A healthy eating plan can be a challenge for solo diners. But, “the times they are a changin.” Now quite a few of us actually prefer to eat alone and the stigma of a table for one seems to be dissipating.

A Healthy Eating Plan for One

Americans now eat nearly half of their meals alone—and they like it.

The growth of single-person households and hectic family schedules have made solo dining the new normal. For many consumers, eating alone has lost its stigma as sad and lonely. Instead, they want to relish a solo meal as much as they would any other. Therefore, they are ratcheting up their demands for taste, nutrition and convenience in meals-for-one.

Laurie Demeritt, chief executive of food consultancy Hartman Group reports that “A lot of people we talk to say, ‘I love eating alone because I can eat whatever I want.”

Household challenges, like different schedules, account for the biggest reason people eat alone. But nearly one-third of people say they eat alone for personal pleasure, particularly millennial consumers. Further eroding group dining: smaller, more frequent meals; the increasing acceptance of eating in the car or at a desk; the companionship of a smartphone and even the thrill of a moment’s solitude.

In response, food companies are adjusting packaging, portions and bite sizes.

  • According to Jen Bentz, senior vice president of insights and innovation for Tyson Foods: “Traditional meal occasions are declining. Years ago, people used to schedule their lives around their meals—what we’re seeing now is that we eat around our schedules.”
  • Market-research firm NPD Group At home found that Americans ate 45% of all meals alone in the 12-month period ended in February, up from 42% in 2013.
  • Single diners eating at restaurants comprised 23% of all party sizes in the 12 months ended in February, up 1 percentage point over the year before.
  • At Kraft Heinz, research found that nearly half of all solo eaters say they enjoy dining that way. Elizabeth Obbard, the company’s head of innovation reports that “They find it’s a way to catch up on other activities and have some alone time. You’re wearing what you want to wear, eating exactly what you want to eat, and you don’t have to compromise for anybody.”

Innovations for a Healthy Eating Plan for One

  • This summer Kraft Heinz introduced Fruitlove, a smoothie that includes three to six fruits and vegetables, plus yogurt.
  • Last year Tyson’s Foods introduced Jimmy Dean Protein Packs, individual containers holding a peeled, hard-boiled egg, sausage pieces and cheese.
  • Conagra Brands rolled out frozen foods in bowls, including Healthy Choice’s Power Bowls.
  • Conagra also wanted its frozen vegetables line, Birds Eye, to better accommodate eating alone. This spring the company launched individual Birds Eye bowls that incorporate vegetables, like a zucchini lentil penne pasta with meatballs.

Queensyard, a restaurant in New York’s Hudson Yards shopping center, typically seats 10 to 15 solo diners per service. Hosts have been trained to sort solo diners into two groups: Those who want to interact with the staff and other guests and would be comfortable at the bar versus those who would rather be alone in the lounge

Once seated, servers are told to specially cater to solo guests because Queensyard has found that singles have become valuable repeat customers.

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