When people see Michelle
Yeager's lithe, 110-pound frame, they assume she minds her P's and Q's
when it comes to nutrition.
The 28-year-old math coach
and cheerleader does try and, indeed, has some good habits.
But like many other single
Americans, she eats out frequently instead of cooking healthy meals at
home. She also is a self-described "picky eater" who hates vegetables.
At restaurants, "I see
these people with these huge salads, and I don't like lettuce — that
pretty much takes out the salad thing," said Yeager, who works at
Cochran Elementary School in Louisville.
"When I get some type of
urge to cook, I'll get some recipe, and it will be this huge recipe
meant for four people, and I'll eat maybe one serving of it, but then
after that, it just sits there for a while and ends up getting thrown
Her experience is not
uncommon among single people, especially the ones who live alone.
When it comes to nutrition,
"individuals who live alone, whether they're young or they're older,
they do have some specific challenges," said Melanie Polk, a nutrition
education adviser to the American Institute for Cancer Research, which
has released a healthy-cooking brochure for singles.
These obstacles include:
Not knowing how to cook, in some cases.
Not having the proper cooking aids, such as the right cookware, utensils
and storage containers.
The cost of grocery shopping and the challenge of finding food products
that are small enough for a single person yet not too expensive.
Being too busy to pay attention to diet and/or not putting enough stock
into doing so.
Having no obligation to sit down at a certain time for a meal.
Lacking motivation to put a lot of effort into a meal for one.
"Some people, since it's
just for them, they don't want to bother cooking," Polk said.
Marilyn Tanner, a
37-year-old dietitian who is single, speaks from experience when she
says: "It's just not as fun to cook and bake for yourself."
But she does anyway and
keeps her fridge stocked with fruits and vegetables because she knows
the benefits of healthy meals and that eating out too much can lead to
A large, multi-center study
published in the Jan. 1 issue of the journal The Lancet found that young
adults who ate at fast-food restaurants more than twice a week gained
more weight and had greater insulin resistance in early middle age than
those who ate out less than once a week.
Fuel for thought
Nutrition author Elizabeth
Somer said America's nearly 96 million singles should be putting as much
thought into their meals as people put into the type of fuel that goes
into their cars.
"You wouldn't dream of
putting sawdust into the gas tank of your car and expect your car to run
well," said Somer, a dietitian and author of such books as "The Food and
Mood Cookbook" (Owl Books, 2004). "If you put the nutritional equivalent
of sawdust into your body, don't be surprised if you age faster.
"I'd rather pay 50 cents more for an apple now than $50,000 later
for breast cancer," said Leah Silletto, who stood in front of her
Photo by Pat McDonogh, The Courier-Journal
"You maintain a strong,
vital, youthful body by maintaining it, just like you would maintain
your car. I don't care if you don't have time or you don't have the
energy. Do it anyway because the payoff is so remarkable" in terms of
disease prevention and the way you feel.
Polk said, "When you change
your eating habits, you also often will find that you're going to start
taking off weight, slowly and consistently. Your clothes will feel
better. You'll feel better. You'll look better."
Singles can get on the road
to healthier eating habits with a little extra effort and a few tips
from people in the know.
The cancer institute's
brochure, "Cooking Solo: Homemade for Health," focuses on planning,
preparing and enjoying healthy meals at home instead of haphazardly
grabbing food — that's often unhealthy — on the go.
"This brochure helps to
motivate people to get into their own kitchen, depend more on their own
homemade food," Polk said.
"We know that people who
eat out at restaurants don't have as much control over what they eat.
They can't control what exactly goes into the food, and the portion
sizes in restaurants tend to be larger. ... We'd like to see more single
people get back into the kitchen."
Yeager said she eats out a
lot but that it tends to be better-quality fare than fast food, and she
also divides her restaurant portions in half, something Tanner
"Usually the quantity of
food that you're given ... is more like servings for two people instead
of servings for one person," said Tanner, an American Dietetic
Association spokeswoman based in the Washington University School of
Medicine in St. Louis. "...You don't have to eat everything in front of
You are not alone
In addition to the
brochure, there are books devoted to cooking for one and TV cooking
shows for people who want to prepare meals fast and/or who have few
The cooking-challenged also
can take classes from groups such as EarthSave Louisville, which offers
a Healthy Beginnings course on vegetarian cooking.
Leah Silletto, who is
single, went vegetarian more than two years ago for philosophical
reasons and to be healthy. She said it can be expensive because she
shops organic, but she thinks it's worth it.
"I would rather spend the
money now on being healthy than maybe having to fight cancer or some
other ramification in the future," said Silletto, a 29-year-old sales
trainer and runner who lives in the Highlands. "I'd rather pay 50 cents
more for an apple now than $50,000 later for breast cancer."
To keep from going over
budget, she shops cash-only and avoids junk food. Ultimately, "I don't
eat as much, so I think there's a benefit to that because I don't sit
around eating Doritos all day long," she said.
