Last week in the Welsh class we were discussing keeping fit and healthy so talked about food. Richard, the tutor asked how I managed learning to cook for one when my husband died. His Father died over the summer and he was concerned that his mother was finding it hard to motivate herself to cook for herself. I understood that feeling – it takes a mental shift which is hard to do when grieving. However after the class I thought about the advice I could have done with when I was bereaved and emailed him some ideas. That was in Welsh but since I think most of my followers and readers are not Welsh speakers here it is in English!
My best friend is the freezer. I bought or saved lots of small plastic boxes, individual pie dishes, serving dishes and pudding basins to use in it.
When I buy meat I buy a large amount of whatever type and cook it all as a huge stew, casserole, roast a big joint and make a big pot of soup from any bones. I eat some but put most into individual portions in those small boxes and freeze them. If I make a pudding I often find I have to make quite a lot because using 1/4 of an egg is wasteful and tricky. So I make enough for a family (or two families if that is more efficient) but cook it in small dishes or basins and freeze most of them. Last year I made Christmas puddings – one big enough for 3 or 4 people and 14 baby ones just for me!
I do not buy fruit or vegetables in ‘family packs’ unless it is to go in one of those big stews or puddings. Instead I buy small quantities of each type from the loose boxes. A friend, also a widow, relies a lot on frozen veg which eliminates the peeling and the waste of overbuying.
One cabbage or cauliflower or lettuce lasts too long when you are on your own. By day 3 I am sick of the sight of it! I grow kale in the garden for winter and salad leaves in summer so I can cut what I need and leave the rest to grow on.
I find a steamer pan very useful because I can cook several veg on one ring and they do not get mixed up – less heat and less washing up!
I also bake or buy bread as rolls or small loaves and if I buy a big loaf I freeze half so it does not go stale, green and furry before I finish it. Similarly I make cupcakes or, if I need to bake a large cake I cut it into 2 or 4 pieces and only keep one in the tin at a time. That also means I can have several varieties in the freezer and ring the changes.
I usually buy wine by the box because it keeps better and I am less likely to drink it just to use it up.
I try to invite friends round for a meal when I can. It is easier to motivate myself to cook something a bit special if there will be others to share it. And hopefully they will invite me back so a night without cooking in return! I also usually make too much so I can have another nice meal another night (or 2, 3, 4..)
And it is nice to meet up with friends for coffee or lunch in town. It makes a change, improves my social life and maybe I can try something different to eat.
Having used my daughter’s when I visited her, I invested in a Combination oven with microwave, convection and grill which can all be on at the same time. I would not put the main oven on for a couple of hours to bake one jacket potato and it is not always convenient to bake one when I have it on for something else. In the combination oven it is cooked and the skin crisped in less than half an hour. It is now my second best friend!
The last piece of advice was given by my Grandmother when she was dying to my aunt who lived with her. ‘When you eat lay the table properly and sit at it.’ I find it makes eating an occasion and in the early stages of bereavement the ritual broke up the day into manageable chunks.
The food programme on BBC Radio 4 recently did an episode on ‘Eating Alone’ which told me that ‘Ready meals for one’ is a huge and growing sector of the supermarket business but also shared some interesting and innovative alternatives plus interviews with some people who, like me, have found ways to cook for one and eat alone without sacrificing the pleasure of food.