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Meal Plan For One Person With Grocery List

meatballs and rice in meal prep containers

Photo: Carolyn Hodges/Meredith

Meal planning when cooking for one is a different ball game — and really, a whole different sport — than planning for a family.

The only preferences to consider are yours. Ingredients last much longer, making food waste a bigger concern. It’s also harder to stick to a plan when your mood, schedule, and motivation are constantly changing.

These meal planning strategies are designed to work specifically for the individual cook, with fewer leftovers, more variety, and plenty of flexibility in mind.


Plan to use every ingredient you buy

Ingredients in the Italian pantry
Meredith

Most family meal plans start with the same questions: Will everyone get what they want? Is there enough variety? Is that enough food? Solo cooks tend to ask one question: Will I use what I buy before it goes bad?

Ingredients are usually sold in larger quantities than individual cooks need. Unless you love leftovers, food waste quickly becomes a big problem. Instead, try these steps for a plan with more variety and less waste:

  1. Pick an ingredient or two from the fridge or pantry that you need to use.
  2. Think of a dish that uses those ingredients, then add what you don’t have to your list.
  3. Think about what’s left over from that recipe. What is another dish that uses those ingredients?
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until you have a plan for the week.


Plan recipes not really a recipe

Spaghetti carbonara: the traditional Italian recipe
Queen of Buckwheat

Increasing the motivation to cook more often is especially challenging when cooking for one. Instead of loading your meal plan with complex recipes or just eating popcorn for dinner, give yourself an easy way out. Think of a comforting, undemanding dish you love, and try to keep those ingredients on hand (veggie fried rice and spaghetti carbonara are my favorites).

For “I can’t stand to cook” nights, assemble a single-serving grazing board with veggies, crackers, and your favorite salsa.


Plan to turn leftovers over and over…and over again

Clean refrigerator
Neat and ready for leftovers | Photo by Meredith.

One large recipe (or even one that serves a family of four) means many nights of the same leftovers for the solo cook. Instead of eating the same meal over and over again, he plans ways to transform it.

A batch of slow-grilled chicken I made on Sunday topped a sweet potato one night, a flatbread pizza the next, then a bowl of cereal and a couple of lunch wraps. Plan to change your leftovers and you won’t get bored easily.


Plan to prepare different dishes from dinner

Classic image of banana bread
Antonis Achilleos; Prop Style: Audrey Davis; Food Styling: Anna Theoktisto

While dinners are the focus of most meal plans, other meals are often relegated to packaged and prepackaged. It’s so gratifying to have something homemade — banana bread, a batch of granola — to enjoy throughout the week.

I love quick breads because they are sweet enough to serve as a breakfast, snack or dessert. I also like to cook and now I don’t need a chance to do it.


Plan to change your plan

sweet popcorn in bowls on blue patterned background
Meredith

The biggest benefit of cooking for one is that you have no one else to please – your whims rule the day.

Change the order of your meals or make something completely different with what you have. Freeze that oversized dish for another time. Have popcorn for dinner if that’s what you crave. If you find you can’t stick to one plan for more than a couple nights a week, plan that too so you don’t buy more than you need.

Find meal inspiration with our collection of Cooking for One recipes. When you’re ready to shop, check out our tips on How to Shop on a Budget.


Meal planning when cooking for one is a different ball game — and really, a whole different sport — than planning for a family.

The only preferences to consider are yours. Ingredients last much longer, making food waste a bigger concern. It’s also harder to stick to a plan when your mood, schedule, and motivation are constantly changing.

These meal planning strategies are designed to work specifically for the individual cook, with fewer leftovers, more variety, and plenty of flexibility in mind.


Plan to use every ingredient you buy

Ingredients in the Italian pantry
Meredith

Most family meal plans start with the same questions: Will everyone get what they want? Is there enough variety? Is that enough food? Solo cooks tend to ask one question: Will I use what I buy before it goes bad?

Ingredients are usually sold in larger quantities than individual cooks need. Unless you love leftovers, food waste quickly becomes a big problem. Instead, try these steps for a plan with more variety and less waste:

  1. Pick an ingredient or two from the fridge or pantry that you need to use.
  2. Think of a dish that uses those ingredients, then add what you don’t have to your list.
  3. Think about what’s left over from that recipe. What is another dish that uses those ingredients?
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until you have a plan for the week.


Plan recipes not really a recipe

Spaghetti carbonara: the traditional Italian recipe
Queen of Buckwheat

Increasing the motivation to cook more often is especially challenging when cooking for one. Instead of loading your meal plan with complex recipes or just eating popcorn for dinner, give yourself an easy way out. Think of a comforting, undemanding dish you love, and try to keep those ingredients on hand (veggie fried rice and spaghetti carbonara are my favorites).

For “I can’t stand to cook” nights, assemble a single-serving grazing board with veggies, crackers, and your favorite salsa.


Plan to turn leftovers over and over…and over again

Clean refrigerator
Neat and ready for leftovers | Photo by Meredith.

One large recipe (or even one that serves a family of four) means many nights of the same leftovers for the solo cook. Instead of eating the same meal over and over again, he plans ways to transform it.

A batch of slow-grilled chicken I made on Sunday topped a sweet potato one night, a flatbread pizza the next, then a bowl of cereal and a couple of lunch wraps. Plan to change your leftovers and you won’t get bored easily.


Plan to prepare different dishes from dinner

Classic image of banana bread
Antonis Achilleos; Prop Style: Audrey Davis; Food Styling: Anna Theoktisto

While dinners are the focus of most meal plans, other meals are often relegated to packaged and prepackaged. It’s so gratifying to have something homemade — banana bread, a batch of granola — to enjoy throughout the week.

I love quick breads because they are sweet enough to serve as a breakfast, snack or dessert. I also like to cook and now I don’t need a chance to do it.


Plan to change your plan

sweet popcorn in bowls on blue patterned background
Meredith

The biggest benefit of cooking for one is that you have no one else to please – your whims rule the day.

Change the order of your meals or make something completely different with what you have. Freeze that oversized dish for another time. Have popcorn for dinner if that’s what you crave. If you find you can’t stick to one plan for more than a couple nights a week, plan that too so you don’t buy more than you need.

Find meal inspiration with our collection of Cooking for One recipes. When you’re ready to shop, check out our tips on How to Shop on a Budget.


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