Table for two

Cooking for Two

Tracey Columns

There was a time in our household when we had three teenagers and every one of them was roaring around in a million different directions. But we had one rule we always tried to enforce – dinner was to be together, as a family. It wasn’t always easy, in fact it was downright challenging. Between homework, music lessons, practices for various sports, clubs and community activities, it was a miracle we ever pulled if off. But make something a priority and it’s amazing what can happen!

One of the reasons we regularly succeeded at having family dinners was because my husband and I had an ‘open door ‘ policy when it came to our children’s friends. (We both knew that being the house where they all hung out had advantages far beyond preserving the dinner hour.) We’d often have teens flopped out in the family room, laughing and enjoying each other, all under the guise of “doing homework.” Yeah, right!

This ‘open door’ philosophy also meant dinner time could be a bit of a madhouse. On any given night, it could be pretty crowded around our table, as typically there would be a friend or two … or four, joining us for dinner. Needless to say, I spent years cooking meals that would feed small armies and nothing ever seemed to go to waste. No mystery there. Growing kids have ravenous appetites.

This level of production was my grocery shopping/meal prep norm for years. I may have actually let out a “whoop” the first time I ever walked into Costco. I remember slowly making my way down the aisles, in total disbelief. It was as if my prayers had been answered. Finally, bulk shopping was coming to our house. And even if it meant stashing paper products under the bed or putting huge blocks of cheese in the vegetable bin, I was grateful to be able to fed the masses.

And then one day, wham! We were empty nesters. Naturally, when the kids left, so did all of those hungry kids we’d find around our table. Food started molding in the fridge, bread was going stale. Suddenly, one casserole recipe from the old days would be turned into two generous dinners, a few lunches, perhaps one late night snack, and even, I hate to say it, compost.

Don’t get me wrong. One the one hand, this new cooking phase was wonderful; our grocery bill plummeted! I also didn’t find myself staring into the fridge trying to figure out how to stretch food for five to feed eight! And while I was never the only cook in the family – my husband and kids all shared the responsibility with me – the fact was that I began cooking for my older brother and myself when I was twelve. (With a working single mother, it was either Kraft Marconi ‘n Cheese or starve!)  The prospect of cooking for two, and only two, had great appeal.

Imagine my surprise to discover that this shift in planning, shopping, and cooking has been a challenge. Years of mentally adapting a basic recipe for the masses left me a little shell shocked. It was as if I was on auto-pilot. I’d crank out a dinner and then, after we finished, my husband and I would look at the copious leftovers and wonder what I’d  been thinking. Perhaps worst than the leftovers? For some reason, without countless kids to feed, my interest in cooking seriously waned. While I found throwing a dinner party for twelve to be great fun, there were some nights when a simple bowl of cereal sounded just fine.

Sound familiar? Well, here’s a solution for all of us. If you can relate, join me on my two new Pinterest Boards, “Cooking for Two” and “Cooking for One.” These boards are for those of us with smaller households, as well as the need to find inspiration and good recipe!  You can follow me at:  And please, add your related Pins to the mix – the more the merrier!

(Click here to return to The Second Half online archives)