This year, I officially become an empty nester.
There are some things I like about this concept. For example, I’ve already been looking through swatches and collecting paint chimps for when our daughter goes to college in September. Her room is going to become my office /guest bedroom. Since we alternate our time between our home in the states and our apartment here the French Riviera, I’m thinking of going with the colors of Provence – pale greens, lavenders and the colors of sunset over the Med at St. Tropez…
And when my son moves out, his room is going to become my craft room – I’ve got that planned out on a blueprint, and have casually been talking to our contractor about where I want the built in cupboards and shelves and where i want counter tops and electrical plugs!
I also love the idea of getting to spend more time with my husband: going on wine tasting tours and antique shopping on the weekends, romantic picnic lunches for two, planning longer trips once or twice a year, visiting museums, art galleries and historical sites the kids have been turning their noses at for a while now.
But there are also a lot of things about this that I’m not sure I like. At all.
For one thing, it means I’m getting older. And I don’t know about you, but unless I look in the mirror, I don’t feel like a middle aged woman. In fact, I don’t feel a day over 30… um… 35. So I admit, this is an adjustment.
But that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem has to do with cooking.
For the last twenty some years, I’ve cooked for five. Or more. I remember when the kids were little, we always had neighborhood kids coming over after school, and sticking around for dinner. I love having lots of noisy, lively laughing conversations around the dinner table.
I like cooking for crowds. I love entertaining. One of my mottos has always been, ‘Any Excuse for a Party!’
So to be honest, cooking for two seems like a challenge and a chore. It’s like having to learn a whole new skill that I’m not at all sure I’m ready to learn.
These days – as if to help us prepare for ’empty nesterhood,’ most of the time, it’s just my husband and at the dinner table. (Well, okay, if I’m honest, we’ve started eating in front of the television more often . It’s just easier to throw something together, put it on a tray and watch the news while we’re eating, rather than setting the table, laying out candles and place mats… and then having to clean it all up again!)
Cooking for two has posed some additional problems. First, there’s getting used to the idea of shopping for two. Then there’s learning to cut down the recipes, so we’re not eating leftovers for three or four days in a row. (Which happened last week after I made a big pan of lasagna on a Monday night…)
On Tuesday night, my husband enthusiastically told me, “I really love your lasagna, cherie!” (He’s French, and always knows the right thing to say.)
On Wednesday night, my husband said, “Oh, good. Lasagna. Again.”
On Thursday, he asked me if I wouldn’t like to go out for dinner, since I’d been working so hard. I had actually been in front of my computer for part of the day, finishing my latest Mediterranean Diet Cookbook… which isn’t exactly working on the chain gang, if you know what I mean…
When I asked him what about the lasagna, he suggested I call our oldest son, and see if he wanted it.
So I decided to check with some other experts who are already empty nesters and see how they did it, and what words of wisdom they’d have for a soon-to-be nester.
Janice Horton, an indie author who lives in Scotland was the to get back to me. As she puts it, “I’m the wife of a hunky husband and the mother of three strapping sons (Ben – 23, James 21 and Iain 19), and I’ve had to be a keen cook all these years, to feed my four hungry men. But when Iain flew the coop, all my pots were suddenly too big and my portions too large.”
And Cheryl Peterson, a freelance writer in the Big Apple, who has been an empty nester for five years and married for 30 said, “We had two children together and were licensed foster parent for fifteen years. The house was always a hub of activity and eaters. We rarely ate out, not only because it saved money, which we can spent on the children, but also because cooking and eating our own food is much healthier. We owned and worked on an apple/cherry orchard, with an abundance of fresh fruit and I grew a vegetable garden. I preserved hundreds of quarts of food each year.” So becoming an empty nester was a big adjustment for her too, especially in the kitchen when it came to meals and cooking.
I was starting not to feel so alone…
And Nancy and George Kaneshiro, from Woodland Hills California were the next ones who responded to my call for help and advice… Nancy is the co-author of “Weighty Issues: Getting the Skinny on Weight Loss Surgery.” According to Nancy, her biggest issue in the beginning was figuring out what to do with all the extra food in the house that wasn’t being eaten by the ‘boy garbage disposal’ – she had to learn how to buy just what they would eat over a shorter period of time.
What to do if you’re an empty nester – or soon to be one
1. Buy a set of smaller pots and pans. If you absolutely don’t want to give away or throw out your current pots and pans, hang on to just two or three – for the times the kids come over or you’re having company for dinner…
2. Plan your menus for one week and shop from the recipes, taking advantage of seasonal items. Don’t buy large quantities or ‘family size’ of anything. edible. Even i smaller cans cost more, you’ll still end up saving money in the long run, plus you won’t be eating leftovers, or throwing food away any more.
3. Find recipes for two – but be warned. You can’t always just cut a large recipe in half. Especially when it comes to cooking times and spices. So look for recipes for two, or do a little testing of your own when preparing them, and write down the adjustments.
4. Add more vegetables, fruits and grains to your diet. Not only will you look and feel better, but your meals will taste better and your budget will thank you too.
4. Phase out the ‘junk food.’ Now that the kids aren’t around, get rid of the unhealthy snacks. After a month, you’ll probably be amazed at how much you’ve saved.
5. Experiment with new healthy recipes. Look for old favorites your kids wouldn’t eat so you quit making, or recipes that look good or sound interesting to add a little variety and spice back into your life.
6. Figure out creative ways to make an entirely new dish from your leftovers. For example, a roast cooked one night could make fajitas or a stew the next with just a little creativity.
7. You don’t have to be a slave to the stove every day. One of the advantages of it just being the two of you is that you can do what you want. How about take out? Or eating out? Or a ‘fend for yourself’ night when the two of you get to choose whatever you want to fix – and eat.
8. Every now and then, break out the good chine, candles and wine. Just because. Now that it’s just the two of you, bringing back the romance is so much easier! Especially eating dinner by candlelight. It makes even a casserole or leftovers taste special.
9. Get moving. While you were raising the kids, it was hard to find time to take a walk after dinner, go bike riding, or swimming… Now that it’s just the two of you, take a walk after dinner, or go for a bike ride in the afternoon… just adding 10 minutes of physical activity 5 days a week brings benefits.
10. Share the cooking and the cleaning up. You might want to set alternate nights to cook, or the one who cooks does the cleaning, etc. Now that you’re an empty nester, you can do what you want, when you want – so you may as well shake things up a bit, and see what works now that it’s just the two of you again.