Heart-healthy meals for one

Whether you live alone, flat with friends or you’re flying solo for the week, cooking a meal for one shouldn’t feel like a big task. We’ve got plenty of shortcuts to help you make quick, cheap and delicious meals that are packed full of nutrition.

Indian man sitting at a kitchen table eating a healthy meal of vegetables and protein.

It can be hard to find the motivation to cook a meal with lots of steps and ingredients when you’re only feeding yourself. The good news is that simple, quick meals can be nourishing for your heart, especially when eaten in place of a takeaway meal.

Take the fast route

When you’re cooking for one, the less time you spend in the kitchen – the better! Here’s our favourite ways to cut down prep and cooking times. Try basing your meals around these ingredients.

Speedy vegetables

Use frozen vegetables as they don’t require any peeling or slicing. Pre-cut a few different types of vegetables at the start of the week or buy them pre-cut. Buy bagged salads like coleslaw and plan to use them across a few different meals.

Quick cooking grains

Buy pre-cooked microwave rice or plan meals around couscous, rice noodles or bulghur wheat which don’t need cooking (they just need to be soaked in hot water or stock).

Heart-healthy protein foods

Plan meals around canned fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel), eggs, frozen prawns, frozen edamame beans, canned beans (four bean mix, baked beans, chilli beans), pre-made falafel and fresh, frozen or smoked fish as these foods don’t take long to cook but pack in nutrition.

Avocado on wholegrain toast topped with a poached egg and a sprinkle of sesame seeds

Easy meals for one

Plan a few meals each week that are quick and easy. Meals that use a single oven tray or one appliance (toaster or microwave) will be quicker and will save on dishes too. Pack in nutrition by adding vegetables, legumes like chickpeas, whole grains and lean meats where you can.

Omelettes

With 2 or 3 eggs you can make a super satisfying meal. Add almost anything you have on hand like fresh or frozen vegetables, herbs, cheese or leftovers. Try our Pea and cheese omelette recipe.

Start with toast

Whole grain toast is a great vehicle for heart-healthy toppings like eggs, canned fish, beans, cooked chicken, avocado, tomato, hummus and seeds. Try our Sardines, spinach and tomato on toast recipe.

Pita pizzas

You can easily make a pizza for one in under 15 minutes with a pita bread, a can of chilli beans and some grated cheese. Try our Chilli bean pizzas recipe.

Tasty toasties

Use a sandwich press or a fry-pan on your stove top to make a tasty toastie. It’s a great way to use up bread that’s going stale. Fillings like baked beans, leftover chicken, pineapple, spinach, tomato, onion, corn, pesto and cheese all work well.

Quesadillas

A quick and easy way to use wraps and canned beans. Try our Toastie quesadilla or Chilli bean quesadilla recipes.

Wraps, tacos and pita breads

A great way to pack in plenty of heart-healthy fillings like salad, cooked meats, chickpeas and eggs. Try our Hummus, avocado, chicken and carrot wrap or Egg and vegetable burrito recipes.

Learn more about quick and easy meal ideas.

Chicken and vegetables in wholemeal wraps

Your freezer is your friend

A well organised and good-sized freezer will help you eat heart-healthy food. Whether it’s a whole meal or individual ingredients, try to freeze food when you can instead of leaving it in the fridge. You may have good intentions but leftovers in the fridge are often thrown out.

If you cook a meal that serves four people, aim to eat the meal a couple of times during the week and freeze a couple of portions too. When you have leftovers, freeze individual portions of cooked rice, mashed potato or other grains. These can then form the base of a meal when you’re short on time.

Here are some of our favourite freezer-friendly recipes:

Learn more about how your freezer helps you to reduce food waste.

Don’t be afraid of pre-made soups and meals

These are great to have on hand for the evenings when you don’t feel like cooking or get home late. The quality and range of these options have come a long way in recent years. To make a heart-healthy choice, look for products that contain plenty of vegetables, whole grains, legumes and lean meats. Compare products and choose the option with the lowest sodium and saturated fat per 100g.

Frozen meals

If a meal doesn’t contain many vegetables, add a couple of extra handfuls of frozen vegetables like peas, corn or beans when you’re heating up the meal. You could also add a handful of salad greens or herbs to give the meal a fresh feeling.

Canned soups (shelf-stable) or fresh soup pouches

Many soups can be high in sodium particularly powdered and canned soups. Soups containing processed meats like bacon and ham are also likely to be high in sodium. Serve your soup with whole grain toast and top with grated cheese, fresh herbs, seeds or sour cream to add extra flavour.

Pumpkin and carrot soup topped with a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds

Dine with others once in a while

We tend to eat better when we eat with others1,2. A review of 42 studies found strong evidence that people select and eat more food when surrounded by family or friends, compared with when they eat alone1. This may be particularly relevant for older adults who may struggle with a reduced appetite.

Some research has also shown that eating with others is also associated with a better-quality diet and a reduced risk of heart disease in older women2,3.

If you usually eat alone, make time to have a meal and connect with others when you can. It can help improve your appetite, the quality of your diet and boost your mood – all of which benefit your heart health.

 

Two senior women enjoying a meal together
Heart healthy recipesEating for a healthy heart

References:

  1. Ruddock et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the social facilitation of eating. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2019;110(4):842-861.
  2. Chae et al. Association between eating behaviour and diet quality: eating alone vs. eating with others. Nutrition Journal. 2018. 17, 117.
  3. Choi et al. Association between eating alone and cardiovascular diseases in elderly women: a cross-sectional study of KNHANES 2016 data, Menopause. 2022. 29;1:82-88.
Lily Henderson, NZRD

Lily Henderson, NZRD

National Nutrition Advisor

I am passionate about improving the health of all Kiwis from young through to old. I have enjoyed working in nutrition in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.