For dinner the other night, I had two slices of artisan bread with slices of Parmesan cheese melted on them, black grapes, chocolate Chex dry out of the box and orange juice. I thought about adding a raw carrot, but I was playing Words with Friends and chatting with a friend on Facebook and didn’t want to be bothered.
That is not an atypical scenario. I often don’t feel like cooking for myself, so I graze — and not always on the healthiest combination. I don’t have chips and junk food like that in the house, but I also don’t eat balanced calorie-controlled “meals” when I graze.
Don’t get me wrong. I love to cook and bake, but cooking for one is no picnic. I can end up eating a dish for days on end, or freeze part of it and forget it’s in the freezer, or eventually throw out food, which I hate to do. Not all of my favorite recipes lend themselves to being cut down or frozen.
My husband Jim, who died of pancreatic cancer in December 2010, loved to try different foods, and eventually he developed a love for cooking too. We would have big discussions about food, ways to change recipes and tips he saw on one of the many food shows he loved to watch on TV. We thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of our life together.
But those days have become pleasant, albeit sometimes painful, memories and now meals are another necessary chore. As you know, I like to have a Plan B, but I’m struggling with this one.
Regardless, here are some things I have learned from trying to cook for one:
- My discipline no longer exists. Every morning, I say to myself, “I’m going to eat salads for dinner from now on.” And every evening, I find myself grazing on everything but. I soon will be 57 years old. I know how I’m supposed to eat, so where did my discipline go? Although I love eating salads, it turns out I don’t like making them, so maybe it’s not just a discipline problem. I know there are prepared salads, but I like to wash my own veggies because of the frequent e-coli scares.
- The best way to prepare meatloaf is to bake it in muffin tins. The leftovers are easy to freeze and it’s simple to thaw just the number of “meat muffins” desired. They don’t take long to thaw, and they still slice up nicely for a sandwich if you wish.
- I despise grocery shopping. I’m not much of a shopper anyway, but I find grocery shopping particularly grueling. Even if I have a list all prepared and I haven’t left it on the kitchen table, I just don’t enjoy grocery shopping. I think if it were simply choosing items in the store and they magically appeared in my cupboards and refrigerator at home, I wouldn’t mind it. But you handle your food so many times before you eat it, grocery shopping has lost any charm it ever had for me. Choose items from the shelf or case, place them in the cart, unload it from the cart, load the bags into the cart, load the bags from the cart into your vehicle, unload the bags from the vehicle and carry them into the house, unload the bags into your cupboards and refrigerator. And now you want me to cook, too?
- I love pasta dishes but I don’t really care for most pastas after they have been frozen. They lose form and turn into mush. Lasagna usually stands up okay, but spaghetti and angel hair and some of the others just don’t cut it for me after they’ve been cooked and frozen. It’s difficult to make smaller versions of my favorite pasta dishes.
- It’s okay to eat out too. I can’t seem to decide if it’s more economical for me to buy groceries for one or to eat out. I don’t buy fresh food in bulk, which is where I would find savings, because it would spoil before I got to use it all. So buying in the quantities I do, and usually buying organic, makes it an expensive proposition. Sometimes I think it’s a toss-up between eating out and eating in, although eating out has the added benefit of not having to eat alone.
- Farmers markets can be a single person’s best friend. The food quality is high. You usually can buy it in the quantities that make sense to your situation. And often prices are comparable or even less expensive than the regular grocery store.
- Look for deals. Grocery stores offer meals for one, deli meat ends, rotisserie chickens and other deli-prepared foods at reduced prices as the foods near their expiration date, which can help keep costs down.
- My pantry doesn’t need to be stocked all the time, and that’s OK. I no longer can just dig through my shelves to come up with a meal if I have unexpected visitors. My shelves used to be bulging with cans, jars and boxes of all sorts of things because Jim loved to shop for groceries. There was always a variety of meat in the freezer, and we had lots of options for quick company meals. Now I even have to go to the grocery store to get canned goods to donate to the U.S. Postal Service’s food drives. I don’t have unexpected visitors like we did when Jim was alive, and when you don’t cook as much, there’s no need to have as much on hand.
- Preparing my own meals seems like a grand effort for little reward. With meal preparation comes the need for cleanup. I don’t mind that process when I’m cooking for others, but it seems like a waste of time for me alone. I would rather spend that time doing other things. It seems foolish to create a mess so that I can just clean it up after eating a meal that I don’t enjoy alone.
- The lack of structure in my eating habits hasn’t made my efforts to lose weight easy. I know what I need to do: plan menus, make lists, keep a food journal, have structured regular meals and snacks. All of that takes time I don’t feel like I have in my regular day right now as I adapt to widowhood, but eventually I will make it a priority.
This business of cooking and eating as a single is a project in process. I know adaptation is the key, but I hope knowing what I want out of my meal besides sustenance will open a path I can follow for a while. If it doesn’t work, I’m not afraid to choose another.
Maybe what I need is a Plan C.
My meatloaf recipe varies according to my mood, but in general it consists of a pound of extra lean ground beef, a pound of extra lean ground turkey, onion, sweet red pepper, 1/4 to 1/3 cup of buttermilk or almond milk, 2 eggs, 1/2 to 3/4 cup of Italian bread crumbs, and basil, oregano, salt and pepper to taste. I use different vegetables in it, such as chopped up broccoli or spinach, and it’s easy to make gluten-free by using gluten-free crumbs. I also have made it with all turkey burger. Remember to spray or grease your muffin pans, and bake in 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.