The Ultimate Guide to Meal Planning for One, Plus 25 Recipes to Get You Started

Flying solo in the kitchen? Lucky you. You get to eat whatever you want for every single meal. On the flip side, you have to cook for yourself every single night. What’s it going to be—a nutritious home-cooked dinner for one or fast food? Takeout pizza certainly sounds enticing.

Friend, we’ve found the solution: meal planning. By answering the dreaded “What am I having for dinner?” in advance, you’ll save yourself time, money and stress, while tackling a week’s (or month’s) worth of dinners. Here are six easy tips to make meal planning for one a walk in the park, plus 25 recipes to get you started.

I’m Totally Disorganized, but Here’s How I Meal Prep and Bring My Lunch Every Day

meal planning for one woman grocery shopping
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1. Brainstorm a Cooking (and Shopping) Plan

Brace yourself: This might be the most important part of meal planning. Set aside 30 minutes of your Sunday to decide what you feel like eating and come up with a shopping list. Too daunting to look at a month’s worth of meals? Think of it in smaller chunks and make weekly meal plans instead. (You can even buy special calendars and download apps like Mealime for this task.) Trust us, though: Once you nail down your menu and grocery lists, you’ll be in and out of Trader Joe’s in no time. Plus, you’ll be more likely to stick to a budget when it’s all on paper in front of you.

2. Portion out Your Groceries

Whew, the shopping is done—now it’s time to unpack those groceries. Instead of shoving things into the pantry and out of sight, spend a little extra time pre-portioning and prepping what you just bought. That means washing greens and vegetables, breaking down large packs of chicken breasts into individual ones and freezing things you know you won’t need right away. Think of all the time you’ll save on Tuesday night when that kale’s already clean. (Psst: Worried about pre-washed veggies getting slimy? Wrap them in paper towels before returning them to their bags. This absorbs excess moisture while keeping them fresh.)

3. Cut Recipes in Half

Sure, most entrées are meant to serve four people (or more). The good news? With some very simple math, you can easily divide those recipes in half. Depending on what you’re making, you might need to adjust the cooking time (smaller portions usually need less time to cook), but if you use your best chef senses (i.e., smell, sight, sizzling), you’ll be fine.

meal planning for one leftovers

4. Put Leftovers Straight in the Freezer

OK, maybe you don’t want to make half a lasagna—that’s fine, too. Many foods will keep in the freezer for months after you make them: casseroles, soups, stews, sauces, you get the idea. If you know you won’t eat that chili three days in a row, portion it into food-safe containers and freeze it for a rainy day. Not only does it eliminate wasted food, it also leaves you with a slew of freezer meals for nights you don’t feel like lifting a finger. (Hey, it happens.) 

5. Get in the Habit of Big-Batch Cooking

Think of it this way: What can you make ahead of time that can be easily reheated day-of? For example, roasting vegetables and whipping up a big pot of rice or grains can be accomplished during a Sunday Netflix session, saving time in the long run. When it comes to meal-prepping and planning, batch cooking will quickly become your best friend.

6. Embrace Leftovers

If you’re interested in cooking a single-serving meal seven days a week, more power to you. But chances are, you’ll run into times when cooking isn’t in the cards and your carefully devised meal plan starts to crumble before your eyes. That’s what leftovers are for! (Don’t forget, they’re also great for next-day lunches.)

Now, 25 of our favorite meal planning recipes for one:

Salmon Bowl With Farro, Black Beans And Tahini Dressing

Did you know you can buy individually portioned, vacuum-packed salmon fillets in your store’s freezer section? Thaw one in the fridge the night before and save the rest for another day.

10-minute Macaroni And Cheese In A Mug

Need proof that you don’t have to resort to the boxed stuff every time a craving strikes? This single-serve mac and cheese takes less time and tastes better.

Easy 5-ingredient Corn Soup

If you can boil an ear of corn, you can definitely make this soup. Got leftovers? Stash ’em in the freezer.

