Help! There’s No One to Eat the Leftovers!

The GypsyNestersPretty much everything about life changes when that last kid walks out the door.

Veronica and I think we should make the most of these adjustments, that’s why we started, to celebrate life after kids. Most of the changes were easily anticipated but as always, some things are unforeseen.

Over the past few years, we have had to relearn how to shop and cook for just the two of us. That fell into the unexpected for me. I don’t know why, but it was not something that I thought of before the clearing out of the nest.

Throughout our over four decades of marriage I have been the primary cook in the house. One of the kids calls me about once a week to ask things like “how long do you cook a chicken?” or “what’s in that stroganoff you make?” or ” what was that stuff you made that one time that was so good?” About two hours, cream of mushroom soup and carbonara.

I like to eat, so early in life I figured out how to cook the things that I wanted to consume. A natural offshoot of cooking is shopping, so I learned to do that too. I’m such a hunter-gatherer. With three kids, I had to be!

Usually, a trip to the grocery store involved multiple shopping carts and severe wallet damage. By the time the three bottomless pits were teenagers it required a small truck and a second mortgage. Should The Spawn choose to come along, only perfect weather, no traffic, fast driving and sheer luck could get half of the provisions home before ingestion.

One red light and there would be nothing left but empty wrappers, paper products and canned goods… but that’s only because they didn’t like to eat paper and I had learned to check them for can openers before we left.

On one of these homeward sprints, I’m pretty sure they were trying to start a fire in the back of the van. Luckily I pulled into the driveway right as I started to smell smoke and they were tearing open the meat. After that, I learned to check for matches, lighters, flint, sticks, charcoal, grills, skewers, and long-handled forks… even if we were just going to the Kwik Sack for gas.

So there’s been a bit of an adjustment from shopping for a ravenous pack of teenaged wolves to supplying two middle-aged wandering gypsies. Even more so when the eating habits of said gypsies are completely different.

I like meat. Almost any meat. If it squeals, moos, gobbles, baaas, swims, pinches or clucks, I’m all over it. Skin it, pluck it or scale it and lob it on the fire. Veronica calls herself “a meat avoider,” not a vegetarian, an avoider. As near as I can tell, that means “Let me try a bite of that pork chop, it looks way better than this salad.” She claims that it’s my fault that I never get a carnivorous dish to myself because I make things look so good while I’m eating them. I can’t help it, I like food.

But back to the point, it’s hard to find foods sized for just one or two people. We are now punished for not buying the “family pack” of half a cow. I used to celebrate finding 27lbs of grade A beef on sale for pennies a pound. Now I get to buy the one strip steak for tonight’s dinner at $27.00 a pound, what a deal!

Yes, I could break up the giant bargain packs and freeze the portions but how long will it take for me to go through a side of beef all by myself (and of course Veronica’s bites as she avoids the stuff)? The answer is…. longer than it takes frozen meat to turn into that strange crystallized cardboard space-food product it becomes in your freezer. The bargains may not be available, but these days the final bill is certainly less of a shock. Dozens of dollars instead of hundreds, I’ll take that and like it.

Still, my transition from vats of spaghetti, cauldrons of soup and Fred Flintstone slabs of meat to dinner for two is far from complete. I know there are only two of us and I know that Veronica hardly eats any of the same things that I do (sneak attacks from her fork notwithstanding) but sometimes I can’t help myself. I must have burritos.

Then I have to buy the whole can of green chilis, tortillas come by the dozen, there is only one sized can of refried beans and nobody sells less than a pound of meat or cheese for one or half heads of lettuce… so… I either eat burritos for three days straight or we get a really cool science project going in the back of the fridge.

I’ve found that there are some things can help. First, cook different things. No more big pots and whole chickens, now it’s grilled or broiled meat and a smaller side dish. No more striving to fill bottomless bellies with massive amounts of starches.

I bake a couple potatoes instead of mashing several dozen. I cook a small pan of rice, not a washtub full, a small bowl of pasta with tuna instead of literally pounds of the stuff with gallons of red sauce. Pasta and rice are great because I can cook just the amount needed for today and the rest keeps almost indefinitely.

Tuna is one of the few things that actually comes in a can the right size for one or two people. Not so much with the crushed tomatoes.

