Thoughts on Action
"Contemplation often makes life miserable. We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live." ~ Nicolas de Chamfort

Cooking for Two Sucks

It must seem like I’m always pontificating on the various merits of life without kids, despite the fact that I’m supposed to be examining the pros AND cons. So here’s a bone for those of you wishing I’d present a more balanced viewpoint: the Childfree culinary life kind of blows sometimes. Particularly if you’re as cheap, health conscious and untalented in the kitchen as I am.

Every two months or so, like clockwork, I tell Drew that I’m quitting the world of cooking. This retirement isn’t perhaps the dramatic lifestyle change you might think. My time behind the stove consists largely of reheating various frozen Trader Joe’s stir frys. If I’m feeling optimistic about not ruining it, I’ll add some extra veggies in there. If I’ve been drinking, I’ll make an ill-advised trip to the spice cabinet to “jazz things up”.  But the true horror begins when I step off the Trader Joe’s grid entirely and attempt to whip up something from scratch. And those are the times I really regret having so much free time to experiment and only two of us to consume the evidence, for the following reasons:

1) Leftovers that Just Won’t Die

The great thing about making a giant crappy lasagna in a house full of teenagers is that your crappy lasagna is gone in less than 24 hours. Not so in the Childfree home. After sampling a jicima slaw at a party last month, I attempted to recreate it. In addition to forgetting the jicama, I made a variety of creative additions (tofu, for one) and wound up with a mountain of coleslaw, the size of which would have made Kilimanjaro quiver.  It was atrocious. And it was dinner for five nights in a row, sometimes lunch.

The Great Non-Jicama Slaw Incident of 2012 was about as bad as it gets, but even eating a (theoretically, in my case) delicious meal five nights in a row would get tiresome. Yes, we could invite friends over. But let’s be honest – only family could be subjected to such potential gastronomic horrors without danger of ending your relationship.

2) If Variety is the Spice of Life, the Childfree House Needs a Pinch More

Strolling the produce aisle is usually where the lack-of-variety blues hits home. If I’m picking out fruit for me and Drew, we’re eating a pineapple or a cantaloupe for a week straight, or we’re racing against the clock to polish off a pound of strawberries before they go bad. We start asking dangerous questions like, “what do you think about blueberry soup?” With a house full of kids, you can grab a whole rainbow of fruits and eat something different every day, knowing that everyone else is doing their part to whittle through the rest of the stack. Assuming, of course, these fictitious kids would actually eat fruit instead of subsisting on Red Bull and circus peanuts like their peers.

The candy aisle is another killer for me. I grew up in the house of a chocolate lover and there was always a solid selection on hand. But instead of the drawer of Reese’s peanut butter cups and 100 Grands and other fabulous treats, Drew and I keep a sad little bag of Milky Ways in the freezer. The FREEZER!

Incidentally, my mother is still in denial that we’ve left the nest with respect to the candy drawer. I asked her to snap a photo of her current supply:

As you can see, this represents roughly 19,700 calories, but she sent it with a note that she’s (and I quote) “running a little low” here.

3) Cost per Person is Rivaling Restaurant Prices

My spice rack usage rates run anywhere from 2% to 4%. Every recipe I want to test drive seems to require no less than eleven dried herbs I don’t currently own. And once I’ve spent $19 on marjoram, fennel pollen and truffle salt, I never want to lay eyes on them again after tasting whatever culinary terror they’ve joined forces to create. They’ll be added to the 3,700 other un-alphabetized spices I have to rifle through before determining I do not own star anise for those braised duck legs.

And it’s not just spices. I’ll buy the half gallon of buttermilk for the third-of-a-cup I need in my muffins and watch the rest of it rot while wondering if I could sneak it into a bowl of Drew’s shredded wheat without his noticing. There’s just not enough things two people can make and eat to use up all the ingredients we buy before they go bad. I realize that food costs in general go up astronomically with the addition of kids, but somehow when the cost-per-person goes down, it feels better.

4) Too Many Naughty Treats, Not Enough Sticky Fingers to Snap Them Up

The one thing I do well in the kitchen, with any regularity, is bake. Here are three recipes you should never make in a Childfree home, unless you’re planning to take them to a party, because you will each gain approximately 57 lbs per recipe:

I love these desserts, passionately. But I only get to make them when we’re on our way to an event because Drew and I cannot be trusted not to settle down with two forks and an episode of 30 Rock and call it a dinner. I can’t take them into the office because my mother’s only words of warning as I entered the workforce were that I’d damage my career prospects if I became known as the Lady Who Bakes in the office. And besides – there’s just something a little depressing about setting a cheesecake out at 8:00 am and watching your co-workers devour it by 8:07. (You all know what I’m talking about.)

