Dakota State University -- NDSU Agriculture
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo ND, 58105-5655, Tel: 701-231-7881, Fax: 701-231-7044
Prairie Fare: Table for One, Please
By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist
I remember the creative, but not entirely appetizing, meals prepared by my fellow college students who lived in the dorm but chose not to be on the campus meal plan. Since full-size ranges arenít standard equipment in dorm rooms, the most creative chefs used hot pots and popcorn poppers to cook everything from spaghetti to pancakes to eggs. Ramen noodles and macaroni and cheese were menu staples. Somehow we all survived.
At some point most of us have to fend for ourselves in the kitchen. College often becomes the first time young adults have to prepare their own food. Remaining single, losing a spouse or divorce also can lead to solo cooking ventures.
To some, cooking for one may seem like a major effort with few rewards. But eating is a source of enjoyment and provides needed nourishment to keep our bodies healthy. Sometimes eating alone is a desirable time for privacy and peace and quiet, but other times it can be a lonely experience. For senior adults, congregate meal programs are a great social outlet. Sharing regular meals with friends also adds pleasure to dining.
While eating out is an option, it can be an expensive one. You can count on restaurant-prepared meals to cost two to three times more than what food would cost at home. Still, about 70 percent of consumers eat out for dinner one or more times weekly, according to a 1999 telephone survey of about 2000 male and female supermarket shoppers by the Food Marketing Institute. Young adults ages 18 to 24, singles and men tend to eat out the most. Women working part-time, people over 65 and African Americans are most likely to eat their evening meal at home.
Many food products available in supermarkets cater to singles. Cooking for one, however, doesnít mean you need to buy single-serving canned or frozen foods. Keep staples on hand, like vegetable oil, flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cornstarch, rice, pasta, dry beans, canned tomatoes and sauce, tuna, and nonfat dry milk, so youíre ready to cook.
There are a few rules of thumb to consider when youíre shopping for one, two or a large family. Youíll keep your shopping trips efficient and your grocery bill manageable with these tips:
A freezer and microwave oven can make healthy eating a snap. Frozen dinners have come a long way in the last few years, and many are quite healthful. Examine the Nutrition Facts label for sodium and fat content. As a rule of thumb, look for no more than 3 grams of fat per 100 calories. To maximize the nutritional content, complete your meal with fresh or canned fruit, whole wheat bread and glass of milk.
When youíre in the mood to cook or bake, make extra servings, divide into meal-size portions and freeze in suitable containers for later. Most casseroles, lasagna, meatloaf and chili make excellent freeze-ahead meals. Potatoes make excellent single-serving meals when cooked in the oven or microwave. Top spuds with canned or home-made chili, cheese, lowfat yogurt and chives, vegetables or whatever topping you like. Try the quick-frozen chicken breasts, thaw them in the refrigerator or microwave oven, pop them in the oven with a touch of barbecue sauce or sprinkle of herbs, and cook to an internal temperature of 170 degrees. Make super spaghetti by adding some extra vegetables or meat to canned spaghetti sauce. Top frozen pizzas with extra peppers, mushrooms or other favorite toppings. Use your crockpot or invest in a smaller one. Crockpots are great tools for cooking moist foods like soups and chili. Cooking large cuts of meat, like roasts, in crockpots is not recommended because of food safety issues associated with low temperature cooking.
Hereís a tasty and easy-to-make chili recipe that freezes well. One serving (one-sixth of the recipe) contains 390 calories, 15 grams of fat, 87 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C and 42 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin A (as beta carotene). Invite your friends over for chili and crackers, corn muffins, fruit and milk.