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Dining for One

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

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.

Equipment Essentials
If you regularly entertain, you'll need a few bigger pieces. Even to cook for yourself, though, you need the right tools.

1 full set of measuring spoons and cups

Cutting boards (for meat, produce, bread)

Heavy-duty knives (chef's knife, paring knife, bread knife)

Nonstick and stainless-steel skillets (small, medium and large)

Small (4-cup) heavy pot with cover

4-quart pot (for pasta, soup, blanching)

Nonstick omelet pan

Collapsible steamer

Instant-read thermometer

2-3 wooden spoons

Metal slotted spoon



Cheese grater


Roasting pan

Storage containers with lids

Organize a pantry for one. It will give you a base on which to build many meals.

Olive and vegetable oils

Toasted sesame oil

Vinegars (red wine, balsamic, cider)

Dijon mustard

Soy sauce


Dry pasta

Grains (couscous, bulgur, quinoa)




Prepared chicken and beef broth

Jarred pasta sauce

Canned tomato sauce

Tomato paste

Kosher salt

Peppercorns (if you have a grinder)

Dry herbs and spices




Canned beans

Canned fish (sardines, tuna, salmon, anchovies)




Maple syrup

Unsweetened cocoa powder

Peanut butter

Assorted dried fruits

Most contents of the refrigerator will frequently be updated. There are some staples that should be maintained.




Plain yogurt

Orange juice

Cheeses (cheddar, mozzarella, Parmesan)

Fresh herbs


Seasonal fruits








The freezer is the single diner's best friend. Bulk foods can be divided into smaller portions and frozen. Vegetables can be blanched, then frozen. Nuts freeze well, as does butter. Just be sure everything is labeled and dated. When you add new things, move the older items forward.

Ginger root (makes it easy to grate)


Cooked/raw meat in small portions

Frozen shrimp

Frozen vegetables (peas, spinach, edamame, corn)

Frozen fruits (berries, pineapple, mango)


Pizza dough


Ice cream

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