Occasionally when I talk to my siblings I wonder if we grew up in the same house. One detail that we unanimously remember is dinner at a set time. Aside from a tornado warning, we were expected to be there.

Dinner was a big deal. We all had our assigned seat at the table, and to this day I remember who sat next to me and who was across from me. When the company arrived, an extension was added and the two youngest brothers sat on a piano bench at the end. We always seemed to have room for more.

For a growing proportion of Americans, the dining table, if any, has shrunk dramatically. Whether by choice or circumstance, more people live alone and cook (or order) for just one.

A single resident’s households have gradually increased from 17% in 1969 to 28% in 2019, spanning millennials through baby boomers and beyond. Eating alone is also more common due to the pandemic and / or conflicting schedules. In addition, the availability of food at all times has turned into constant eating and has contributed to the downward trend in meals in favor of an increase in snacks.

Meals that don’t require cooking have never been so plentiful. To take away any kind of cuisine, you can get not only restaurants, but also delis, cafeterias or even convenience stores. And complete meals, including serving for a serving, line food shelves and freezers. In a similar context, I’ve heard from many people who live alone that visiting a grocery store might be the only opportunity in a day to speak to someone in person.

Convenience aside, many want a home cooked meal, and the simpler the better. Other properties, such as B. Less sodium can be critical and difficult to achieve with many restaurant meals. Cost and excessive packaging are also common challenges when outsourcing food. But cooking at home is also a hurdle. Such obstacles are expressed as general complaints: “I don’t know what to do” or “I make too much and I end up eating the same thing” and finally “I hate to waste food”.

Fortunately, there are plenty of helpful suggestions out there to help create delicious meals for you. From preparation tips to using leftovers, there are many tasty and economical solutions. Here are just a few:

  • Use the meat counter for groceries, where individual servings of fish, cuts of meat and poultry are available.
  • Experiment with a completely new item to expand your food horizons. Even if this doesn’t work, it is an adventure and very forgiving to make just one serving.
  • It is not all or nothing when you choose between convenience and cooking from the ground up. Buy a protein like grilled salmon or chicken and add your own sides or vice versa.
  • Reuse fresh food. Spinach can be great in a salad and just as well sautéed and incorporated into an omelette a few days later.
  • Likewise, roasted carrots, onions, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts can accompany chicken, fish or pork chop with one meal and combine with a mixed green salad or pasta at another.
  • Leftover vegetables, beans or rice can be added to soups, stews, casseroles or (with a little cheese) quesadillas.
  • Prepare a bag of fresh vegetables in several ways: fried, steamed, roasted or stewed.
  • Check out the healthy food bowl trend to create appetizing, inventive meals while also using leftovers.
  • Buy fresh fruit such as pears, oranges, grapefruit, bananas, and apples in 1–3 servings instead of a whole bag or bunch. Apples too soft to eat in your hand? Cut one into slices and sauté for a quick garnish.
  • For another way to consume extra fruit, try the banana bread muffin recipe below, which uses a very ripe banana.
  • Make a homemade microwave cup dessert (such as chocolate pudding or white cake with sprinkles) for a not-too-large serving of a sweet treat.
  • Frozen fruit and vegetables in sacks allow individual portions to be poured out without waste.
  • For optimal freshness, keep a whole loaf of bread in the freezer, not in the refrigerator or on the counter.
  • Get staples as part of a contingency plan for what to do when the refrigerator is almost empty. These versatile ingredients are: black beans, kidney beans, lentils, salsa, rice, noodles, canned tuna and salmon, peanut butter, steamed tomatoes, tomato soup, mushrooms, corn, peas. (See recipe below for an example of using these items). Fill your pantry with appropriately sized servings. Check the food details to ensure the best product quality.
  • The essential ingredients of the refrigerator may include milk – possibly an extended shelf life brand, plus eggs, a variety of fresh fruits, yogurt, packaged fresh vegetables, and cheese – but not too much.
  • Rethink best practices like preparing extra servings of appetizers to freeze, but improve the game a little. There is a world of very attractive small (individual) casserole dishes and matching lids. Look for descriptions that show they are microwave, dishwasher, and oven safe.
  • For fun, invest in a new product for your kitchen, e.g. B. a small pot, a toaster, a hand blender, a small bread maker or an instant pot. Try the associated recipes.
  • Switch between typical breakfast and lunch items for breakfast. Breakfast for dinner can be French toast, ham, or pre-cooked bacon and fruit.
  • Have a big salad for dinner. Throw in hard-boiled egg slices, nuts, and chickpeas for egg whites.
  • Make a large amount of chilli? Share with a friend who has similar food preferences.

Although it is just a unique place setting, it adds to the appeal of a meal. Make it a habit to sit down to eat instead of standing or reaching at the counter. Create a small ambience by using good china, a quality napkin and placemat, and maybe a candle or two. You deserve it. Dinner is still a big deal.

Banana bread muffin

Has the texture of banana bread but is muffin-shaped. Use three 2-ounce casserole cases or just a muffin pan. Makes 3 servings.

¼ cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon

½ cup of very ripe, mashed banana

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of sugar

1 tablespoon butter or margarine, melted

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts for topping, if desired

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the inside of the muffin pan or casserole dish with nonstick spray. Mix the flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a bowl. Using another bowl, mash the banana with a fork and mix with sugar. Add butter or margarine, egg yolks, and vanilla to the banana mixture. Add to the dry ingredients and mix (do not overmix). Divide the batter evenly over 3 muffins. Top with chopped walnuts as desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned.

Diet per Muffin (excluding nuts): 161 calories; 27 g of carbohydrates; 2 grams of protein; 5 g of fat; 144 mg of sodium.

African peanut soup with dark red beans

Makes 4 servings.

1 teaspoon. Rapeseed or olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1½ tsp. Curry powder

¼ tsp. cumin

A 10 ounce. can reduce sodium-condensed tomato soup (like Campbell’s Healthy Choice)

2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth

2 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter

1 cup of salt-free red kidney beans rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons of chopped fresh coriander

Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onion for about 5 minutes until it is soft. Stir in the curry and cumin. Add condensed tomato soup and broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir in peanut butter. Use a whisk to distribute evenly. Add beans and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add chopped cilantro and save a little on garnish.

Nutrition per serving of soup, approx. 1.5 cups: 185 calories; 26 g of carbohydrates; 9 grams of protein; 5 g of fat; 362 mg of sodium.

Mary W. Zbaracki is a nutritionist at St. Luke's.

Mary W. Zbaracki is a nutritionist at St. Luke’s.

Mary W. Zbaracki, MPH, RD, LD, CDCES, CNSC, is a clinical nutritionist at St. Luke.