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How to Survive Cooking for One

What to do about cooking and eating if you’re left on your own for a while (or longer)?

Cooking for one can seem like a huge chore, a pointless exercise, and many fall (with varying degrees of rapidity) into the pit of eating prepackaged and preprepared foods, eating out, or switching to fast food. But this is not the best solution, nor is it a healthy one. As your diet deteriorates you begin to feel heavy, bloated, and slow, which will only exacerbate any feelings of sadness and depression you may have anyway.

So, I decided to make cooking my evening meal a ritual, a pleasurable ritual. Yes, it takes time, but it’s time well spent in my new-found schedule with many spare hours, not usually there when my husband is around. Why not give some of those hours to something healthy and good for me? I found it relaxing and therapeutic to plan the evening meal and then leisurely chop vegetables and prepare everything.

Just because I am alone, why should I not eat well? Fresh, healthy foods are not just for groups. Our family has always tried to eat healthy and well, so here was my chance to perfect that, to test out and taste some new recipes. I likened myself to a one-woman, slow-food group, and each day I looked forward to the evening, instead of dreading all that time alone. It was like my reward for the day.

First, I had to solve the problem of needing small quantities. For staples it’s not really a problem but, after throwing away half a large bag of spinach, for fresh produce I decided to go to the local farmers’ market twice a week and just buy the quantity I needed. The visit to the farmers’ market is fun in itself and I invariably bump into someone I know and chat.

My evening ritual began with putting on classical music as my background. We have a nice kitchen table, so I decided to eat there, as it seems more cozy than the dining room when I’m alone. I set the table, always with a linen napkin, pretty plates, and a real wine glass.

Next step in the ritual was to get out and wash all the fresh produce I needed and chop it, before I started assembling or cooking. Slow rhythmic chopping was somehow soothing and I’d admire the different colored fruits and vegetables laid out on the counter. Doing it this way made it very easy to prepare each course. I planned a variety of small courses each day and decided to wash up between each course, as then I didn’t have a huge mess at the end. It seemed to make everything much more manageable that way.

I opened a bottle of white or rosé wine and sipped a glass as I worked, and had another glass with the meal. Depending on what was for dinner, sometimes I’d open a red wine, and finish the rest of it over the next few days.

In this way, I created a pleasurable pocket in my day, and my body was happy.

Some weekends, I made a big pot of vegetable or chicken soup, which I could use over many days as my first course.

Here is a seven-day sample of some of the dinner menus I used over a period of many weeks. Please enjoy them if you are ever in the same situation of needing to cook for one.

Day 1:

  1. Tomato salad with fresh basil
  2. Steamed fish wrapped in chard, with brown rice, and purple asparagus on the side
  3. A fresh pear

Day 2:

  1. Green salad with cucumber, radish, red onion, walnuts and capers
  2. Omelet filled with cooked mushrooms (prepared separately, lightly fried in olive oil with garlic, sprinkled with cilantro), and a slice of whole-wheat toast
  3. Bowl of fresh strawberries

Day 3:

  1. Chicken-vegetable soup (and a slice of whole-wheat bread, if you want)
  2. Baked potato with melted cheese, chopped green onions, parsley
  3. A fresh plum

Day 4:

  1. Thai shrimp salad, plus a side of chopped red bell pepper, and a slice of whole-wheat bread
  2. Fresh blueberries and a chopped kiwi fruit

Day 5:

  1. Mashed yam with fresh ginger, cinnamon, walnuts, and a baked chicken breast
  2. Goat cheese, French bread, a few olives
  3. Slice of green melon

Day 6:

  1. Sautéed cubed acorn squash, carrots, onion, red pepper flakes, olive oil, and fresh basil, served on multi-colored vegetable pasta and sprinkled with fresh grated parmesan cheese
  2. A peach

Day 7:

  1. Bowl of soup
  2. Green salad with feta cheese and blueberries
  3. French bread, brie cheese and a few olives

Enjoy, and good luck!

 

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