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Prairie Fare: Food Preparation Evolves as the Family Nest Empties

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Empty nesters might skip meals or graze throughout the day instead of having a balanced, enjoyable diet. Morguefile photo by Irish Eyes. Empty nesters might skip meals or graze throughout the day instead of having a balanced, enjoyable diet. Morguefile photo by Irish Eyes.
Sometimes, when children move away, the incentive to cook leaves along with the family members.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

“Mom, what college-credit class should I take next fall?” my 16-year-old daughter asked.

I gulped. College? Already?

My neighbor was surprised, too.

“Are you going to be a senior in high school?” she asked my daughter.

My daughter nodded, and I started feeling very sentimental. My brain did a “flash forward.” Before long, we will be wandering around a family-sized nest with only one “chick” left. Our youngest daughter is 11.

Although the first “bird” flew out of the nest a couple of years ago to go to college in our city, he winged his way home and set up his own nest in our basement after a year in the dorm. Our home cooking and accommodations are a bit better and less expensive than a shoebox-sized dorm room.

I don’t think I will be the mother bird booting the chicks out of their nest to soar on their own. I hope not, anyway. I snapped out of my sentimental journey quickly because technically, everyone still is inhabiting the Robinson nest.

Eventually, my husband and I will be empty nesters and that will change a lot of things, including our food preparation. From 1970 to 2012, many changes in household size and makeup have occurred. The average size of households decreased from 3.1 to 2.6 between 1970 and 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

In 1970, 40.3 percent of households consisted of married couples with children, compared with 19.6 percent in 2012.

The number of men living alone has jumped markedly in the last 45 years. In 1970, 5.6 percent of households were made up of men living alone and 14 percent of households were made up of women living alone. In 2012, 12.3 percent of households were made up of men living solo, and 15.2 percent of households consisted of women living alone.

Sometimes, when children move away, the incentive to cook leaves along with the family members. Cooking may not seem like it is worth the effort, so some people might skip meals or graze throughout the day instead of having a balanced, enjoyable diet.

Regardless of the number of people in your home, consider taking steps to having healthful food options available for you and any others in your home.

Maintaining a healthful diet is worth your time and can be easier than you think. Have some fun with it. Maybe your children refused to have liver and brussels sprouts, so you deleted those from your menus. Now is your chance to enjoy the food that you like.

What if all of your recipes are family-sized? Try these tips to help reduce your recipes to smaller amounts:

  • Choose recipes that are easy to divide mathematically, or make the full recipe and freeze the rest.
  • 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 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.
  • Use a smaller pan for your reduced-sized recipes. Check for doneness of halved recipes five to 10 minutes sooner than the original recipe.
  • Keep notes about what works and what doesn’t.

You might find that shopping the salad bar at the grocery store is a good way to avoid wasted produce. Perhaps you need a small amount of onion or pepper in a recipe, so buying some precut onions and peppers might help you avoid waste.

What if you don’t like leftovers? You could trade extra portions of meals with a friend and freeze for later. Or consider leftovers as “planned-overs” and try them in completely different recipes.

Try adding leftover fruit to muffin, quick-bread or pancake batter or blending leftover fruit with yogurt to make a dessert. If you bought a precooked chicken at the deli, use the rest in soup, sandwiches and salads.

For people 60 and older, congregate meals or meals on wheels are good options to maintain a balanced diet. Check out your local resources to learn more.

For more tips, see “Cooking for One or Two” (available at http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/foods/fn521.pdf). If you are in the growing family stage, check out the resources on the “Eat Smart. Play Hard.” website at http://www.ndsu.edu/eatsmart.

Here is a homemade potato soup mix that allows you to make the number of servings you need. Potatoes are rich in vitamin C and potassium. For additional mixes in a jar, visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/food/food-preparation and click on the “Master Mixes” tab.

Potato Soup Mix in a Jar

2 c. instant potato flakes

1 3/4 c. nonfat dry milk

2 Tbsp. instant chicken bouillon granules (or substitute vegetable bouillon)

2 tsp. dried onion flakes

1 tsp. dried parsley

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. white pepper

1 1/2 tsp. seasoning salt

Additional toppings (bacon crumbles, sliced green onion, shredded cheddar cheese)

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and place in a 1-quart glass jar. To prepare, shake jar to mix contents, then place 1/2 cup of the soup mix in a soup bowl and add 1 cup of boiling water. Mix well. If desired, top with additional topping.

Makes eight servings. With regular bouillon, each serving has 150 calories, 0 gram (g) of fat, 11 g of protein, 25 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber and 770 milligrams (mg) of sodium. With low-sodium bouillon, each serving has 150 calories, 0 g of fat, 11 g of protein, 25 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber and 420 mg sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)


NDSU Agriculture Communication – Feb. 19, 2015

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187, julie.garden-robinson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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