HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


Dining Alone at Home - Plating

I live alone and due to the size of my apartment, I dine alone when eating at home. Many nights I resort to take-out or a quick meal, but when I do cook, I have an odd tendency to actually care about plating. The other night, I made jazzed up turkey burger and topped it with an Sriracha avocado mayo. I placed the burger on a carefully arranged bed of lettuce and used two spoons to put a perfect scoop of the mayo atop the burger. I then circled the burger with small wedges of tomato. It actually looked kinda pretty.

Does anyone else, while dining alone do this sort of thing....or do you do, what I often do and eat half of it while cooking and whatever is left, throw on a plate?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I do this too!
    I'm a college student and I generally eat in a dining co-op. I work there 5 hours a week and get 3 wonderful meals a day with great people. When I'm at home, I usually cook for my family.

    Last time I ate alone, I made lamb chops in a yogurt marinade with rice, salad and spicy eggplant sauce. It was great! I plated it on the huge white plates my family has for special occasions and carefully placed the salad and rice in the middle, leaned the chops on top, and drizzled over the sauce. I'm pretty sure I garnished it with parsley.

    I certainly don't do this at every meal even the ones i cook just for myself, but it's kind of fun. Also, I work as a cook so I justify it by saying that I'm practicing plating.

    1 Reply
    1. re: luciaannek

      OK< so when are you making me lamb chops! Mouth is watering and I haven't even had breakfast, haha!

    2. I eat breakfast and lunch alone. I awake at 6 and she sleeps until 9. We have an empty nest. My wife makes dinner most of the time for both of us. She hates to cook altho she is a good cook. She says she cooked when our kids were living at home because she had to cook.

      When I prepare breakfast and lunch, I finish what I prepared before eating it.

      1. when I eat alone, or often when we eat together , I throw everything haphazardly into my favorite wide bowl.

        1. On the occasions when my partner is away (much less now we are both retired), I try to make as much effort with the food as when we are together. Possibly even more, as I tend to cook the things I particularly like, but which don't usually feature in joint cooking sessions. The interest in the food certainly applies to how it looks on the plate - it is about still having dinner, not just having something to eat. In the winter, I'm still likely to light candles for the table as we do when we're together.

          1. Character is defined by what you do when no one is looking. I have no idea where the statement comes from, but I heartily agree.

            Living alone, I enjoy taking the extra 5 minutes to arrange things in a nice manner. The more involved the prep and execution, the more trouble I go to on the plate. My stemware is crystal and my silver is sterling. Add to this that I live on a boat with a 2 burner propane cooktop, and you understand why I eat alone so often! (Chuckles and chortles at this point are highly appropriate.)

            This does not stop me from eating shellfish stew straight from the pot when the seas kick up, or opening a can of refried beans and rolling up with flour tortillas in the middle of the night. But isn't it so nice to act civilized?

            6 Replies
              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                I assume that you wear appropriate dinner attire as well?

                Black tie? Since you live on a boat something more formal might be a little over the top, depending on the boat I suppose.

                1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                  There are many things I do in the privacy of my own home that I'd never do in public. :-O I'd never want to live in a glass house. But, I don't think that's a reflection of poor character.

                  1. re: chowser

                    My first tux was at the age of 16, and my last black tie event with miniature medals was less than a year ago. Many places will vacume pack clothing for special occasions. And I prefer silk shirts on a daily basis with board shorts and boat shoes if I have to go into town.

                    I do eat by lantern light, and I do try to have clean clothes at meals. The first time you spill hot anything on your chest or lap will quickly enforce the need to wear clothing at meals, even if you haven't worn anything all day.

                    And my boat is a 24 ft sailboat that you cannot stand up in. But it has been more enjoyable than the 3000 ft home on the Intracoastal Waterway with seperate bungalow and my killer kitchen and an unending source of reconstruction.

                    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                      I apologize if my remark sounded snarky, it was intended that way though,

                      I'm sure I read more between the lines (and probably incorrectly) of your post than I should have. I simply don't equate the quality of ones dinnerware in anyway with character.

