Looking for websites/cookbooks with recipes for two people

Updated Jun 5 2017
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Healthy Cooking for Two (or Just You): Low-Fat Recipes with Half the Fuss and Double the Taste
My partner and I are making the effort to both save money and eat healthier, which means more cooking at home. The problem is, it's just the two of us. With recipes in most cookbooks and websites ranging for 4-to-6 servings per recipe, this usually means we have a LOT of leftovers. As in "you'd better like this because we're having it all next week."

We have been halving the recipes we're eating, but often this doesn't work — the smaller sizes cook too fast and get scorched. I do know there's a learning curve for cooking, but we'd like to feed each other something besides canned soup and sandwiches or take-out while we're learning.

Does anyone have any suggestions for cookbooks/websites that specialize in smaller portions, or any reducing portion size tips you'd like to pass on to a novice? -Gracie

We have a whole tag devoted to cooking for one. But let's talk about cooking for two! Here are some cookbooks I found…

One Pan, Two Plates: More Than 70 Complete Weeknight Meals for Two
Healthy Cookbook for Two: 175 Simple, Delicious Recipes to Enjoy Cooking for Two
The Complete Slow Cooking for Two: A Perfectly Portioned Slow Cooker Cookbook
Cooking for two

What are your recommendations? There's NO WAY Megan's going to be any help on this one…

  1. We got this Cooking for Two: Perfect Meals for Pairs book when we got engaged, and it has a lot of great recipes in it. We both love to cook though, and are used to cooking for a crowd, so just as often we'll make something big (like a braised pork shoulder or a roast chicken) at the beginning of the week and eat it with veggies and other sides, and then transform the leftovers into other things, like tacos, stirfry, curry, or flatbreads. When you make something like a lasagne or a casserole, you're kind of stuck with what you've got, but if you start with something basic it expands your options and reduces "leftover fatigue". LOL!

  2. I know a lot of people don't like leftovers, but in our house it's an essential way to eat well and save money. We're only two, but we'll try to make sure there's at least two portions left over so we don't have to eat out for lunch at work. Investing in excellent tupperware was the best thing we did. Still, sometimes there's too much… like when he smokes a whole pork shoulder. That's where the freezer comes in, and we get pulled pork sandwiches in mid-January.

    • Yes! When I read this:
      "With recipes in most cookbooks and websites ranging for 4-to-6 servings per recipe, this usually means we have a LOT of leftovers."
      I thought "…and that's a problem why?"
      I LOVE leftovers. Love cooking only 3 weeknights out of 5. Love eating real food for lunch instead of turkey sandwiches. Long live leftovers!

      • My thoughts were more, "I *wish* I had that problem!" We're cooking for two, but I'm working on a farm, and my husband is cycle-commuting, so we eat a LOT, and a recipe that "serves four" may or may not actually yield leftovers for the two of us! I tend to double (or triple, or more) recipes that freeze well, when I have time, so that we can pull an easy meal out of the freezer. Soups work really well for that, and so do things like lasagna & enchiladas (either freeze a whole pan, or wrap individual portions), homemade pierogies are amazeballs if you have time to make them (which I did, until I got a job. Now, not so much…), and you can totally freeze parts of meals (e.g. chicken or broth to later make into soup) as well. I love my chest freezer! ๐Ÿ˜€

        • YES! I tend to make a recipe the first time, freeze one serving, and leave the rest for leftovers. If it freezes and then defrosts particularly well, I'll make a double or triple batch the next time. Soups are great – I really like chicken-bean-vegetable and lentil soups for the freezer. Lentil curries are good too. Veggies often get a little strange in the freezer – the reason that veggies and fruits are weird after they get frozen is that the water inside of their cells expands, and just like if you leave a bottle of beer in the freezer, the cell walls will pop and then when you thaw the food it's watery/mushy. Some veggies are fine, though – it's worth experimenting to see what you can tolerate. I don't like frozen carrots or celery, but kale and cabbage (in soups or blanched for cooking later) are great.

          I always try to package leftovers in two-serving bags and then only use what I need.

          The freezer is really great in a lot of ways for two people – I always freeze my loaves of sliced bread, so it doesn't go stale or moldy before I use it. I also always cut a package of bacon in half and then freeze it in little three or four half-strip stacks on a baking tray, and then put it into a freezer bag. That way, I can take out one or two of the little stacks at once for a breakfast, or for cooking with greens. Bacon stays good for months this way. Almost anything can be frozen in bags, little stacks on a tray, or ice cube trays to make easy individual serving-sized bits.

