For a million Americans who live alone, "a home-cooked meal" is most likely to be a hastily tossed-together sandwich or snack. And according to the Census Bureau, the number of single-person households will continue to increase dramatically. It projects that by 1990 more than one-quarter of all households will consist of only one person.
In a series of interviews with single people of all ages and backgrounds, Betsy Robertson, consumer adviser for the National Food Processors Association, tried to find out why single people eat such scanty meals at home.
One New York City bachelor gave a common response. "I can't be bothered cooking for myself," he said. "I try to eat a good lunch and at night I order some spare ribs and fried rice from a Chinese restaurant and have a doughnut or ice cream for dessert."
Ms. Robertson discovered that those she interviewed who planned a bit and shopped for food once a week had a better-planned daily menu.
"One man I spoke with, a salesman from Des Moines, relied on some prepared foods and usually managed to put together a good meal in a half hour without doing a lot of fussing," she said. "He might heat up a can of chili, then add raw, chopped onion and grated Cheddar cheese, or slice a couple of frankfurters and heat them with a can of baked beans.
"Once a week he makes a meat loaf, then reheats it for a second meal. Every night he creates a salad that includes lots of fruits or vegetables. One favorite combination includes romaine lettuce, canned mandarin oranges, and slivered almonds in a vinaigrette dressing with a teaspoon of honey.
"You would expect that women living alone are able to cook for themselves," Ms. Robertson says. "However, interviews with a group of single women from 25 to 35 years old in the Los Angeles area showed that a number of them ate dinner at restaurants or nibbled on cheese, fruit, and crackers rather than cook anything.