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Cooking for One Guy

I suspect that many people who write about cooking for one are not themselves single diners. For my part, while I learned a lot from reporting today's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column about solo cooking, once I finished writing I made dinner for my family of four.

But Joe Yonan knows firsthand whereof he writes when he shares his culinary tips in the Post Food Section's monthly column "Cooking for One." Yonan tells me he lives alone -- with his dog -- and balances daily his love of good food, his lifelong effort to maintain a healthy weight, and the reality of a busy work schedule when preparing his one-guy meals.

All that adds up to an eclectic and enticing menu chez Yonan. Listening to him talk about the simple meals he whips up makes you realize that cooking for one doesn't have to be boring.

Yonan, 43, says he faces the same concerns about dinner as the rest of us: "Like everybody, I am exhausted at the end of the day," he says. "I get home late, and I'm scanning around for something to keep me from dialing the nearby Chinese takeout.

"If there's not something readily available, I start grazing, and it's not good," says Yonan, who calls himself "someone who has struggled with weight, a lifetime member of Weight Watchers.

"It's a disaster when I just dip into the peanut butter with a spoon."

So Yonan has armed himself against just such situations. "I have the most shockingly well-stocked pantry, freezer, and refrigerator," he says; he also relies on a collection of staples plus seasonings and extras -- pickled onions, for instance -- to keep flavors interesting. His everyday meals revolve around a few basic items that are nutritious, quick to cook, freezer-friendly and satisfying.

Eggs are a kitchen staple for solo diner Joe Yonan. (James M. Thresher/The Washington Post)
His No. 1 go-to food? Eggs. "I think for a single person an egg is a godsend," Yonan says (at least for those who, like him, don't have high cholesterol; others should probably consume eggs in moderation). "If I don't have any other sources of protein around, there's always an egg."

Yonan likes his eggs fried in a nonstick skillet "with a tiny bit of olive oil." He doesn't flip them, he says, preferring to "put a tiny amount of water in the pot, cover it with a lid, and let it film over." Yum. Other times he'll slowly scramble his eggs over very low heat, salting them before cooking to keep them tender. "I stir them slowly, so the curds form slowly," he says. "Sometimes if I'm feeling naughty I'll do this in a little bit of butter."

Other times, Yonan goes for bulk. "I'm a volume eater," he says. "I want a lot of food." Sweet potatoes are a favorite, as are corn tortillas (better for you than the flour variety) from Trader Joe's, of which he'll have three or four, each with a little bit of meat and lots of vegetables. He finds using small bits of meat mixed with tons of veggies as a taco stuffing more satisfying than just plunking that same amount of meat in a single piece on a plate, which he says "looks pathetic." He keeps individual portions of chicken in the freezer, along with those tortillas. And "When I'm really on my game, I have on hand veggies I've roasted or sauteed." Dessert these days is usually some "nonfat Greek yogurt and my own jam," he says.

Of course, sometimes a guy's gotta get takeout. As this article attests, Yonan has made an art of reusing the abundance of white rice that comes with the Chinese food he occasionally orders.

Yonan notes that not all singleton cooks are cut from the same cloth. "There are two reasons that there are so many single-person households," he observes. "Many people are outliving their spouses, mostly women. And young people are getting married later and later, so there are all these single 30-somethings." The "Cooking for One" column, he says, "tries to get both of these perspectives."

And while Yonan says that in his evening meals he tries to counter the excesses related to his job as a food editor, which requires him daily to taste and weigh in on many food items that don't necessarily have his good health in mind, on special occasions all bets are off. "I cook elaborate dinners for friends in which those [health] considerations go right out the window," he says.

Are you a cook-for-one cook? What challenges do you face, and what freedoms do you enjoy? And what's for dinner tonight?

Don't miss today's Lean & Fit newsletter, which features recipes for single cooks. To sign up for the weekly newsletter go to and search for "newsletters."

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  November 18, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Nutrition and Fitness  
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My problem w/ cooking for one is the labor needed. "I cooked, you clean up" doesn't work when those 2 ppl are one in the same.

Posted by: lindy47 | November 18, 2008 9:16 AM | Report abuse

I don't bother cooking for myself, although I could if I really, really have to. Salads in a bag are a godsend. Also the salad bar at just about any grocery store. Rotisserie chicken - buy one and nibble on it for days, with the salad in a bag. Breakfast is yogurt and a piece of fruit. I buy lunch at work. Nibble on cheese and crackers, a bowl of soup or cereal, or something light for dinner. Sometimes scrambled eggs and toast. Baking potato nuked in a microwave with cottage cheese and salsa topping. For my creative streak, I'll bake something like a cake or cookies on a Sunday night and take it to work to share.

I love the freedom of not having to cook at all. My stovetop gets dusty. The dishwasher runs once a week. Life is good.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | November 18, 2008 9:54 AM | Report abuse

I love to cook for one. I can afford to buy gourmet foods for one- whereas to serve it to a family of 4 would be cost prohibitive. I like manchego cheese, a few slices before dinner, then cook a sweet potato and salmon for dinner. Sometimes I cook a nice stew and it lasts for days.

Posted by: suprice | November 18, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

What's for dinner tonight?

Grilled marinated shrimp with dipping sauce. Re-heated leftover fried rice. Grilled asparagus.

Frozen EZ Peel raw shrimp (21-30 count) from Harris Teeter supermarket.

Marinade for shrimp:
Lime juice
Olive oil
Chopped scallions
Chopped garlic

Dipping sauce:
Soy sauce
Sesame oil
Rice wine vinegar
Chopped cilantro
Chopped ginger
Chopped scallions

Posted by: john_g | November 18, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Ever hear of "batch cooking?" I cook for one and have done so for many years. Once a month or so, I prepare beef stews, soups, roast chicken/potato meals, and pasta and I freeze them in individual portions. I did this as a working mom and trust me, it works. This is not a new idea. Labor intensive - yes - but, only one day every four weeks or so. So, when I'm hungry, my freezer is my friend.

Posted by: marine2211 | November 18, 2008 1:13 PM | Report abuse

My "go-to" quick dinner for one, especially when I am hungry, is whole wheat pasta. I don't go to the trouble to make a sauce, but I will add whatever fresh vegetable(s) I have (often broccoli and fresh tomato), drizzle with olive oil and top with parmesian cheese and hot red pepper flakes.

Posted by: CowboyGirl1 | November 18, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

These are all very interesting and useful comments. I am in a long-distance relationship and living alone after several years of enjoying my G/F's fabulous cooking. I only today discovered Joe Yoman's column, but I've added it to my RSS news reader and I am certain I will make regular use of the information he provides.

Cooking for one can be a time suck and, sometimes, an exercise in diminishing returns. But it's encouraging to know there are many others out there like me, and maybe the information we exchange can make the experience a bit less irksome. Thanks -- and keep the conversation moving ahead!

Scott, in Frederick

Posted by: niceFLguy | November 18, 2008 2:47 PM | Report abuse

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