Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Cooking for one can create challenges in the kitchen

A story published today in the Post-Crescent discusses the joys and challenges of cooking for one.

Consider, for example, Donna Nemecek of Kimberly who has been cooking for others most of her life.

Raising a family with her husband gave her the opportunity to refine her culinary creativity. Several years spent working in the cafeteria at Secura Insurance taught her how to cook for a crowd. And running Artistic Cakes and Cookies for the past 23 years has given her the chance to master the skills of making wedding cakes, cheesecakes, cookies and candy.

As her children grew up and moved out, she still had her husband to feed. But after losing him in an accident 11 years ago, Nemecek faced the biggest cooking challenge of all — cooking for one.

“At first it was very difficult to cook,” Nemecek said. “To get used to just making food for one person is an adjustment in itself.”

Shopping was especially hard because stores generally didn’t cater to single diners, she said.

While some single people like to cook family-sized batches of food and freeze them, she said that just wasn’t for her. “I just don’t put a lot of stuff in the freezer,” Nemecek said.

She has found her answer in her George Foreman grill, which she said she uses to make a single pork chop, hamburger or chicken breast.

Nemecek also regularly bakes four or five chicken breasts, which can be used throughout the week in salads, sandwiches or in stir-fry.

Registered dietician Sue McIlraith of Affinity Medical Group in Oshkosh knows the challenges people face when cooking for one; if they cook a standard-sized meal, they end up eating the same leftovers for several days or throwing out the extra food.

McIlraith has suggestions for people cooking for one:

n Make homemade TV dinners. Cook a complete meal and split it into small quantities in freezer containers. Putting a list on the freezer with the name of the items, the quantity and the date frozen will make it easier to pick out something to eat at a later date.

n Have a cooking day once a week where you prepare several meals for the entire week. Store them individually in the refrigerator so a quick meal is at hand.

n Sample the various one-serving size meals available in the frozen section of the grocery store. Find what appeals to you and stock up on them.

n Start a co-op with friends where each person takes one night of the week and makes a meal to be shared among the group, or the cooking can be done ahead of time with all of the meals divided among the friends on a set day each week.

n Buy precut vegetables in small quantities or bags of frozen vegetables and fruit.

n Be sure to eat one healthy meal each day. “It’s a mindset,” McIlraith said. “I am important and I do need to take care of myself. How am I going to go about doing that?”

n Be cautious of dining out on a regular basis. “You’re going to get very large quantities, and you’re going to pay premium price for that food,” McIlraith said.

Eating fast food is a trap Nemecek said she has avoided.

“When you’re alone you do have to concentrate on taking good care of yourself and eating is part of that,” she said.

Michael Lang, chef instructor at Fox Valley Technical College, suggested cooks check out the Web site

“It will automatically change the recipe to any number you want,” Lang said. “So if you want to feed for one, for 10, for 100, it will automatically cut the calculations for you in less than three to four seconds.”

He said he doesn’t recommend modifying old recipes to cut them down.

“Each recipe is so different in the amount of seasonings that it takes,” Lang said. “It’s a tasting thing really. You have to be able to distinguish the different flavors and the taste. Just because you multiply things out, sometimes they still won’t turn out.”

On a typical day Nemecek will start with a breakfast that has protein in it such as a fried egg sandwich or some turkey bacon.

“I like to eat protein in the morning because it keeps me fuller and it keeps me from snacking in the bakery,” she said.

When fresh vegetables are in season she frequents the farmers markets.

“I’ll buy all kinds of fresh things and then I’ll just saute different kinds of peppers, onions and maybe some celery and things and make fajitas for lunch.”

Supper can be as simple as homemade soup.

“I’m fortunate in that I like to cook,” Nemecek said. “If you combine the fact that you’re alone and eating alone and don’t necessarily like to cook, then it’s a real chore.”


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