Silletto cooks for herself
because it's hard for her to find restaurants that meet her special
needs, which include being lactose-intolerant.
Recipes for success
Some people assume that
cooking healthy meals is labor-intensive and time-consuming. But it
doesn't have to be, Polk said. "They just have to do a little planning
and have the right kinds of ingredients in the house."
You could start out with
one new recipe a week or a month and build from there, she said.
For those who wilt at the
mention of cooking, there are healthy shortcuts, Somer said.
"You don't really even need
to cook to eat well. With all the goodies out there, you could have a
slice of whole-wheat bread and a couple slices of low-fat cheese and
open up a bag of pre-cut lettuce and grab an apple."
Or with a little cooking,
"you could throw a tortilla on the griddle and put some fat-free refried
beans in it and some lettuce and salsa and have it with an orange and a
banana and a glass of milk," Somer said. "You don't have to prepare
gourmet in order to eat well."
Healthy eating tips
Whether at home or on the go, plan your
meals instead of grabbing fast food on the run. Eat balanced meals and
healthy snacks, such as fruit and nuts.
Learn to cook at least some simple meals for yourself. You have more
control over home-cooked foods than restaurant meals.
Eat a good breakfast. Skipping meals can lead to overeating.
Invest in a good set of cookware and utensils.
If you don't like to cook a lot or don't have time, reserve an hour or
two on the weekend (or whenever is good for you) to make one or two
recipes, then set aside servings for future use. Refrigerate or freeze
servings in individual containers, then pull them out later for a quick
Soups, stews and casseroles can go a long way.
If you dislike eating alone, invite friends over to eat with you,
perhaps once a week. Try potlucks. The group could rotate from house to
Order half-size portions in restaurants that serve them.
Because restaurant portions often are oversized, consider eating half
and taking the rest home.
Expose yourself to new recipes. Sign up for a cooking class.
Keep enough basic ingredients at home to assemble a good meal.
Use healthy shortcuts, such as pre-cut vegetables, if pressed for time.
Don't want that family-size package of meat? Ask the butcher to cut an
individual portion for you.
Don't bring junk food into the house, and avoid "TV dinners" that are
high-fat and high-sodium.
Share bags of fruit and other bulk items with friends and co-workers if
you think the food will go bad before you have a chance to eat it all.
You and a friend might be able to save money by shopping together.
Don't know how long stuff will keep? Check out
Protect yourself from foodborne diseases by, for example, washing your
hands, utensils and kitchen surfaces with hot, soapy water whenever they
come in contact with raw meat or poultry. For more food-safety tips:
www.foodsafety.gov or call (888) 723-3366.
In-season produce, such as oranges, grapefruit, rutabagas, sweet
potatoes, cabbage and greens.
Whole grains, such as whole-wheat pastas and breads, bran cereal and
Dried beans, such as kidney and black beans.
Soy from such products as tofu, soy milk, soy nuts and edamame.
Fish — canned, frozen or fresh.
Lean meats and skinless poultry.
Herbs and spices, such as ginger, nutmeg, basil, oregano, curry powder
and chili powder.
Olive, canola and flaxseed oils.
Fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
Condiments, such as vinegar, mustard, salsa, Worcestershire sauce and
reduced-sodium soy sauce.
Low-fat dairy products.
Make a solo meal
Set your table next to a window with a pleasing view.
Use a colorful tablecloth, stylish dishes and eye-pleasing accents, such
as flowers and candles.
Play relaxing music.
Sources: American Institute for Cancer
Research; dietitians Melanie Polk, Elizabeth Somer, Marilyn Tanner;
Partnership for Food Safety Education; and National Institute of Allergy
and Infectious Diseases.
By phone or online
To get "Cooking Solo: Homemade for Health," a brochure of cooking tips
and recipes for single people, call (800) 843-8114, Ext. 457, or go to
To get a recipe e-mailed to you each week, subscribe to Health-e-Recipes
To find tips for seniors:
www.paseniorcenters.org/ nutrition/Eating-for-one- oct-03.pdf
EarthSave Louisville offers a Healthy Beginnings course on vegetarian
cooking. The next session is expected to begin in mid-February. To sign
up or get more information, send an e-mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org, call (502) 458-8515 or go to
To get tips from the American Cancer Society on eating well and being
active, call (800) 227-2345 or go to
The Food Network has shows, such as "How to Boil Water" and "30 Minute
Meals," that appeal to people who have few cooking skills or who are
pressed for time:
On the shelf
"Healthy Cooking for Singles and Doubles" (Fitness Publications, 2001).
"Solo Suppers: Simple Delicious Meals to Cook for Yourself" (Chronicle
"Going Solo in the Kitchen" (Knopf, 1998).
"Small-Batch Baking" (Workman Publishing Co., 2004).