Grocery shopping and cooking meals for a large family every night can be a difficult feat. You have to make sure there’s enough food to fill everyone’s appetite and a stocked refrigerator and pantry to keep from having to make multiple trips to the grocery store in one week.
But shopping and cooking for one person can be just as difficult, especially when you’re used to doing so for a family or you’re not as able to get to the grocery store often.
“The difference is planning and quantity,” said Paige Vandegrift, chef and cooking teacher. “You have to be willing to plan.”
• Buy a loaf of bread, freeze it and take out a slices as needed. This way, the loaf doesn't mold if it isn't used quickly.
• Buy frozen vegetables instead of canned. They have more nutrients and can be used as needed.
• Have canned soups on hand and add frozen veggies or low-sodium canned beans to add nutrition and heartiness.
• While most foods freeze well potatoes don't - buy them individually rather than in large bags to keep from throwing any away.
• Invite someone over to eat with you - this way you have more motivation to cook and won't have loads of leftovers.
• Stock up your pantry with staples like whole grain pastas, brown rice and other whole grains that don't spoil. They last a long time and can be used for a variety of meals.
• Go shopping with a friend - the two of you can split the bag of apples or bunch of carrots so both of you get the fresh produce you need but not so much that it'll go to waste.
Buy smaller portions
Vandegrift teaches at The Merc, 901 Iowa St., about three times a month and will teach a class about cooking for small households in March.
She said one of the hardest parts about grocery shopping for one person is being able to buy fresh produce without it spoiling before being used, which is where the planning comes in.
Because it isn’t always possible to buy small portions of vegetables, fruits, meats and other perishable foods, it is important to be able to use plan to use the ingredients in 2 or 3 meals.
“It’s learning how to vary your cooking enough that you don’t get bored using the same fresh ingredients,” Vandegrift said.
Trish Unruh, registered dietitian and nutritionist with the Douglas County Health Department, recommended utilizing salad bars because a person can get small amounts of fresh vegetables.
She said it is important to try to cook with fresh ingredients when possible but having a frozen meal or two on hand is good as a back-up plan.
“There’s a lot of research that indicates when you cook at home the quality of your diet is better,” Unruh said. “The only problem with some single serving items is they’re convenient, but they don’t have portion size of fruits and vegetables as recommended. … The nutrients and fiber that’s available through fruits and vegetables and whole grains are less likely to be available in single serving meals.”
Save it for later
Cooking for one doesn’t always mean making a meal for one. A way to make a meal for the night and to have a homemade, balanced meal in the freezer is to cook enough food to have leftovers.
“It’s worth investing in individual Tupperware or bags,” Vandegrift said.
Although cooking one big batch of a meal and freezing leftovers for future use is a good idea, continuing to eat the leftovers of one meal continuously through the week may not be as bright, said Ray Buckingham, senior meals manager at Douglas County Senior Services.
It may be convenient to store the leftovers in the refrigerator and eat them for the next few meals, but the meal may not be nutritionally balanced, meaning the person isn’t eating a balanced diet.
Take advantage of Senior Services
Some seniors may be able to continue to plan out grocery lists and meals, but for those who are no longer able to cook for themselves there is the Douglas County Senior Services Senior Meals program, as well as Meals on Wheels for seniors with special diets.
Douglas County Senior Services menus are prepared by a registered dietician and prepared by Southern Accent Catering. The meals and menus are designed and prepared based on the USDA daily nutrition recommendations. Community members are welcome to eat at the senior services center during lunch hours or, if home-bound, can sign up for home delivery if they are at least 60 years old.
Buckingham attended a Meals on Wheels national conference in August and learned there is a huge movement of seniors living at home longer and who want to live well while at home.
The meal delivery program serves about 150 meals to seniors in Lawrence, Eudora, Baldwin City and Lecompton every day. The number of people in need isn’t small, but many times people don’t want to have to ask for help.
Buckingham said probably 75 percent of calls about setting up a meal program is children calling for their parents and most of the other 25 percent are healthcare providers.
“A lot of times the seniors themselves wont initiate the delivered meals,” Buckingham said. “The children (of seniors) are trying their best to get meals to their parents, and they can’t do it every day. Their parents aren’t eating, or what they’re eating isn’t good for them, and they need a nutritious meal.”
Douglas County Senior Services doesn’t bill for deliveries, but it does ask for a suggested donation of $2.75 a meal. However, if customers are unable to donate, they won’t be turned away.
“We’re more than a meal,” Buckingham said. “(The deliverers) check in on people when they deliver a meal. They make sure they’re OK, and if something seems amiss, we follow up.”
To learn more about Douglas County Senior Services meal program, contact Buckingham or outreach coordinator Shannon Ocsody at 785-842-0543 or by email at SeniorMeals@sunflower.com.