  3. This question blows my mind in a pleasant way. Not THAT way, but still pleasant. I've been cooking for two people for years and tried to figure out how I do it. I racked my brain for a bit to think of an example of something that needed to be heavily modified if I needed to make less. Usually I halve ingredients of meals that aren't leftover-worthy. That's the biggest change I consciously make. Some ingredients need the same amount of time regardless of quantity (noodles, rice, beans, lentils, and grains) so I don't worry about those. Others I don't change the time but I lower the heat. So I've spent nearly 40 minutes wondering how I subconsciously did it.

    Over the years I didn't spend a lot of time experimenting with dishes and horrible food though. Instead I spent my free time talking to people who love to cook and reading about techniques. I started looking for visual cues on when to add ingredients or when the dish was done. And that's all I rely on now. Recipes have become guidelines and starting points. Eventually it becomes instinct and there's no effort anymore. This kind of cooking does require more attention, time, and brain space to store data. And that might not be a priority for you. If not, I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help. Good luck!

  4. Pillsbury's website has a section on cooking for two. I also like making something one night and transforming the leftovers into another meal. This is particularly easy if you like main dish sandwiches. One night I might have grilled chicken breasts and then the next day a salad with grilled chicken or chicken quesadilla.

    With casseroles and the like, I try to make things that can be frozen in individual portions. That way they don't get overwhelming and can be used a week or two later as a non-cooking night.

  5. We're in sort of the same boat but have had longer on the learning curve. Cooking for just two can be hard. One thing I do is freeze the leftovers in proportion sizes. I'll use chili as an example. It is impossible to make chili in an amount less than what will comfortably feed about eight people so when we have chili I set the pot with all of the leftovers into the fridge overnight to cool than divvy it up into ziploc bags holding one or two serving size portions. If you try to do the ziplocs while it's still hot you can melt the bags (trust me, not fun). This way you don't have to eat chili for a week but in a couple of weeks when you just don't want to cook you can pull it out of the freezer, heat it up, and bam! healthy meal for two with minimal cleanup.
    Anything soup or stew like will freeze very will, also grain based dishes like rice pilafs. We don't eat a whole lot of meat anymore but I know this method also works well with meat that doesn't have bones in it (taco meat, pulled pork/chicken, etc)
    Just be sure to label what you freeze, guessing if you're holding a baggie of chili or spaghetti sauce is less than ideal.

  6. This was a HUGE problem for me when I first moved out. I went from cooking for 6 people (my big Italian family) to cooking for 2. Then shortly after, I found out that I had new food allergies which totally restricted our eating out options (gluten/wheat allergies among others).

    So then I was kinda forced to cook most of our meals from scratch at home.

    For us, the easiest thing was to use a grill. Basically, we can toss enough meat on the grill for two people (burgers, chicken, kabobs, etc) and not really have to worry about meal sizes. If you live in an apartment, a George Foreman type indoor grill works great too.

    Another option is to follow the recipe for the full amount and then freeze the portions that you don't eat. Just place the leftovers in a freezer ziplock bag and toss in the freezer. Just make sure to write the date it was cooked and the actual food name on the bag. It should stay good for about 3 months, and it provides a quick and easy meal on the go.

    Finally, try to re-use your leftovers in other meals. Like make roasted chicken one night, and then use the chicken again the next day for chicken salad sammiches or shredded chicken tacos.

    (side note: Cornish game hens are perfect for two people and super easy to cook, not to mention kinda fancy tehe)

    Or another example is, make nachos one night for dinner and then the next night use the leftover nacho meat in marinara sauce for spaghetti. It's like your piggybacking off the meal to make more meals.

  7. I have Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food, but he also has a book called How to Cook Everything. His recipes are less a set of instructions and more a tutorial. For example, instead of writing "bake for 7 minutes," he writes "bake until crispy." So at first it seems harder, but overall it is better because he tells you what the end product should be. So if your oven is hotter/cooler than normal (most ovens fluctuate or have hot spots) or you are cooking a smaller portion, you can easily adjust. He is also flexible with the ingredients, suggestion multiple substitutions and the differences between them.

