How to Make Eating Alone Enjoyable
Eating with others has been an enjoyable activity for centuries and is involved in many traditions and celebrations. Sharing a meal can be a very bonding and intimate activity which may be essential for many relationships and social dynamics. There has been a fivefold increase in the number of single-person households since the 1960s.1 More Americans are having meals by themselves instead of with roommates or family members. This has likely intensified since the COVID-19 pandemic causing people to isolate and be socially distant.
People who eat alone may feel like they are missing out on these benefits and tend to eat significantly less or more food.2 In fact, overeating or undereating can result in depressive symptoms. But not to worry! There are several potential techniques to increase the joy of dining solo.
- If you eat at home, try inviting company over to join you. This is a great opportunity to strengthen relationships with your loved ones and to try out some new recipes to impress friends! Potlucks, dinner parties, and take-out are all options to make this happen.
- If you eat at work, it is great to coordinate eating time with coworkers. Enjoying lunch with coworkers can give a chance to mentally unplug from the workday and enjoy the company of others while reaping the benefits of communal eating.
- If you eat at a restaurant, instead of ordering takeout, consider eating the meal at the restaurant. This will allow you to enjoy different scenery and exchange pleasantries with the restaurant employees and potentially other customers.
At times, it may be a challenge to eat in company due to scheduling conflicts, travel, or social distancing. Technology can be very useful in scenarios like this. According to research, dining alone while video chatting a loved one has very similar effects to eating in the physical presence of someone.3 This has likely been more common since the COVID-19 pandemic which has allowed many people to experiment and become comfortable with video calling software such as Zoom, Facebook messenger, Facetime, etc. This has been coined the term “tele-dining”.3 If tele-dining is not available to you, you can also try talking on the phone with someone which may have similar benefits.
Although the use of technology can improve the dining experience, it also has potential to cause harm. When dining alone is inevitable, it is common for people to do so while watching television or scrolling through social media. It was found that people may eat up to a third more while watching TV.4 Distractions from technology may make people unaware of hunger cues and divert them from the enjoyment of their meal. It is good practice to avoid the use of screens while dining and to be mindful and appreciative of the food you are consuming.
To add to the challenges of eating alone, it can be difficult to shop and cook for one. It can be very easy to make too much of one meal and be stuck eating the same leftovers all week. There are several methods to add more variety and healthy ingredients into a solo meal plan. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests to “become friends with your freezer.”5 Purchasing frozen produce, and freezing excess produce or leftovers gives you more time to eat your food without weakening nutrients. Frozen produce may retain even more nutrients compared to fresh produce because it is frozen when it is ripest, conserving the vitamins and minerals. Fresh produce at grocery stores may lose nutrients in transport from air and light exposure.6
To make solo dining enjoyable and nutritional, there are very helpful online resources for converting your favorite recipes into servings for 1 or 2. Learning how to cook for one requires patience, practice, and assistance from the right resources. Linked below are two resources to get you started.
- US Census Bureau (2018a). Number of single-person households in the U.S. from 1960 to 2017 (in millions). Statista - The Statistics Portal. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/242022/number-of-single-person-households-in-the-us/ (Accessed September 26, 2019).
- Tani, Y., Kondo, N., Takagi, D., Saito, M., Hikichi, H., Ojima, T., et al. (2015a). Combined effects of eating alone and living alone on unhealthy dietary behaviors, obesity and underweight in older Japanese adults: results of the JAGES. Appetite 95, 1–8. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.06.005
- Grevet, C., Tang, A., and Mynatt, E. (2012). “Eating alone, together: new forms of commensality” in Proceedings of the 17th ACM international conference on supporting group work (New York, NY: ACM), 103–106.
- Marsh, S., Mhurchu, C. N., Jiang, Y., and Maddison, R. (2015). Modern screen-use behaviors: the effects of single-and multi-screen use on energy intake. J. Adolesc. Health 56, 543–549. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2015.01.009
- Cooking Tips for One or Two. Accessed March 11, 2022. https://www.eatright.org/food/planning-and-prep/cooking-tips-and-trends/cooking-tips-for-one-or-two
- Frozen Foods: Convenient and Nutritious. Accessed March 11, 2022. https://www.eatright.org/food/planning/smart-shopping/frozen-foods-convenient-and-nutritious
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