Boo Hoo, Poor Me

I understand that I’m in the minority in complaining about this. Many of my Childfree counterparts probably love that chicken nuggets aren’t the 5th food group in their home, or that they have the freedom of experimenting with flavors that kids would spit back onto their plates. But sometimes freedom is a dangerous thing. Like anytime I’m passing through the kitchen, thinking I’ve got some extra time, frozen chicken breasts, margarita mix and a bright idea on my hands.

I’ll let you all know when I’ve finally caved on cooking altogether and joined the Whole Foods buffet revolution like all the other sane Childfree people.

31 Responses to Cooking for Two Sucks

  • Becky says:

    Oh Liz, this could be so much simpler for you! Cooking for two is SO easy. A few helpful tips:

    1. Buy fresh meat in bulk. Come home and separate into individual/2 person packages and freeze. You’ll never waste another 2 lb. pack of fresh chicken breasts again.

    2. Meal plan. Yes, childfree people can plan ahead. Every Wednesday (when the sale papers come out), I make a dinner menu for the following week. It cuts down on how much we spend at the grocery store and how much food we throw out each week.

    3. Never have leftovers. See #1. Cut every recipe down to serve only 2.

    4. Fresh fruit starting to go bad? Don’t throw it out or make blueberry soup – grab a container of vanilla yogurt, a blender and make a smoothie! Pour that bad boy in a gallon size Ziploc, squeeze the air out and freeze it! Voila!

    You CAN cook for two! Have fun!

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Oh Becky, IF ONLY i were the type of person to actually “plan meals”. Or do responsible things like freeze meat individually when I get home. But I DO freeze the fruit that’s going bad – I finally burned out my Magic Bullet after 5 years of smoothies. :)

  • Megan says:

    We have the same problem in our household, except that we pretty much never try to cook real food. Occasionally B will get a wild hair and make a meatloaf, but we pretty much stick to foods that come frozen or in boxes. Every once in a while I\’ll buy a whole bunch of salad fixin\’s, and then I spend the entire week gorging myself on salad in an attempt not to let anything go bad. I hate hate hate wasting food. It\’s not really the money that I worry about so much, but throwing away what was recently perfectly good food makes me feel a little sick. It\’s just so hard to eat it all when it\’s just the two of us.

    I do have one tip for you, though. I learned this while making banana bread because, you guessed it, we didn\’t finish the bananas before they went bad. You can actually make buttermilk from regular milk and a little vinegar. I forget the ratios but I\’m sure you can look it up online. Seemed to work just fine for us. Of course, we have a hard time finishing a whole container of regular milk either, even when we just get a quart. Whenever we need it for something, we find ourselves having a lot of cereal…

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      I hear you on the wastefulness – it just KILLS me to toss stuff that I know I should have eaten, and it’s really not all about the money. I learned the buttermilk trick by using a little lemon juice in milk – pretty cool how that works, isn’t it?

  • Meghan! says:

    I loved this post, in part because one of my hesitancies about ever having children is, in fact, having to cook for more than two. Cooking dinner has become the detox part of my day. I have a small kitchen and don\’t have one of those crazy HGTV open floor plans. So when I go in my kitchen at night, it\’s just me and the stove and an occasional cat. And I LOVE it. At some point in the last year or so, it suddenly hit me that I do not ever want to lost this time that I have, or the option of experimenting with kale, or the risk of making something too hot. I\’m sure the time thing could be gotten over, as that\’s essentially what your entire life becomes with kids. But cooking as a creative act, which it is for me, and not just a necessary chore, would be at risk, and I don\’t know if I can handle that.

    Anyway, thanks for the post. I love reading this blog. It\’s helped me work through a lot of issues!

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Thanks Megan, I’m glad to hear it’s helping (especially since I feel like it sometimes has the opposite effect on me – haha)! You’re PROBABLY right about your kale and spicy foods days being over, but I guess you never know – you could get a kid like my husband’s brother who ate things like raw mushrooms (even I wouldn’t do that!) when he was like 3 (he later went on to culinary school).

  • Liz says:

    I completely understand! Oh and cereal is a perfectly acceptable dinner, as is peanut butter and crackers…

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Ohh, peanut butter and crackers…I haven’t had those in forever, but I believe I’ve just found my Friday night dinner.

  • alicia says:

    i live with my bf. so i cook enough for 4 people. just enough for dinner and lunch the next day for the both of us. if i make something like a lasagna, i just freeze the rest. it’s great for nights when you just don’t feel like cooking. as far as baking is concerned i just bring leftovers to work.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      I know, I need to make better use of the freezer. Sometimes it just skeezes me out though!

  • Daniela says:

    Boy do I have a lot to say about this atrocious blog post. So here are a couple of highlights I\’d like to comment on.

    >Particularly if you’re as cheap, health conscious and untalented in the kitchen as I am.

