Cooking for an Empty Nest: Downsizing Your Kitchen

empty bird's nest in tree

Kids leaving home requires a huge psychological adjustment. When my oldest moved to a dorm, I cried off and on for several weeks.

While my youngest is only eight years old, the next few years may find me with only two of my six home on a regular basis. I’m already starting to think about how this will affect my cooking routines.

Today’s post is targeted toward parents whose children have grown up and left home. I hope the ideas will be helpful for those just starting out.

  1. Living alone doesn’t mean being lonely. Eating is a social activity. If you live alone, try to share meals with others on a regular basis.
  2. Put care into your meals. Once you are used to cooking for a crowd, you may tell yourself it’s “not worth” cooking. You are worth it! Meals don’t have to be fancy, but they should include healthy ingredients and fresh vegetables. And avoid the temptation to eat in front of the TV.
  3. Learn to shop wisely. Stores tempt you to buy in bulk by offering bargains. Sometimes you can repackage and store the items in the quantities you need, or share with a neighbor, but sometimes it’s not worth the trouble or costs you more in the long run.
  4. Reevaluate your equipment. How many large pots do you still need for guests or bulk cooking? Give away what you can’t use, and move the rest out of your prime kitchen space. Trade down to smaller pots, saving space and energy dollars. And look out for containers that hold one or two servings.
  5. Consider investing in smaller, more efficient cooking appliances like a microwave, small slow cooker, or toaster oven.
  6. Experiment! Now is your chance to cook what you like, without having to worry about picky eaters (unless it’s you or your partner). Try out new cookbooks and cuisines.
  7. Redo your decor. You’re probably eating at a smaller table, so brighten things up with a new tablecloth or table service. I’m looking forward to using the set of four placemats I got as a gift—one day!
  8. Rethink your menus. Do you prefer to cook fresh each night? Or to cook larger quantities and freeze? Some singles like to cook one large meal and eat it over the next several days. That’s fine, but it’s probably not a good idea to take this too far.

Have you had to downsize your kitchen? Please share your experience in the comments.

image: Robert S. Donovan


  1. My hubby and I just had our first Shabbat alone at home in 23 years, as our 3 younger children, including our soldier, went to our son and his wife (married 7 months) for a siblings Shabbat.

    We were happy that they all liked each other enough to do that, but it was a very strange new reality for us.

  2. Making a pot of soup each week also goes a long way to easily add vegetables to diet, cold in summer and hot in winter. Most important, do not let the kids open the almost empty fridge, the shock of how different it looks from the old over stuffed days, is often very hard for them to grasp.

  3. Truly empty nest comes upon you slowly. It is preceded by what you might call ‘accordion nest’. That would be some of the six showing up some of the time and others at different times. Some will pass through on Thursday night do laundry (or leave it for you) then head off for Shabbat. Sometimes they expect to be able to take food with them. Others will turn up at the last minute on Friday. They are always hungry.
    Did I hear you mention planning? Ha!

  4. Sue-We have yet to have a similar experience!
    Sharon-Good ideas.
    Risa-I will have to remember that line, I think we are in a mild version of that stage.

  5. a related problem is when we are only 2 during the week and on some weekends, when everyone comes for shabat i sometimes have a problem remembering how much food to cook.

  6. Even with my youngest away at college (usually, he’s home for the break), I still cook for a crowd. I set aside a portion to take to work the next day, then package and freeze the rest. It takes about the same energy to cook for 4 or 5 as it does for 2. Plus it’s great on days where I am lazy come home from work too tired to cook.

  7. Sara–as you can see it’s a common problem!
    Dena–It’s just more efficient. Congrats on your new cookbook!

  8. Hannah — thanks!