Cooking For Two – Part One: Tips and Tricks

Cooking for two people can be a real challenge.   It isn’t a simple matter of cooking less, it involves some careful planning, shopping, and preparation, along with a plan to create “plan-aheads” (instead of “leftovers”) and a way to package and store them.   I teach Cooking For Two classes quite a lot, and we have lots of fun with the Couple’s Cooking Challenge where the students pair off and each take one part of a meal – we’ll have Team Salad for example, and Team Omelet, Team Soup, etc.  Everyone has lots of fun and gets a chance to see how easy it is to cook small!

Tips for Cooking for Two

scallion-headsMake a plan – take 20 minutes every week to plan your major meals before you go shopping.  Buy smaller amounts where you can, or plan on making enough for 2 or 3 meals and storing it in order to take advantage of bigger packages (although that isn’t always the best way to save money!)

Stock your pantry – sign up for my email list and get the free document “Your Well-Stocked Pantry”! 

Take advantage of your freezer – stock your freezer the same way you stock your pantry, with an eye toward having staples you can turn into quick meals.

Cut recipes in half, or prepare the whole recipe up to the cooking point, and freeze half with a label detailing cooking instructions.  Casseroles, pasta bakes, etc.

Cook full recipes and create “TV Dinners”, freeze your own individual portions

Use Extras Wisely – Make “Plan-Aheads” and utilize leftover foods to create new meals the next day or two.  Keep foods separate that you plan to store so they have a fresh taste when you mix them (unless it is a soup or a stew that might benefit from a few days in the fridge).

Freezer Bags, foil, Food Savers, Marking Pens, Labels, ice cube trays – make it easy for you and everyone in the house to label and date food.  Get into the habit of dating everything.  Cooked food should last 7 days in the refrigerator, and up to 6 – 9 months in the freezer.  You can date items with a “use by” date to encourage keeping things rotated and fresh.

Individual sized casserole dishes (put them on your gift wish lists!)  Make up small portions for one or two, and for eating later.

Turn Nutritious Snacks into Light Meals – spread a brown rice cake with ricotta cheese and fresh strawberries or herbed goat cheese and sliced olives. Pair corn muffins with apple and cheese slices, or fat-free refried beans mixed with salsa, a small amount of low-fat sour cream and baked tortilla chips.  A simple baked potato can make a full meal with leftover toppings from your fridge, or turn into a rich soup with the addition with a can of chicken broth or milk.

Buy smaller quantities.  “Economy” sized packaging is a waste if you can’t finish it before it expires. Look for small onions, small oranges, smaller packages.  Often smaller vegetables and fruits can be found in the Organic section.

Buy Frozen Vegetables in plastic bags, pour out only the amount you need, reseal bag and keep frozen.  Freeze things on flat pans, then bag them to keep them from freezing into one solid block.

Use Salad Bars – instead of a whole can of beans or a large bunch of celery, go to the salad bar and scoop up just the amount you need and pay by the pound.  This isn’t practical for larger amounts, but when cooking for two it can save a lot and provide you with lots of variety!

Green Bag Banana Test
Green Bag Banana Test, Day 8 side 2

Fresh Produce Bags – I love my green magic produce bags.  I did a review and wrote about it here: The Green Food Bag Experiment

Produce Section – Packages of fresh mixed herbs, often labeled “poultry seasoning,” “seafood blend” and “soup and stew blend,” combine sprigs of several fresh herbs in one package.  Stir fry blends give several veggies packaged together.  This is a great way to get several fresh herbs for one lower price.

Desserts: Use a cake mix to bake cupcakes, then freeze some; use a pie recipe and create hand tarts


 Quantities for Two

Understanding portion sizes is an important part of shopping, preparing and serving meals for one or two people.  Here are some standard serving sizes for common foods:

My Plate from
My Plate from

MyPlate/ Portion Sizes
Protein source: 4-6 ounces per person
Salad Greens – 2 cups per person
Salad Dressing 1 -2 tablespoons per person
Veggies 1-2 cups per person
Grains and Starchy foods 1- 2 cups per person
Omelet 1-2 eggs per person (a 3-egg omelet makes a nice dish for 2)
Soup and Stew – 2 cups per serving, (if  serving as a one-dish meal, plan on 4 cups per person)
Desserts 4 – 6 ounces per person


Stay tuned: Part 2 will feature simple recipes scaled for two people, and Part 3 will provide a list of tools for a well-stocked kitchen for 2!


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