread them on a kitchen towel to thaw and dry a little. Cook either rice or egg noodles according to package directions. Turn the oven on to warm your dinner plate, and place the plate in the oven.
Take a small bowl, slice a banana, peel and pull apart an orange, halve some grapes, add them all to the bowl, and make the quick stir-fry.
- Dice up four or five cloves of garlic, and mince a tablespoon of ginger. Combine in a small bowl. Add three tablespoons of soy sauce, two tablespoons of honey, a tablespoon of prepared mustard, a tablespoon of vinegar, and ¼ cup of water. Stir and set aside.
- Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a frypan over medium heat. Do the "water drip off the finger" test to see if the oil is hot.
- When the oil is hot, add the vegetables and chicken, turn up the heat to high, and stir continuously for about two minutes. Add the sauce, stir about 30 seconds more, and remove from the heat.
- Serve over cooked rice or egg noodles.
Thursday: Crusty Garlic Bread
Don't forget, today's lunch includes apple pie!
When you are ready for dinner, microwave some soup, arrange a salad, and take some of that good hearty bread, spread it with a little butter or olive oil, sprinkle with garlic powder, basil, oregano, and grated cheese (if you like), and put it in the toaster oven.
Friday: Nothing New Today
And don't forget the apple pie!
Saturday: An Easy, Enjoyable Dinner
Cinnamon eggs with noodles is a dish I dearly love. My aunt Ronnie showed me how to make this treat years ago.
Cinnamon Eggs With Noodles
- Boil a heaping handful of egg noodles.
- When they are al dente, drain and set aside.
- Crack three eggs into a mixing bowl. Add ¼ cup of water or milk and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Whip a bit. Add the drained noodles.
- Add two tablespoons of butter to a 10-inch fry pan, heat on low-medium until the butter is just short of bubbling. Pour the noodle-and-egg mixture into the hot pan.
- Turn the heat to low.
- After about five minutes, you will see a bubbling and drying where the egg mixture meets the inside of the pan. Turn the mixture and cook only a minute or two more. Turn out onto a dish and serve with sugar snap peas.
You Are Prepared for Surprise Guests!
Your efforts this week gave you a supply of chicken, pork chops, and magnificent soup in the freezer. You are prepared for unexpected guests. If company doesn't arrive, next week's menu planning and meal preparation will be even easier!