Save Time & Money Cooking Healthy for One

Simple meal planning tips for a plant-based diet

I’m not alone. I’m part of the twenty-five percent of adults in the United States who live by ourselves; and we all need to eat.

The first few years, I lived by myself and ate horribly — frozen pot pies, microwave pizzas, cold cereal — you get the picture.

Then I changed what I ate; I switched to the Mediterranean diet and then to a whole-food, plant-based diet. I lost my taste for processed food but found it’s challenging to cook healthy for one.

A whole cabbage? A pan of lasagna? Eight hamburger buns? My shopping and food prep needed a revamp.

I had always cooked for a crowd. Every meal I made was enough for six or more people! I’d make a savory vegetable pasta sauce and have to eat it six times! I tried freezing extra food, but vegetable-based dishes became watery and unappetizing when thawed.

I needed a system for quick, healthy, tasty meals that wouldn’t break the bank.

Years ago, with five children and a job away from home, I’d learned the advantages of cooking in bulk and freezing. I just needed to modify my plan.

Fortunately, I know Hillary Flora, a creative and talented plant-based chef, who recently published her first cookbook, Craft Vegan: Plant-based Recipes for Everyone.

Watching her whip up delicious meals in a tiny kitchen with minimal muss and fuss motivated me. I love talking food with Hilly, and she generously shared her tips and recipes with me. Her everyday meals combine vegetables, a protein, and simple sauces to create exceptional flavors.

Inspired by Hillary and adapted to cooking for one, I’ve developed some ideas to make it easy to plan, prepare, and enjoy healthful recipes.

Step One: Cook grains and legumes ahead and freeze meal-sized portions. It’s just as easy to cook eight servings of quinoa or four cups of rice as it is one. Cool and place in labeled containers to be used within three to six months.

Step Two: Shop for produce that’s in season, on sale, and looks fresh. Recipes can be adapted to use a variety of ingredients. Sometimes frozen fruits and veggies are the best options for a single person; a whole cauliflower is a lot to eat!

Keep nuts and seeds on hand for snacks and to add some crunch to a dish.

Step Three: Count on smoothies for extra servings of fruits and veggies.

Prepare a week’s worth of ingredients at a time and freeze them in individual portions. It’s easy to wash, peel, or chop four bananas, a basket of strawberries, a few carrots, a bunch of parsley, and a few apples, all at the same time. Divide them up into baggies and freeze.

Each morning combine a serving of plant-based milk, a scoop of flaxseed, and the contents of one baggie, into the blender for a healthy breakfast. I can vary the fruits and vegetables and add protein powder or coconut oil if I need a boost of energy.

Step Four: Buddha Bowl, Burrito Bowl, Poke Bowl, Taco Salad. Whatever you call it, when cooking for one, you just can’t beat the one-dish meal.

Hot or cold, southwestern, or Asian flavors, all of these are variations on a simple principle. Adjust the quantities depending on your appetite.

Start with heating one portion of cooked grains from the freezer and add one-half cup of a protein — tofu, beans, meat substitutes. Add as many vegetables as you want, cooked or raw, and top with a tangy sauce and seasonings.

For variety, stir-fry the veggies and top with peanut or curry sauces.

Since I live in Texas, it’s natural to give a spicy flair to my salad. I start with mixed greens, add thinly sliced red onions, a variety of other chopped veggies, and a half cup of beans, veggie crumbles, or the lentil taco filling (see recipe below).

Be creative. Think squash and corn topped with black beans and flavored with cumin, cilantro, and chile. Top with avocado, crushed tortilla chips, and salsa.

Smoothies encourage me to add more veggies and fruits to my diet easily.

My one-bowl dinners require less prep and fewer dishes to wash. Take a few minutes to arrange your ingredients attractively and enjoy the colors as well as the flavors.

I still love cooking complicated meals with lots of courses, especially when I can share the meal with friends and family.

Realistically, we all know we’re not going to cook daily multi-course meals but we still want to eat well. Give these simple tips a try and see if they streamline your daily meal preparation.

Lentil Taco Filling

Goes great in taco salad or burritos. While meant to replace traditional ground beef, it very much stands on its own. Yields 4 servings.

2 3/4 cups green lentils, cooked

1 cup walnut pieces

1/4 cup hemp seeds

1 clove, garlic, minced

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. vegetable bouillon

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. cumin powder

Salt & pepper to taste.

Optional

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Place all ingredients in a food processor.

Pulse just until walnuts and lentils are coarsely chopped, stopping to scrape the sides as needed.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

Add the oil and lentil mixture. Sauté for five minutes or until dark brown and fragrant.

Recipe printed with permission. Craft Vegan: Plant-based Recipes for Everyone. By Hillary Flora, 2020.

NOTE: The Lentil Taco Filling may be prepared ahead and refrigerated for two days or frozen for up to one month.

Nature and learning inspire me. People and writing make me happy. Follow me at: https://medium.com/@cindyheathwrites.

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