Prairie fare: Cooking for one or two can be a new adventure

Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist
North Dakota State University Extension
Take advantage of the empty nest stage and enjoy a meal for one or two.

“The dogs will really miss you. They’re getting pretty old you know,” I said to my daughter.

“Stop making me feel guilty!” she said.

She was researching apartment offerings online. I had offered free rent, meals and laundry.

I never claimed to be a parenting expert. I wasn’t quite ready for our nest to be empty.

Our daughter recently graduated from college, has a full-time job and has continued living with us during the pandemic.

I like having my children around me. The dogs aren’t the only ones to miss our daughter.

I got on board with her decision. She became my “project.” I refinished furniture, sewed pillows and let her shop in our house to pick out extra furniture and household goods to help her get launched.

“I think Dad is going to miss me more than you,” she said as we organized her kitchen. She looked at me, waiting for my reply.

“Yeah, probably,” I said with a smirk.

She’s learning my techniques.

She’s only about 10 minutes from us. When we returned home, the house was quiet except for the sound of three dogs prancing around looking for their “sister.” We sat down and looked at each other because the at-home parenting process was complete.

We might be feeling a bit of “empty nest syndrome.” Fortunately, the sadness and loss people might feel as their children become adults is quite normal. My older friends with grown-up “kids” my age have assured me that I will “love being an empty nester.”

I just need to adjust a bit. I still have more pillows to sew and dogs to feed.

When your life situation changes, don’t hang up cooking and balanced meals. Prepare some foods that you always wanted to try but didn’t have a chance.

Take advantage of family-sized recipes. Freeze the extra food in meal-sized containers to give you more time for exploring new hobbies.

Here are some tips from an NDSU Extension publication I wrote a while back called “Cooking for One or Two.”  See www.ag.ndsu.edu/food for more information.

Choose recipes that are easy to divide mathematically. In recipes calling for three eggs, use two eggs and remove 2 to 4 tablespoons of liquid (if present) from the recipe.

If a recipe calls for a can of beans or soup and you would like to divide the recipe in half, use what you need and either refrigerate or freeze the remaining food. Label the container with the contents and date.

Add seasonings gradually. Sometimes you may need to add more (or less) of the spice to reach the desired flavor.

Check for doneness of halved recipes five to 10 minutes sooner than the original recipe.

Use planned-over macaroni to make pasta salad or quick casseroles. Add planned-over vegetables or meat.

Make mini pizzas by topping English muffins with planned-over spaghetti sauce, vegetables and shredded cheese.

Add chopped onions, mushrooms, peppers and cooked meat to canned spaghetti sauce. Serve spaghetti sauce over noodles one day, then add kidney beans and chili seasoning for another meal.

Top a microwave-baked potato with planned-over chili and cheese.

Mix chopped yellow squash, green peas and grated carrots with a prepared rice mix.

Spice up canned tomato soup by adding chopped green onion, celery and some garlic powder.

Set a table and turn on some soft music. Enjoy a meal for one or two.

As we move closer to a new year, I have an opportunity for you. Please enter the drawing for a free 2022 calendar.

It’s a full-color calendar featuring 12 recipes and many tips. We will give away at least 50 calendars. We will mail the calendars so be sure to include your complete address in the online form. We will not share your information with anyone.  Please fill out this online form to enter: https://forms.gle/CGBg79caYa8GzwpJ8.

If the form does not work for you, enter the giveaway contest by Dec. 7 by emailing julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu with 1) your name and full address including zip code and 2) a suggested topic for a future newsletter or column. Good luck!

Several years ago I worked with my student interns to create a series of publications called “Cooking 101” featuring easy recipes with few ingredients. Although these were designed originally for young adults cooking for one or two, empty nesters also can appreciate the tips. 

Bagel Pizza

1 whole-wheat bagel (or your favorite type)

2 tablespoons spaghetti sauce or pizza sauce

¼ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Optional ingredients (chopped mushrooms, peppers)

Optional spices (basil or oregano)

Cut the bagel in half. Spread each half with 1 tablespoon spaghetti sauce or pizza sauce. Top with cheese. Sprinkle with chopped vegetables and spices if desired. Microwave on high, uncovered, one to 1½ minutes or until cheese is melted. Complete this quick meal with carrot sticks, apple slices and milk.

Makes one serving. One bagel with toppings has about 330 calories, 6 grams (g) fat, 16 g protein, 52 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber and 640 milligrams sodium. 

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences. Follow her on Twitter @jgardenrobinson.