Eating Well When Eating Alone

senior woman making saladWisconsin had nearly 645,000 single-person households as of the 2010 Census. That’s a significant number of people who may regularly cook and eat meals on their own.

If you’re cooking for yourself, you may not want to spend much time preparing a meal, says Susan Nitzke, UW-Extension specialist and Professor Emerita in nutritional sciences at the UW-Madison. “But by following a few basic tips, you don’t need to sacrifice good nutrition for speed and convenience when you’re making a meal for yourself.”

1. Think ahead and buy foods that are easily adapted to a variety of meals, says Nitzke. “For example, with some planning you can buy a hot, pre-baked chicken for tonight’s dinner and end up with several other meals as well. When you bring the chicken home from the grocery, set aside the amount that you plan to eat right away. Cut the rest into thin slices and chunks and refrigerate within one hour. The saved chicken slices can be used for a sandwich tomorrow and the chunks can be used to make a chicken salad the next day.”

2. If you’re accustomed to preparing family-sized recipes, select a few of your favorites that are delicious as leftovers. Divide the extra food into portion-size containers and freeze for quick and healthy homemade “TV dinners” at a later time. This works especially well with hearty recipes like soups, stews and pasta dishes. “As a rule of thumb, dishes like lasagna and beef/vegetable stew that are readily available in your grocer’s freezer have basic recipes that freeze well when you make them at home,” says Nitzke.

3. Use restaurants wisely. Ordering pizza or stopping for fast food is okay now and then, but eating out can be more expensive and less nutritious than preparing meals at home. “Studies show that people drink more soda and eat fewer vegetables and whole grains when eating out,” says Nitzke. These nutrition pitfalls can be avoided with careful selection, especially for beverages and side dishes.

4. At the grocery store, buy fruits and vegetables that store well. Carrots, beets, cabbage, squash, sweet potatoes, apples, oranges, and kiwi fruits are examples of fresh foods that usually last several days or even weeks when stored properly. Selecting canned or frozen forms may be more practical for softer fruits like peaches and berries and for vegetables that spoil quickly like corn and peas–especially when these products are not in season. “Frozen vegetables in bags are especially useful. You can take out just enough for today’s meal and keep the rest frozen for later,” says Nitzke.

5. Stock up on foods that are easily prepared in small portions. Depending on your taste preferences, you may choose to stock up on small cans of tuna, pasta sauce, beans and vegetables along with small bags or boxes of rice, tortillas, peanut butter, breakfast cereal, and noodles or spaghetti. The same principle applies to basic items in your refrigerator like milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, salad dressing, and butter or margarine. Frozen bagels and English muffins are handy substitutes for fresh bread. With these items on hand, along with salt, pepper and some vegetable oil, you will have the basic ingredients for a number of quick and easy meals whenever the need arises.

6. Avoid the temptation to skip meals and eat more snacks. “Starting with breakfast and throughout the day, you’re more likely to have a balance of healthy food by eating regular meals and healthy snacks, rather than grazing on less-healthful foods throughout the day,” says Nitzke.

For more information on healthful eating, consult the Racine/Kenosha Nutrition Education Program at 262-635-6824  or go to