It’s an epidemic out there. Eating alone is no longer a stigma, it’s the norm. One of the more common concerns I hear from clients for their inability to make healthy choices is ‘I live alone and it’s so hard to cook for one person’.
Having done this myself, I realize that it can be challenging to find motivation to cook for one when reaching for that box of cereal and milk can quickly and easily become a ‘gourmet dinner for one’. But, I’ve grown to learn that preparing a balanced and nutrient dense meal can be almost as easy as opening a box of cereal, both with a lot more flavor and leftovers to keep you fueled for a least a meal or two more.
The Food Marketing Institute released a report earlier this month that explained a whopping half of all snacks and meals in America are eating alone, quite a large percentage of those being out or on the go. So what’s the big deal? The tendency when eating alone tends to be that we make poorer choices –meaning lower quality foods with fewer good for you nutrients like vits and mins and far more empty calories. Also, our portions tend to be larger than they might have been had we dined with company. Not to mention the missing aspect of social interaction and community that sharing a meal with friends or family can provide.
So what’s a university goer, a young professional, a recently widowed or divorced, or independently proud person to do? Check out the pointers below for insight as to how to make real food, fast food and fast food, health-boosting food.
1. Keep a WELL-ness stocked freezer and pantry. A quick and healthful dinner for one can come right out of your own freezer or pantry, without tasting like cardboard or costing a fortune. Bags of frozen veggies can be steamed in the microwave, roasted on a cookie sheet with olive oil and garlic, sautéed in a bit of sesame oil, or placed foil wrapped on the grill for a quick addition to any protein and whole grain. Canned beans, pouched salmon, or par-cooked whole grains can instantly become a one-dish dinner with paired with a fresh or frozen veg.
2. Don’t fear the unconventional ‘meal’. Just because pork chops taste great with roasted apples, fried potatoes, cast iron corn bread and slow cooker beans, doesn’t mean we have to spend hours cooking to pull a ‘meal’ together. Scour the cabinet, fridge and freezer for any protein like peanut butter, black beans, or deli turkey, pair it with a starch like whole grain popcorn, microwave sweet potato or a slice of whole grain bread, and round out your ‘meal’ with whatever veggies or fruit you can scrape up. Carrot sticks, frozen brussel sprouts, or canned green beans can all serve as reasonable candidates. Think outside the norm, staying inside the balanced plate:
Photo Cred: http://heronutritionals.com/blog/building-blocks-of-a-balanced-meal/
3. Do it again, and again, and again. Leftovers can be a lifesaver for the lonely diner. It’s easy to shy away from preparing more than what we need at once, but plan ahead and make room in your freezer for any extra servings of soup, casserole, stir fries, or whatever you find it easy to make ‘too much’ of. This also helps to avoid the temptation to overeat. Prepare your plate and prepare your leftovers to be frozen or refrigerated at the same time to cut your preparation work in half. Buying your protein (like a whole rotisserie chicken) in bulk and repurposing it through the week is not only time saving, but penny saving as well.
4. Plan potlucks. Potluck meals can be a great way to meet new people or interact with others and eat well at the same time. Make arrangement with attendees as to who will bring a veg, a fruit, a protein and starch and take to go containers along with your dish. This sort of swap meet can not only save on meal prep time and $$, but is an excellent way to share food and fun with friends.
5. Make cooking fun! If firing up the stove, scrubbing dishes, or boiling water isn’t your idea of a fun evening, find ways to put the pleasure back into cooking. There was a time when cooking was not just a part of life, it was a way of life. From collecting our food, to dressing our food, to mindfully preparing and eating our food, the entire process offered a sense of accomplishment and pleasure. With the conveniences of fast food and frozen TV dinners, the thrill of the harvest has left most of us in a lull.
Bring back the excitement of preparing a meal for yourself by relishing in the procurement process. If you’re not able to pluck your dinner from your back yard, or harvest it from the forest or local stream, take a trip to your local farmer’s market or butcher shop to form relationships with those who have. At the very least, as you’re eating your dinner, pause and think back, how did this food even get to my plate? Who grew it, processed it, sold it, and what steps did it go through to get here? Generally, the shortest trips ensure the best quality foods. Other ways to jazz up the eating experience are singing along to your favorite tunes while chopping veggies, sipping a glass of wine while boiling pasta, or listening to a book on tape or chatting with a friend while the grill is going. It’s all about perspective, so serve yourself up a big, healthy serving!
This is just a glimpse of how to make solo dining, healthful dining. We would love to know what strategies you use to nourish your Body. Mind. & Soul, solo?