Six Savvy Solo Strategies

14 Sep

Over time, these are the strategies that I have worked for me. They might not work for you. Or only some of them. Give it some thought and keep adjusting until you have a set of strategies that work well for you and your lifestyle. Please share any of your own tips with the rest of us savvy suppers. With any new habits, start small, get a handle on the new change and then move on to another one. It’s taken me a few decades to get to this stage. So be kind to yourself and do what you can.

Use magazines and websites for inspiration, record favourite new recipes, build your grocery list.

I like to eat well. I like tasty and fresh. I crave variety and find what I want to eat depends on the season — lighter and later in the summers, heartier, heavier foods in the winter. I prefer to eat fruits like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches and tomatoes when they are in season rather than their pale, tasteless imported versions.

While I respond strongly to the smell of foods and aromas of the kitchen, I have also realized I cook and eat by colour. A meal that consists of same-coloured foods appears boring and less tasty to me. Lucky for me, recent research suggests a diet rich in a variety of different coloured foods is best for one’s health!

1.    Pay Attention:

When you eat out or others cook for you, pay attention to what combinations of foods appeal to you, what herbs or spices are used in flavouring the dishes you enjoy. Are there types of cuisines that you favour? Ask your hosts for their recipes or friends for recommendations of their favourite and most used cookbooks, practical blogs or must-see cooking shows.

Noticing these things will help you decide what recipes might appeal to your personal tastes when you do your collecting (Stage 2) and planning (Stage 6). At this stage in my life, I seem to have a direct path from my eyes to my taste buds. But it was not always so. Experience with and attending to tasty food wherever you encounter it develops this skill.

2.    Collect and Explore:

I have subscribed to several magazines over the years, but find I rely primarily on two reliable sources for on-going inspiration — Canadian Living and Chatelaine. I think it is very useful to subscribe to a food magazine based in your region. You are far more likely to find recipes suited to the foods most readily available where you live. My two favourite mags also seem to keep abreast of health research, food trends and ethnic cuisines.

I have developed a tiny obsession with cookbooks. I started with some basic, all purpose books (Good Housekeeping is still a handy reference) and then added others based on types of food (herbs, fish, chicken, beef) or method (slow-cooker, steaming, baking) or speed (30 minute meals, Quick Vegetarian) of preparation. If you adore Indian cuisine or southern barbeque, start a cookbook collection based on your interests. Newspaper Foods sections have provided lots of inspiration, too, as does the internet today. When you find a food writer or chef whose stuff you generally like, add their cookbooks to your collection, too.

Homemade muffins are WAY healthier than store bought. And easy to make!    When I see a recipe I think I might like, I it rip out or dog-ear the recipe. I also copy on-line recipes to a word file. When I make the new recipe, if it’s something I would like to eat again, I transfer the recipe to a card to file in my boxes (one for cooking and another for baking).

3.    Know Yourself:

I don’t do needlework or china painting. I don’t have delicate fingers. And I haven’t got the patience. So naturally, I turn away from fussy, minute appetizers and multi-step cooking methods. I like bold, showy, big-picture stuff. And the types of cooking I am drawn to are the same. Cooking will be more fun and self-perpetuating if you match your cooking style to your personality and life style.

With my health challenges, I know I need to expend the least amount of energy to deliver the biggest bang for my nutritional needs. Over time, the better I have fed myself the reward has been higher and more consistent energy. I am a big fan of quick prep recipes or one-pot meals or dishes that deliver at least three food groups.

4.     Cook Thrice — Eat Twice —  7th Day Wild Card

I strongly dislike eating the same thing the next day. I prefer variety in my diet. But with my health limitations, I can only manage one or two larger tasks — like preparing a meal — a day. On days when I have appointments, need to do a lot of shopping or undertake laundry, I will not have the energy to cook myself a healthful meal.

What I have discovered works for me is to cook three days a week, usually in a row (so this method could work well for weekend chefs). I make two servings per meal. This provides me with six suppers a week and the ability to rotate so I do not have to repeat a given meal if I don’t want to. The 7th day Wild Card is a chance to eat out, entertain, beg an invitation to someone else’s home or turn to your “stash” of big-batch meals (see Stage 5).

Most recipes today are geared to 4 or 6 servings. It is easy to divide these recipes in a half or a third. I will often pare down the protein or starch/grain for two servings and keep the vegetables at the full amount. If you are feeding two people, use the original 4-serving recipe. If you live with another committed or willing cook or in a household that refuses to enjoy leftovers you could each take three recipes a week adjusted to 2 servings and enjoy six days of different meals.