                      1. re: kengk

                        Snarky is great. Please don't stop. Many of my responses are with tongue firmly in cheek.

                        I have never understood why people save the "good" stuff for special occasions and company.

                        And I would never equate one's character by their clothing or belongings. Some of the most noble and caring people I know happen to be homeless.

                2. Depends on my mood and what I'm cooking, as well as the occasion or what the meal is a recognition of, if any. Still, even when it is completely uninspired etc I almost never simply toss everything into a bowl or whatnot and just swallow it down. (If I'm sick, then probably!)

                  I use my standard cutlery and plates/bowls normally, and even with them I often take care in composing, plating and arranging my food and table. Pictures may be taken. With a special meal or occasion or on a day i wish to mentally acknowledge, the good cutlery and glasses and Limoges porcelain comes out.

                  1. When I have company, I use the fine china, but when eating alone, darn near everything except soup goes onto oval chop plates from Williams-Sonoma, no matter which meal. It's a rare occasion that my great aunt's Limoges from 1925 comes out, but I do use it.

                    An effort is always made to have whatever I'm serving look nice, even for just myself, and that includes garnishes. I figure why go through all of the effort to plan, source, and cook a meal if I'm just going to dump it blindly onto a paper plate and scarf it down? Makes no sense at all.

                    One of my great uncles had a 'bacon plate'. It was a separate china plate, its shape and pattern matching nothing else in their household, and he was served his bacon every morning on that same plate for decades. I always thought that was very quaint.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: RelishPDX

                      Bacon Plate!!! Maybe the greatest thing I've ever read on chowhound! That is so incredibly awesome!

                    2. It really depends on what I'm eating. If I'm alone and decide on a bowl of cereal, I'm not so concerned. But typically, yes, I like to arrange a nice plate of food before I eat a meal. Oddly enough, my son (6yo) has gotten in to this, and he's become very particular about making what he calls "a king's plate", where in arranges a well-designed and elaborate array of foods on his plate. I'm big on presentation when I bring foods to other's homes also - I love to make a beautiful cheese platter, bed of lettuce, dried nuts and fruits over the top, etc.

                      1. when eating home alone, i usually read, so prefer something that is cut-up, or can be eaten with a spoon. but, i clean all the just-used cookware first, then sit down to eat. i never eat out of the pot.

                        when it's just the b/f and me, i still clean up first, then take care in plating.

                        1. I've always found it to be part of the natural progression of making sure you're having a good meal- no matter how simple. People are visual and having a nicely plated meal is feeding another of the senses. It's part of the complete experience, part of the sense of accomplishment.

                          1. When eating alone, I usually don't even bother with a plate! I heat things up in a container so usually eat it out of said container. I try to eat out of a container normally, but get told to use a plate LOL Lunches are eaten out of my container at my desk.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jenscats5

                              Me, too! And, I love to eat with my fingers, too. Nothing like mac and cheese out of the container w/ fingers. It's one reason I like to eat meat on bones when I'm alone--so I don't have to worry about what I look like.

                            2. I'll confess (as one of the perhaps-silent majority): when alone I eat standing up at the kitchen island most often, listening to NPR or watching something on the DVR. As for plating, I guess I seldom have so many elements at once, so usually a bowl with some bread or meat and veg on a plate is all that's happening. Sigh....

                              1. I cook for entertainment as well as for sustenance, so yes, I take some time to make my food look attractive. All other things being equal, I prefer pretty food to ugly food, both at home and in restaurants. This means that if I don't get first crack at that communal plate of nachos, I probably won't eat them at all.

