14 Tasty and Cheap Meals for One

by Mikey Rox on 25 January 2012 9 comments
Photo: Joseph Choi

I’ve always loved to cook, but when I was single it was chore. I mean, what’s the point of spending all that time in the kitchen cooking — then cleaning — if you’re the only person who’s going to enjoy the meal? 

That was a poor philosophy to have, mostly because I didn’t put any effort into thinking of delicious dishes to prepare. I deserved better than ramen and ham-and-cheese roll-ups — you know you’ve made that for dinner more than once — and so do you.

To help you get cooking, here are two weeks’ worth of meals I go to when it’s just me, myself, and I enjoying the fruits (and veggies) of my culinary skills. (See also: 6 Tips for Making Cheaper, Faster, Better Meals)

1. Spinach and Parmesan Omelet With Hash Browns

Anderson Cooper and I have a few things in common, one of which is a hatred for greens, especially spinach. Maybe that’s because when I was younger my mom made me eat (force fed is more like it) canned spinach, which is absolutely disgusting. I was on a trip to California once when I saw this healthy-ish omelet on the menu, so I decided to order it — totally out of character for me. When in Rome, right? To my delight, I loved it — and it’s totally easy to make at home. Prepare an omelet the way you normally would — whole eggs or just the whites — and when it’s still just a tad undercooked, add in the spinach and Parmesan cheese, flip, and season with salt and pepper. For a quick starchy side, peel and grate one potato and sauté it in butter on one side on low-medium heat for about five minutes or until golden brown. Flip to cook the other side to perfection.

2. Beet Salad

You can use canned beets for this recipe, but I wouldn’t recommend it; at many markets you can find fresh, cooked beets in the produce section. Build the salad with mesclun greens, the sliced beets (perhaps even quartered), orange slices (a smaller type would be ideal, like a clementine), walnuts, and Parmesan cheese; and top with a citrus vinaigrette that you can make with the juice from another orange, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

3. Carrot and Ginger Soup With Oyster Crackers

Have you seen this soup maker and blender from Cuisinart on TV lately? Even though I don’t need it — and you probably don’t either — I live for anything that pulls double duty. In any case, for this carrot-ginger soup recipe you’ll need chicken broth, carrots, fresh ginger, parsley, onion, sour cream, sweet cream butter, and whipping cream. If it sounds rich, that’s because it is — taste-wise, anyway; it’s fairly easy on the wallet. Top with oyster crackers, because, well, who doesn’t love those? This recipe yields eight servings, but freezes very well.

4. Lemon-Pepper Grilled Shrimp With Mixed Greens

This may be hard to believe, but shrimp are relative expensive, depending on the size and quantity you’re purchasing. For a meal for one, pick up about six medium-size shrimp, which will probably cost you less than three dollars. At home, sprinkle the shrimp with a lemon-pepper seasoning salt and grill in a pan while brushing with a bit of butter. When the shrimp are cooked through — one to two minutes per side is all it takes — arrange them on a bed of greens lightly dressed with a lemon vinaigrette that you can make with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

5. Grilled Cheese and Bacon With Tomato Soup

Everybody knows how to make a grilled cheese sandwich, but this one gets extra oomph by placing slices of cooked bacon between the bread before putting the sandwich together. You can use any kind of cheese you want, but I believe that there isn’t a better tasting grilled cheese than one made with good ol’ Kraft American Singles. Once your sandwich is grilled, golden, and bubbly, dip it in a bowl of warm tomato soup (Campbell’s condensed, of course) that will take you right back to your childhood.

6. Chipotle-Cilantro Quesadillas With Mexirice

All you need to make quesadillas is tortillas and cheese, but to kick this version up a notch, add a few chopped chipotle peppers and cilantro. Place one tortilla in a 10-inch skillet — no butter; that’ll make it greasy — and top it with the ingredients. When it’s all good and melty, top with the other tortilla and flip until that side is crispy and golden brown too. Cut the quesadilla in quarters so it’s dippable in salsa or sour cream, and serve alongside a Mexican-style rice, like Uncle Ben’s.

7. Baked Potato With Broccoli and Cheese 

A friend of mine in Hawaii says I make the best baked potatoes in the world — and that’s probably true (I’m patting myself on the back right now) — but the problem with making the best baked potatoes in the world is that it takes time. Cut the time it takes to make yours in more than half by poking holes in the potato with a fork and microwaving it for whatever time your microwave recommends. While it’s cooking, steam a handful of broccoli florets and heat up a bit of Cheez Whiz. When the potato is tender inside, cut it open, add the broccoli tossed in butter, and top with the Whiz.

8. Turkey Club With Homemade French Fries

Here’s how this goes — toast three slices of bread (preferably whole wheat) and spread one side of two slices and both sides of one slice with mayo. On the bottom piece of bread (one with only one mayo-ed side), layer turkey breast, lettuce, bacon, and tomato, and top with the slice of bread that has mayo on both sides. Repeat the process until you have a double-decker sandwich. Before that, however (because making the sandwich doesn’t take long at all), cut one large Russet potato in wedges, season with olive oil, salt and pepper, and cook on 400 degrees for about 30 minutes.

