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How to Meal Prep for One Person: 5 Beginner Tips (Plus Free Meal Plan)

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If you’ve recently stumbled across meal prep, there’s a chance you’ve already learned quite a few of the basics. But when it comes to learning how to meal prep for one person, there are a few extra steps to keep in mind if you want to save the most time and energy with your weekly prep. In this beginner-friendly guide, you’ll learn all the tips you need to make solo meal prep a breeze — plus, we’ve included a free sample 3-day meal plan for one that you can download and use for your next weekly meal prep!

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Cooking fresh food for yourself on a daily basis is relatively straightforward, but solo meal prepping requires a little more effort and thought to really make it work. After all, there’s nothing worse than overplanning, overspending, and wasting valuable food — all things that can happen if you don’t take the time to plan ahead.

As someone who has spent many years meal prepping for myself, here are my top 5 tips for saving the most time, effort, and money with solo meal prep.

1. Choose your goals for meal prep

Meal prep is all about saving — saving money at the grocery store, saving time in the kitchen, and ultimately, saving energy and effort each week feeding yourself. And for most people, these benefits make meal prep more than worth it.

Best of Meal Prep / Eleesha Lockett

However, the truth is that there are so many other benefits that meal prep can offer outside of just saving time and money, such as being able to:

  • reduce dining outside of the home
  • enjoy more homecooked meals
  • create more variety in your diet
  • track dietary restrictions, portions, etc.
  • improve your personal cooking skills
  • nurture your creativity in the kitchen

Whether you’ve decided to start meal prepping because you have specific goals, or because you just want to make life a little easier, it can be helpful to brainstorm exactly what you want to get out of meal prep. By taking the time to figure out your personal goals, you can more easily meet those goals with meal prep each week.

2. Pick solo meal prep-friendly recipes

When you’re meal prepping for one, it’s important to reduce food waste — so one of the most essential things to learn is how to pick recipes that are good for solo meal prep. Luckily, there are plenty of meal prep recipes online that make 3 servings, which is the perfect amount of food for a single person on a 3-day meal plan.

Now, does this mean that you can’t prep food in bulk when solo meal prepping? Definitely not! But keep in mind that most cooked food won’t last longer than 3-4 days in the fridge, so if you do plan to prep in bulk, try to find freezer-friendly meal prep recipes. As long as you have the freezer space, these recipes can be easily stored for weeks (or months) without going bad.

By the way, if you’re looking for ideas for solo meal prep-friendly recipes, here are a few to get you started:

3. Double-dip on weekly ingredients

Although this tip applies to any type of meal prep, it’s especially helpful if you only meal prep for one person and want to avoid buying tons of different ingredients. If you’re making a weekly meal plan for one, try to find a way to use the same proteins, produce, and grains in multiple recipes. Not only can this help reduce food waste, but it can also help reduce spending at the grocery store, too.

mojo steak bowls for meal prep
The Healthful Human / Eleesha Lockett
mojo steak for meal prep
The Healthful Human / Eleesha Lockett

Another thing to keep in mind is that you always want to make sure to check your pantry, fridge, and freezer before you even hit the grocery store. If you’re someone who buys ingredients in bulk to save money, like dried grains, canned beans, or frozen meat and veggies, there’s a chance you already some of what you need. Once you’ve made a mental list of what you have on hand, you can avoid wasting time and money at the grocery store.

4. Plan out your prep session

It’s relatively easy to manage your time in the kitchen when you’re cooking one recipe at a time for yourself. However, prepping multiple recipes at the same time can be a balancing act, one that takes practice. So, before you even sharpen those knives or turn on the oven, here are a few steps to consider taking before you dive into your weekly prep session:

  • keep your meal plan, including every recipe you want to cook, easily accessible
  • try to cut, portion, and prep any ingredients you need ahead of time, if you can
  • plan to cook all of your recipes in order from longest to shortest cook time
  • make sure to have your meal prep containers nearby for when you’re done cooking

One of the reasons why you want to make sure to have everything about your prep session planned out is because if you don’t have a plan, you’ll likely end up spending way more time and effort in the kitchen than needed. By planning out what your session will look like from start to finish, prepping will be a breeze.

5. Allow yourself some wiggle room

As a meal prep beginner, learning how to meal prep takes time — as does learning how to meal prep consistently. And if you’re on a solo meal prep journey, teaching yourself can take a little more effort, because you don’t have a second person to help in the kitchen or offer weekly accountability (and that’s totally ok). However, one way to make this process a little easier on yourself is by allowing some “wiggle” room.

overnight oats in a plastic meal prep container
Best of Meal Prep / Eleesha Lockett

Perhaps wiggle room looks like starting slowly and only prepping one recipe a week to give yourself time to adjust. Or maybe it looks like saving some space in your schedule for spontaneous dine out experiences, because trying new foods is important to you. Either way, offering yourself enough time and space to make meal prep a regular habit can help keep it exciting for you in the long-run.

Learning how to meal plan for one person

We already touched on the idea of choosing solo meal prep-friendly recipes. But before you even start browsing for those recipes, there’s one element of solo meal prep you’ll want to consider first — which type of meal planning you want to do. While there are multiple meal planning and prepping approaches, there are two styles that work well if you plan to meal prep for one person:

  • portioned meal prep, a type of meal prep in which you create a menu using recipes that you’ll cook and separate out into individual portions or containers
  • buffet-style meal prep, a type of meal prep in which you create a menu of “buffet” ingredients to mix and match throughout the week

When it comes to solo meal prep, both of these approaches can be a great way to save money, reduce food waste, and ensure that you have homecooked meals to enjoy all week long.

Sample 3-day meal plan for one

If you’re looking for inspiration for your next solo meal prep session, give this sample 3-day meal plan a try! In addition to the meal plan itself, this downloadable PDF also includes full recipes and a weekly shopping list.

By the way, this sample meal plan is part of The Healthful Human’s free 3-day meal plan starter pack, which includes two more 3-day meal plans with recipes and shopping lists — or you can browse more budget-friendly meal plans here.

Solo meal prep FAQ

Now that we’ve covered all the basics of meal prepping for one, hopefully you’ll feel more confident about meal prepping for yourself. But if you’re still on the fence about taking that leap, here are a few more tips to keep in mind.

What are the best meals for one person?

When you’re cooking for yourself, try to focus on recipes with fewer servings that store well in the fridge, as this can help prevent any food going to waste during the week. Rice bowls, sheet pans, curries, and stir fries are a few of my favorite solo meal prep recipes, but if you’re looking for more inspiration, check out 10 of my favorite recipes for weekly meal prep.

What is a realistic food budget for one person?

As food costs continue to rise, you might find yourself wondering how much you should realistically spend on weekly groceries — and the truth is that it depends entirely on your own needs and budget. However, whether your food budget is $50 a week or $400 a month, consistently meal prepping can ultimately help you save money in the long-run.

How do you meal prep with little space?

It can be frustrating to try and squeeze an entire weekly meal prep session into a small amount of space, but one thing that helps is sticking to the basics. So, that means using basic pots, pans, and utensils, and avoiding unnecessary large equipment or accessories that take up room. Also, prepping only 3-4 days’ worth of food at a time can help save space if you’re working with a smaller fridge, too.

Eleesha Lockett

Eleesha Lockett is a nutrition professional, meal prep expert, and freelance writer who specializes in crafting empathetic and inclusive health and wellness content. Her work has been featured in Healthline, Psych Central, SELF, Shape, Verywell Health, and Well+Good. She holds a master’s in Human Nutrition from The University of Bridgeport, which she uses to share her passion of nutrition (especially meal prep) with others.

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