FEATURE — Are you an empty nester? Perhaps a college student who lives alone? Maybe you are a single parent of one or two children. No matter what particular situation you are in, creating healthy meals for one or two people may seem like a chore.
With some help from Utah State University’s food science department, we’ve put together some helpful hints to make mealtime a little easier – and hopefully more friendly to your wallet.
Cook more, not less! Preparing a few large meals in advance will save you time and money. Perhaps you’ve read our “cook once, eat twice” blog. Using some of these same methods, you can create something to freeze, use later in the week and/or use as leftovers. This method also saves you money by removing some of the temptation to eat out.
Know what is freezer-friendly and what is not. While rice, soups, casseroles and even bread products freeze well, you should avoid freezing things that may curdle when frozen then thawed. This includes things like gravy, sour cream, yogurt and mayonnaise when used as a dressing.
Keep in mind that the reason for not freezing is due to quality, not the possibility of “spoiling” or toxicity. Potatoes may not freeze well simply because, when thawed, they may become mushy and lose some of their taste and texture. To learn more about which foods freeze well, click here.
Food can be packaged for storage in many unique ways. You can use freezer paper, storage bags or glass containers with lids. The key is to keep air from reaching the product and minimize moisture loss.
Depending on how you store or freeze your food, there are numerous thawing methods. Individual servings of soup stored in freezer bags can be thawed and warmed in a pot of boiling water. Food stored in a microwave-safe container can quickly be thawed or heated in a microwave oven. Be sure to stir soups or stews frequently to avoid hot spots.
Bread products freeze well. Individual loaves of bread, muffins or biscuits can be frozen on a baking sheet and then stored together in one large bag. You can even pre-cook French toast and freeze individual slices to reheat later in the toaster.
When it comes to cooking for one or two, less isn’t always best. Weekly prep is helpful, too. I like to take a few hours on Saturday or Sunday morning to prep a few veggies, pre-cook some chicken or ground beef and set a few things in the fridge to thaw for the coming week. Whether there’s four of us at the dinner table or two, advanced meal preparation is a real time-saver at my house.
One of my favorite things to cook as part of my meal prep is shredded chicken. Here’s how I like to make it:
In the morning, place 4 pounds thawed chicken breasts in a slow cooker with two (15-ounce) cans low-sodium chicken broth, 4 teaspoons onion powder, 2 teaspoons garlic powder and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cook the chicken on low for six hours. Shred with a fork. Divide between storage containers and refrigerate.
If you’re cooking for one, 1/2 to 3/4 cup of shredded chicken in each storage container will do. If you’re cooking for two, put 1 to 1 1/2 cups of chicken in each container. Throughout the week, you can use your chicken in a bunch of different ways. Each pound of chicken is roughly equal to 1 cup of cooked chicken. Typically, recipes call for 1/2 to 3/4 cups of chicken per person. If you cook 4 pounds of chicken, you’ll have enough for four to six individual servings.
Depending on how many chicken recipes you want to make for the week, you may want to increase or reduce the amount of chicken you cook in your slow cooker. Cooked chicken can stay in the refrigerator for three or four days. You can also make extra to freeze for later use. Frozen chicken can stay in the freezer for up to six months before it starts to diminish in quality.
The recipes below have been adapted to serve two people. If you’re cooking for one, try cutting the recipe in half or saving the extra as leftovers. Enjoy!
If you’re using the chicken you’ve already cooked in the crockpot, you won’t need to cook the chicken as listed in the recipe. Follow the recipe steps, but instead of cooking the chicken for 5-8 minutes, you only need to heat it through for 2-3 minutes.
Here’s another recipe where you can use the chicken you cooked ahead of time to speed up the cooking process. You can heat the chicken in the microwave or serve it cold on the salad.
Written by CANDI MERRITT and BECKY EGLI, Certified Nutrition Education Ambassadors.
This article originally appeared April 14, 2021, on the USU Extension Create Better Health blog.
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