Cooking for Two: Stress-Free Secrets for Smaller Meals

Have you found cooking for two on a budget to be a challenge? That doesn’t mean you have to abandon the kitchen and rely on takeout. These 5 secrets are the key to make smaller meals in less time!

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I always have a TON of leftovers when I'm cooking for just the two of us. There's just not a lot of resources for those of us without kids! These 5 tips for cooking for two on a budget are exactly what I needed. Meal planning is a breeze and I'm wasting a lot less food. Yay for saving even more money! #cookingfortwo #easyrecipes #smallermeals #stressfreecooking #newlyweds

I’ve spent the last nine years cooking for two, and I have to be honest—it’s a real challenge!

You don’t always feel like making a three-course meal for just you and one other person, so you grab takeout or eat whatever you can find in the fridge or pantry. On the other hand, when you DO whip up a nice dinner, you end up making way too much.

Can we say five nights of leftover lasagna? Ewww.

Needless to say, cooking smaller meals takes some practice and a change in meal prep strategy, but it’s also extremely doable! These five key tips make the entire process much more efficient.

1. Cut Each Recipe Significantly

This is kind of a no-brainer, but the first step is to cut all your recipes in half. I’ve even cut them in quarters when I’ve really needed to! Just use smaller pans to adjust. For instance, I’ve baked casseroles in a bread pan so we didn’t have any leftovers. Whatever works, right??

I also rely heavily on my Kitchen Conversion Chart so I can make all the adjustments I need with a quick glance. This chart is a life saver and probably the most referenced page in my Recipe Binder.

Some recipes may seem a little difficult to cut in half, especially if they call for one egg or three. But there’s actually a very easy solution for this. All you need is another liquid ingredient in the recipe, and you can’t even taste the difference!

Here’s an example: 

I recently made scones and the recipe called for one egg and 3/4 buttermilk. One egg is approximately 1/4 cup, so if you add those ingredients together, you have 1 cup. But since I’m halving the recipe, I only need 1/2 cup. That means I take one egg {1/4 cup}, and add enough buttermilk {another 1/4 cup} to equal the 1/2 cup. Problem solved!

2. Maximize Your Freezer

Your freezer is your best friend when cooking for two. No one wants to eat five days of leftovers from the fridge, but if you freeze individual portions for lunch or an easy weeknight dinner, you can have variety and bonus—it will taste much fresher.

I especially love doing this with breads and desserts. Whenever I make a a batch of rolls, I freeze the rest in a bag and pull out two the next time we have a special dinner. It beats making a fresh new batch and I can spend more time on other parts of the meal. For desserts, I’ll freeze individual slices of cake, brownies, pie….you name it.


You can also make full size recipes and freeze half to bake later. For casseroles, I’ll make a full 9×13 recipe, but separate it into two 8×8’s. It’s freezer cooking without spending a whole day in the kitchen doing prep work!

Psst….I just signed up for Once a Month Meals to give their freezer cooking membership a try. I definitely want to get back on the freezer cooking bandwagon, and can’t wait to dive in!


3. Focus on Easy Meals

Sometimes we make dinner time way too complicated. I was the girl who *thought* a three-course meal every night was the norm when I was newly married. Not anymore!

I burned myself out FAST {I was also attending college at this time}, and it wasn’t very budget-friendly either. Now I have 1-2 meals a week that are a little more involved, but the rest are quick dinners that can be thrown together in less than 30 minutes.

Here are my favorite options:


BONUS TIP: Treat yourself with paper products every now and then so you don’t have to do dishes all the time. I find the best deal on paper plates at Sam’s Club!

4. Streamline Your Ingredients

In addition to making complicated meals, I also have a tendency to buy every single ingredient EVER.

That’s because I enjoy trying new recipes, but all those weird spices and cheeses are not all that smart for the grocery budget. And since I only use them once every so often, I have a hard time finishing the container before they spoil.

Recently, I went through my pantry, fridge, and freezer, and created a grocery staples list of everything I used often. Now when I go shopping or try out a new recipe, I make sure they are ingredients I already buy and have on hand. Plus, this also helps me hone in on store sales and stock up when it’s a good price!

Interested in what printables I use to inventory and more? They’re all included in the Recipe Binder Kit!

