5 Tips for Cooking When You’re an Empty Nester

Mature Couple Chat In Kitchen As Husband Prepares Breakfast
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The last child has left home and the nest is empty. For some, the refrigerator stays empty, too.

For those used to feeding a family and answering the question, "What's for dinner?" every night, meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking often seem like too much effort for just one or two people. While it may seem easier to eat out every night or pop a frozen dinner in the microwave, it's not always the healthiest choice. Empty nest cooking requires a few changes in your routine, but the bonus is big – better health and more money in your pocket.

Try these five tips to transition to empty nest cooking.

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. Instead, if your favorite family recipes were written to feed a crowd, take some time to rewrite them for fewer servings. You may also consider using some of the money you'll now be saving on your grocery bill to splurge on new cookbooks that focus on recipes for one or two.

Make Your Own Frozen Meals

Start by investing in small freezer- and microwave-friendly containers — and maybe even a food vacuum sealing storage system. Then, when you make a big pan of lasagna or pot of soup, you can easily divide it into smaller meals and freeze them for an easy dinner at 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 maintaining a warehouse club membership. Between the money spent on annual fees and extra-large size grocery items that can go to waste, you’ll likely come out ahead. Instead, check out your local upscale grocery store and shop their salad bar or healthier take-out department for a few meals each week.

Take a Cooking Class

Does your culinary repertoire consist mostly of soups, casseroles and similar home-style fare meant to feed a lot of people? If you're stuck in a rut with the same old recipes, take a class to re-energize your cooking skills and taste buds. How about a vegetarian cooking or Thai cuisine class?

Splurge on "Grown-up Food"

Whether it's organic dairy or produce, heirloom vegetables, grass-fed beef or exotic grains, foods that were once too expensive to buy in quantities large enough to feed your teenagers suddenly may be within your budget. Master simple meals made with fancy ingredients, such as omelets made with farm-fresh vegetables, or an heirloom tomato salad with local organic cheese, or a grilled steak 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.

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Anne Danahy
Anne Danahy, MS, RDN, is a wellness dietitian and nutrition communications consultant who specializes in women's health and healthy aging. She blogs at Craving Something Healthy. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.