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We all remember that moment—that first time alone at home after the funeral—and he doesn’t come home for dinner. And we realize: He will never come home again. For me, it was the very worst time of the day. What was I supposed to do for the next five hours until bedtime?

I began to ask other widows, “What do you do about dinner?”

  • Two still cook a complete, balanced meal for themselves each evening. One sets the table just as she did when she was half a couple. The other eats on a tray at her desk while she does her paperwork.
  • Others never sit down. They stand at the kitchen counter and eat whatever they find in the refrigerator and pantry.
  • Some are “ladies who lunch.” That is their main meal of the day. The evening meal is a sandwich, soup, eggs, cereal or leftovers.
  • Many of us prefer going out to dinner every night. I am one of those who will accept a last-minute invitation even if I have already started to cook. My would-be meal goes into the refrigerator—or the garbage—and I go out.
  • One friend says, “I fix supper.” And so do I, when I am compelled to stay home alone.

Fixin’ supper—a decidedly Southern concept of meal preparation that suggests assembling items on a plate with little or no cooking or advance preparation required. The rotisserie chicken is almost a permanent resident in my refrigerator. It can be sliced for dinner or eaten on sandwich bread, added to salads, the leftovers turned into casseroles and soups. Last night, in my 5-minute meal pictured above, I heated cowboy beans from the deli counter in the microwave while I sautéed spinach. Today at lunch I’ll have a sliced chicken sandwich with raw spinach and sliced tomatoes. A can of 3-bean salad and jars of salad olives and artichoke hearts are chilling in the frig. Soon they will be drained, marinated in a little balsamic and olive oil, then tossed with tomatoes, spinach and gorgonzola crumbles—and possibly more chicken—for an entrée salad. I may shred the last remains of the chicken and mix it with the leftover cowboy beans and a little barbecue sauce for one more simple meal.

My secret for making my dinner alone enjoyable is to set a pretty table. I pull out Lev’s grandmother’s old silver tray and my mother-in-law’s dishes, silver and linens and eat at the breakfast table, with its pretty view of the patio and my iPad mini to keep me company. I have finally given myself permission to put my china and my Riedel stemware in the dishwasher, and my mother-in-law put the silver in the dishwasher for decades before I inherited it. What is the point of having nice things if we don’t use and enjoy them?

What do you do about dinner?
What tips will you share about keeping it good and nutritious but also simple and easy?