At this time of year, with kids off to college, and summer visitors gone, there is more discussion than usual about the “Empty Nest” syndrome. It is quite real, and a major lifestyle transition, requiring time to adjust. I know; I’ve been there. However, as with most hot topics, there’s an economic motive helping to stir all the interest. Empty Nester Parents are joining a very large demographic of consumers which includes young people, childless couples, roommates, singles, retirees and basically any family group of three or lass.
One of the big areas of adjustment for Empty Nesters is provisioning a downsized household. It takes a conscious effort to reach for the smaller containers of milk, packages of meat and reject the large bags of produce. If the family has reduced gradually, it’s easier, but the biggest help is to remember what it was like before the family grew, and perhaps dig up old recipes to refresh the memory.
It’s also important for the person adjusting to a reduced household to calculate the new rate of consumption. I always advise being aware of the pantry inventory, but now it’s vital to take stock with the awareness that the supplies will be used at a slower rate. It would, therefore, be wise to plan menus geared toward using up any excesses or open containers that might spoil. At the same time, make a note of things which should now be bought in lesser amounts, or can be eliminated all together. Here’s a tip to make this task easier: If there are things you normally bought, like snacks and sweets, which you would rather cut out, put the amount of their cost aside each week to for a “special reward fund,” or use it to buy a special treat to enjoy on the weekend.
Brushing up on Math is another wise move in dealing with reduced households, to learn to customize recipes. There is no reason to reject one or ignore an old favorite because of serving size. Large roasts can be replaced by smaller cuts, or if that isn’t an option, when menu planning, explore new dishes for leftovers, many of which can be frozen. A list of equivalencies is a big help in calculating recipe conversions and quantities. This may take a bit of figuring, because sometimes an ingredient has to divided into its smallest component then multiplied back to the amount required per portion and again per the desired number of servings, but it soon becomes easier. Just remember all menu planning and ingredient quantities should be definitely set before food shopping.
I can offer a few tips on reducing, and expanding recipes to help others on their way:
1) Recipes usually stipulate large eggs. When reducing, or expanding, if the required turns out to be ½ an egg, I switch to medium size. For example, cake mixes ask for 3 large eggs. If I only want to bake one layer, I use 2 medium, but if I’m increasing a 3 egg 4 serving recipe to 6 servings, I’ll use 2 large and 2 medium eggs.
2) To keep the math simple, if I want to serve a recipe for 8, I’ll just halve it and serve the meal twice, separated by a few days. If it’s for 6, I may still halve it, rather than calculating 1/3, if the extra serving freezes well, is good for “brown Bagging” or can be extended to two serving with a few additions.
Stews, soups, many casseroles and other long-cooked dishes improve with age as the flavors “meld” and most freeze well too. The work is the same, and if the cost isn’t a factor, I’ll make the whole amount and be ahead of the menu game. Leftover vegetable casseroles are easy to stretch into second meals with the addition of eggs, pasta, rice, or to use as “sides” with a meat entrée. For example, leftovers from a box of au Gratin potato mix make a wonderful second meal with other vegetables and/or meat added, then scrambled with eggs.
Many Empty Nesters steer away from large roasts, in fact roasts in general, but in truth roasts, especially on sale, can be more of an economy for them than for larger families, because they get more mileage.
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A couple of weekends ago, I had a large pork roast with cold sweet potato-lime salad and asparagus. I reprised it on Tuesday, and on Friday I had a salad of cold pork, apples, celery, walnuts and raisons (pecan and craisons would have done too) and feta cheese. I froze the rest in chicken broth, to prevent drying and will use that in a casserole, big enough to serve at least two dinners, in a couple of weeks.
Actually, I often double even simple recipes from 2 to 4 to save work, and serve them a few days apart to avoid boredom. I may even do that twice and serve one Monday and Thursday, and the other Tuesday and Friday, with a different meal on Wednesday. The doubles may be something like sautéed pork chops in a pan sauce, or Tuna Salad, and the “break” dinner one of beef, ham or chicken to create a diversion, something offering a menu contrast.
One major stumbling block in shopping for a small family is the supermarkets’ practice of only offering their weekly sale items in bulk. With a slower consumption rate, and usually, less storage space, “Valu-pac” meats and 10lb bags of produce create a problem. If you can’t find someone to go “halves” with, my advice to avoid mealtime boredom, and over crammed storage spaces, is to divide and cook. Let the refrigerator take some of the load, and cut your kitchen time too. For example, I bought a package of 10 chicken breasts last week. I oven poached 6 in broth; 4 I served in 2 dinners with different pan sauces; 2 I froze in the broth for a quick meal this week, and 4 I froze raw for later. If I buy 10lbs. of potatoes, I separate those of 1 portion size, bake, stuff and, then freeze them. I take them out as needed and do the second baking. If you’ve never made apple sauce, you’d be as surprised at how quickly a large bag disappears as at the cost saving over commercial brands. Most of the bulk buys can be handled in a similar manner.