Food,  How to

How to: Balance Healthy Eating while Living Alone

Dear Will,

We’ve talked all about the Mediterranean diet on several occasions because it really is one of the greatest things that living in Spain has taught us about our eating habits and how to be more aware and healthy with what we put into our bodies (check out these two posts to read about the Mediterranean diet and how we maintain it in every day life). At the same time, we understand that not everyone has such great access to inexpensive but high quality fresh produce—even living in Finland, Claudia finds it hard to decide what to pick. At the same time, harder for Claudia is the fact that she is always cooking, and mostly only for herself. That is why she is talking about maintains a healthy eating balance, while living alone. We hope these tips can help you on your own journey of finding a balance that works for you.

I would consider myself to be quite lucky because my dad taught me many things about cooking and, over the years, I have had time and space to experiment on my own as well. I like to use fresh ingredients, different spices, and tend to cook/eat pretty healthy. When preparing food, I don’t usually follow receipes and, instead, make a big batch of something random on Sunday eat it every day of the week. Still, cooking is one of my ways to disconnect from the world around me and a great way for me to slow down and find a little bit of inner peace.

However, while I love to cook and I like to eat, one of my favorite things is sharing mealtimes with people I care about. That is why one of the hardest things for me during the last year has been not being able to share meals as frequently as I would like to with friends or loved ones because I live alone. Due to different restrictions over the months, I am not having as many people over and I am just not cooking that much for other people, something that I find to demotivate me when I am in the kitchen these days.

Now, please don’t think this is me complaining about my current situation because that is not my intention—I am extremely grateful to live alone and I am glad I know how to prepare food that I like while taking care of myself. Mostly, what I wanted to share is that I understand that it is easy to get frustrated or become unmotivated while cooking for yourself day in and day out, especially if you are not sharing the food with others. That is why I want to share with you my top five tips for eating (and cooking) healthy while living by yourself.

1.) Meal plan

One of the best ways to make sure you are eating healthy is to know what you are going to eat over the next couple of days. This helps because your brain won’t start thinking of meals randomly or stress cook because you don’t have any plan (I don’t think this is just me?). Now, I know that this is easier to say than do if you are not into meal planning—heck, I am not even that good at meal planning, so I would suggest two things here.

Firstly, start off with standardizing one meal of the day if you can. For example, I am on an oatmeal kick right now and every morning I eat oatmeal with bananas. Sometimes I’ll add blueberries or honey or peanut butter or walnuts, but the base always stays the same and that really helps reduce the mental energy I need to dedicate to thinking about food in the morning. In turn, this helps me focus more on other morning tasks I have to do and leaves me with more emotional energy to dedicate to other meals. If you don’t want to eat the same every day, I would suggest you set up a basic rotation of different breakfast meals and make sure you have all the ingredients you need for whatever suits your fancy.

Secondly, if you are not sure how to get started with planning for a week, I would suggest ‘meal ideation’ or just thinking about the meals you want to plan. In an ideal world, this would look like sitting down for twenty minutes at the beginning of the week to think about what you would like to eat during the week and what ingredients you would need to make those meals happen (for example, if I want oatmeal and bananas, I need to make sure I have that plus a variety of toppings). If you do this before you go to a supermarket, you will be able to buy everything you need and avoid buying the random ingredients that just looked good.

2.) Cook in batches

If you are like me, you will be happy to eat one giant lasagna or a massive pot of beans and rice every day for a week. On the flip side, you might be the kind of person who only wants to eat something once and would prefer no leftovers. Either way, I would say that it comes in handy to cook in batches because you can focus your attention for a couple of hours on one activity and benefit from it over multiple meals. When you cook in batches, you can decide to make only one dish, or you can set out to make different dishes that compliment each other.

