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Prairie Fare: Cooking Solo Takes Planning and Effort

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist
I’ve been trying to help a single friend eat better by examining his current diet and steering him toward healthful, doable options.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“Chubby Cooker here,” my friend wrote in an e-mail. “I tried the baked chicken nuggets. I had a struggle with the chicken thighs, though. In the time it took to get the little globs of fat off, I could have baked a cake, written a grant and washed my car. Next time I’m trying boneless, skinless chicken breasts.”

Maybe the chicken nuggets weren’t my best suggestion for a menu item, I thought to myself. I couldn’t help but grin at the images, though.

I’ve been trying to help a single friend eat better by examining his current diet and steering him toward healthful, doable options. I’ve probably learned more in the process than he has.

I noted that he ate breakfast every day, which is good, but he routinely skipped lunch. By the end of the day, he was famished. To fill himself up quickly, he ate more peanuts than the average circus elephant.

My friend participated in a workshop I gave and indicated he was willing to give healthier eating a try. Being a teacher at heart, I gave him some homework. I asked him to keep a food diary for a few days.

His next task was to learn how to use the Web site at, which took him all of five minutes to figure out. Soon he had a list of food group recommendations based on his height, weight and age.

I showed him how to enter his daily food choices in the MyPyramid tracker, which provides instant feedback on how your food intake compares with the recommended amounts. The online program analyzes your food intake and shows cartoon smiling and frowning faces as a way to judge your intake.

If you want a more detailed analysis, you also can see how your intake of calories and nutrients, such as milligrams of calcium and vitamin C, compare with the recommendations.

My friend is an honest guy who wrote down his actual foods, peanuts and all. I entered the foods from his food diary on the Web site to get him started. His first printout showed quite a few frowning faces, indicating he was really low on some food groups, especially fruits, vegetables and dairy.

I provided him with some tips, such as buying frozen stir-fry vegetables for a quick meal and having carrots and mozzarella sticks for a snack at work to fill the gaps in his diet. He added these items to his grocery list.

He started eating more fruits, vegetables and more food in general. Unfortunately, I think I forgot to tell him to adjust his food intake slowly. Since he wasn’t used to eating during the day, he felt too full and kind of uncomfortable.

“I am chubbing out,” he reported one day. “I gained 7 pounds.”

“Are you still eating peanuts besides the other food?” I asked.

I’m not sure he answered that question.

Gaining weight wasn’t part of the plan, especially since MyPyramid had suggested that he might want to trim a couple of pounds. So, the next lesson was about portion sizes.

I suggested that he consider getting a slow cooker, so, with a little advance effort, dinner would be waiting for him. A rice cooker would be helpful, too. He acquired both items, tried them and liked them. Then he bought new a baking pan, fry pan and mortar and pestle to grind spices and cracker crumbs.

I suspect a cooking show may be in this guy’s future.

I asked him to share some insight with others who may be shortchanging themselves in the healthy diet department. He liked having lots of options and finding some easy steps and processes to make cooking an enjoyable experience. He tried new spices along the way. He also recognized that planning and effort are needed to make healthy eating a reality.

“If things are too difficult at first, it might be too easy to give it up. Eating better and taking part in how that happens is important to me,” he noted.

He has made excellent progress, thanks to his own efforts. I hope a little encouragement and some new tools have helped. His comments still make me chuckle.

“The chicken nuggets were tasty, but I could have raised the chickens myself with the time I spent,” he said.

The U.S. has more than 61 million one- and two-person households. They all have something in common: Everyone needs to eat. For more tips about cooking for one or two, you can access this publication at

Here’s the infamous chicken nuggets recipe. By the way, to save time, be sure to purchase boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Baked Chicken Nuggets

1.5-pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts *

1 c. cornflake crumbs

1 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. Italian herb seasoning

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. onion powder

Honey mustard sauce (optional, as dip)

Barbecue sauce (optional, as dip)

  • You can substitute chicken thighs, but you will need to remove the skin and bones.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Place cereal in a plastic bag and crush using a rolling pin or can. Add remaining ingredients to cereal crumbs. Close bag tightly and shake until blended. Add a few chicken pieces at a time to crumb mixture and shake to coat evenly. Discard any unused crumb mixture. Place chicken pieces on greased baking sheet so they are not touching. Bake until golden brown with an internal temperature of 165 degrees F, or about 12 to 14 minutes.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 220 calories, 2 grams (g) of fat, 7 g of carbohydrate, 0 g of fiber and 160 milligrams sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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