Food is confusing for the bereaved

  • Anyone can roast chicken and vegetables.

    Anyone can roast chicken and vegetables. Susan Anderson-Khleif

Updated 6/6/2021 12:05 PM

Food is confusing. And when bereaved even more confusing.

It starts with what to eat, how much, what approach -- low fat, high protein, low carbs, vegetarian, moderation, "cheat day," or what?


And going back to "what" -- eggs, no eggs? Butter or only olive oil? Canola oil, good or bad? Whole grain or no grains. Mediterranean, or only plant-based? Dairy? Beef or no beef. Chicken, fish? Which fish or vegetables are best (Nightshade vegetables are a problem for some). It's quite a puzzle.

And next, we come to the issue of cooking, as in -- who cooks the meals? Some people like to cook, others don't. Perhaps you relied on your spouse, or parent, to do the cooking.

Then we get to take out, and to relying on restaurants, deli or home delivery of prepared meals. And of course cooking involves shopping so that's another wrinkle -- going to the store or delivery? Or pickup. It gets pretty complicated.

All this is even more complex when bereaved. At first one may have no appetite, or too much appetite! So the simple act of eating meals becomes a problem. Strange but true. Some folks who don't like to cook, or don't know how, often face particular challenges eating regular and healthy meals. Oh my.

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I often hear people say, "I don't know how to cook for just one person." Or they say they just aren't motivated to cook for one. So they rely on snacking, or fast food, or take out, or just skip meals. Of course there are lots of perfectly healthy and nutritious takeout meals, but also many temptations!

So what to do? Well, I have faced these issues myself so I can share my approach, which works pretty well, most of the time! Some ideas:

The famous wisdom is everything in moderation. This helps when it comes to "how much." Portion control is important.

So seek a balance -- a mix of restaurants, some deli, some take out, some cooking at home.

Keep it simple: Many nutritious meals are easy to make for yourself if you have some simple ingredients on hand: Eggs, milk, yogurt, olive oil, salt and pepper, some canned or frozen vegetables, a jar of pasta sauce, some dried pasta, a head of lettuce, bread, cheese, cold cuts, cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Perhaps a little dark chocolate for later in the evening.

Try learning the basics of cooking. That's not difficult. If motivated, just buy one simple cookbook such as Betty Crocker, Better Homes and Gardens, or Fanny Farmer -- each has all the basics you need to start learning key principles of cooking and some simple recipes. Spice and pop the chicken or vegetables in the oven at 350 degrees. Easy. Oven does the cooking. Just set a timer!


Cook for many even if it's just you eating; there are many recipes and dishes that keep just fine for several days in the refrigerator, so you don't have to cook every day. You will be set for dinner for the next couple days. These are not "leftovers." Such dishes are actually better on day two or three.

I've never learned to "cook for one." I always make big pot and then warm it up. Or buy a fully cooked ham and pop it in the oven to warm up. Then after dinner, slice it into individual meals, wrap and freeze. So I'm not cooking for one, only eating for one -- me! I have lots of future meals.

Holiday meals create a special challenge because you may have relied in the past on your mother or aunt or other relative to do the holiday hosting and cooking. Or perhaps your spouse did it. Now what. Almost every family faces this at some point. There are ways to transition to making holiday meals and still keep up traditions. Perhaps the next generation takes over, or you just divide up hosting and cooking in a new way.

Holidays are very difficult and also bring up many sad, but also some good, memories and feelings. We must especially support each other on those days.

The point is: Food in general, and meals in particular, are often a problem for one after the death of a beloved one, whether a spouse, parent, child or other dear person. So in my experience it's better if we continue on with normal eating and meals, and holidays, even though it seems strange.

I have tried many approaches and types of diets and have finally settled on what they say -- "everything in moderation." I always remember a landlady my late husband Baheej had on a sabbatical in Denmark. She made a pretty supper tray for herself every evening, with pretty china, fresh Danish coffee and little treats. He used to see her enjoying her meal when he arrived home. I think of her every time I make myself a nice supper tray. There's always something in the refrigerator. It doesn't have to be elaborate, just appetizing.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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