Cooking for Two in an Empty Nest Kitchen

Mary Dell writes: One of my roles as a mom has been that of chief hunter and gatherer for our family meals. To say I am bored with every single chicken dish that I have placed on the kitchen table over the last two decades is an enormous understatement. With our youngest child a senior in high school, the end is in sight for family dinners as I have known them but a new challenge looms – cooking for two.

Fortunately, Lisa and I had a serendipitous introduction to Katie Workman, author of The Mom 100 Cookbook, when we were all on a terrifying flight  from Chicago back home this summer. Our shared adversity fostered a friendship and, by the time we finally arrived (safely) in New York, we had learned that Katie is not only an amazing writer and cook, but also someone with a steady sense of humor, regardless of the circumstances.  She offered this advice for retooling our empty nest kitchens:  katie workman   chili-636

Dialing the quantities of recipes up or down sometimes feels daunting, but many recipes are highly flexible, and the freezer can become your best friend. Even if you make half of a recipe of turkey chili (a very easily recipe to scale down) you may have more than you need.  Just freeze extra in pint size containers for easy defrosting, and pull them out as you need them. Not only are you not worrying about how to consume the whole pot, but you’ve got another dinner ready to go. Apple Cider Beef Stew is another great candidate, as are most soups and stews, and casseroles (just divide them into two smaller pans and freeze one).


Also, think of how leftovers can be used in other meals a couple of days later. Extra Citrus Basil Shrimp Kebabs are a wonderful way to turn a green salad into a real lunch, cooked sausages get crumbled into a pasta, leftover Lemon Garlic Roasted Turkey Breast becomes Turkey Posole Soup.  Making cookies, but don’t want an extra dozen lingering around your kitchen? Freeze half the dough in rolled balls, then transfer them to a zipper top bag with all of the air pressed out, store them in the freezer and defrost and bake them as needed. And don’t forget – your neighbors will always appreciate a little care package!

StruesselApplePie-636 To that we would add, your college kid might actually venture to his post office box if he knows homemade treats awaits for him and his roommates. The cookies that Katie suggests seem perfect!  

Katie Workman is the author of The Mom 100 Cookbook  and the creator of blog.  She is also the founding Editor in Chief of, “the website that shares tested, trusted recipes from cookbooks created by respected chefs and cookbook authors.”

Photo credit: Todd Coleman

Katie Workman and the Empty Nest Kitchen

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  1. says

    Fun piece Mary Dell! But of course you also finally get to eat what the little whipper snapper didn’t like! My son was always terrified of fish with any bones so we have enjoyed fresh trout that you can get around here since he has been gone! He also had an aversion to dishes prepared in the slow cooker (that’s me spoiling him probably…) so pot roast has made a huge comeback! Will try some of your dishes! Thanks!

  2. says

    Great suggestions. A year after the youngest moved out I am still buying too much,. cooking too much and throwing out too much. Hard to re-calibrate after almost three decades of cooking for more than two.

    • says

      Mary, I am having the same problems with calibrating down (and then up when our table again includes 4.) Shouldn’t be that hard!

  3. happy outlook says

    Just ordered the Mom 100 Cookbook. Can’t wait to try some delicious new recipes!

  4. Lisa says

    Thank you for the recipes. We are having more leftovers for lunch. Today we had leftover salmon poached in soy sauce, sesame oil, green onions with white rice, greens beans and beets. I agree, we are getting to eat all the things that my daughter did not like. I will try the beef stew tonight. Looks yummy.

  5. says

    What great ideas, Mary! The freezer is our best friend – what a truism. I’ve been surprised at how many foods freeze – like some of my favorite morning muffins. I love these ideas and have already signed up to follow her blog. Thanks.

    • says

      Barbara, the mom100 blog is delightful and full of so many of Katie’s recipes. Bet you will enjoy it as I have, too.

  6. Carpool Goddess says

    I hardly even know where the kitchen is since my kids left. A few home cooked meals might be a nice change :)


  1. Cooking for Two in an Empty Nest Kitchen | Blop... says:

    […] Mary Dell writes: One of my roles as a mom has been that of chief hunter and gatherer for our family meals.  […]

  2. […] with a Pinterest page, discussions on College Confidential and home remodeling sites, and even cooking lessons.  Indeed a recent survey of empty-nest baby boomers found that more than 90 percent were happy to […]