  8. I'm going to recommend my favorite recipe site: http://www.budgetbytes.com/

    So while this website isn't exclusively cooking for a couple people, nearly all the recipes she has that are larger can be frozen as she lives alone. Also, they're all cheap! Honestly, this website is a lifesaver for a broke person living alone.

  9. A lot of recipes halve fairly easily. I can easily cook just 2 chicken breasts, instead of 4. For sauce type recipes, I'll normally just cook the original amount, since I tend to over sauce my food anyway.

    I like Cooking Light as my go to place for new recipes. Most of their stuff serves 4, so your left overs won't be ridiculous. (They used to have a section called The Single Chef that I loved, but that went away years ago.) The recipes are healthy and very tasty. I haven't found any bad recipes, at worst I've run across a recipe that's just ok ). My first stops are the 'Super Fast' and 'Dinner Tonight' sections. One thing with Cooking Light to be aware of, is that they tend not to be budget conscious, and will call for some expensive ingredients, though you will use those ingredients in other recipes, and in other dishes on your own once you get used to using them.

    My usual method for left over control is to just pack that evenings left overs in tupper ware to take as lunches the next day. As others have mentioned, you can usually incorporate left overs into other meals as well. Risotto is particularly good for using up left overs, because you can put just about anything in it.

    Another method for left over control is to do a left over swap with your friends. I've done this before when left overs were out of control. You'll still be eating left overs, but at least they're different left overs.

  10. Taste of Home used to have a publication called Cooking for Two Magazine that's now become an archive of online recipes. My ex's parents subscribed him to this magazine (it was aimed at the Boomer generation, which I found adorable). I tried several of the recipes–and they were all great! A lot of the recipes fall into the Comfort Food category for me.
    As you follow some recipes that are smaller, you'll get more familiar with how long to cook some larger recipes that you've halved. I tend to find that the cooking times of halved recipes are not exactly half; usually, it's more like two-thirds to three-fourths the amount of time. So, if a recipe instructs you to bake for 1 hour, the halved recipe should cook for more like 40-45 minutes.

  11. This may seem simple, but shouldn't be overlooked – if you have packaged food (things like pasta and dried beans) turn the package over and look to see how big 1 portion is. This is usually my starting point, and then I measure it out to cook 2 portions.
    For non-packaged food, a single serving is: 1/4 lb. meat (the size of a deck of cards); 1 cup raw fruits or vegetables; 1/2 cup cooked vegetables; 1/2 cup grain; 1/2 cup to 1 cup dairy; 1 ounce of cheese.

  12. Though I don't own the book pictured in the post, I've never been disappointed with any cookbook that America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated/Cook's Country makes so I'd recommend their Cooking for Two books or any of their other books. You can see most of their of their books at the link below, but I'd suggest buying them elsewhere unless there is a big sale:
    http://www.cooksillustrated.com/bookstore/default.asp

    I've never really needed a special cookbook to cook for one or two people. I just look at the number of servings and adjust the ingredients to fit the number of servings I want. If a recipe that serves four needs 3 pounds of meat, it will serve two if you make it with 1.5 pounds and reduce the other ingredients accordingly. Unless you are cooking a large piece of meat (roast, whole chicken, etc.), a casserole type dish, or cooking in a microwave most recipes will cook for the same amount of time and at the same temperature regardless of how much you make. Basically, if it it divided into individual portions when you cook it, it will probably cook in the same amount of time regardless of how much you cook. If it is one big thing (particularly if you have changed the thickness of it), the cooking time may vary based on amount.

    Leftovers are also popular in our house, and we usually cook more than we need for one night to save time and effort. Sometimes leftovers will become part of another dish, such as leftover chicken becoming a chicken, rice, and vegetables dish with the chicken drippings added to the rice as it is cooking.

  13. I only cook for two but I almost always cook four to six portions. Basically whatever my husband and I have for dinner we will have the leftovers the next day for lunch. Not a practical solution for everyone (and thoroughly disheartening when you botch up a recipe), but it works for us.

  14. This might sound obvious too, but think about who is across the table! When I jumped from flying solo to cooking for two I was already kind of at the eyeballing portions stage. I was also pretty used to making twice what *I* needed (leftovers are always a blessing.)

    Problem was, my partner has a more physically demanding job than I do. She spent a few sad months politely cleaning her plate, waiting an hour . . . and then snacking through the rest of the evening because I just hadn't made enough to satisfy her.

