A Cooking Guide for Empty Nesters

An empty house means you no longer need to make meals for a crowd. Use this guide to bring your cooking to kid-free reality.
Published October 17, 2018

There are plenty of perks to an empty nest: a cleaner house, more “me” time, and the chance to (finally!) eat what you want. It can make sticking to your Plan a lot easier, not to mention tastier. Then again, after years of family-style spaghetti dinners, tacos, and giant pots of chili, you might feel a little lost when it comes to cooking for one or two. Don’t succumb to sad frozen meals or cereal for dinner. Instead, take back the kitchen with these tips.


At the supermarket


Plan first; shop second. Buying less can take some getting used to. To prevent over-shopping, take a few minutes to map out your weekly meals and make a list of the ingredients you’ll need before you head out to the store.


Downsize at the supermarket. When you’re prepping for one or two people, giant packages are likely to spoil long before you’ll ever finish them. To keep the variety but lose the supersize packaging, check out the bulk bins, where you can buy exactly as much as you’ll need for smaller meals. And look for half-sized jars of spices as well as smaller canned goods and condiments. In the dairy case, choose single-serve containers of yogourt and cottage cheese.


Portion everything. On the flip side, purchase chicken breasts, salmon steaks and shrimp in bulk. When you get home from the store, divide these into meal-size portions, pack them into zipper bags, and pop them in the freezer, to defrost as needed. Purchase delicate berries, grapes, and stone fruits in the smallest portions possible. Cut up and freeze any leftovers for smoothies.


Buy frozen. Toss a few kinds of frozen veggies (onions and garlic included) into your cart. They last for months and make it easy to use only what you need.


Choose convenience. It may be pricier on the front end, but hitting the salad bar for right-size portions of perishable greens such as lettuce and spinach is more economical (and better for the environment) than paying for and throwing out extras that have gone bad.


Menu-plan for freshness. If you tend to hit the supermarket on the weekend, eat leafy greens on Monday or Tuesday, then rely on sturdier veggies like broccoli crowns, Brussels sprouts, kale, or carrots later in the week. Ditto for apples, bananas, and oranges.


In the kitchen


Try new ingredients. After years of catering to picky palates, you’re finally free to explore more interesting eats. Not sure how you feel about, say, tofu? Try it for breakfast in a smoothie , rather than committing to an entire dinner based on it.


Spice things up. Test-drive ethnic flavours with a few spices and condiments that you can sprinkle on; no major saucemaking required. Shake five-spice powder into a shrimp stir-fry, toss a few pinches of saffron or cardamom into rice, or spoon some ready-made curry sauce over grilled chicken. (If you’re inclined to take a deeper dive, try a recipe like Spicy Chicken Curry or Easy Thai Beef Salad.)


Make meals that multitask. Slash your kitchen time by planning meals you can repurpose. Saturday’s roast chicken becomes Sunday’s Sesame-Lime Chicken Salad on Baby Kale and Tuesday’s Spring Chicken Soup with Veggies & Quinoa.


Use your multicooker. Want to spend even less time in the kitchen? Enlist your slow cooker and whip up a big batch of Slow Cooker Winter Vegetable and Farro Stew or Italian Beef and Lentil Slow-Cooker Stew to freeze in individual portions you’ll be able to quickly zap in the microwave. Then sit back, relax, and enjoy some well-deserved peace and quiet.