How to Cook for Two: 10 Easy Tips
Transitioning into an empty nest has a lot of layers – some of it practical and some of it emotional. This post focuses on something practical – figuring out how to cook for two when you have been making macaroni and cheese in bulk for 20 years.
I have put together 10 tips that I hope will help your journey from cooking for a big family to only cooking for two (or even one).
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How to Cook for Two: 10 Easy Tips
How to Cook for Two Tip #1: Your freezer is Your Best Friend
Your freezer is your best friend. I don’t mean like when you had a garage freezer full of bags of chicken breasts and other goodies you brought home from your monthly haul from Sam’s Club. I am talking about storing ingredients and small portions of meat and other supplies. But, to make it your best friend you need to do some preparation so that it does not become a black hole of freezer burned items that you eventually will throw away.
How to Cook for Two Tip #2: Know What is In Your Freezer
This means you need to know what is in your freezer. Sometimes I think I can keep track of it all in my head and I don’t keep a good inventory. But alas, I cannot. I buy the same things over and over because I do not know what is in there. Go through your freezer, throw away anything that is expired or that you know you are never going to use.
Then as you put it all back into the freezer in an organized way – a place for meat, vegetables, ingredients, desserts, cheeses, etc. and this is important – write down an inventory AND take a picture of it. I keep my inventory in my planner and re-write it each month. Use the inventory to meal plan and if you are at the store without a plan (which I never am….😉) you can look at the picture to remember what you already have.
I freeze cheeses like shredded mozzarella (which is in many of my favorite recipes). It is an expensive ingredient and hard to buy only a few tablespoons at a time. Use can also freeze fresh herbs, but I think that is kind of a pain, so I take the hit on them when I buy some for a recipe.
How to Cook for Two Tip #3: Know How Long You Can Store Food Items
You also need a list of how long you can store each item, so you will know what to throw away, what to keep, and what to use first. The FDA provides a pdf refrigerator freezer storage guideline chart. AND did you know there is actually an App for this? The USDA Food Keeper App tells you how long you can refrigerate or freeze most any food you can think of.
There is also a section for food recalls. You ever hear one of those alarming announcements that 50 people have listeria from a product you think you may use? You can look in the app for exactly what product it is, the manufacture dates, and any other information available.
One thing to note is the FDA says most things can be frozen indefinitely without a safety concern. The dates are for the quality of the item. So if you want to keep something that is supposed to be stored for 3 months, but it has been 4, you can keep it. It just might not taste exactly like you want it to.
How to Cook for Two Tip #4: Stop Buying in Bulk
Now that your freezer is ready for meal planning and shopping, let’s talk about your trips to the grocery store. It is time to stop buying things in bulk (unless you know you are going to use them) and calculating unit costs to get the best deal. It does not do any good to buy something at a low unit cost if you are going to throw out half of it. Buy only the amount you need or can effectively store.
How to Cook for Two Tip #5: Treat Yourself
Treat yourself! Now that the kids are grown one way to celebrate your empty nest is to eat better. Buy good quality foods and good quality cuts of meat. No more pizza rolls and pre-breaded chicken strips. Buy what you want to eat and cook what you want to cook.
How to Cook for Two Tip #6: Cook for Three
Cook for three. What do I mean by this? I usually make three servings of meals and eat the 3rd serving for lunch the next day. It is a way better lunch than a sandwich and chips.
How to Cook for Two Tip #7: Learn How to Find Recipes for Two
How to find recipes? Buy some new cookbooks. My favorite is The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook. It has 650 recipes, portion-adjusted for two. There are even quick bread, cake, and cookie recipes in smaller portions. There is a lasagna recipe that is the best tasting lasagna I have ever made. It probably serves 4, but it gives me enough for 2 lunches. Pinterest is a good place to search as is google. I have several posts on my original site Almost Empty Nest with recipes for two. They are listed below this post. You can also download 5 Weekday recipes for two on our Resources Page.
How to Cook for Two Tip #8: Learn How to Cut Down Your Favorite Recipes
How to cut splitting existing recipes? For the most part you can half the ingredients, however, the first time you try it will be an experiment. After you make the recipe, take notes about what ingredients to increase or decrease the next time.
Some things just don’t split taste-wise exactly in half. Other things like a recipe with one egg leave you scratching your head. Go ahead and put the egg in, but you need to decrease about 2-4T of liquid somewhere else in the recipe. Again, it may be a little trial and error at first. You can look at a cookbook like The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook for a similar recipe and see how they portioned the ingredients when you want YOUR recipe, but need a smaller amount of it. I always write in my cookbooks and all over my printed recipes for what I want to do differently next time.
How to Cook for Two Tip #9: Plan Meals Around Your Bulkier Items
Plan meals around your bulkier ingredients. For example a smaller portion of a recipe may not need an entire can of tomato paste. You could freeze the leftover tomato paste or you can plan a recipe within a few days that also calls for tomato paste. You may want to start organizing your recipes by key ingredients instead of by type of food. Have a section for recipes that call for canned tomatoes and tomato paste and plan both for the same week.
How to Cook for Two Tip #10: Invite a Friend
If you love to cook and are sad that not many people are around to eat what you create, then have some friends over. They will love you for it. Another new empty nest couple or some women friends – the ladies you used to sit with at all the baseball games. Trust me. They would love an invitation. Take meals to families in need. There is always a list at your church of families who are grieving, have just had a baby, mom had surgery, and other circumstances.
Bonus tip: Last year my husband and did a major remodel of our home including gutting out kitchen. We were without a kitchen for probably 4 months. Out of necessity we brought in a lot of premade food and I ordered some sheet pan meals that would fit in a toaster oven from a meal planning service. I was kind of shocked to realize our overall food spending went down during that period of time.
Since getting our kitchen back I have relied more and more on the meal planning service for our dinners. I don’t have leftovers for lunch, but it is nice to have everything pre-measured and in just the right quantity for two people. The meals are also very healthy.
Cutting down on your meal portions seems like a silly part of your new empty nest, but I know that it is not. It is a daily reminder that something you used to do has changed. As with all aspects of this transition we have to let go of our grip on our old ways of doing things and find new ways and new fun and new fulfillment. Don’t be afraid to experiment. If a recipe falls flat, it’s ok. Throw it out or continue to modify it until it tastes right and makes an appropriate amount. Treat yourself. Eat healthy and good quality foods.
And remember there is an army of other moms out there going through the same things you are. You are not alone.
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