Cooking for one sucks, let’s face it. You look in the refrigerator and see half-empty jars of condiments, a few eggs, some wilted salad greens and a handful of things past their due date. Worse yet are the plastic containers with leftovers, except you don’t remember what they are or how long they’ve been there although it’s safe to assume that the further back on the shelf it is, the older it is. Probably safe to assume whatever bits and pieces are in those containers are unsafe to eat.
The pantry isn’t much better. Open and partially consumed boxes of cereals and crackers from the last time the kids came to visit but quite stale by now. Cans of soup and beans, various cooking ingredients like oils, rice, beans and tomato sauce. Nothing seems appealing. What to do?
The choice to age in place brings with it the need to keep yourself healthy by getting adequate healthy calories but by this point in one’s life the idea of cooking every day has lost its charm and for some, the chore of shopping is challenging. A bit of discipline and maybe some help from a family member or neighbor can pay huge dividends. Use a calendar to plan meals and snacks for a full week and build a shopping list accordingly. Seeing everything in black and white can help you make the best use of every purchase, get sufficient variety and minimize or eliminate the amount of food that goes to waste. If you use a monthly calendar, you can plan for using up those frozen meals as well.
The first ‘go to’ for most people is casseroles. There are tons of recipes on the Internet but anyone who has raised a family has a few favourites. A good blueprint is to mix together one part meat, poultry, tofu or beans; two parts vegetables; two parts rice, noodles or some kind of macaroni; and some kind of sauce which could be tomato sauce, creamed soup, a béchamel sauce for those who know how to make it – maybe with a bit of cheese to ramp it up a bit. Be wary of the temptation to add extra salt, particularly if you are using canned sauce or soup as they may already have sufficient salt. If you are comfortable adding some fresh or dried herbs or a bit of chopped onion, great! Once cooked, enjoy one portion and freeze the remainder in portions. Be sure to properly label the bags and consider including a ‘use by’ date. A quick Internet search says casseroles with meat should be thawed and eaten within three months.
Along the same line as a casserole are meals like meatloaf, homemade soups and pasta sauces that can be made in batches and frozen in portions. Cook once, eat a few times!
Whether you enjoy chicken, steak or fish make sure that when you cook one piece, you cook two or three … more if it’s on sale and you want to freeze them. While you’re at it, cook a bit of extra rice and blanche more veggies than you need as well. Slice up the leftover meat or fish and layer pieces over a salad or use in a wrap with leftover rice, salad greens and veggies. A stir fry is a fabulous way to use up whatever is in your fridge together with that leftover chicken or maybe eat the leftover steak with some eggs.
One of my favourite meals, especially in the summer months, is a smoothie. I buy frozen fruit like wild blueberries, mango, peaches or tropical fruits when they come on sale, always have peanut butter and almond butter in the house and, having given up cow’s milk some years ago, I always have almond milk around and will occasionally buy some coconut milk. I also keep a large container of natural source why protein isolate around. I prefer the vanilla flavour but whatever your favourite, adding a scoop to a smoothie ensures I stay full and gets me a bit of extra protein. Again the Internet is your friend and there are scads of smoothie recipes available. Green smoothies are trendy right now and, while they aren’t my thing, they are a great way to get an adequate amount of vegetables in your diet.
When my children were young, they loved homemade pizzas. I did them on the bbq in the summer months but they can also be done in the oven. I spooned tomato sauce on pita wraps and then the children could choose their toppings from a few veggies I had cut up. A bit of cheese on top and cook via your preferred method. Another great way to use up veggies!
I’m an egg fan so I tend to keep at least one dozen eggs in my fridge at all times. I’ll hard boil four at a time and eat one each day for breakfast along with peanut butter on whole grain toast. The odd time I’ll crave an omelet and put leftover veggies along with shredded cheddar that I buy in bags for use in omelets, wraps, salads or to melt on a turkey burger.
In the winter months homemade soup is a favourite. As with everything cooked at home, we can control the quality of the ingredients and the salt. Cook once and enjoy for days or freeze to enjoy in the weeks ahead. I particularly like potato and leek soup with store bought chicken stock but whatever your choice, homemade soup is so easy. I have an immersible blender in my stock of equipment so if you don’t have one I recommend that you put it on your wish list!
Don’t forget snacks! It can be difficult for aging seniors to get enough healthy calories so a tasty snack in between meals can be very beneficial. Think about sliced apple and peanut butter, veggies and dip, a glass of vegetable juice, cottage cheese and whatever fruit is in season or a handful of almonds.
Cooking for one can be challenging but with a bit of thought and planning you can be sure to eat a nutritious diet. Don’t forget to treat yourself well by setting a pretty place at the table even if it’s a TV tray. Dining on the patio in the summer months can be immensely pleasurable as well but if it’s too taxing to carry things outside, eat by an open window overlooking the garden. If possible, organize shared meals with friends every week or two to bring a social component to your eating. Lunch clubs, community dinners, potluck suppers, fireman’s breakfasts or church meals are all great opportunities to eat in the company of neighbours and friends.
Check the Internet for healthy eating guides to get more ideas. If you have special dietary challenges such as diabetes, your health care team can refer you to resources to help you organize healthy meals. For those with mobility challenges, check with your neighbourhood grocery stores. Most will take your list and do the shopping for you and deliver to your door for a small delivery fee.