    In conclusion small-batch recipes can be a huge help, but every household is different.

  15. OP here: a heartfelt hank you to everyone for your suggestions and recommendations! I'm definitely taking notes (read: bookmarking this thread). I knew the Homies had some great tricks up their sleeves!

  16. My go-to dinner for two is to simply cook two chicken breasts & cook enough veggies that look like how much we'll eat. For the chicken, I saute it in a covered pan with a little olive oil & spices until done, then deglaze the pan drippings with some white wine, add flour & butter, & *ta da* fancy sauce. For the veggies, I usually chop a bunch of potatoes or carrots or squash, drizzle with olive oil in a baking pan, salt & pepper, stick in the oven for 30 min until roasted. Add a salad & bread & wine if you like.

    Pasta is another one that's easy to eyeball for two, & if you make too much sauce, that's simple enough to freeze for a few months until you've forgotten about it so being "leftover" is no big deal.

  17. Someone up above pointed out knowing serving sizes for individual food groups (the deck of cards for meat, 1/2 cup for cooked veggies, 1/2 cup grains etc) and I generally pair that knowledge with cooking techniques and knowing my spices more than cooking from recipes. I find it much easier to cook however much is needed that way – sometimes I cook more so that we will have left overs on purpose. I started with basic ingredients like chicken breasts, salt/pepper/garlic/cumin/chili powder/cayenne pepper/oregano/basil/thyme/onion, cheeses, greens and grains and learned to kind of swap them around to make different combinations and use different cooking methods (saute, bake, pan fry, boil, braise) and as I got more comfortable I started adding in new ingredients and spices that I might not have used before – eggplant, brussels sprouts, dill, tumeric, various cuts of pork and beef, etc.

    For guidance I go off of what I like to order at restaurants and aim for those types of flavors. Really like the sauce on garlic broccoli at the chinese food place? It's generally just soy sauce, garlic, honey and water simmered together… your nose can go a long way to getting the mix for taco seasoning just right. I love gyros so I mix plain greek yogurt with dill, cucumber and lemon juice to make tzatziki – no recipe required.

  18. Moment of shameless self-promotion: I have a cooking blog inspired by this exact problem. Feel free to check out http://www.kitchenettedc.com.
    It even includes a project (with recipes!) based on aforementioned CI Cooking for Two cookbook!
    Since buying and remodeling (er attempting to, anyway) a house I fully admit I have been a blog slacker, but some backend stuff is in the process of being fixed and the whole shebang will be revived before the end of the month. Woohoo meals for two!
    And yo, Offbeat Editors?give me a shout if you guys would be interested in a semi-regular cooking for two cross-post thing or exclusive feature, shoot me an email and maybe we can figure something out!

  19. These days I do a lot of cooking in big batches and then portion out and freeze the results for speedy cheap eating at a later date.
    bbcgoodfood.com is a site I use LOADS.
    You can search their thousands of recipes by serving size on their "Refine your search" drop down menu and there are plenty just for two!
    I absolutely love their recipes and many of them have become regulars for our family.

  20. My husband and I recently subscribed to a service that sends us the recipes and ingredients for 3 meals for two every week – blueapron.com – which also happens to have a cookbook page (http://www.blueapron.com/pages/cookbook) with all the recipes from past weeks available online. The service itself might be a little pricey for folks on a budget ($60/week for 3 meals, so about $10/person/meal – more expensive than fast food but better, and once you get comfortable with the fresh ingredients you can buy them yourself and replicate recipes you liked), but they let you skip weeks if you want. It's definitely opened our eyes to how easy it can be to cook meals from fresh food, and is exposing us to new foods. They have a veggie or a meat/fish option. They deliver to most of the Eastern US, in case anyone is interested in trying them out.

  21. I absolutely love the cookbook "One Pan, Two Plates". Here is the review from the Kitchn.

    http://www.thekitchn.com/one-pan-two-plates-by-carla-snyder-new-cookbook-185845

    All the recipes are perfectly portioned for two people (my partner and I rarely have leftovers). Additionally, each recipes takes an hour or less to make and are designed to only dirty one pan which is key since both of us are graduate students with very little time to spare for making elaborate meals or cleaning tons of dishes. The recipes are healthy and there are a range of recipes in the book (he loves the beef recipes the most, I'm a fan of the fish ones). Each recipe also comes with a suggestion for an additional side if you are extra hungry and a wine pairing! This has become my absolute favorite cookbook on my shelf. I have been recommending it to all of my friends.

