Cooking for one – tips for elders living alone

When you live alone – as many elders do – making a proper meal for yourself every day can seem like just too much bother.

Firstly, it’s not easy to buy fresh produce for single portion meals. Everything from carrots to mince comes in family-size punnets. Which means you either need to cook enough for four to six portions at a time, or risk wasting fresh produce that sits unused in the fridge until it has to be thrown out.

On top of that, cooking for one takes just as much time as cooking for the whole family. And there’s just as much washing up to do afterwards too!

Takeaways are not the answer

When you’re faced with cooking for one, it’s tempting to make do with a slice of bread and jam. Or takeaway pizza, burger and chips or Kentucky fried chicken. None of which are exactly healthy options! Plus, you’ll feel it in your pocket if you buy takeaways every night.

If you do cook up a big serving of food, you’re faced with eating the same thing, day after day. Unless you have a freezer you can use to store surplus portions. If so, invest in plastic storage containers with good seals, or use Zip seal bags. Freeze food immediately after cooking – don’t leave it sitting in a pot on the kitchen counter overnight. And be sure to heat it thoroughly before eating.

If you don’t have a freezer, here are some ideas for healthy one-person meals:

Make an omelette

Single serve omelettes are one of the quickest, easiest and healthiest meals to make. Eggs are packed full of protein, iron, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids. Plus you can add different fillings to your omelette to ensure you get extra taste and nutrients.

Try shredded spinach, cherry tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, a little cheese or ham. Sprinkle chopped parsley over the omelette for an extra boost of vitamin K, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Parsley is one of nature’s super foods, keeping bones healthy, improving your immune system and reducing inflammation.

Old fashioned baked (jacket) potato

If you have a microwave, cooking a jacket potato is ridiculously fast and simple. Just prick the potato skin all over with a fork, wash and wrap in kitchen paper. Pop it into the microwave and cook on full power for 3-5 mins.

Cut the potato open and top with melted butter, cooked bacon or ham, and/or some grated cheese, baked beans or mushrooms. Serve with a side salad for the healthiest option.

Along with a microwave oven, an air fryer is one of the most useful appliances when you are cooking for one. Because, you can cook single servings of chicken, chops, fish and other foods in a fraction of the time. And it’s far more energy efficient than heating up the oven.

Soups and stews

Although these take longer to make, one-pot meals mean less tidying up to do, and are great for using up any left overs in your fridge. Keep a packet of dried stew mix (split peas, lentils etc) in the cupboard to add bulk and flavour, as well as stock powder and tomato puree.


If you really don’t feel like cooking, go ahead and have toast for dinner. Just make sure you add a nutritious topping, such as peanut butter. Other healthy options include cheese and tomato, tuna, mashed avocado, ham or salami, chicken mayo, hard boiled or scrambled egg, or the old standby – baked beans. For breakfast, spread Greek yoghurt or mashed banana (or both) onto toast for a power packed meal.

Shop smart

When shopping for groceries, look for items that are versatile and long-lasting. Buy small amounts of fresh produce, e.g. one or two potatoes and onions, instead of pre-packed bags.

  • Fresh fruit, like bananas and apples can be bought singly, and some supermarkets make up packs of assorted fruit, so you can enjoy variety without the waste that comes from buying in bulk.
  • Spinach is incredibly versatile. You can toss chopped spinach into almost any dish … from savoury mince to stir fry … as well as eat it raw in salads. And it’s absolutely packed with iron and other essential nutrients.
  • Store bought roast chicken portions are usually inexpensive, delicious and can be used in a number of different ways. Serve whole with vegetables, or chop and add to stir fries, rice and pasta dishes. Serve cold with salad, or mix into mayonnaise for delicious chicken mayo sandwiches.
  • Tuna – at under R20, a small tin of tuna is an inexpensive, versatile and non-perishable staple. Mix it with mayonnaise for sandwiches, flake into salads or make tuna pie with a topping of mashed potato.
  • Frozen vegetables have the same health benefits as fresh veggies, without the need for preparation or the waste. Use only as much as you need. Serve as a side dish, or toss into soups, stews and stir fries.

Use a meal delivery service like Tafta’s Meals on Wheels

Our ready-to-eat meals are nutritionally balanced to ensure your diet contains everything you need for optimum health. Available to anyone over the age of 60 living in the Durban CBD and beachfront areas, Meals on Wheels consist of a main meal and dessert, delivered to your door from Monday to Friday.

And the cost is calculated on a sliding scale according to your means. Easy, delicious and affordable – what more could you ask?

Click here for more information about Meals on Wheels or call Tafta on 031 332 3721.