Tips for cooking for 2-3 people

We met Kaitlin, a Minnesota medical mama, in her Meet a Reader post.

Kaitlin with her kids.

Since then, she’s been thrown into single mom life, and she left this comment on a recent post.

I’m curious how you cook for 2-3 people. I am either making way too much or not enough for my little group. Any tips?


Funny enough, the vast majority of my cooking life has been the sort where I’m feeding six people; I cooked most of the meals for my family as a teen, and there were six of us then.

And of course, I got married and had four kids, so I spent a lot of time feeding six people then as well.

So, this cooking-for-two thing is pretty new to me, BUT I have been cooking for a three-person household for the last year.

skillet sausage with orzo

I’ll share a few of my strategies, but then I also want to ask readers for their advice because I know there are a number of people here who are cooking for even just one person!

1. Choose recipes that work well as leftovers

With a small household, most recipes are going to produce leftovers.

And not every recipe makes for great leftovers!

So, when I pick meals now, I really, really try to think about whether or not we will want to eat the extras as leftovers, and I use that as a guide in planning.

2. Make a whole recipe, freeze half for later

I used to make a big pan of stuffed shells, but there’s no way Zoe and I will get through a whole pan of those now.

A pan of pasta shells, topepd with tomato sauce.

The same goes for a big batch of burgers or meatballs.

But for things that freeze well, it can still make sense to make a whole batch. For instance, when I mix up the meat for these burgers, I’ve been freezing a couple for a future meal.

Or if I make a batch of pulled pork, I divvy it up and freeze a couple of meals’ worth of meat.
mac and cheese with pulled pork

I’ve also been doing the same thing for baked goods; Zoe and I won’t eat a dozen muffins quickly enough, so I freeze half of them after I bake them.

3. If a recipe is easy enough, just halve it

I don’t know if this is logical, but for a very labor-intensive recipe or something with a long cooking time, it feels sort of annoying to go through all that work just to make a few servings.

(I would not halve a pulled pork recipe, for example!)

But for really simple recipes, like the baked ziti I made for Sonia and me last week, I don’t mind halving the recipe.

baked ziti.

4. Prepare a whole recipe but cook only half

When I made chicken katsu last week with Sonia, I pounded and breaded a whole batch of chicken, but I only fried what we would eat that night. I put the rest in the fridge to fry up another night.

chicken katsu cooking.

That’s a way to make leftovers feel a little bit less like leftovers; I’d much rather eat fresh-fried chicken than reheated cooked chicken. And it’s not that hard to fry the chicken and reheat some rice on a future night.

I do this if I’m making fried cornmeal mush too; I fry up only what we will eat that meal and then leave the rest in the fridge to cook up later.

fried cornmeal mush with butter and syrup

When I make whole wheat pancakes for myself at breakfast, I cook half the batter and then I refrigerate the rest to cook the next morning. Fresh-cooked pancakes are way better than leftover pancakes!

5. Fill out the meal with something flexible

If you’re feeling iffy about how much food you’re going to need, and you want to err on the side of caution with the more expensive parts of the meal (like the meat), you can add insurance by making extras of flexible sides.

For instance, you can make one burger per person, and then everyone can eat potato salad/chips/watermelon until they are full.

grilled hamburger in a bun.

Or you could plan for a certain amount of chicken per person, and if someone is still hungry, they could have extra servings of sweet potatoes or rolls.

garlic rolls in a white dish.

That could help you as you’re in the midst of learning. Speaking of:

6. Give yourself grace for the learning curve

If your household has suddenly shrunk, then you’re going to have an adjustment period where you will not get this right.

But it’s ok. You don’t have to be good at this right away; over time, you will figure it out!

Every time you make too much or too little, that’s just helpful data that you can file away for the future.

Make-Ahead Chicken Enchiladas with Red Sauce Recipe Story Poster Image

Also: I know this is not the case for everyone, but if your household is suddenly small for a hard/sad/traumatic reason, that’s all the more cause for giving yourself grace. Some nights might just call for sandwiches or cereal, and that’s ok.

Kaitlin, I know that all the changes you are experiencing right now probably feel overwhelming, and the cooking is just one piece of that.

I really struggled with making dinner for a while over this last year and a half, so if you are struggling, just know you aren’t alone.

But the super hard days are temporary; you will adjust and get to a new normal with time.


Ok, readers, I’d love to hear your advice for Kaitlin (and I’ll be taking notes too!)

What advice do you have for feeding a small household?

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