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Making meals for one or two

April 17, 2002|BY LYNN F. LITTLE

If you're eating by yourself tonight, you're not alone. You're part of a growing trend. Each evening, many Americans eat alone.

Whether you're an adult heating up a cup of soup or a child microwaving a hot dog, solitary dining has its pitfalls.

Several studies have shown that the diets of people who regularly dine alone come up short on important nutrients.

For many, cooking for one or two seems like too much work. Often, recipes serve at least four. Bulk foods may be economical, but not necessarily interesting over time. Perishable foods may be difficult to keep on hand without wasting them. And mealtime can be lonely. Plus, cooking also means doing dishes.

The good news is that preparing meals for one or two can be easy - and enjoyable - by planning ahead and making meals simple. Plus, many manufacturers now cater to the single diner with pre-packaged individual serving foods to help you create well-balanced meals.

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The easiest way to prepare a meal for one or two is to plan ahead. It's hard to make a meal if you don't have any or all of the ingredients. Keep a variety of staple foods on hand, especially those foods you enjoy eating, so you are ready when it's time to cook a meal.

Sometimes foods are cheaper if you buy them in bulk. If you buy more than you can eat in a safe and reasonable amount of time, freeze the foods. If you don't like chopping vegetables or don't expect to use a whole head of lettuce before it spoils, purchase prepackaged salad greens or select just the salad ingredients you need from the salad bar section of your supermarket, if available.

Shop with a friend and split the perishable foods. Plan leftovers, so all you have to do is re-heat and eat. Make a pan of lasagna or enchiladas. Bake a casserole. Cook a pot of chili, soup or beans when you have time.

Package portions in small individual bags or containers and freeze the servings for later, when you may not have as much time or don't feel like preparing something.

The Food Guide Pyramid serves as a useful guide for making daily food choices and building balanced meals. Start at the base of the pyramid with the bread, cereal, rice and pasta group and work your way to the top.

For example, start with breads, rice or pasta, then add one or more vegetables, one or more dairy products, and a meat or protein source. Complete the meal with fresh fruit or fruit juice. If possible, offer a variety of choices from all food groups.

And, finally, if you want, add small amounts of fats, oils or sugars to add more flavor. Soups and soup mixes are other alternatives for adding flavor.

Most recipes can be cut in half or in thirds. For easy references, see the chart at right. Some ingredients are difficult to divide, such as an egg. If the recipe you want to cut in half calls for a large egg, try using a small egg or just the egg white. In some cases, it may be easier to make the entire recipe and freeze the rest to enjoy later.

A meal isn't complete until all leftover food is stored safely. Make sure you have food storage containers, such as thick plastic bags or shallow plastic containers, to store any leftovers safely in the refrigerator or freezer. Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours of preparing and serving.

Finally, now that you have created a meal, try to create a pleasant setting for dining at home. Listen to relaxing music, choose a pleasant location, or set the table - even if it's just for you. An attractive placemat, flowers and candles help make a meal important, even if your company is yourself and the evening news on television.

For more ideas for meals for one or two, you might check the following internet sites:

www.busycooks.about.com

www.mealsforyou.com

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with the Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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