  22. While I have NO problem with leftovers (hello lunch!), I've found that most recipes from the following cookbook are designed for 2 in mind.
    Donna Hay's Fast, Fresh, Simple I don't know if you mob have Donna Hay in the states, but she's quite popular on the Australian cooking scene. Right up there with Jamie Oliver ๐Ÿ™‚
    I particularly enjoy her Brussels Sprout pasta (something I never thought I'd ever say)

  23. A great book with recipes mostly serving 2 people is "5 ingredients, 10 minutes". Extremely healthy, not too expensive and really delicious! Even my boyfriend liked those!

    As for leftovers – you could always freeze them – add name and date on a sticker so you know whether you're heating leftovers or going on an archaeological adventure, and you'll be set.

    We often take last night's leftovers to work as office lunch the next day.

  24. I love not your mothers crockpot cooking for two. I made and enjoyed many of the recipes from it, which is more the I can say for other cookbooks

  25. Better Homes and Gardens has a book out called So Easy Slow Cooker. Most of it is very two person friendly, there are sections for vegetarian/vegetables/desserts as well as the more regular crockpot meat dishes. One word of caution, some of the recipes specify the size of slow cooker to use. Which can mess things up if you have not enough stuff inside for the larger ones (been there, done that!).

    I hate leftovers so I usually try to make either a chunk-o-meat that can be reinvented (40 Garlic Clove chicken in the slow cooker is my go-to, because everything is better with garlic) or I make things that can be turned into soup. Which means soup at least once every two weeks all year (if not once a week) and occasionally the soups are a bit interesting. I always have the following in my pantry: some sort of broth-booster (bouillon, real broth, those little jello-like stock things), cans of tomatoes, cans of beans, those little green mung beans, small star pasta, barley. All excellent things to take a meal from proto-soup to real soup.

  26. I have to recommend http://www.wafflehearts.com (it's my friend's site and I think it's awesome!) Almost all of the recipes make 1 or 2 servings, and it's focused on healthy eating, so that's two of your requirements already! I've made a good few of the recipes and I really like them. The site has a mixture of vegetarian, vegan, and meat and fish dishes, and has everything tagged for people on special diets as well.

  27. I use http://emeals.com/. We pay about five dollars a month and they send us weekly dinner menus for two and the accompanying grocery list (they also have apps for your phone now). The best parts are the variety of dinner plans (they have 11 right now) and that on the natural and organic plan we can chose Whole Foods as our store and they'll base the menu off what's on sale this week. Yes, I could do this all on my own, but I'm lazy and usually end up making the same 10 meals. This gives me new meals to try and ends up saving money.

  28. I enthusiastically recommend http://www.cautiouslydomestic.com. Though some recipes still serve 4, there are often tips for how to reuse leftovers in other recipes later in the week. The emphasis is on easy meal-planning and cooking on a budget–around $50 per week. Good mix of meat, veg, gf options. And hilarious to boot.

  29. One of my favorite healthy cooking websites is http://www.skinnytaste.com!

    It doesn't necessarily specialize in smaller portions, but I've never had much of a problem scaling it down to cook for two. Generally unless it's being baked in the oven, I don't pay very close attention the cooking time a recipe calls for. For meat if I can't tell I just cut it open to check the middle or use a meat thermometer. For other things that won't kill me if eaten raw, like vegetables, I just eat one to see if it needs a little more time. For rice, quinoa or cous cous, just be sure to keep the water to grain ratio the same and the cook time should stay accurate.

    Don't be afraid to check things too often when you're just learning- you'll get the hang of it!

    And now for shameless self promotion- I just blogged about my recipe that makes only two cupcakes- not healthy per say, but perfect portion control! http://whitneymakes.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/chocolate-cupcakes-for-two/

  30. All of this sounds like great advice, but why has no one mentioned the simple concept of dividing the recipe? I've been cooking for 1-2 for 18 years, and this is what I do. It's not difficult. If it's for 6 people, divide it by 3. Eureka! You've got a recipe for two! Maybe this won't be ideal for a whole chicken recipe, but perhaps you could use chicken pieces instead.

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