You are What You Eat: Conquer the challenge of cooking for one

By Katy Wilkens, MS, RD

While the rest of my family was on vacation last month, I was reminded of how hard it can be to get motivated to cook for one.

I can spend hours in the kitchen for people I care about, but when it comes to cooking for just myself, a peanut butter sandwich seems enough. Why is that? I think it’s because there is such inherent joy in cooking for others.

To motivate yourself to cook for one, remember that you not only eat healthier when you cook from scratch, you save a lot of money and time. Follow these tips.

  1. Make a plan. Knowing you have everything you need at home can save you a grocery store run, or divert you from fast food.
  2. Cook fresh. Buy nice cuts of meat, fresh produce and herbs. Sign up for a produce delivery service – a box every other week is a great incentive to cook so you don’t waste any food.
  3. Cook fast. Develop a repertoire of five recipes you can fix in 15 minutes or less, and keep the ingredients on hand.
  4. Cook ahead. Make a pot of soup and freeze several containers for future use. Put dried beans and spices in a small slow cooker in the morning. A flavorful chili will be waiting when you get home.
  5. Plan for leftovers. When you are shopping, think, “I can use this chicken for three different meals.”
  6. Use leftovers in interesting ways. Make omelets, quiches, tacos, salads, sandwiches, etc.
  7. Share a meal. Share with a neighbor or friend.
  8. Use salad bars. Grocery store salad bars can be a good way to get a wide variety of fresh produce choices in small quantities.
  9. Stock up. Stock your pantry with staples like rice, beans, pasta and couscous, which all cook quickly.
  10. Make the meal special. Set the table with a placemat and flowers, or light some candles and put on your favorite music.

Quick Couscous for One

Since couscous is pre-cooked, then dried, it takes just 5 minutes to prepare. This recipe serves three to four people, but if it’s just you at the table, you can get a dinner, a breakfast and a nice lunch out of it.

2 1/2 cups water or homemade broth
2 cups couscous
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs of any kind or 1 tablespoon dried herbs
1 cup of chopped veggies: onions, red pepper, broccoli or your choice
Optional: 1/2 cup sautéed tofu, paneer or any leftover meat
Other options: nuts, raisins, saffron, scrambled egg

Boil water or broth. Add couscous, cover and let sit 5 minutes, while you sauté any veggies or meat. Fluff and toss couscous with fork, set aside half or more for breakfast and a chilled salad the next day. Mix in veggies and protein, serve. Use leftovers for breakfast by adding nuts, raisins and peanut butter. Serve with milk, or drizzle with butter or olive oil. For a lunch salad, serve leftovers on a bed of torn lettuce with tomatoes and cucumbers and a low-sodium dressing.

Nutritional information (per serving): Calories: 363, Carbohydrates: 74 grams, Protein: 13 grams, Sodium: 55 milligrams

The recipes in this column are meant for people who want to keep their kidneys healthy and blood pressure down by following a low-sodium diet. In most cases, except for dialysis patients, a diet high in potassium is thought to help lower high blood pressure. These recipes are not intended for people on dialysis without the supervision of a registered dietitian.

Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. She has a Master of Science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Washington. See more of her recipes at

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