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Dining for One

If you eat by yourself most nights, here are ways to make your dinnertime special.

A plate, cleaned of food

— P.L. DiCorcia/Trunk Archive

En español |What do we eat when we eat alone?

For many people, the answer is carryout, cold cereal or some odd concoction we wouldn't dare share with anyone else. (I know people who've eaten leftover spaghetti sandwiches, bread soaked in margarita mix, sardine oil poured over cottage cheese.)

But there's no reason that meals for one need to be anything less than what you'd serve a roomful of guests. Yes, it's hard to make a single serving of beef stew. But you can make a potful and freeze it in smaller quantities. Plant an herb garden (or pot some herbs in the kitchen) so when you need just a sprig of parsley, you've got it right there. In fact, there are many ways to make cooking for one totally enjoyable.

Judith Jones, the well-known editor of Julia Child among others, has been eating alone since her husband died in 1996. Initially, she assumed she would not enjoy cooking just for herself. But it turned out that she liked it. "I found myself at the end of the day looking forward to cooking, making recipes that work for one, and then sitting down and savoring a good meal," she writes in The Pleasures of Cooking for One (Knopf, 2009). "It is a comforting sort of relaxation — something that is needed in our busy lives."

Solo diners don't have to eat leaning against the counter, in front of the refrigerator or sitting on the bed. Jones suggests setting the table with a cloth or place mat and a cloth napkin, lighting a candle and opening a good bottle of wine.

Plan ahead. Don't wait until you get home to think about what's for   dinner. You'll just order a pizza or pour yourself a bowl of cereal.

Outsmart leftovers. Plan meals so you can use any extras in other dishes. For example, make rice as a side dish for one meal and use what's left in a casserole. If a recipe calls for half a green pepper, use the other half in a salad later in the week.

Make a list. At the beginning of the week, make a shopping list for meals you'll have at home.

Share. Find friends/family/neighbors who may regularly want to split a bag of potatoes or carrots, a bunch of herbs or a cut of meat.

Cook and freeze. The weekend's a good time to make stews and casseroles to freeze in individual-size servings. Be sure to date and label.

Drop by the salad bar. It's a good place to pick up a handful of diced celery, a few cherry tomatoes or a little shredded cabbage.

Consider the alternatives. A tube of tomato paste lasts longer than a can. Ditto tubes of pureed herbs.

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