    I\’m a frugal, extremely health conscious (we eat paleo and if you know anything about paleo is that it is considered EXPENSIVE) person who is particularly untalented when it comes to cooking. We cook for 2 every single day and we NEVER have left overs unless we plan on having left overs.

    >The great thing about making a giant crappy lasagna in a house full of teenagers is that your crappy lasagna is gone in less than 24 hours.

    I’m sorry, but if you’re having a”giant crappy lasagna” then you’re going to have left overs, which is probably poor planning on your part and its also not frugal or cheap. And by the way, its probably not healthy.

    >Every recipe I want to test drive seems to require no less than eleven dried herbs I don’t currently own.

    I don’t know what kind of recipes you’re trying, but 11+ herbs for a recipes seems a little much, even if you’re over stating it. We very rarely cook using recipes which is what causes left overs, most recipes are calculated for 4 people or more. LEARN TO COOK. There are plenty of combinations you can make with chicken and veggies. Burger and veggies or sweet potatoe fries. Pork and veggies. Throw ingredients in pan, add favorite spices and oil, set to go, maybe steam stuff. It takes less than 30 minutes usually, ESPECIALLY if you buy frozen stir fryies.

    >The one thing I do well in the kitchen, with any regularity, is bake. Here are three recipes you should never make in a Childfree home, unless you’re planning to take them to a party, because you will each gain approximately 57 lbs per recipe.

    I BAKE, and I haven’t gained a single pound, or throwing pounds of baked goods out the door because they go bad. But have some self-control. Make one thing at a time and finish it with patience. Learn some recipes that aren’t going to go bad quickly, and find some that don’t make copious amounts of whatever it is your making. There are SMALLER PORTIONS.

    >Many of my Childfree counterparts probably love that chicken nuggets aren’t the 5th food group in their home, or that they have the freedom of experimenting with flavors that kids would spit back onto their plates.

    Many childfree people have learned to adapt to cooking for 2 people without wasting food. The internet is a FANTASTIC source for recipes and if you really don’t have much of an imagination the go find a cooking for 2 cookbook at your local bookstore. This is just a lazy response.

    >I’ll let you all know when I’ve finally caved on cooking altogether and joined the Whole Foods buffet revolution like all the other sane Childfree people.

    THIS IS NOT CHEAP OR FRUGAL! It can be healthy, but if your spending upwards of 5 dollars per meal (that’s low-balling it) then you’re failing at being cheap.

    The end. Please consider being a little more creative with your time and money. Cooking for 2 is absolutely not a daunting task.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Well…um, thank you for such a lengthy response despite the fact that you hated my blog post?

    • Mary says:

      Geez! What is with this tone? Cooking for 1 or 2 can be difficult. There\’s no need to be harsh. Liz, thanks for your post. Good reminder to get more creative in the kitchen.

  • Scott says:

    This \”pro\” parenting list only makes sense if your children are not harder to please than you are. If they are more particular about what they eat, this will make your diet even more monotonous. If your kids are finicky, this is no advantage over being childfree.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      True – and I’m pretty sure I hated, oh, just about everything when I was a kid except Oreos.

      • Scott says:

        With kids there would be that awkward moment where they ask why YOU get to have Oreos for dinner but they don\’t. \”Because I said so\”?

        • Maybe Lady
          Maybe Lady says:

          Ugh, and I promised myself decades ago that if I ever had kids, I’d never utter those words. But I’m sure every pre-parent in the world has said that too, and failed.

  • Alex says:

    Re: spices. Google \” substitute\”. I actually do keep a lot of different ones on hand since we cook so often, but sometimes I find I\’ve run out of something or it\’s some exotic thing I\’ve never heard of. (Also, fennel pollen is awesome. Especially on pork. I understand not wanting to spend a million bucks an ounce, though, so in this case, I\’d substitute fennel seeds.) Does your local grocery have a bulk spice section? This is a good way to get small amounts of weird spices and not shell out a college tuition\’s worth.

    Re: fruit about to go bad. Make smoothies. (I make mine with a coconut milk base to make them healthier than, well, ice cream.) They won\’t last long enough to go bad. Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame has a fruit cookbook too (and her veggie cookbook is a must-have for any kitchen, IMO). Sadly, most of the recipes are for desserts, but you can make smaller versions of them or just use it for ideas.

    Re: buttermilk, and all other perishables that only come in huge containers. Plan ahead. Have 2-3 recipes in mind to make that week that include the weird ingredient. Again, google is your friend. A great way to finish bizarre ingredients is to use them in marinades or salad dressings, which are pretty versatile and forgiving if you screw something up.

    Re: slaw. Try fermenting your own kraut. As it\’s a preservation method, it\’ll last a long time. I made a huge batch in February. Left it on the counter to ferment for about a month, then moved it to the fridge. I still have about 1/3 of it left, and it still tastes exactly as good as the day it went into the fridge.

