5 Tips to Get You Back in the Kitchen When the Nest is Empty

An empty nest often means the fridge is empty too, and you're eating out too often. Try these tips to get back into the kitchen and eating healthier meals.

When you love to cook, it's usually not the chopping and standing over the stove part that you love.  It's the act of choosing ingredients your friends or family will enjoy, and putting them together into a dish that you hope will bring a smile to their faces.  It's sharing a meal with your people and appreciating the pleasure it brings them to eat something you, yourself, made just for them.  So when the kids leave home, making the transition from the keeper of the kitchen and answerer of the "what's for dinner" question each night, to empty nester, can be pretty hard.  True, you have a new-found freedom from excessive grocery bills, that weekly rushed grocery trip, and juggling mealtime and sports and social schedules.  But you also have just you -- or maybe the two of you, to cook for and usually that's just not as much fun.

Sometimes when the last child leaves home and the nest is empty, the refrigerator stays empty too. For those who are used to years of feeding a family, meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking often seem like too much effort for just one or two people. While it might be easier to eat out every night, or pop a frozen dinner in the microwave, it’s not always the healthiest choice, as far too many of us quickly discover by the expanding waistline and increasing cholesterol. Empty nest cooking requires a few changes in your routine, but the bonus is big – better health, and more money in your pocket to enjoy it!


Try these tips to make the transition easier:


Scale-back your recipes.  Unless you really love math, pulling out a calculator to divide ingredients each time you open your recipe file, can put a real damper on your meal prep. If your favorite family recipes are designed to feed a crowd, take some time to rewrite them with scaled-back ingredients, and you'll make cooking much easier. You may also consider using some of what you’ll save in grocery money to splurge on some new cookbooks that focus on recipes for one or two.


Make your own frozen meals.  This is a good time to replace all of those lidless plastic food storage containers. Invest in some small-size freezer and microwave-friendly containers, and maybe even a food vacuum sealing storage system, so if you do make a big pan of lasagna or pot of soup, you can easily divide it up into smaller meals and freeze it for a later time. You’ll find that you can spend less time in the kitchen, but still be able to enjoy healthier meals from your freezer.


Shop smarter.  Unless you really plan to repackage your family size food purchases into smaller portions, it’s probably not worth it to maintain that shopping club membership. Between the money spent on the annual fee, and extra-large size grocery items that often go to waste (and aren’t the healthiest choices anyway), you’ll likely come out ahead if you skip it. Instead, check out those upscale grocery stores that weren’t so kid friendly a few years ago, and shop their salad bar or healthier take out department for a few meals each week -- then you’ll have just a few nights to cook.


Take a cooking class.  Are you still making canned soup casseroles, and do you wonder what all the fuss is over ancient grains? If you’re stuck in a rut with the same old recipes from years ago, it might be time to take a class or two and update your cooking skills and taste buds. Try vegetarian, or Thai, or some cuisine that you love but were never brave enough to try while the kids were home.


Splurge on “grown up” food.  Whether it’s organic dairy or produce, heirloom vegetables, grass-fed beef, or exotic grains, the foods that were too expensive to buy in quantities large enough to feed your teenagers are suddenly within your budget. Now is the time to focus on quality rather than quantity, so master simple meals, like the perfect omelet with farm fresh vegetables, or an heirloom tomato salad with local organic cheese, or a grilled piece of beef on a bed of fresh arugula. With a little practice in small-scale cooking, you can have healthy and restaurant worthy meals right at home.


Are you an empty nester?  I'd love to hear any of your tips to get back in the kitchen!

Eat well!


  1. Such a good post, Anne...and not something that gets talked about much. I will stow this one away. I'm going to need it in about 5 years 🙂

    1. Thanks Katie! It'll be here before you know it!

  2. Such great tips! My mom had a hard time with this as do many others! thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks so much Rebecca! I still have a hard time with it myself 🙂

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