Why a Loaf Pan Is the Best Cooking Tool for One (or Two)

It eliminates dishes and makes meal prep a breeze. Need we say more?

Horizontal image of baked loaf pan lasagna with sausage on a wooden paddle shaped cutting board. A wooden spoon is to the left as well as two glass tumblers of white wine. A small wooden bowl of lettuce is in the upper right hand corner. In the lower right hand corner sits a stack of white plates and two forks in partial view.
Sally Vargas | Banner Art Credit: Elena Resko

As someone who spent many a year as a private chef in homes with housekeepers, I never had to pay attention to the sheer amount of dishes that are involved with cooking. I also forgot about how darn unpleasant it is to wash the subsequent mountain of dishes after you’re done cooking—even with a dishwasher. Let me tell you, it was a wake up call when I stopped my in-home gigs. 

Knowing that a home cooked meal is a healthier choice, as well as an act of loving care for my partner, I came up with a simple method that drastically minimizes the quantity of my dish usage. I’m delighted to share this magic tool of mine: It’s called a loaf pan, and I bet it’s in one of your kitchen cabinets right now. Read on to learn why it’s a many-hit wonder when it comes to dinner for one or two. 

A Loaf Pan Is Cookware and Serveware All in One

Ever try to eat your dinner off of a sheet pan? Nope, I didn’t think so! Yes, sheet pan meals are great for cooking—but loaf pan meals are their own serveware, too. And the amount of food that fits in one loaf pan is the perfect size for a standard single dinner.

My Favorite Meals to Make In a Loaf Pan

Several loaf pans are great for cooking and serving multiple dishes together for you and yours. Think a meatloaf or a baked pasta, but divided into four portions. The loaf pan is filled one third to halfway with the dish, and goes in the oven to bake. Once done, you take it out and pop a cooked veggie on the other side. Another method I love is to place uncooked veggies—cut in appropriately sized pieces to cook similarly—next to a protein or casserole, and let everything cook together. My favorite loaf pan meal is a baked rigatoni on one side, then when it comes out of the oven all bubbly I add a spinach salad to the other side. The loaf pan's heat wilts the salad perfectly. 

Loaf pan cooking works best for solid foods (so no soups and stews). You can turn any baked meal for one to four people into a loaf pan dinner by dividing your portions between loaf pans. Once out of the oven, you can serve your loaf pan meal immediately out of the pan—just use a trivet or heat safe place mat before placing it on a table.   

Glass Loaf Pan Guide - glass loaf pan with sugar container in the background
Alison Conklin

Loaf Pans Make Reheating Leftovers a Cinch

You can employ loaf pans for well-portioned leftovers and reheat them in anything from a toaster oven to a regular oven to a microwave, then take them straight to the dining room table. Most glass loaf pans will need a moment before going from cold to hot, so take your covered loaf pan of leftovers out of the fridge a few minutes before heating it in an oven. 

My one tip for dealing with loaf pan leftovers is to pack your protein, starch, and side together in the pan(s) when you put leftovers away. That way, there’s no finagling foods around when you’re ready to eat next.

Loaf Pans Makes Meal Prep Even More Practical

Loaf pans like this come with lids, which means you can meal-prep everything in advance and then toss them in the oven when ready to cook or reheat. There’s no mess, no collection of Tupperware, and as minimal of dishes as humanly possible. If you've been wanting to get into meal prep, but you’re just not into the idea of spending hours in the kitchen at once, this is a less daunting way to try it out. 

The Takeaway: Loaf Pans Eliminate Dishes and Make Cooking Fun

A loaf pan might not be the first thing you think of when looking to eliminate dishes, but it has become my favorite kitchen tool for that task. If, like me, you can’t stand to do dishes, I encourage you to try one of the several methods of using loaf pans to make cooking (and cleaning up) more enjoyable.