Mini Spanish Tortilla With Zucchini

Now we understand why they make those adorably tiny skillets: It’s for this one-serving potato omelet, which, by the way, calls for only six ingredients.

Keto Steak And Blue Cheese Salad For One

If you’re ever at a loss for what to do with leftover steak, why not toss it in an easy salad? Grab all your favorite toppings at the salad bar and dinner’s practically already made.

Green Bowl With Chicken, Citrus And Herbs

Don’t feel like turning on the stove? Pick up a rotisserie chicken and you won’t have to.

Blackberry-peach Grilled Cheese

Grilled cheese is always a great idea. Make it even better by adding blackberries and peaches, and swapping the usual American cheese for a fancy mix of fontina and Emmentaler.

Sheet-pan Lemon Butter Veggies And Sausage

Once again, a sheet-pan meal comes to the rescue. You could pack up the leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch or eat them again for dinner. It’s your call.

Colorful Peanut Noodle Jar

We’ll admit that it’s easy to fall into a meal planning routine. Shake things up with this cute and tasty spiralized veggie jar, which takes a mere 30 minutes to make.

Make-ahead Aloo Gobi

It keeps in the fridge for up to four days. How’s that for better than takeout?

Keto Sheet-pan Chicken And Rainbow Veggies

It’s time to practice the art of meal prep. If you roast everything on a night that’s not so busy (so, like, not a Monday), you’ll have four nights of dinner already made.

Low-carb Zucchini Enchiladas

These enchiladas aren’t just good for you, they’re good for meal planning. Because they reheat beautifully, you can make a big pan and enjoy them throughout the week.

Keto Pasta With Lemon-kale Chicken

A pasta dish that makes just enough for one? Pinch us, we’re dreaming. Once again, the secret is buying the kale from that handy salad bar, so you’re not left with wilting leftovers later in the week.

15-minute Mediterranean Couscous With Tuna And Pepperoncini

Here’s the game plan: Make a big pot of couscous early in the week and, when it’s time to eat, dip into your pantry stash of canned tuna (a weeknight dinner miracle, if you ask us).

Creamy Vegan Lentil And Roasted Vegetable Bake

Aside from being healthy and delicious, this casserole freezes like a dream.

Cauliflower Sweet Potato Burgers

Fun fact: Homemade veggie burgers are a freezer meal made in heaven. It’s like buying a box of premade ones, but so much tastier.

Slow-cooker Pasta E Fagioli Soup

Break out your slow-cooker and make this easy-peasy Italian classic. Then portion it out into individual containers to freeze for another night.

Slow-cooker Chicken Enchilada Casserole

What can we say? Enchiladas are a meal planner’s match made in heaven. You can even prep everything midweek and throw it together on a whim. (It practically cooks itself.)

Buffalo-stuffed Sweet Potatoes

The two components to this dish—roasted sweet potatoes and buffalo chicken—can both be made in advance and held in your fridge. Just assemble a spud and voilà, dinner’s done.

Slow-cooker Chicken Teriyaki

You made a big batch of rice on Sunday night, didn’t you? Great, so all you have to do is turn on the slow-cooker, pile in a few ingredients and eat.

Make-ahead Farro And Brussels Sprouts Salad

We love a salad that tastes better the next day. This bright, tangy, nutritious option will last in your refrigerator for up to four days, fully assembled.

Slow-cooker Pulled Chicken

We suggest stocking up on quart-size freezer bags and dividing up the leftovers for easy thawing and reheating. (BYO toasted bun, of course.)

Ina Garten’s Baked Pasta With Tomatoes And Eggplant

Do you think Ina and Jeffrey spend Sunday evenings making a meal plan together? Maybe not…but they definitely eat this easy, freezable pasta bake.

10-minute Pad See Ew

Since this makes two servings, you can either divide the recipe in half, or eat the leftovers for lunch—if there’s anything left.

Perfect Meatballs With Cherry Tomato Sauce

Make the whole recipe, then freeze what you won’t eat. You can rest easy knowing there’s an entire tray of delicious meatballs waiting for your next meal.


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...