When I was in college, I constantly struggled with figuring out how to buy and prepare groceries just for myself. At my parents’ house, there was always an abundance of food to choose from. So naturally, when I started grocery shopping for myself, I emulated what I knew: purchasing a wide variety of food at quantities that were probably better fit for a family of four than for a young woman of 19. I inevitably ended up throwing out heaps of moldy produce and expired pantry items every month
“All the Tupperware containers in the world couldn’t contain the amount of leftovers I’d end up with after every home cooked meal.”
To make matters worse, whenever I did find recipes that would enable me to use up most of my weekly grocery haul, the serving size listed in the ingredients was always an outrageously high number:
“Baked chicken and sweet potato fries – serves 6”
“Seasonal vegetarian lasagna – serves 12”
“Kale salad – serves 39“*
*JK, because a) I’ve never actually seen a recipe serving size that high and b) I don’t eat kale
All the Tupperware containers in the world couldn’t contain the amount of leftovers I’d end up with after every home cooked meal.
But as I continued forward in my college career, I started to figure out how to buy and prepare the right portions for just me. I ended up throwing away less food, and when I did find a recipe that looked good, I found it easier and easier to eyeball the right measurements of ingredients that would yield the perfect serving size for me: 1.
On top of practice making perfect, I found that there are loads of online resources and recipe blogs totally devoted to cooking for one. I didn’t know whether I should feel sad or triumphant for learning how to make a single serving of cake for my lonely ol’ self, but I didn’t care–I had figured out how to take care of myself when it came to cooking.
“It was as if cooking for one had become so ingrained in my kitchen habits that it became my default.”
I never considered how hard it would be to go from cooking for one to cooking for two. And when I say that I never considered it, I really mean that–it was such a non-issue that it didn’t cross my mind that it could be difficult to change the way I cook. It was as simple an issue as doubling my recipe sizes, right? Not so…
When I got married, my husband was working a night shift job and I worked day shift. We were like two ships passing in the night. Each morning, I’d wake up as he fell asleep. And each afternoon we’d say hello on the phone as we commuted: me driving home, him driving to work. Because of this, I would prepare meals for both of us** on my own at night.
**I understand that this dilemma could have been solved by each of us cooking for ourselves. However, in my marriage, I do the cooking and my husband does the cleaning. I cook because I’m good at it and I enjoy it. He cleans because I’m not good at it and I don’t enjoy it.
I loved getting home from work each day, pouring a glass of wine, cranking up some music in my empty house, and preparing food from the cookbooks we’d received as wedding presents. The only problem was I couldn’t cook for two.
I just couldn’t do it! Without attempting to do so, I would find that the recipes I’d made often yielded one and a half servings at most. When I’d try to double the recipe, all the ingredients just felt like too much, and I’d end up cutting out more than I should have. On more than one occasion, I’d send my husband pictures of the delicious meal that I’d cooked, only to realize that there would be none for him to eat when he got home the next day. It was as if cooking for one had become so ingrained in my kitchen habits that it became my default.
“The transition was one that was steeped in the old adage of ‘try, try again.’”
But you know what? Over time, I’ve figured out how to override that default setting. It wasn’t a sudden change – my poor husband continued to receive delicious “dinner for one” pictures for months on end. The transition was one that was steeped in the old adage of “try, try again.” Just as learning to cook for myself as a college student took a lot of trial and error, learning to cook for two did as well.
Leftovers became my friend now that I had someone to help me finish the giant Pyrex container of risotto sitting in the fridge. The large wok and seemingly oversized skillets finally had a reason to be on the stove. If anything, the challenge of changing my serving sizes has provided me with a great growing opportunity as a cook.
Now here’s the part where I tell you the trick that taught me how to cook for two. Here’s where I reveal the magic. Right?
The truth is, I have no quick fix to this problem, because it’s not really a problem. Like learning to cook for one, increasing to enough food for two is just another hurdle I had to learn to jump on my way to being an “adult”. The path is paved with trial and error and, in this case, enough leftover poblano bolognese pasta to last until the end of the week.