To tend to my sweet tooth, I often set aside a couple of hours on the weekend to bake a dessert. For several years I bought desserts at the grocery store or bakery rationalizing that I was eating smaller amounts than baking my own batch of cookies or pan of squares. But then I started reading their nutrition labels — the trans fats, sugar and salt levels were all too high for health reasons. Now I choose dessert recipes that afford maximum taste and minimize unhealthy ingredients. With my small chest freezer, I can immediately portion control and freeze my home-baked desserts. So again I end up with a variety of items to choose from and a brake on my speed of consumption.

5.    Big Can Be Beautiful for One

Big Batch cooking — and here I’m talking about spaghetti meat sauce, chili, lasagne, stews and soups — can be a rainy day or weekend task. Making several portions makes sense for some meals, particularly those that benefit from ‘better the next day’ status and those that reheat well from a frozen state. Stock up on single-sized freezer containers (generally 2 cup/ ½ litre or 4 cup/ 1 litre work best). Even if you do not have a ton of freezer space, a pot of soup can make for a week’s work of great lunches.

Lasagne: FIlls your freezer with several meals for months to come.

Cooking a roast or some other big chunk of meat can provide an economical way to entertain friends and family as well as provide the chance to eat foods that might not make sense for just one person. Left-overs can be incorporated into soups, stir fries or dinner-sized salads later in the week. At the very least, you will have cold meat for your sandwiches that are lower in fat and not full of salt and preservatives.

6.    Plan, Plan and Plan Some More:

Yes, it takes time. Yes I thought it was anal to organize one’s life like this. But guess what? It works! It reduces my daily stress, saves money on the grocery bills, reduces food waste, has improved the nutritional value of my meals and provides enough flexibility for my tastes and moods.

a)   My first step is to look at the demands on my coming week. When does book club meet? What night is my class? When do I plan to do some housework? I use a week-at-a-glance calendar in order to balance my task loads and maintain some semblance of consistent energy levels. But this method can work well for working folks so that you are able to select (and schedule) your cooking days. If you have tickets to a concert one night, that would be a good night to eat a menu repeat. If your team has an urgent deadline, perhaps you count on something from your frozen stash and a quick and easy side dish like steamed spinach or broccoli. If your day will take you away from home for hours on end (antiquing in the country side, perhaps, or an ultimate frisbee tournament), pulling out the slow cooker may be the best plan. You can do your food prep the night before, simply remember to turn the cooker on in the morning and come home to an aromatic & delicious hot meal.

b)    Find out when the grocery flyers are available in your area. I still like mine on paper, but most are also available on-line. In the space of a couple o months, you will be able to recognize good deals on meat and dairy and produce.

c)   I need to eat protein with every meal, so that serves as the framework for my meal planning. On a weekly basis, I select menus that usually include a meat (beef, lamb, pork), a fowl (chicken, turkey) and a vegetarian option (fish, beans, eggs, cheese).  Determine what proteins are on sale (or what you may have already stocked in the freezer when it was on sale).

d)   Then I go flipping through my magazines, clippings and cook books for inspiration. With luck I will find recipes that suit the sales. If not, I may turn to the internet and search on-line for recipes based on key ingredients.

e)    At a craft supply store, I found a cheap pad with sheets for weekly meal planning. I record my three menus, including the page number of the magazine or cookbook for later reference. I include side dishes or vegetables that I think would complement the main course. The pad is magnetized and hangs on my fridge to allay the daily ‘what’s for dinner’ anxiety. This technique would be terrific for a duo household when one gets home before the other and wants tto start cooking supper.

f)    Don’t put away your recipes just yet. Use them to make a list of the ingredients you need. Then check your cupboards, fridge and freezer for your existing supplies. Your shopping list is drawn from the gaps between need and have.  I also use a long note pad hung on the side of my fridge and as I use the last of something I write it on the ‘pending’ grocery list.

g)    Sometimes, I go off the path. I can come home from the market with more zucchini or eggplant than I know what to do with and no ideas what I will make with it. I will eat my planned menus out of order. Occasionally I will eat the same thing two times in a row. But having the plan is what gives me freedom from anxiety, expense and waste. And provides me with balanced, healthy and tasty meals.


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