It's a bother to shop and cook for one, let alone make meals nutritious, too. Produce such as heads of cauliflower or lettuce frequently go to waste, chickens are too big and take too long to cook, and the kitchen is the size of a hallway closet. No wonder a pint of ice cream or a bag of beer nuts seems like the most sensible dinner.
But it needn't be that way. It's easy to eat low fat, solo style. With just a little planning, single householders can fashion fast meals.
For the 47 percent of Washington area residents who live alone, here are some strategies for getting out of the microwaved nachos rut: The supermarket salad bar. Use it as a building block for side dishes, main courses and desserts, not just for salads. Make a vegetarian sub by saute'ing onions, mushrooms, green bell or hot peppers, broccoli, carrots, baby corn and purple cabbage. Sprinkle with oregano and freshly ground black pepper, stuff into pita bread or a baguette and dress with a little oil and vinegar. Use the same vegetables with or without one third of a pound of fresh scallops, shrimp or chicken to stir fry, adding a teaspoon each of wine vinegar, sherry and soy sauce for the last minute. Splash with sesame oil at the end. Or turn vegetables into soup by adding them to a can of good-quality chicken broth.
Spike a pasta sauce with fresh broccoli or cauliflower florets; microwave a potato and top it with salad bar, peas, mushrooms and a sprinkling of grated cheese, then microwave again to melt the cheese. Or make a side dish of kidney beans, adding chopped garlic, a touch of oil, flavored vinegar and some dried sage.
Make strawberries romanoff: top berries with a dollop of vanilla yogurt and a sprinkling of brown sugar. Bulk foods. In a study conducted at three Washington supermarkets by Diane Odland, a nutritionist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Information Service, two thirds of the 36 bulk food items surveyed cost less than their packaged counterparts. One of the largest savings of bulk over packaged foods was for smaller package sizes, the type that singles are more likely to purchase.
Odland also found that the largest savings in the bulk section was for herbs and spices. Purchasing small quantities is an ideal situation for singles who may have trouble finishing the ground cardamom purchased for a company dinner, and herbs and spices help replace the flavor of fat and salt. This section is also a haven for rice, pasta and dried beans, which can be mixed and matched in soups or stews, as well as for snacks such as raisins or dried fruit. Weekend cooking. This is an obvious solution to having something to eat all week, and one that will save you from home-delivered pepperoni pizzas. Ellen Brown, a local single cook, food consultant and cookbook author, roasts a chicken on a Sunday afternoon, stuffing fresh herbs and garlic under the skin. Eaten without the skin, the result is a flavorful, moist bird that will stretch into a few week-day dinners. Or Brown will cook up a stew, chill and defat it, or prepare a pasta sauce or hearty soup such as minestrone or seafood gumbo. She makes "frozen dinners" by freezing soups, sauces and stews in individual portions; when she comes home late from a business trip, there's always something in the house besides cat food. Condiments. Open a single cook's refrigerator and the selection of fresh items is likely to be sparse. The selection of mustards, on the other hand, is likely to be plentiful. Use condiments to add flavor without fat: Coat a boneless, skinless chicken breast with coarse or Dijon-style mustard and roll in whole-wheat bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. Instead of butter, brush jelly or jam in the hollow of an acorn squash or glaze salad-bar carrots with orange marmalade. Instead of overloading on mayonnaise, liven up tuna, turkey or salmon salads with pickle relish, horseradish, mustard, chutney or hot pepper sauce. The seafood counter. Fish may be the ultimate portion-control food for single people. It takes 10 minutes to cook, can be finished in one sitting and is certainly lower in fat and calories than a T-bone steak. Combine 2 teaspoons chili powder with 1/4 teaspoon cumin and oregano and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne. Dredge a fish steak, such as tuna or swordfish, in the mixture and cook over medium heat in a nonstick pan for 10 minutes, flipping once.
Eating Right appears on alternate Tuesdays.