Because of all of these problems, I found that I was often resorting to McDonald's, or forgetting to eat at all, when the girls were not around for a meal. Since I realized what a bad pattern I was falling into, I've come up with a few strategies to try to still eat (relatively) healthy meals even when I'm not cooking for the whole family. I'm hoping these ideas are helpful not only for other single parents but also anyone who lives alone, or parents who find themselves occasionally eating alone for one reason or another.
1. Cook for more people and save the extras
This can go a few different ways: 1) when I'm cooking a meal for the family, I intentionally cook a few extra servings and eat the leftovers when I'm alone, 2) I cook a regular amount of something when I'm alone and save the extras for another time (I do this a lot with a big pot of curry etc and freeze half so I don't get sick of it!) or 3) make a meal that I'm planning to serve to the whole family later in the week ahead of time and eat a portion when I'm alone. I had already been doing this somewhat for the lunches I pack to take to work, but now I am also using extra food from family dinners for times when I'm alone for dinner.
2. Keep the freezer stocked
I really don't like to spend a bunch of time in the kitchen cooking when noone else is going to enjoy the results- it's just not gratifying. And I'm often running around trying to get things done when the girls are away, so I want to get something quickly. I have recently started keeping healthy frozen foods, that I can quickly heat up in the microwave, stocked in my freezer, and that has cut down on a lot of trips to the drive-through. Trader Joe's has a lot of healthy (and reasonably- priced) frozen meals, and I also love these frozen Indian style "burritos" that I found in the vegetarian section of the frozen food aisle at my grocery store (hint: if you don't know this already, vegetarian food tends to pack a lot more flavor and is often better-tasting than meaty frozen meals).
3. Find someone to eat with
Yeah I know this is kindof straying from the idea of the post, but it bears mentioning- if you know you're going to be alone for a meal, why not find someone to eat with instead? I'm lucky because my parents live just a few minutes away from me, so I often head to their house for dinner when I'm on my own. I've also started trying to make dinner dates with friends sometimes, although those take up more time then a quick drop-in at the parents! Whomever I'm eating with, I can't get away with forgetting to eat, or eating something really unhealthy, when I have made a promise to eat with someone else. I'd like to be better about having other people over to my house to eat dinner when I'm on my own too, but my introverted self is usually not very motivated to play hostess after a full day of being with hundreds of students and colleagues.... Maybe over summer break.
4. Keep quick and easy produce around
I try to keep a few extra apples, avocados, bananas, and sweet potatoes around for something quick I can grab when I need a little extra food. Apples and bananas I eat plain, avocados I cut in half and eat with a spoon (sometimes with a little cajun spice mix on top- yum!), and sweet potatoes I can cook quickly in the microwave (pierce the skin with a fork a few times, wrap in a paper towel, cook for 3-5 minutes flipping once halfway through- you're welcome). I buy these foods for the girls' lunches already, so it's easy for me to buy a few extra for my own meals. I throw one in my lunch bag to take to work sometimes too.
5. Mug meals
I recently discovered Gemma Stafford on YouTube and I love her recipes! Most of them are really simple, and she has quite a few easy ideas for cooking for one. Here's one example of MANY:
I mean really. She also has a website where you can search all of her recipes here.
What are your favorite tips for staying on track when you're eating alone? I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments :)