NOTE: My goal for this blog is not to dish about my life, but rather to give actionable insights on how to make nutrition work in yours. Today I need to give some background info for this post, so bear with me.
So, the boyfriend (Brooks) is away this weekend visiting home (CT) and it’s the first time I’ve been flying solo in 5 months (!). Before moving to Houston, we didn’t live together – I had roommates, but we were all autonomous when it comes to food. I am so fortunate that Brooks loves to cook and eat as much as I do (let’s be real, we wouldn’t be dating if he didn’t) but this comes with its ups and downs. There is actually a decent body of research on how life stage changes and living arrangements affect the eating habits of young women and couples, and most report that the ladies force a healthier diet onto their husbands but when they have kids everyone starts eating like crap. Let’s take a look at how I’ve done:
We eat a REAL dinner every day – Cooking dinner is our time. Both of us love to cook and it’s SO MUCH FUN to have the shared experience of playing with flavors in the kitchen and celebrating our adventurous food successes. What this means for me is no more (or a lot less) nights of “oh I’ll just have kale and eggs” or “salad and Greek yogurt” pieced together rag tag meals. It also means a lot less lighter meals, as we tend to have very composed dinners that always include veg-meat-starch.
I eat a lot more meat – I honestly kind of hate cooking meat, especially if it’s just for myself. Roasting an entire chicken or pork tenderloin for one person seems pretty absurd, so a lot of my animal protein in the past came from individually frozen chicken breasts, chicken sausages, or frozen shrimp because they’re quick options that I can prepare in an appropriate amount for one human. Brooks is something of a meatmaster, and has cooked some of the most delicious pork chops, pulled pork, and roast chickens that I’ve ever had. This is a good and bad thing. I’ve struggled with anemia in the past, and having more meat on the menu definitely helps boost iron levels. It’s also by far the richest source of protein out there, so I don’t worry about making sure I get enough protein. However, it adds a lot more saturated fat to my diet. We shall see how my cholesterol levels feel about this at my next checkup.
…and cheese – Oh yeah, about that saturated fat. We’ve got more in here too. Cheese and charcuterie boards are a thing that happens in our house. We always include fruits and vegetables, but there is definitely a lot of cheese happening. When I was living alone, I barely ever bought cheese, so I never really ate it. When I did, it was normally parmesan to top my kale and eggs. Because that’s what life as a single young dietitian is all about.
…and bread – Meatmaster is also a breadman. I could make a loaf of bread last for a month in my former life. We currently purchase at least a loaf a week.
I eat less sweets – Brooks does not share the love of sweets that I have talked about in previous posts. When I lived with girls, there was normally some sort of sweet stash in the house. Now we mostly have chocolate chips if and when I am thinking about baking cookies, along with the occasional impulse purchase i.e. Trader Joe’s Peppermint Joe Joes because that’s a Christmas time essential (where my TJ’s fans at?!).
I save money on groceries – We shop together and split the bill equally. The good news is that buying for two is not the same as two people buying individually. We are able to eat everything we get, which I wasn’t always the best at, and we keep each other in check at the grocery store because nobody wants to make that insane purchase of a $12 jar of almond butter and make the other person pay half. Left to my own devices, I could totally justify that. I mean, small price to pay for healthy fats right?!? Also, there are things that nobody can actually finish alone before it goes, like fresh herbs, and we can do that now! Less waste = more $ in the pocket.
I can buy more different types of produce – Apples AND bananas AND oranges AND strawberries AND raspberries is not a bad idea, because we need more food for two mouths and therefore we can get more different varieties of produce. If I had bought spring mix, romaine, spinach, and kale for myself I would have had to give it away to strangers on the street. Currently all of those are in our refrigerator. Which may be an issue now that I think about it since it’s just me for the next few days, but then again we all know I’m not cooking meat 🙂
Sometimes, I eat when I’m not hungry – There are days when having dinner together means working around Brooks’ schedule. I get off at 3:30, gym OR run OR errands, and get home around 5:30/6. Brooks works until 4:30 or 5, and if he goes to the gym separately from me will often not get home until 7 or 7:30. I try to be in bed by 9 on the nights when I’m waking up at 4AM to exercise, and in those situations it would be really great if I could eat by 6:30 or 7. However, I often need to have something to hold me over when I get home (hanger is REAL and it’s not pretty) and wait for “dinner” so that we can eat together. The things we do for love, people.
There is always SOMETHING in the refrigerator (or freezer) – Leftovers get a lot of play around here: we typically plan for at least 3 nights of leftovers a week and they always become my lunches. That’s great for any time I need to squeeze a quick meal in between commitments. Before, I just didn’t cook in big enough batches to do that, except for my biannual “cook a bunch of soups/stews to freeze individually for lunches” events, which means that quick meals usually ended up being something like a PB&J in the best cases, and definitely never balanced.
So, what’s the verdict? Overall, I definitely eat MORE but I also have a better variety of foods and I feel that I appreciate the shared mealtimes more than I appreciated my dinners in the past. I gained ~5 pounds when Brooks and I started eating together, and honestly I’m not worried about it. I am healthy, our meals are balanced, and it’s a central part of our relationship. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again food is love. Often, when people are counting calories and obsessing over whether their food is 100% healthy, they forget to appreciate what they’re eating. They forget to pay attention to the flavors and textures of their food, they forget how it will fuel their body to rise to new physical challenges, and they forget to connect with the people they’re eating it with. I don’t want to be that person!
That’s my experience, but if you’re one of the many people that feels their diet suffers from the influence of their significant other, here are some take away tips:
1. Plan ahead: If dinner is going to be later than you had hoped, have a healthy snack.
2. Make healthy meals: Lots of vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and choosing smart cooking methods like baking, grilling, and braising (less frying) will ensure good nutrition.
3. Compromise: No surprise here. Just a guess, but your man probably doesn’t want to eat cauliflower rice, spaghetti squash, and zoodles in place of the real thing 100% of the time. If you feel so inclined to use these low carb swaps, let him pick the preparation style. Italian? Try zoodles and marinara with turkey sausage meatballs. Mexican? Check out this recipe. Cauliflower rice is perfect for sopping up delicious Asian stir-fry flavors.
4. Serve yourself proper proportions: Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one quarter with protein, and one quarter with starch (bread “on the side” still counts in this quarter). Just because your partner doesn’t want to eat a lot of veggies doesn’t mean you have to take a scant serving too. Load up on the good stuff.
5. Balance out the week: If you plan to have a more decadent meal one night, make others that week more vegetable-heavy and consider going meatless one night. You’ll save on saturated fat and calories, making a little extra room for that special night. We all have certain meals that have importance for us and our loved ones, and life is about making that work for you.
6. Be active together: Food and fitness go hand in hand, and you will both appreciate your meals that much more if you’re active.