Have your children flown the coop? Finding yourself as an Empty Nester can be a fun, but sometimes difficult transition. When you used to cater to an army, now you may only have yourself or your partner to consider when thinking about mealtime.
Are you finding that with fewer people to feed that you’re wasting food? Maybe you’re still stuck in your routine of between-soccer-practice quesadillas, but now with more time, you’re looking to spice things up in the kitchen.
Check out this guide to Empty Nester’s Cooking that gives you the tips, tricks, and recipes you need for this exciting and liberating stage of your life!
Before you turn on the stove…
Planning your meals ahead of time will save you money, time, and from that awful experience of staring into an empty fridge when you’re verging on hanger territory, wondering “what do i want to eat?”
It may help you to do some food journaling first track when you’re eating and what you’re eating before you even start your meal plan. Then you can look at your previous week and try to schedule out changes in your meal plan that you’d like to implement.
If meal planning for an entire week seems daunting, start with one day a week, then build from that! It may also help to put your plan up on the wall so you can add to it throughout the week.
Check out these meal planning sheets and menu boards!
Shop for your groceries online
The social experience of going into the grocery store can be enticing, but it may also cause you to spend more and buy more than you need. Many popular grocery stores now offer the option to shop online and you can either pick up the groceries at a specified time or they can deliver—talk about convenience!
Seeing the list of groceries with a running total will help you save money and stop you from impulse buying from the racks at the checkouts!
Buying in bulk may have saved you a dime when you had 3, 4, 5, maybe 6-10 people to feed, but if you’re finding that you’re throwing out most of what you buy (especially produce), it’s time to opt for smaller portions. With 1-2 people, it’s more likely that you’ll buy too much food than not enough, so err on the side of restraint when cruising through the mega-club pack aisle.
If spending time in the kitchen isn’t your thing, the freezer will be your friend! With the advent of the crockpot, you can make many “set it and forget it” meals that you can freeze for a later date. Additionally, in today’s Jetsons-style space age, we also have the convenience of appliances like the Instant Pot that cook chicken in mere minutes. USE these appliances to your advantage.
Portion out batches of soups and casseroles and freeze them for a later date. These meals are perfect when you can’t even be bothered to make a grilled cheese sandwich. Just pop it in the microwave to defrost and BAM, instant healthy meal that you made yourself!
Check out these Instant-Pot and Slow Cooker Dump and Go Recipes
Scale down your tools
Did you know if you use a pot or pan that’s too big for the amount of food you’re cooking it is more likely to dry out or burn your food? Donate those large soup-kitchens size pots and start using smaller cookware! It’s similar to the idea of switching to smaller plates to trick your mind into thinking you need to serve less. The smaller the pots and pans, the less waste or leftovers you’ll have—You don’t really want to eat the same pasta dish for 6 days in a row, do you?
Try something new
Were your kid’s picky eaters? Plain burgers and no spicy foods allowed, even as teens? Now is the perfect time to try something new! You (and maybe your partner) call the meal shots now! Step out of your comfort zone!
A great way to start trying something new is to do themed meals or days. For example, in your meal plan you could schedule a Mexican night on Thursdays where you could try enchiladas one week, fish tacos the next!
Did you know ⅓ of all food produced goes to waste? Think about all the times you’ve had to throw out a head of lettuce or a broccoli floret because your recipe didn’t use all that you had in the fridge.
The fix? Repurposing meals and ingredients into multiple meals! In the recipe list below, we’ve listed some other uses for each recipe to ensure you’re clearing out your fridge each week and doing your part to reduce food waste.
Adopt fridge clean-out day
Speaking of clearing out your fridge, making time to clear out your fridge at the end of the week will make sure you’re using everything you’re buying. Take stock of what you have and what went bad.
If you find that at the end of each week you are consistently throwing out the same foods, it’s time to scale them down when you go to buy them. A usual suspect is the plastic bin of lettuce that is always mysteriously on sale—if you have to throw out a majority of that bin every week, you may consider buying from the fresh produce aisle where you can choose your own portions!
Banana oat baked french toast
1 medium-sized ripe banana, mashed (100 g or 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup (120 ml) unsweetened almond milk
2 tbsp (32 g) nut butter (optional, but recommended)
2 tsp (10 ml) maple syrup (or another liquid sweetener)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 slice of whole-grain bread, cubed
1/2 cup (40 g) quick oats
- Preheat oven to 375F (190C) and lightly grease an individually-sized oven-safe dish. Set aside.
- Combine banana, almond milk, nut butter, maple syrup, cinnamon, and vanilla extract in a large shallow bowl, mixing until fully combined. Pour bread cubes into the mixture and use a fork to lightly press down so that they absorb most of the liquid. Add oats and gently stir until everything is evenly incorporated. If the mix seems too dry, add a splash of extra milk.
- Transfer mixture to your prepared dish, adding a few slices of banana on top if desired. Bake for 20 minutes, until the bake, has set and the top has turned golden brown.
- Remove from oven and top with toppings of choice or simply enjoy as is!
Smoked Salmon Breakfast Wrap
cooking spray (if needed, for making eggs)
1/16 teaspoon kosher salt
1/32 teaspoon black pepper
1 Flatout flatbread
2 tablespoons 1/3-less-fat chive & onion cream cheese
1/4 cup loosely packed baby spinach leaves
5 thin slices tomato
2 ounces smoked salmon
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions
1 teaspoon capers (optional)
- In a small nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray, scramble eggs until just set and fluffy, seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside briefly, keeping eggs warm.
