(Photo credits: Olivia Smith and Photo Pin)
Cooking for one while your spouse is deployed is a challenging task. The first time my husband was away, I was blessed to be near family. I never had to worry about cooking because my parents cooked every week. The second time he was away, however, proved to be much more of a struggle. By this time, we were living over 17 hours away from my home. I had just gotten comfortable enough with my culinary skills to cook for him, only to see him taken away from home for an assignment! All of the “practice” I had in preparing portions for more than one person went straight out the window. After a weekend saying our goodbyes, I found myself cooking for one instead of two.
I lived off of boxed macaroni and cheese and Ramen noodles those first few weeks. Various frozen dinners in the grocery store were my choices for lunch and dinner. On occasion, I would find myself dining at the local fast food restaurant as well. Of course, these were very poor choices in eating habits; however, this lifestyle was new to me-how in the world was I supposed to cook, by myself, all alone? Even though I was married, I felt like I was living the single life again when it came to my nutrition! Our cabinets and refrigerator were bare. The stove? Rarely touched.
One thing I did notice during his time away and the times after were fluctuations in the amount of food we made for lunch and dinner. When he’s home, we have biscuits, green beans, and maybe a casserole or a plate of grilled chicken breasts. For breakfast, we have pancakes and eggs. When he’s away, it’s just one chicken breast and those green beans and biscuits may or may not make their presence at the table. For breakfast it’s just cereal or breakfast pastries.
It has taken a few years for me to figure out how to cook for just one person. What I have learned through this journey is that sticking to meals that are easily portioned off and placed in the freezer when your spouse is away definitely does help. It saves on time and money-I no longer stop by a fast food joint for a quick bite to eat. My freezer has become my best friend since becoming a military spouse and even when my husband is home, we still use this wonderful appliance. You’d be surprised at just how many foods retain their quality and taste after having thawed.
Don’t know where to start when it comes to freezer cooking? Search the internet for recipes that are freezer friendly. Then, spend a weekend and cook, cook, cook. Invite some friends over to cook with you. Assemble the meals and place them in the freezer along with directions on how to prepare them when the time comes. For a general rule of thumb, just think of the foods you find in any frozen section of a grocery store; chances are, any similar ingredients you use at home will freeze just as well, though maybe not as long.
One easy way to encourage use of the freezer is to double the recipes that you make from time to time and freeze the second half. When it is time to eat, just prepare per instructions, which usually includes a simple thaw out in the microwave. Keeping your freezer well-stocked with not only homemade meals, but vegetables and fruits will also help stave off the temptation of those fast food restaurants. Have a sweet tooth craving? Make a batch of cookie dough, bake a few cookies, then place the rest of the dough (pre-rolled into cookie portions) in the freezer to make for another day.
Below is a simple recipe that is not only great, but is a great way to start off your freezer friendship. You will not find yourself being tied to the kitchen because it cooks in the slow cooker, saving time.
If eating alone isn’t your cup of tea, make this dish and invite some of your fellow military spouses over for dinner. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy a wonderful evening with good food and great friends. Freeze the leftovers for future meals.
Slow Cooker Spaghetti
5 links of mild, Italian Sausage OR 1 lb. of ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small green pepper, chopped (optional)
2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
1 (29 oz.) canned crushed tomatoes
1 (15 oz.) canned tomato sauce
1 (12 oz.) can tomato paste
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. dried basil
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. Italian Seasoning
Half a jar of spaghetti or marinara sauce
One box of Vermicelli Noodles
Shredded or grated Parmesan Cheese
1. Brown sausage or ground beef in a pan over medium heat until brown and crumbly. Drain and place back into the pan.
2. Using the same pan, add the chopped onions, green pepper (if you choose), and garlic. Cook until the onions are transparent and the peppers are soft (around 15 minutes).
3. Place the meat/onion mixture into the slow cooker. Combine the rest of the ingredients in the slow cooker until well mixed.
4. Cook on low 8-10 hours or on high 4-6 hours.
5. Serve over vermicelli noodles and top with grated/shredded Parmesan Cheese if desired.
*To Portion Off and Freeze:
Place left over spaghetti sauce (without the noodles) in little plastic containers or glass containers with a lid. Make sure they are freezer and microwave safe. Label container with the date (I use mailing labels) and place in the freezer. The sauce will keep in the freezer for up to 2-3 months.
Place container in the refrigerator overnight. Heat in the microwave before serving. If you’re rushed for time, use the defrost option on your microwave or simply heat using low power (level 2 or 3 on a scale of 1-10) for about 10 minutes.