                                1. glad to see i'm not the only one who was going to confess to being less presentation oriented when I eat alone (3/4 of my meals) I will admit that I have - mostly - moved beyond eating out of the pan over the sink. Perhaps that is because I usually cook enough to have leftovers, so the food pretty much has to go onto a plate at some point. unfortunately another aspect of living alone is that my table is often cluttered with other things, and too often I end up eating on the couch or in my computer chair. I keep the food away from the keyboard, so it is too often in my lap. Anyone who has ever spilled a coke or a cup of coffee on their keyboard, or watched half a plate of spagetti sauce disappear between the keys will understand.

                                  I admire and respect those who do more. And yes there are rare occasions I have used the good china and the stemware for myself (don't own any sterling).

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                                    i wonder if we can establish a gender difference between who eats more frequently over the sink? lol.

                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                      Off the top of my politically-incorrect head I would have thought it would be males, no?

                                      1. re: huiray

                                        my non-pc head thought the same, but i would so hate to generalize! :)

                                  2. I usually cook for the two of us, although I often make my lunch for myself only. (It is odd that we tend to make our breakfasts and lunches separately) Even if my lunch is only cottage cheese, veggies and low carb chips, I like to arrange everything on a dinner plate in an attractive manner. I also arrange our plates at dinner. His plate is arranged exactly like mine, and I please my eye as I place the food. I have no idea why.

                                    1. A neighbor, a confirmed bachelor of seventy used to make beautiful meals three times a day...for himself. On Sundays he would always wear a suit and tie to his Sunday 'diner for one'. He always had cut flowers and a perfectly keep house. My wife asked him once why he went to so much trouble making these beautifully plated delicious meals. His answer was "I like to".

                                      10 Replies
                                        1. re: Puffin3

                                          A first time invitee to dinner was appalled that we had gone to the trouble of putting out the Bavarian crystal, 1911 Sterling, and I can't remember if it was the Spode, Limoges, or Villeroy & Boch china for them. When I expalained this was an every day occurence, they questioned why, my reply was that "We are worth it."

                                          And yes, my daughter is fully capable of, but discrete enough not to, correct you when you use the ice cream fork for your salad.

                                              1. re: arktos

                                                silk shirts and boat shoes? mini-medals? ice cream forks? the whole thing has to be a spoof.

                                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                  Wow I was starting to feel really bad about not having any ice cream forks at all.

                                                  1. re: Nyleve

                                                    I have a sneaking suspicion that numerous folks have not been in the military, not lived in Florida in the summer without air conditioning, and have not accumulated a complete Victorian place setting. The individual berry spoons are ducedly hard to find in my pattern.

                                                    And I am paying $138 a month in storage fees until my 22 year old daughter gets settled and I can unload, I mean give, this stuff to her.

                                                    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                                                      dated military guys, dealt with many events for the confrérie de la chaîne des rôtisseurs.

                                                      endured florida summers without a/c. a silk shirt was the last thing i'd consider. even linen or cotton was too much.

                                                    2. re: Nyleve

                                                      That's nothing. I went out and got some. Great deal, no more expensive than regular forks...

                                            1. re: Puffin3

                                              See Mr Warburton in Somerset Maughms' classic story "The Outstation" wherein the protaganist wears a dinner jacket in SE Asia even when dining alone. "Especially when I am alone" as he says.

                                            2. Sometimes I plate my lunch at work to make lunch-at-desk less sad. There white plates, silverware and a cutting board available in the lunchroom. I bring my own napkin and paring knife. It makes it a little more pleasant, particularly on an extra challenging day.

                                              1. While not always elegant, my plates look pleasing to the eye, because I believe that we eat with our eyes first.


                                                  1. I live alone (female).
                                                    I gave up the Noritake whatever in the divorce.
                                                    Then I lost the Franciscan Desert Rose in a fire.

                                                    Dinner is served with me seated in "my chair". The ottoman is my table. It is usually "served" in a recyclable paper bowl. I cook on the weekend and read and listen to radio during dinner. It is not plated.

                                                    Kudos to those who do.

                                                    1. Yep I do this all the time.

                                                      It's a fun time to experiment and see what works and what doesn't. If I like it enough I take a picture of it.

