Cooking for One: 6 Easy Meals Made in Minutes

By Christine Byrne |

You want a delicious, satisfying dinner, but you don’t need to feed a family of four. These no-fuss, single-serving recipes are the solution.

Brown Rice and Beans Rainbow Bowl

Cooking for one can be even more challenging than feeding a crowd.

It seems counterintuitive, but it’s simply a math problem. Most recipes yield at least three servings, so if you’re dining solo—and don’t want leftovers around—you’re stuck doing the math to modify amounts, which can drive anyone to call it quits and grab fast food.

Try to resist. Not only because preparing a meal at home is almost always better for your waistline and your wallet, but it’s also a nice opportunity to wind down after a long day. Plus, we have proof it can be quick, easy, and totally satisfying.

Here, registered dietitians who are familiar with the cooking-for-one challenge share their go-to single-serving dinners—most of which can be made in 15 minutes or less.

You’ll notice some recipes call for precooked ingredients, like whole grains and vegetables. This is in an effort to keep things as streamlined as possible, but it’s not required. You can cook your ingredients whenever you prefer—at the beginning of the week if you like to meal prep or right before you make each meal.

Meal for One #1: Zoodles and 10-Minute Meat Sauce

“My favorite go-to dinner for one is a warm bowl of zucchini noodles with Bolognese sauce,” says Ha Nguyen, R.D. “I like it because it requires such simple ingredients: spiralized zucchini—which many grocery stores now sell in the prepared produce section—a jar of tomato sauce, vegetables, and lean ground beef or turkey.” That’s it!

Zoodles and 10-Minute Meat Sauce

You’ll need:

  • 1 medium zucchini, spiralized
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ¼ onion, diced
  • 4 ounces ground turkey
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¾ cup marinara sauce

What to do: In a large skillet over medium heat, cook zoodles until al dente, about 3 minutes. They’ll release water, but it will evaporate. Set zoodles aside in a bowl, and wipe skillet clean.

Return skillet to medium heat. Add olive oil and onion, and sauté until slightly soft, about 3 minutes. Add ground turkey, season with salt and pepper, and cook, breaking meat apart, until no pink remains.

Add garlic and reduce heat to low. Add marinara and cook to heat through. Serve sauce over zoodles in a bowl.

Meal for One #2: Brown Rice Fiesta Bowl

“My go-to dinner is a mixture of brown rice, black beans, corn, pico de gallo, and spinach,” says Germaine Guy, R.D. “I love this meal because it’s simple to prepare and it contains a wide variety of plant-based foods that are high in fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients while containing no saturated fat or cholesterol.”

Brown Rice and Beans Rainbow Bowl

You’ll need:

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ½ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • ¾ cup cooked brown rice
  • ½ cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 handful fresh spinach
  • 2 tablespoons pico de gallo or salsa

What to do: Add olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add corn, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until corn is slightly soft, about 2 minutes.

Add brown rice, black beans, and spinach, and cook until rice and beans are hot and spinach is wilted. Serve topped with pico de gallo.

Meal for One #3: Roasted Veggie Quinoa with Greek Yogurt and Avocado

“My go-to dinner is really simple,” says Alissa Rumsey, R.D., a nutrition therapist and intuitive eating counselor in New York City. “I cook up some type of grain—I’m on a farro kick right now, but I also love kamut and quinoa. Then, I toss it with roasted vegetables, typically whatever is in season at my farmer’s market, and top it with protein in the form of roasted lentils, canned beans, or Greek yogurt.”

“If I have a ripe avocado, I’ll toss it on there too,” she adds. “If not, I add some olive oil, along with spices, and toss it all together.”

Why she loves this quick and easy dish: “Because it’s hearty and satisfying, and it’s easy to scale up to make leftovers for several additional lunch and dinner meals.”

Roasted Veggie Quinoa with Greek Yogurt and Avocado

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 cup roasted vegetables of your choice
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika or cumin
  • ⅓ cup plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ avocado, chopped

What to do: Mix quinoa and roasted vegetables in a bowl. You can eat it cold, or you can microwave it if you prefer it warm. Stir in paprika or cumin. Top with Greek yogurt and avocado.

Meal for One #4: Brown Rice and Beans Rainbow Bowl

“One of my favorite go-to healthy meals for one is a simple rice bowl with beans and veggies,” says Amy Gorin, R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area.

“It takes just minutes to make, and I tend to use ingredients that are already in my fridge, freezer, or pantry,” she says. “That’s usually microwaveable brown rice, which provides filling fiber, and then frozen veggies—I love okra!—as well as anything fresh that I can get my hands on, like halved grape tomatoes. Then, I’ll add in canned beans for satiating protein and fiber, and canned olives for healthy fats.”

Voila! Dinner is complete.

Brown Rice and Beans Rainbow Bowl

You’ll need:

  • 1 single-serve package microwave brown rice
  • 1 cup frozen okra or broccoli
  • ½ cup halved cherry tomatoes
  • ¾ cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Kalamata olives or any olives you have on hand
  • 2 tablespoons crumbled feta

What to do: Microwave rice according to package instructions. Steam okra or broccoli in the microwave. In a bowl, top rice with remaining ingredients.

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Meal for One #5: Salmon Burger with Quick Side Salad

“My favorite go-to dinner for one is a salmon burger with a side salad,” says Nazima Qureshi M.P.H., R.D.

“The salmon burgers are made in advance by pulsing together salmon, spices, egg, and breadcrumbs,” she says. “Then, I freeze the patties so I just need to pop it out of the freezer and panfry it when I want to eat it. I pair it with a good-quality bun and a salad. It’s a great way to ensure I get in my healthy omega-3 fats on a regular basis.”

Salmon Burger with Quick Side Salad

You’ll need:
For the burgers (makes 4 servings, which you can freeze):

  • 1 pound skinless salmon fillet, cut in small cubes
  • 1 egg
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

For the meal:

  • 1 teaspoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 salmon patty
  • 1 whole wheat burger bun or ciabatta roll
  • Burger toppings of your choice (optional)
  • 1 handful salad greens
  • ¼ cup black beans
  • ½ cup chopped fruits or vegetables
  • Squeeze of lemon

What to do: To make the salmon burgers, use a food processor to pulse all burger ingredients until combined but still slightly chunky. Form into 4 patties. Freeze the patties on individual squares of parchment paper in an airtight container.

To make the meal: Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook salmon patty until cooked through and lightly browned, about 4 minutes per side if frozen. Place patty on the bun, and add burger toppings of your choice.

Toss together salad greens, black beans, chopped fruits or vegetables, lemon juice, remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil, and some salt and pepper. Serve salad with burger.

Meal for One #6: Sheet Pan Chicken Breast and Vegetables

“Sometimes all you need are some basics,” says Dezi Abeyta, R.D.N. “As a dad, entrepreneur, and recovering procrastinator, I often have no idea what to make for dinner, but having a few quality staples available can help you throw together this quick sheet pan dinner. Just think lean protein, carbs, and colorful veggies!”

Sheet Pan Chicken Breast and Vegetables

You’ll need:

  • 1 small boneless, skinless chicken breast (or 2, if you want leftovers)
  • 1 cup butternut squash, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 medium bell pepper, seeded and quartered
  • 1 portobello mushroom, thickly sliced
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin, curry powder, or paprika

What to do: Preheat oven to 375° F. In a large bowl, toss chicken and vegetables in olive oil, spice of choice, and some salt and pepper. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are soft.

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