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Cooking only for myself, how can I more quickly and efficiently prepare my food to minimize the amount of time I spend preparing and cooking without compromising nutritional value (i.e. no microwave meals)?

I've found that cooking for a single person can be a time consuming and money wasting task, as it's not feasible to buy ingredients in large quantities or cook in large quantities as it would go bad.

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"can take double the time to prepare and clean up than they do to eat." That is correct and there's no way around it other than buying (junk) food. –  Jan Doggen Nov 26 '13 at 8:33
    
What country are you in (edit the question or add a tag)? –  Jan Doggen Nov 26 '13 at 8:34
    
I think I must agree with the flags - this isn't about Personal Productivity. Have a read of productivity.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic –  Rory Alsop Nov 27 '13 at 19:02
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I think this should be reopened. This question does deal with personal productivity, looking at how to improve a process and workflow we (almost) all have to deal with daily. Editing for clarity wouldn't hurt, but closing the question is draconian. –  Dennis S. Dec 1 '13 at 16:41
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Hey @Celeritas, this post is being discussed here on meta. Hope this helps! –  jmort253 Dec 2 '13 at 10:19

7 Answers 7

One option is to cook for 4 - yourself, yourself the next day, yourself in several days, and yourself in a few weeks. Cook larger meals, planning to save off portions for later reuse. A freezer is a great benefit to cooking this way, preferably a chest freezer. A small one, for one person!

Search the web for phrases like "cook once a month" and "cook many meals at once" for ideas of meals that work well this way. One of the tricks to making it work is to prepare components of meals ahead of time, and then assemble them with a little additional cooking for each meal. For example, cook a lot of rice at one time, planning to reuse some with another meal the next day, and freeze some to add to soup next week. By cooking once a month, you can have fresh meals readily available most of the time, with less overall time invested in cooking and taking advantage of the economic benefits of purchasing larger quantities.

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I'm in the same boat.

Money

  • Eating vegetables is healthy, so you should do. Go to the local farmer's market and buy a week's worth of vegetables there. Make yourself eat them each week. You might find that you buy far too many to start. Vegetables, at least where I am, are actually pretty cheap.

  • Rice can be bought in bulk.

  • Onions and potatoes make good savings when buying 20kg bags, but they will go off if not stored properly. Sharing these bulk foods with flatmates is ideal here.

  • Where I am the supermarket is the cheapest place for meat, I buy the cuts that are on special, and freeze them. You need to work in with how much freezer space you have.

Time

Yes, this is a problem, cooking for yourself is time consuming.

  • You can cook every second night, make enough for the next night to reheat.

  • Freeze stuff, and reheat it.

  • Some meals are very simple. You can put some chicken into a shake in a bag, takes 5 minutes to prepare and then wait. Cook vegetables in the microwave, by putting in some water, some butter and some salt, ready in minutes.

  • Steak is quick to cook.

  • Toasted sandwiches are fine from time to time.

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Could you please elaborate on the chicken? I buy chicken breast and slice it up into chicken strips. Then I marinade it in egg so that the bread crumbs can stick. –  Celeritas Nov 26 '13 at 10:32
    
You can buy a pack that has an oven bag and spice mix, you put the mix in the bag, with some drumsticks, shake it about to coat it, and then cook it in the bag in the oven. Or you just get some breasts and spread some oil and salt on them, bake them. Very easy. –  dwjohnston Nov 26 '13 at 10:37
    
It helps to have a good spice rack too: paprika, cayenne powder, garlic powder + salt, onion powder + salt, thyme, ground ginger. Pretty much every unique spice in the spice row of walmart ;) –  Gaʀʀʏ Nov 27 '13 at 16:17

My teacher used to say one sentence which I have adopted in my life - "NO FREE LUNCH". In general we can apply it for No free food.

In stead of cooking food for long time, I suggest either to eat thing which don't consume much time. Also it not good habit to eat breezed food for long time.

Every time you burns the food, it losses it some nutrition. You can have fruits & sprouts which have more energy and considered as healthy.

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Please edit for clarity - I'm not sure what "breezed food" means. Frozen? –  Dennis S. Nov 27 '13 at 13:47
    
ya sorry, frozen. Thanks for correction .. :) –  I-droid Nov 27 '13 at 15:33

I also live alone and what I do is cook many stews/soups that last up to 7-8 days in the fridge, in fact are the best around day 3-4 as the juices soak into the solid parts. Bean stew is my favorite. It takes around 2 hrs to make all from base ingredients (nothing canned, all fresh veggies or dry beans) and I can eat it for a whole week (even take it to work) without going bad.

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Did you consider a roommate who likes to cook? I recently had one and this makes a big change, nice to have someone sharing the cooking and dinner, plus you will learn new recipes and you save money every month sharing the grocery and rent ;)

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This isn't a cheap way to eat, but might be useful on the timesaving front. When I was experimenting with a Paleo diet, I found it incredibly easy to have a quick and nutritious meal with little preparation required anywhere there was a supermarket that sold cold cuts of meat, fresh fruit/veg and bags of nuts.

An example meal would be some quality ham, a packet of small vine tomatoes and some dried fruit/nut mix. Just open the packs and put on plates - minimal prep and a rounded nutritious meal. If they're quality ingredients, they don't need much prep or processing. Filling too, with protein being such a central part. (Don't get me started on the health benefits / evolutionary framework, which seem to appeal to productivity/lifehacks types!)

Generally, try to redefine what counts as a "meal" to you: does it need to be hot with gravy and baked goods / cooked starch? ;-)

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Breakfast

2 Large eggs and baked beans. You'll want about 30g of protein in the morning. It'll last you the whole day. The beans provide necessary carbs and calories for extra energy. So far I've had no cholesterol issues at all after doing this routine, but if you're worried

Lunch and Dinner

Spinach, steak, chicken. Spinach provides most of the nutrients you'd be missing here. You can load on some beans for extra carbs and calories.

Steak and chicken is remarkably easy and fast to make, and healthy. I wrote some tips on cooking a great steak with only salt and pepper on Cooking SE. It's really cheap food for all that protein and you don't even need the best cuts if you prepare it right. The preparation time depends on how fast you can smother a steak or chicken with salt.

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