Now, you might say, “I get how you cook in batches if you will eat it all in one week, but what if I want variety?” In this case I would say that your freezer is your best friend. Prepare recipes with four to six servings, eat one or two during the week, and freeze the rest for another day. If you you do this regularly, it means you will have a bunch of ready-made freezer meals for the other days. And, even if you plan to eat most of the food during the week, sometimes freezing one portion can feel like a life saver on super busy days.

My top tip here though is: don’t let your freezer become the black hole of food! One big recommendation I have if you are freezing food is to label what you are putting into the freezer so that you can find it again. In addition, routinely make sure that you are eating what you have in your freezer to get to your carefully prepared meals before they go bad! You don’t want to go to the time and trouble of making something only to realize you forgot about it for two years in the freezer.


3.) Stick to favorites but occasionally try new things

I barely ever follow recipes but I do have patterns of foods that I like to cook and I think this is incredibly helpful when it comes to making sure I am eating well. When you don’t have to think about what recipes you are making or don’t have to stress about trying new things, it makes it much easier to get into the kitchen and cook what needs to be done. I would highly recommend bookmarking or printing out your favorites so that you can easily find them next time they come up on rotation.

At the same time, making only the same dishes over and over again can feel a bit boring and you might find yourself frustrated or not interested in what you are eating. That is why it is really important to also try new dishes every once and a while. You can find millions of recipes online or by buying cookbooks. One tip I really love these days is thinking about a place I would like to visit or a season I miss and make something with the flavors that fit that idea. I love trying new dishes and, by taking the time to discover new foods, I am also allowing myself to indulge while still showing myself signs of self-love.

 

4.) Have good snacks on hand

So, until now, I have mostly focused on cooking and making sure you have some good, home cooked food in your fridge or freezer without getting too stressed about it. However, most of us are also snackers, and especially now that we work from home, your kitchen is often less than a minute from your workplace. That is why I think it is absolutely essential to make sure you have snacks around that will satisfy your cravings while still fulfilling the profile of healthy eating you are going for.

We all define healthy eating in different ways, which is why getting specific here is a bit hard. I often eat dark chocolate with a dollop of peanut butter on top or a small stack of cookies, but I know that doesn’t feel like healthy eating to everyone, so figure out what feels good to you. If you think about what would make you feel good (in body and spirit) and make sure to keep that around the house, you are already one step ahead of your hunger and, in my opinion, one step closer to healthy eating.

Another great thing about snacks is that you can enjoy them as a meal, even if this doesn’t really feel like ‘healthy eating.’ As someone who lived in Spain for years, the idea of tapas for dinner doesn’t surprise me anymore and, especially in moments of tiredness or stress, I think this is a brilliant idea and you will find me doing it on occasion. At the same time, eating snacks for dinner on a regular basis isn’t something that feels healthy to me personally because it doesn’t satisfy my hunger in the same way meals do. By knowing your own body and its needs, you will be better off supporting it with the right snacks and meals!

 

5.) Give yourself a break and get takeaway

Now, you might be thinking that this isn’t a real tip because it has nothing to do with cooking for yourself. However, it has everything to do with caring for yourself when you feel overwhelmed and making sure you eat well, even if you don’t want to cook. Because I love to cook, even if I am not super motivated, I personally don’t get takeaway more than once a week but having one meal where I am not in charge of my own culinary experience is incredibly freeing and makes whatever I am eating taste exceptional (even if it is only because I didn’t have to make it). By getting takeaway, you are also able to explore foods that are out of your cooking skills or expectations and can possibly get inspired for future foods to make.

One thing I am loving right now is the idea of getting takeaway from your local restaurant or the place down the street. Many small restaurants are really suffering these days and by supporting them, you are also giving back to the local community in a way that can truly make a difference. I am not saying that you should get takeaway every day, but if you can afford to support local business and give yourself a break every once in a while, I want this to be a good reminder that it is okay to get takeaway!

What are your tips for balancing healthy eating while living alone? Share them in the comments so I can learn and grow too!

Sincerely,
Claudia

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