                                                      1. I thought I'd resurrect this thread as I have recently developed a habit of plating all of my meals alone. I eat many of my meals alone and it's so wonderful to spend the extra time plating them for me to enjoy. I usually actually also take a picture which has been nice to add to my recipe files. It's so fun to plate things different ways, although I often have to tell myself to move and get to eating the food as I get a little too wrapped up sometimes. My friends love to make fun of me for plating takeout sushi, Chinese food, and even fried chicken

                                                        1. It really depends. Sometimes when on my own I'll take the time to plate nicely &/or experimentally. Other times - since I normally try to plate our meals for two nicely - I'll just say f*ck it, & slam it on the plate or into the bowl & eat it - lol!!!

                                                          1. I do!

                                                            I read a book a few years back called Living a Beautiful Life by Alexandra Stoddard (she's an interior designer or something) and the point is to use your stuff and make every day and every meal pretty.

                                                            On weekends, I squeeze fresh orange juice and use my good crystal glass for it.

                                                            I also like to eat on my grandmother's china often.

                                                            Make it pretty, even if it's just for you.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Manassas64

                                                              I often use my antique Limoges porcelain for everyday meals. :-)

                                                            2. I always plate my food perfectly.

                                                              And then I sit on the sofa, naked, eating it while watching reruns of Saved by the Bell.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Jetgirly

                                                                I am also a plater and TV watcher for nearly most meals at home.

                                                              2. I also love the white plates. Every weekend I seem to "need" to pick up new dinnerware and for some reason it is always white porcelain. I'm thinking of diving into fiesta ware soon but the food really pops on the white plates.

                                                                1. Our neighbor is a confirmed sixty year old bachelor. Each evening he puts on a shirt and tie and makes a small delicious dinner for one. Candles music wine. I asked him one time why he went to the bother. He said "because I like to". BTW he can cook like an Iron Chef.

                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Puffin3

                                                                    Wow that is impressive, most of my meals are consumed in sweat pants or gym shorts.

                                                                      1. re: Puffin3

                                                                        See the character of Mr Warburton in Somerset Maugham's "The Outstation." Dinner jacket, shaded candles in the heat of Souteheast Asia...every night.

                                                                      2. My sole concession to plating when eating alone is to eat over the sink.

                                                                        1. Oh heck yes! I love to plate food, whether I'm cooking for people or by myself. I always do it, even if it's a simple breakfast of eggs and potatoes. I 100% believe it adds to the pleasuring of eating. The other day I made white peppercorn crusted sirloin with a Parmesan crusted potato cake, sauteed spinach and Bearnaise sauce, plated it and felt so proud I took a picture! Haha! It's fun to be creative even if you are by yourself. Plus it helps you hone your techniques for when you do cook for an audience :)

                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                          1. re: IzzyBfizzy

                                                                            Absolutely, I also warm plates even if it's just me 90% of the time.

                                                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                              My trick for heating plates and bowls is usually to place atop the sauce pot I have simmering for vegetables. If that is not available, and a burner is available, then I will place the plates atop a grill pan. If the oven is being utilized, then the obvious choice would be to use it first.

                                                                              The sauce pot is also the way I melt butter or keep another side warm while I finishing up the main.....utilizing a stainless steel bowl sort of as a double boiler.

                                                                              1. re: fourunder

                                                                                ooh, thanks for the great ideas. This will save me the time and energy of turning the oven on low and then turning it off. How long do your plates stay hot for? Either I eat too slowly, am eating too much and so it takes forever, but my plates tend to come out piping out but cool off fairly quickly.

                                                                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                  The plates will get as hot as you want, depending on how long you leave them over the steam.....how long they stay hot for largely depends on room temperature and the composition of the pate. An earthenware or stoneware plate will stay hot longer than a thinner plate made out of Corning/Ceramic Ware or Glass.

                                                                                  1. re: fourunder

                                                                                    Yea most of my plates are ceramic, perhaps I should just heat longer.

