Nutrition Column – Table for One?

Dining solo tonight? If so, you’re not alone. Every evening many Americans eat by themselves. Whether you’re a child waiting for mom or dad to come home from work, a college student on the run or a single adult, eating alone can have its pitfalls. Research studies have shown that diets of people who regularly dine alone come up short on several important nutrients.

For many, cooking for one seems like too much work. Often, recipes serve at least four, perishable foods spoil before they can be completely used up and – let’s face it – mealtime can be lonely. However, with just a little effort, preparing meals for yourself can be easy and enjoyable.

To make the most of dining alone, try the following ideas:

Plan ahead: It’s hard to make a meal if you don’t have all of the needed ingredients. Always keep a variety of staple foods on hand so when it is time to cook, you’re ready. When making a casserole, lasagna, chili, soup or beans, freeze the leftovers in single-serving containers for when you don’t have as much time or don’t feel like preparing something.

Make time for breakfast: Don’t skip breakfast, even if you’re in a rush or don’t feel hungry. Breakfast can be anything from a fruit and yogurt smoothie to last night’s leftover pizza.

Balance your meals: Use the Food Guide Pyramid for making daily food choices and planning meals. Whenever possible, eat something from each food group at mealtime. For example, make a tuna sandwich using whole-wheat bread, then top if off with some lettuce and a few slices of tomato. Enjoy with a glass of non-fat milk and a piece of fruit.

Try reducing recipes: With little or no effort, most recipes can be cut in half or in thirds. For ingredients difficult to divide, such as an egg, use a small egg or just the egg white rather than trying to divide a large egg in half. Keep in mind that, in some cases, it may be easier to make the entire recipe and freeze the leftovers for another time.

Remember convenience can count: More and more supermarkets are stocking healthy, prepared meals. Look in the deli and frozen foods sections, but always be sure to double check the Nutrition Facts label for serving size, calories, fat grams and sodium content. When preparing a meal at home, using prepackaged salad greens and vegetables can save time. Prepackaged entrees can easily be combined with fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits to make a nutritious meal.

Make meals enjoyable: Try to create a pleasant setting when dining alone. Listen to relaxing music, choose a pleasant location, or set the table – even if it’s just for you. Setting a place at the table with an attractive placemat, napkin, flowers and even candles can help make a meal more enjoyable.

Enjoy companionship occasionally: Make a standing dinner date with a friend, relative or next-door neighbor. Food sometimes tastes better when there is someone to enjoy it with you.