Savannah Valley District

Homemaker’s Column: Consider Nutrition When Dining Alone

Christine Patrick, County Agent

If you’re eating alone regularly, you are part of an increasing trend. Each evening, one in ten Americans is dining alone. Whether it’s an adult heating up a cup of soup or a child micro-waving a TV dinner, dining alone can have its downfalls. Several research studies indicate that the diets of people who regularly eat alone are often deficient in important nutrients. In one study of persons over age 55, the diets of men who lived alone were low in calcium, magnesium, and Vitamins A, B6, and C. Women who ate alone had diets low in thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, calcium, and manganese. Interestingly, those who ate alone did not eat less nutritious foods than those who ate with others. Rather, they tended to skip meals or eat very little to shorten the time required for meal preparation.

In another study of seniors, researchers found a direct correlation between loneliness and lowered intake of calories, calcium, and Vitamin A. In a study involving children, it was noted that children who lacked companionship at mealtime ate poorer quality meals than children who ate with parents or brothers and sisters.   Specifically, they ate fewer servings of fruits and vegetables and consumed less than the recommended levels of iron and Vitamin C. But here’s some good news – several manufacturers now cater to the single diner. From frozen dinners to geared for kids to gourmet meals for dieting adults to single-serving cans of soup, one can usually find it in the supermarket. The prepackaged individual serving foods offer convenience, some variety, along with measured portions. However, these “single serving” items usually cost ‑‑ up to twice as much per serving.   Also, the variety and nutritional value may be limited. Additionally, the packaging is often environmentally unfriendly – that is, it generates more garbage than the packages that contain several servings.

Let’s now look at some suggestions for making the most of these solitary meals. First, avoid skipping breakfast, even if you’re in a rush or don’t feel hungry. Breakfast can be anything from a fruit milkshake to last night’s leftover pizza. Also, create a pleasant dining atmosphere for yourself at home.  An attractive placemat, flowers, and candles can help make a meal more special, even if your only company is the evening news on television. If you dine out alone, seek out restaurants that serve family-style with large groups of customers seated at the same table.  In this setting, you may end up not eating alone after all.

The Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.