                                                                          2. I tend to plate my food much more artistically when I am at home alone, especially if I made something special that only I like. It makes the meal feel more special.

                                                                            1. Unless I'm doing a true couch-surfing event, I do plate my food nicely. I've always loved what M.F.K. Fisher referred to as "being a guest to yourself." Like many people here, I have no aversion to out-of-the-pot, kinda haphazard meals, but if I've taken the time to prepare a nice planned meal, I like to bring on a composed plate, with good plateware, glassware, and cutlery.

                                                                              6 Replies
                                                                              1. re: mamachef

                                                                                This leads to a further question of how often people cook a nice well planned meal when it's just them. I would guess it's pretty common among CH. I might bake myself a nice treat but can't remember the last time I myself a nice meal when it's only me.

                                                                                1. re: chowser

                                                                                  I do, every weekend. I cook on the weekends and eat it throughout the week. I like to make 3-4 side dishes and 1-2 entrees each week. I will also have steak or chicken during the week to mix and match with the sides. What I make on Sunday is usually my big Sunday meal with a nice salad, like a strawberry pecan salad or apple bacon dressing salad.

                                                                                  I have been home sick all week with a bad cold and can't talk, so I am doing crockpot meals this weekend, so I don't have to stand over the stove and do a ton of prepping.

                                                                                  I am making Chicken Tikka Masala in the slow cooker today (house smells amazing right now), brown rice, roasted winter veggies (Ina Garten recipe). I made beef and broccoli in the crock pot on Friday.

                                                                                  1. re: Manassas64

                                                                                    Chicken Tikka Masala in the slow cooker--can you post the recipe on HC? That sounds great. I should say I'm rarely alone so I take it as a chance to be lazy and do nothing--no cooking, no dishes, no cleaning. If it were just me more often, I'd cook. Hope you feel better soon!

                                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                                      I just posted it in a new post over on Home Cooking.

                                                                                  2. re: chowser

                                                                                    I live alone, and I cook a nice meal for myself pretty much every night. On top of that, I usually plan to eat in with friends once a week or so. I think you're right in assuming this is more common among hounds, although many of my friends do the same thing (we're mostly mid-twenties, childless, and with incomes too low to be able to afford takeout on a regular basis).

                                                                                2. I often dine alone because mr. gator travels a great deal for work. And I always plate and garnish. It just gives me enjoyment, and my meal isn't any less worthy because I'm the only on eating it :)
                                                                                  But what do I do with my lovingly plated dinner? Drag it to the living room, pull up the coffe table and turn on the tube.
                                                                                  Nothing goes better with a lovely chicken piccata than Modern Family.

                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: alliegator

                                                                                    Is there anything that doesn't go well w/ Modern Family?:-)

                                                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                                                      Actually, I've found that a nasty frozen pizza goes poorly with Modern Family. Won't make that mistake again :D

                                                                                      1. re: alliegator

                                                                                        A couple of glasses of wine might fix that right up!

                                                                                  2. I don't go crazy with squeeze bottles full of sauces and ring molds, but I like to make a nice plate when I sit down to eat. I plate food for myself the same way I plate it when I'm serving someone else. Usually, it's a pretty but rustic presentation, with a scattering of fresh herbs. I often pour myself a glass of wine as well.

                                                                                    My solo meals are served at the table, on plates, with silverware. If I had china, I'd totally use that, but I'm currently china-less. Sitting down to dinner was always an important ritual when I was growing up, and I don't want to dispense with the ritual just because there's no one else at the table. It's just the way I was raised, and it makes me feel good to do it.

                                                                                    1. I live alone, and I do plate my food, even if it's only one dish. I have four sets of dinnerware. If I don't use it, I won't let myself buy more.

                                                                                      1. I cook all of my meals and have a grand total of one plate. It's round, white, simple, and I really like it. The other day I sauteed some carrots, made an omelette with them, and then topped with chopped dill and chives. It was pretty enough that I smiled involuntarily when I plated it.