Another note—if you try to eat more fruits and veggies, you’ll quickly find out it’s really difficult to keep everything from spoiling. I hate running to the store every couple of days, so I’ll use what I can, then freeze the rest for later. Berries, spinach, and bananas are great for smoothies, and zucchini can be turned into muffins and bread!

5. Use a Convection or Toaster Oven

Instead of using your full-size oven to cook/bake everything {which can take a lot of electricity}, a toaster or convection oven is perfect for smaller portions and more efficient in converting energy to heat.

I use mine to cook honey glazed carrots, sweet potato fries, cookies, and even pizza. It takes a little bit of practice to get the settings just right, but is so much better than heating up a big appliance! Especially for those of you who don’t have air conditioning in the Summer.

FYI: A toaster oven and convection oven are very similar, but have their differences. I have a toaster oven, but my mom has a convection oven which heats up more evenly, making it the better choice to cook a wider variety of foods. When my toaster oven bites the dust, you bet I’ll be switching to a convection oven next!


Cooking for two takes practice, for sure, but it’s not impossible. Besides, you have a lot more freedom to eat on the couch and watch a Netflix show when it’s just the two of you!

What is your best tip when cooking for two?

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  1. 10 years after becoming an empty nester I found the most important tool to help with cooking for 2; a digital scale! How much pasta do I need? Yes you can measure rotini but what about spaghetti? Weigh it. After a little trial and error I got the weights I needed for 2 servings, well the amount that serves the two of us. Jottted this down on a slip of paper I keep in each of my pasta containers. What about a boxed mix? The smaller boxes cost more so I just weigh out the mix, make it by adjusting the rest of the ingredients, and put the remaining mix in a ziplock. Tip: mark your box “1/2” as a reminder to adjust the next batch. Same procedure for boxed rice, noodle mixes, etc. Canned food? A canned veg is too much for us, but it freezes. Just pop half the can in a ziploc and freeze. I usually use these little veg or bean freezer packs in soups, cassaroles, or rice dishes. Has cut my food budget nearly in half and we wast a lot less.

  2. I’ve found cooking for 2 to be pretty easy since many recipes make 4-6 servings. My hubby and I have 2-3 servings for dinner, with his portion being closer to 2 servings, and then package up the other 2-3 portions for lunch the next day! You just have to be OK with eating the same thing for dinner and lunch the following day. This has been pretty successful unless we both decide to have seconds of dinner or the recipe makes less than expected, in that case one person gets the left overs and the other gets a salad for lunch. Sometimes the recipe makes way too much and we end up eating lasagna for 4 days, but that’s not so bad in my opinion!

    1. Absolutely right, Jess. It all comes down to the feelings on leftovers. 🙂 We have some favorite recipes that we don’t eating the second time out of the fridge, then there are others that I try really hard to make it so nothing gets un-eaten because I just know once it goes in the fridge, it’s not coming out until it has a little bit of fuzz on it. 😂

  3. I know this is an old post, but I just found your blog! Do you find that you typically need to adjust cooking times for splitting recipes in half?

    1. It depends on the dish, but the answer is probably yes more often than not. If it’s my first time reducing a recipe I keep my eye on it throughout the cooking process.

  4. We are empty nesters and yes at first it was tough. but gradually I have adjusted. Even making tortillas I went from a dozen now down to 4 to make. Occasionally a 6 batch but only if I want honey sopapillas for dessert !

  5. This is exactly what I needed to read today! Since I got married last summer, I’ve been struggling cooking for just the two of us. I’m definitely going to halve more recipes into two dishes and freezer-meal the other from now on. And the grocery staple list is a brilliant idea. Off to spreadsheet that right now. Thanks, Kalyn!

    1. Aw, Thanks Rachelle. True confession, after 10 years I still have a few things go bad in the refrigerator. But not near as many as when I first got married!

  6. For most of my life I have just cooked for two. When I find a recipe we really like if it made way to much we use the leftovers for our lunches at work. Sometimes I will cut the recipe in half and if that works for us the I copy the half recipe so I don’t have to do all that work every time. Also we use our slow cooker a lot.

    1. The slow cooker is something I want to use more! For some reason in my head it always seems like it is going to be more work, even though I know it’s pretty much “set and forget.”

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