- Lay flatbread on work surface and spread with cream cheese, leaving a very thin outer border not coated in cream cheese.
- Top cream cheese with spinach, tomato, reserved scrambled egg, smoked salmon, green onions, and capers (if using). Layer each of these ingredients by spreading them down the middle of the flatbread, lengthwise (as shown in the photos in this post), not placing them too close to the sides of the flatbread.
- Fold in the cream-cheese slathered long sides of the flatbread so they overlap in the middle to enclose the filling, securing with toothpicks if needed.
- Cut in half and serve immediately.
Other recipes with these ingredients: Smoked Salmon Salad
Avocado Caprese Salad
2 cups fresh arugula
2-3 small (cherry or cocktail) tomatoes sliced
1/2 avocado pitted and sliced
3 slices fresh mozzarella cheese
fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil I prefer the fruitiest, lightest flavored
1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
generous pinch of sugar or dollop of honey
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Assemble the arugula, tomato, avocado slices and mozzarella in a serving bowl. Top with torn or slivered basil leaves.
- Whisk the extra virgin olive oil in a small bowl with the balsamic vinegar, sugar or honey and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and pour over the salad.
- Toss to coat and serve.
Smoked Salmon Salad
Fresh lettuce to fill two plates
About 10 red cherry tomatoes per plate
10 mozzarella balls per plate
200 grams smoked salmon, divided
An avocado divided
Heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard
Smaller T balsamic vinegar
4T oil – olive and canola blend
- Assemble salad – Rough chop lettuce, half or quarter tomatoes, slice avocado
- Make dressing – In a small bowl, stir ingredients together until blended
Chicken Quinoa Bowls
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (6 ounces each)
3 teaspoons olive or coconut oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon pepper, divided
1/2 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
1/2 medium ripe avocado, peeled and sliced
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
- Place vinegar in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook until slightly thickened, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; cool completely.
- In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add quinoa. Reduce heat; simmer, covered until liquid is absorbed, 10-12 minutes. Keep warm.
- Preheat broiler. Toss chicken with 2 teaspoons oil, garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Place on 1 half of a 15x10x1-in. pan coated with cooking spray. Broil 4 in. from heat for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, toss asparagus with the remaining oil, salt and pepper.
- Remove pan from oven; turn chicken over. Add asparagus. Broil until a thermometer inserted in chicken reads 165° and asparagus is tender, 3-5 minutes. Let chicken stand 5 minutes before slicing.
- For the dressing, stir yogurt and mustard into balsamic reduction. To serve, spoon quinoa into bowls; top with chicken, asparagus, avocado and tomatoes. Serve with dressing.
Chicken Gyros Recipe
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon minced garlic, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch strips
1/2 cup chopped peeled cucumber
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon dill weed
2 whole pita bread
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
- In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the lemon juice, oil, 1/2 teaspoon garlic, mustard and oregano; add chicken. Seal bag and turn to coat; refrigerate for at least 1 hour. In a small bowl, combine the cucumber, yogurt, dill and remaining garlic; cover and refrigerate until serving.
- Drain and discard marinade. In a large nonstick skillet, cook and stir the chicken for 7-8 minutes or until no longer pink. Spoon onto pita breads. Top with yogurt mixture and onion; fold in half.
Mini Zucchini Lasagna for One (or Two)
1 small zucchini
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounces ground beef, or you can use ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a big pinch for zucchini
1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
3/4 cup tomato sauce, divided
3/4 cup Ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, divided
3/4 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese, divided
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C).
- Slice zucchini lengthwise into very thin slices. Lay the zucchini strips on a long cutting board or tray and lightly sprinkle salt over them. Let the zucchini strips sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. After this time, dry the zucchini slices with a paper towel.
- To prepare the meat sauce, heat the olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add in the onions and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add in the minced garlic and cook, stirring occasionally for a minute more.
- Add the ground beef to the pan and sprinkle the Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper over the meat. Cook and stir the ground beef until the meat is no longer pink.
- Stir in 1/2 cup of tomato sauce, reduce the heat to low, and simmer the sauce for 3 minutes.
- Meanwhile, stir the ricotta and 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan cheese together in a small bowl. Set the bowl aside.
- To assemble the zucchini lasagna, spread 3 tablespoons of the sauce into the bottom of a lightly greased small baking dish. Line the bottom of the baking dish with slices of the zucchini.
Top the zucchini with 1/2 of the meat sauce, followed by 1/2 of the ricotta mixture, and 1/4 of the shredded Mozzarella.
- Repeat by adding a second layer of zucchini slices, the meat sauce, ricotta mixture, and 1/4 cup of Mozzarella.
- If you have room in your baking dish, top with a final layer of zucchini noodles, the remaining 1/4 cup of tomato sauce, and the remaining cheeses. If you don’t have room for the zucchini, top with only the remaining sauce and cheeses.
- Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese on top has melted.
Other recipes with these ingredients Lemon Zucchini Muffins
Need some more recipe inspo? Check out this list that has over 40 recipes for two!
The best part about cooking in an Empty Nest is that YOU get to decide what to cook.
Gone are the Alphaghetti and grilled cheese days (unless that’s your thing). Experiment, try something new, and remember food is fuel for you to do great things in your day!
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