It also helps to plan ahead a bit. I try to think about a second meal when I’m shopping. A small roast makes great sandwiches the following day. Fish goes into a salad. That extra steak or pork chop is mighty good with eggs the next morning. Most anything can be tossed into a can of soup to dress it up or mixed together with other leftovers to form a new meal. To me cooking is all about experimenting anyway.

Oh, and by the way, there are a lot of fates worse than eating burritos for three days straight… no doubt I’ll do it again soon.


YOUR TURN: Do you find it hard to cook for two? Do you miss cooking for ravenous teenagers? Do you have any tips for us?

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33 thoughts on “Help! There’s No One to Eat the Leftovers!”

  1. I think it is kind of fun now to just grab a few things and create a dinner for two. It is actually quite freeing.

    Add in that because you travel, you do not want to keep too much in the house anyway.

    Nice to walk out of the grocery store with a receipt for a whole lot less isn’t it!

  2. PS: It will be easier as we have recently adopted an “HERBIVORE” diet.It’s a vegan lifestyle ..the MAD GODDESS may want to check out The Herbivore Abroad cookbook and the Happy Herbivore by Lindsay Nixon..she is awesome and her recipes are all for TWO PEOPLE!!! Loving it..

  3. Have not yet learned this lesson-I always over shop.My pantry and freezer are too full.

    September my challenge is to USE UP freezer and pantry items and PARE DOWN!!

  4. Absolutely don’t miss cooking for two teenagers! It’s so refreshing to make smaller and healthier meals. But we often see them on Sundays for dinner and I have to cook big again!

  5. We have the same problem at our house now, too. One way that our food habits have changed, though, is we’ve started shopping like we do in France — on a need to eat basis. We’ll wait to see if we’ll both be home at dinner time to decide what to eat. It’s a few more stops at the market, but we never risk over-buying fruits and vegetables and we can just buy the amount of meat we need at the meat counter.

  6. What used to amaze me was when I would return from a $200+ supermarket foray only to have each of our sons independently stand in front of the refrigerator with the door open (cooling the universe), intoning that there was nothing to eat.

  7. So funny, but so true! Even when we eat out, we often share a meal. Both our appetites are not the same as when we were chasing/coaching/cleaning up after 3 kids.

  8. Wow, I see what a universal dilemma this seems to be. Now, I’m only trying to help here…I will be happy to come over and assist all of you with the eating of the extra food. 😉

    Seriously though, I never had kids but have had to adjust from cooking for three to six people down to cooking for one. It is not the easiest thing to do…that’s for sure. This was a fun post! Thanks for the giggles 🙂

  9. OMG! It’s universal!!! And I thought my teenage boys were mutants, throw-backs to their Stone Age ancestors! But no, it’s REAL! Thank you for making me feel SO much better! And now excuse me while I go out and buy six large deep-frozen pizzas to feed my two boys.

  10. Just when I think the leftovers are all gone, I find another container in the freezer. Who needs a survival pantry, we have leftover meatloaf!!!

  11. I buy some of our fruits and veggies from the salad bar. I can take only what I need and not have pounds and pounds of produce rotting in the refrigerator. It costs more per pound, but I get to choose how much I take home and in many cases, it’s already cleaned and chopped. Works for me.

  12. I have been having the same problem… Leftovers, food going bad… So, I sat down and cut back on some recipes (many in my mind). I also gathered up some cans and boxes of food that hubby and I don’t eat and gave them to the local food bank. I figure when the kids come visit, I’ll buy fresh. I’ve simplified some meals – more veggies, fruits as I feel we need to eat healthier. Simplify is my motto 🙂

  13. Sometimes it’s nice to kick up the heals and say…mmmm ice cream for dinner….no kids do what makes you happy. As for cooking pasta for two….I still have a hard time and I am only one.

  14. Ha ha, loved this article, we have adjusted well to the minimal eating requirements of 2, it took a while but finally after about 3 years I know where all the smaller portions are and can use a few good recipes. The next trick is what to do when the sprogs come home unexpectedly and still think you have a bottom-less fridge! Our youngest arrived for a funeral and in the midst of the sympathy I am feeling for the bereaved family, I have turned into a shopper of all things bulk…..

  15. Truly enjoyed your tale of culinary endeavor. I can relate. Not only am I cooking for just two these days – heart disease has reared it’s ferocious head. We’re doing our best to keep the monster at bay by stuffing it’s mouth (ours, really) with meat-avoiding meals.
    And why do pork chops, steaks and other meaty parts look soooooo good when others are eating them?

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