More people than ever before now live alone. It’s estimated 27 percent of households consist of just one person.

More people than ever before now live alone. It’s estimated 27 percent of households consist of just one person.

Whether you are a 20-something living alone for the first time, a retired couple with an empty nest, or you find yourself alone after years of being with a spouse and family, getting motivated to cook a meal for yourself can be a challenge. If you live alone, the answer to the question, “What’s for dinner?” might be take out, frozen dinners, microwave popcorn or just a bowl of cereal.

Many older women especially are simply tired of cooking. They cooked for their families for years, and now they prefer to eat out or use heat-and-eat meals. In terms of health, this is the worst thing you can do. These foods are often highly processed and high in calories, fat and sodium. Plus, without a regular meal routine, it is easy to fall into the habit of constant snacking on less than nutritious foods.

There are plenty of excuses not to cook, and I think I’ve heard them all: it’s cheaper to eat out, it’s more convenient just to grab fast food, it’s harder to cook smaller portions, it’s easier to nuke a frozen dinner, I don’t know how to cook, or it’s just no fun eating alone.

But, the benefits of making a meal yourself far outweigh the negatives. Cooking a meal from scratch will save you calories and money, and you can take control of what is in your food. Making dinner really doesn’t have to be time consuming. Following are some tips to help making dinner for one or two less of a chore.

Make a plan. Start with a menu, no matter how vague, of meals you like to eat. When my kids were home, I would make a full monthly menu to post on the refrigerator. Now, it’s just my husband and me, so I made a chart of meals we like to eat and I refer to it weekly to get an idea of what I’m going to be cooking.

Shop. Next, do an inventory of your pantry and freezer, and make a list of things to stock up on. Having the ingredients on hand to prepare simple meals makes the excuses to not cook less valid. Pantry basics should include canned beans, vegetables, and fruits; individual cooked rice cups, tuna pouches or cans, and canned soups.

Take advantage of price breaks on bigger packages of meat and re-package and freeze in individual servings. Consider the supermarket salad bar to get small portions of fresh fruits and vegetables. Maybe you could shop with a friend and split packages of perishables. Lots of foods can be stored in the freezer to keep them fresher longer, like bread, milk, nuts and flours. Keep packages of frozen vegetables, including pepper strips and chopped onions, on hand. Bread stored in the refrigerator will stay fresh much longer than left at room temperature.

Reduce the amounts. There are lots of ways to use your favorite recipes, yet avoid eating leftovers all week. You can cut the recipe in half or even more.

I wanted to make my husband’s favorite German chocolate cake for his birthday. But, we certainly couldn’t eat a whole cake ourselves. So, I bought 6-inch cake pans and made one fourth of the recipe. It turned out great.

I frequently cook a large quantity of soup, stews or casseroles and then freeze individual portions for future meals. Muffin tins make good portion dividers for meatloaf. Make your famous lasagna, but make it in bread pans and freeze for later. Or, you can start with rotisserie chicken from the deli and make several different meals, such as chicken enchiladas, chicken salad, soup or a casserole. Experiment with some easy one-dish meals, like a stir-fry, to make a really quick meal.

Re-invent leftovers into new dishes. Leftover roast pork can become sweet and sour pork over rice; leftover chili is great on a baked potato; any leftover meat is great in a quesadilla; leftover meatloaf can be used in meat sauce for spaghetti, in a sandwich or added to a can of beans for “cowboy beans.”

Socialize. Instead of relying on eating out as a means to socialize, consider taking a class, joining a club or gym, or volunteering as a way to meet people. Invite a neighbor, friend or co-worker to share a meal with you. Pack your own homemade food and take to the park or ballgame to enjoy it.

Now is the time to experiment with new recipes. After all, you have no one to please but yourself. Expensive ingredients you may like to try are much more affordable when cooking for just one or two.