The Joy of Nutrition: Cooking for One

By Guest Contributor March 15, 2011 10:02

Clare Hicks

By Clare Hicks

Think about a time when you helped prepare a special meal for loved ones. You may have scoured cookbooks looking for the perfect dish, and then gone to several markets to find the right ingredients. At home, you chopped, sliced, baked, grilled and sautéed to create the meal you imagined, before sitting down to a nicely set table.

It required several hours of work, but it was worth every minute as you tasted the delicious food and watched your loved ones enjoy what you prepared. It wasn’t just a meal, it was an experience.

Eating is intertwined with how we socialize in our culture. This connection is established in infancy when a baby bonds with its mother through feeding. Throughout life we continue to develop relationships with friends and family over food, coming together to celebrate, grieve, or simply to spend time with one another. A shared meal is often central to these experiences.

As people age, they are more likely to eat meals alone than earlier in life, which can make eating a very different experience than they once knew. The challenge is making this different experience a positive and healthful one.

Many of us are willing to go to great lengths to prepare food for others – it’s one way to show our love and appreciation. However, when it comes to preparing food to eat alone, these external motivators no longer exist. We are simply too busy, don’t care enough or don’t feel up to preparing healthful meals if we are going to be the only one eating.

How often, when you eat alone, are you standing at the kitchen counter? Or eating out of a bag while sitting behind the wheel of your car? Or do you just skip meals altogether? People who live alone or eat most meals by themselves face this challenge daily. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is feeling that it’s not worth the time, effort or money to prepare attractive and healthy food for ourselves.

Obviously we can’t spend hours preparing every single meal – but we still need to view  nourishing ourselves as a top priority. Here are a few suggestions to help make sure that meals eaten alone are healthy, delicious and, hopefully, a little special:

  • Acknowledge that you are an important person, worthy of a healthy and attractive meal.
  • Learn to cook at least one recipe that you like. Consider taking a cooking class.
  • Purchase foods that make meal preparation easier – pre-cut fruits and vegetables, ready-made salads, frozen or canned vegetables with no added ingredients, and pre-cooked meats.
  • Sit down to eat.
  • Listen to relaxing music during meals.
  • Eat from real plates and bowls, using real utensils – even a frozen dinner is more enjoyable this way.
  • Share a lunch or dinner at a senior center or other venue that offers socialization as part of the experience.
  • If you are homebound, consider a program like Meals on Wheels. (In Tuolumne County, Sierra Senior Providers, 533-2622; in Calaveras County, Common Ground Senior Services, 736-9996.)

If someone you care about lives alone, invite them over for a meal or offer to bring dinner to their home. Share cooking skills or tips, helpful for those who are newly widowed or divorced, especially if their spouse did most of the cooking.

If they are unable to access healthy food, offer to help with shopping, hire someone to help, or use a grocery delivery service.

Clare Hicks is a registered dietitian who works for Sonora Regional Medical Center.

© 2011 Friends and Neighbors

By Guest Contributor March 15, 2011 10:02