Let’s Talk About That Whole “Cooking For One” Thing
Caroline McCarthy is vice president of communications and content at advertising start-up True[X]. She is also a former journalist and ex-Googler who has lived in both New York and San Francisco. Caroline has written extensively and spoken at conferences around the world about entrepreneurship, digital media, and business travel. She is still in search of a magic method for getting over jet lag easily.
There are a lot of great things about being single and living on your own for the first time -- I moved to my first “real” apartment in February after years of furnished sublets, and I’ve loved the process of planning and furnishing a space, being able to have groups of friends over for dinner without checking with a roommate beforehand, and just generally feeling like I’ve made a worthwhile step in life.
But cooking for yourself? When you realize you’re a complete novice in the kitchen, that just sucks. Looking at online recipes (“Serves 4”), food delivery services (this is more kale than I need!), and those recipe-tutorial food-in-a-box start-ups that are all the rage right now (they’ll send you ingredients for a minimum of two people), it seemed like no company out there was catering to people who are cooking only for themselves. There were frustrated moments in the Whole Foods produce aisle where I thought this must be some way the world was punishing those of us who take the “liberating” move of living on our own rather than choosing to settle down with partners.
Well, to be fair, I do not technically live on my own, as I have a wonderful cat, but she won’t eat anything but Blue Wilderness kitty chow so we can’t exactly share meals. I’m also in a committed relationship, but we’re long-distance, and FedEx-ing him my dinner leftovers packed in dry ice isn’t particularly cost-effective. In previous apartments, though, I’d been wasting a ton of money on take-out. So I had to figure something out, and all signs pointed to getting good not just at cooking, but at managing a home-dining schedule with minimal waste, minimal agony, and maximum savings.
Getting in the habit was neither easy nor always self-explanatory. But here are the basics I learned:
1. Find a good tutorial on how to cook for yourself, and at least study it, even if you don’t follow it. There are a lot of “cooking for one” recipes out there but a dearth of instructionals for clueless urbanites regarding how we can plan for a few days and also easily pack lunch for the office. Consequently, I found BuzzFeed’s Clean Eating Challenge to be surprisingly insightful with how it recommended making things like chicken, rice, and quinoa in batches for multiple meals. I only followed it for a few days rather than the proposed three weeks because it was pretty heavy on some ingredients I don’t eat (I’m one of the weirdos out there who can’t stand eggs) and didn’t offer many substitutions, but the whole structure of it helped me start planning meals by the week and helped me start thinking differently about grocery shopping. A good tutorial will also help you get the hang of what you can freeze to prolong its lifespan and what you can’t.
2. Know what kitchen equipment you need, and invest in it. Seriously. A few hundred dollars on good pots and pans, knives, tableware, and storage containers for leftovers (that one is key) will save you a ton of money in the future. Try Epicurious’ “Your First Kitchen Checklist.”
3. Consider the dishwasher. Are you apartment-hunting and thinking about what amenities you’re willing to shell out for and which ones you aren’t? If you’re weighing comparatively priced options and one prospective apartment has a dishwasher while the other doesn’t, consider going for the one with the dishwasher even if it means a smaller space. The dishwasher in my apartment has been a godsend when it comes to cooking while maintaining a busy work and social life, especially when it comes to tougher-to-clean equipment like juicer and blender components. My previous (shared) apartment had a doorman, a laundry room, and bike storage, none of which I have now, but swapping them for the dishwasher has proven to be a more than worthwhile tradeoff.
4. There are other people out there who would love to eat your food. I thought it was a little bit sad and borderline weird the first time I called up a friend and said, “Hey, I have some extra chicken that I need to cook tonight. Want to come over for dinner?” It’s just not the sort of thing that people seem to do in a city like New York where you assume everyone has more impressive plans than you do. But a few hours later I had delicious food with zero gone to waste, a great conversation about narwhals, and a shared bottle of wine that a now-closer-than-before friend brought over.
Once you get the hang of cooking for one it becomes more seamless than "Seamless."
Image credit: Shutterstock