Suddenly Cooking for One

by Phyllis Staff, Ph.D.

Anne recently lost her husband of 42 years to cancer.

"I can't cook for just myself," she told me. "What can I do so cooking is not such an ordeal?"

Anne's circumstance is typical of many seniors who have lost a spouse or partner. And while it would be easy to give her a "cooking for one" cookbook, that really doesn't address the problem - an undesirable change.

When you've cooked for a family of two or more, cooking for one is a lonely endeavor. But a few simple changes can help.

1. Change your culinary environment.

Throw out or store those old dishes that have so many cues for remembering other times. Replace them with a new set for two or four. I've found delightful tableware sets for four for under $50.00 at Crate & Barrel and Kitchen Etc. Tableware doesn't have to be expensive to be fun, and the change will help steer you toward the life you're now living.

While you're at it, take a quick trip to your local bookstore. Many of the latest cookbooks feature beautiful color photographs of scrumptious meals to tempt your palate.

2. Change your eating habits.

Change the time you eat your mail meal. Change your habitual diet to something new and more exciting. Change your eating partner. You may have friends that would enjoy sharing a meal. If not, make new ones at volunteer or senior centers.

Invite friends, new and old, to come to share a meal. Perhaps they'd enjoy sharing meal preparations as well.

Spend your mealtime periodically working at a soup kitchen or delivering "Meals-on-Wheels." It's hard to be lonely when you're giving of yourself.

3. Don't cook for one.

It's no more trouble to make a meal for four than a meal for one - so cook for four, and freeze the surplus in meal-sized portions. Ziplock TM freezer bags will work well for single portions, but do not use sandwich bags. They are too thin for adequate freezer storage.

Alternatively, you might consider a vacuum packaging system. The company that makes the system promotes its bags as boil-in bags as well as freezer containers. Vacuum removal of air extends the storage life of frozen foods. I found one such system under $40.00 at DmartStores. Replacements bags are about $16.00 for three, 66-bag, rolls.

Don't forget to label bags and store them flat while freezing for easy stacking.

4. Eat what you've grown in your garden.

Food you've grown yourself feeds your body and your spirit. Even the smallest patio has room for a few pots of tomatoes and spicy peppers, and watching the plants mature and produce fruits and vegetables is something to look forward to every day. Freeze excess produce.

5. Share frozen meals with a friend.

Trade frozen meals with a friend (whom you have pre-qualified as a good, or at least acceptable cook). You'll both benefit from a change in diet.

6. Eat out!

But don't eat alone. While working as a veteran road warrior, I spent many weeks away from friends and family. I often ate in fine restaurants, but it was never the same as eating with a pleasant companion. So take the initiative -- invite a friend out for lunch or dinner.

Remember, cooking for one is not the problem. Loneliness and living in memories are, but you can move away from them and toward enjoying meals again.

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About the Author

Phyllis Staff is an experimental psychologist and the CEO of The Best Is Yet.Net, an internet company that helps seniors and caregivers find trustworthy residential care. She is the daughter of a victim of Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Staff is the author of How to Find Great Senior Housing: A Roadmap for Elders and Those Who Love Them:

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