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Dinner for Two

Cooking and shopping strategies for empty nesters.

When Rosemarie Colombraro, 46, and her husband, Ken, 56, were raising their four children, they bought all their food in bulk. "Our boys ate their cereal from mixing bowls, and we went through an average of five gallons of milk a week," recalls Rosemarie with a laugh. "We actually had to hide food from them—I had a bucket marked lard that held treats, and I put notes on things I needed to save for dinner."

Today, as empty nesters, the Colombraros are trying to adjust to a kitchen without the kids. It's not easy, considering that many of the family's favorite recipes served six or eight—and included high quantities of ingredients, like sugar or salt, they're now trying to avoid. "Too often, once the kids are gone, older adults resort to too much restaurant eating, which can start packing on the pounds—and increasing the cholesterol and blood pressure—really fast," says Katherine Tallmadge, a nutritionist and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

To avoid the eating-out syndrome, says Tallmadge, you need to add to your repertoire a variety of healthy, easy-to-make dishes that serve one or two. The following are a few tips for making the adjustment to cooking and shopping à deux:

It pays to invest in smaller pots and pans once your household is reduced. For example, if you sauté a small amount of food in a large pan, your dinner is more likely to burn or dry out.

Measure up. When using smaller amounts of ingredients, your margin of error is also smaller, so you'll need to be extra precise. Go back to measuring carefully—not by feel—at least until you get the hang of it.

Find a new rhythm.
Reducing a recipe you've made successfully for years means adjusting the cooking time, too, though not usually the temperature. For instance, a mini meat loaf might be done 10 or 15 minutes sooner than a meat loaf cooked in a regular-size loaf pan, though both will likely cook in a 350°F oven.

Burn your wholesale discount card.
Get out of the habit of buying food in bulk, unless it's something you intend to divvy up and freeze.

Shop the salad bar. "It's cheaper to buy one stalk of celery than it is to buy a whole head and throw most of it away when it goes bad," says Mark Scarbrough, coauthor of Cooking for Two: 120 Recipes for Every Day and Those Special Nights (Morrow Cookbooks, 2005).

Look for books. Not all recipes reduce well, so try recipes designed for one or two. Besides Scarbrough's book, try Small-Batch Baking by Debby Maugans Nakos (Workman, 2004) and Healthy Cooking for Two (or Just You) by Frances Price (Rodale, 1995).

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