9. Prosciutto and Melon

I was in Spain when I had melon and jamón for the first time, and that’s all it took for me to fall head over heels for this incredibly delicious and quick dish. In fact, among these dishes on the list, this is the fastest. You can buy a whole cantaloupe, but unless you’re going to eat the entire fruit before it goes bad, I would recommend buying a slice or two of prepackaged melon. While you’re at the store, go to the deli and pick up about four slices of prosciutto or another salty, thin ham. When preparing this dish, all you need to do is drape the ham over the sliced prosciutto and dig in.

10. Tuna Tartine

Tartine is French for an open-faced sandwich. For this version, toast a slice of bread, and top with tomato, cucumber, mixed greens, and a scoop of prepared tuna. If you want to get real fancy, you can crumble feta or blue cheese on top if you have it.

11. Pork Chop With Sautéed Cauliflower and Raisins

You have to go to high-end market or butcher to get single slices of pork (or any meat, for that matter), so to cut costs, buy a pack of two chops and put one in the freezer. Pan fry or grill the chop — your preference — and serve along side steamed cauliflower and raisins. The latter may seem like an unusual combo, but trust me, it’s good.

12. Mussels Provencal

I know what you’re thinking — mussels are expensive. And, like most seafood bought in a large quantity, they can be. But if you’re eating for one, you only need to purchase as many mussels as you think you’ll consume; my recommendation would be 10 to 12. When you’re ready to eat, prepare the mussels with this recipe that calls for ingredients that you probably already have on hand. This dish is a real treat for those who want to eat like a prince on the budget of a pauper. 

14. Beef With Brown Rice and Gravy

This is a no-frills, very affordable dish that I used to make in college. My roommates would laugh at me because it’s one of those meals that you eat when there is nothing left in the house, but I had the last laugh when it was in my belly. Stew meat, which is totally cheap, is what this dish calls for. Sauté the meat in olive oil, salt, and pepper while boiling one pouch of brown rice; I buy my fast-cook rice in pouches so it’s perfectly portioned, by the way. Prepare the brown gravy from an instant mix as directed and pour over the combined beef and rice. The mix makes enough gravy for two, but I use it all. Mikey don’t share his gravy.

Have even more recipes or tips on how to make meals for one? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture

I used to hate spinach too, but then I tried fresh spinach (nothing like the canned stuff!) and became a devotee.

Some great, easy recipes in here, I need to put those chipotle-cilantro quesadillas to the test.

Andrea Karim's picture

Have you ever tried frozen spinach? I like fresh, but I find frozen to be less work-intensive.

Mikey Rox's picture

I tried frozen spinach for the first time while hosting a party. I saw a commercial from Hidden Valley Ranch about mixing their powered ranch mix with frozen spinach (after you cook it, of course), and sour cream. Couldn't get enough of it. I love that dip, but it's soooo bad for you. Why do all of life's delicious delights make me fat? :(

Guest's picture
Sean H

Mikey,

I feel like after reading this i can call you dude. Dude, I'm living alone right now and hate cooking and cleaning for myself. This was a bit of inspiration because I do deserve to eat better! Lately, I've been resorting to massive quantities of crock pot chili or beef stew that will last me two weeks. I'm going to give some of your recipes a try! Also, for someone that works out a lot, good eating is important! Thanks for the pick me up!

Mikey Rox's picture

Glad these recipes gave you something to look forward to making. And, yeah, you can totally call me dude. Enjoy!

Guest's picture

Tasty and cheap in the same sentence? There's no way you can go wrong with that. These meals look delish! Stay young and thrifty :)

Guest's picture
Guest

Ok, these are great but what about the old standby beans and franks, Stewed tomatoes and spanish rice, and veggie fried rice. Not the most healthy options, but certainly ok for a quick once and a while meal.

Guest's picture
Purchase Wisely

Hey Mikey - make your spinach dip with the ranch mix and non-fat sour cream. Much healthier, waaaay less guilt, and it will taste just as good!

Another easy, quick meal for one - freshly made chicken-veggie soup. 1/2 bag mixed frozen veggies - Trader Joe's Harvest Hodgepodge works really well, or the Italian mix from the dollar store - 1 can Swanson low sodium chicken broth and half a chicken breast (raw is fine, but if it's already cooked then skip the simmering and just shred it). Simmer the chicken in the chicken broth until it's done, take the chicken out and shred it while you cook the veggies in the same broth (use two forks to shred the chicken so you don't burn your fingers). Throw the chicken back in, add some garlic powder, onion powder and black pepper and you're done. 20 minutes, max. If you like and have them on hand, fresh herbs like basil and oregano add extra flavor, so does a splash of white wine and a diced tomato.

Mikey Rox's picture

Love the extra recipe! But I can't do non-fat sour cream. I know it's better for me, but I don't like how it tastes. If I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna do full fat. :)