    It\’s gotten to the point now where I don\’t know how to cook for any MORE than two people, since it\’s what I always do. When we have dinner guests, it\’s practically a crisis as I try to multiply out in my head \”well, if two people eat this much, then four people–\”

    Don\’t give up on experimenting (unless you just don\’t care much about cooking, which is fine!) As most of us grew up on frozen dinners and McDonalds, we don\’t have our parents\’ and grandparents\’ culinary know-how to fall back on, so we have to teach ourselves from scratch. That unfortunately means occasionally ruining a meal because you don\’t know what you\’re doing, or your fabulous idea went horribly wrong. I started out following all recipes to the letter, until I had built up a mental repository of which spices go well with which meat, and at what temperature the oil will burn the garlic, etc. Now I \”make stuff up\” as I go along all the time, and if I find I\’m missing an ingredient, oh well, I\’ll make substitutions (or leave it out entirely) on the fly.

    Incidentally, building up said knowledge would have been much harder with a bunch of hungry screaming kids around…

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      These are all great ideas. I do actually try and do the whole “think of 2-3 recipes in mind to get rid of an ingredient” thing…the only problem with that is that I then wind up with like 7 more ingredients I can’t get rid of. :) I guess I need 2-3 COMPLIMENTARY recipes. :)

  • Alex says:

    That should be “google ‘substitute for’” whatever spice you’re missing.

  • Stephanie says:

    This post cracked me up – thanks! I’m not only childfree, but I’m single and I live by myself. So I’m more than familiar with these phenomena. The inability to make a dessert! I totally relate. I finally decided that I didn’t have to get married to get a KitchenAid mixer and now it stands boldly on my counter, only getting used once a year to make Christmas cookies! I make food on Sundays and I eat it all week long…every week. That’s the only way things don’t rot. With regards to spices – do you have a health-food store nearby that sells spices in bulk? It’s great to be able to go in and just buy 2 tablespoons of something.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      I too have been coveting a KitchenAid mixer! If only for whoopie pies! I’m glad you’re giving it a Christmas workout every year.

  • Kimberly says:

    BAHAHAHAHA. So true.

  • Scott says:

    There are these things called automobiles now. You drive them to restaurants. Or delivery people use them to carry food to your house. They go very well with these things called credit cards…. :-)

  • Serious_about_smoothies says:

    I would add to your list… having children=totally justifies the expense of your Costco membership.

    My husband and I LOVE Costco. Even when I was single I loved shopping there, but there is no way I could buy anything prepared in store and eat it within a reasonable timeline, without freezing part of it or eating the same thing for lunch/dinner/breakfast. We finally decided to give up our membership (we moved and now the nearest one is 1 hour away), and I realized how that unnecessary the membership was… unless you feed 4+ people or you\’re having a massive BBQ. Anyway, most prepared foods in there are very unhealthy.

    On the other hand, I think in some households, without proper planning, there may be way more waste with kids. Or unhealthy eating habits. I remember talking to a friend who ALWAYS ate her children\’s leftovers (picky eaters who never finished what was n their plates) and that caused her to gain a lot of weight-she just did not want to throw anything away. So yes, there is waste in both childfree and childfull households.

    And I second the freezing fruit=smoothie reserves plan. Smoothies are a must in my house every morning. No banana left behind. Ever.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Yikes, I hadn’t even considered that I’d probably be that family plate-cleaner too. Although, I grew up in a house where you weren’t allowed to leave the table until you’d cleaned your plate. I had many a hours-long stand-off over lima beans and peas. I’m sorry for your Costco loss – you could make an entire meal from the free samples some days!

  • Rachael says:

    “It must seem like I’m always pontificating on the various merits of life without kids”

    Never forget that this is because that’s what you know right now, and that if you had kids you’d be totally pontificating about the various merits of being a mother and a parent and yadda yadda. Since you can’t get a refund on kids, ie have them then trade ‘em up with no emotional (or legal! lol) cost when you decide they’re annoying, the idea of a balanced and realistic pros and cons list strikes me (I don’t mean this in a snarky way) as impossible.

    We all only know what we experience first-hand, and the grass isn’t always greener, especially with parenting – we forget the love that overcomes the icky gross bits.

    I felt like picking up dog poop was the most disgusting thing in the world until I got a dog, who I love enormously, now dog poo is just an everyday part of life like earrings or bread.

    I’ve come to the conclusion I’m going to have kids because I only ever regretted the things I didn’t do in life, never the things I did even if they had permanent consequences, and also because the more love that’s come into my life (dog, then dogs, then boyfriends, now a husband) has improved it, and makes up for the inconvenience.

    And hopefully “kids” not “kid” because when me & DH die, I want them to have at least one sibling and not be the last remaining person of the family, organising funerals and so on completely alone, putting “N/A” when a form asks for next of kin if they’re not married… JMO!

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      You’re right – a totally balanced viewpoint on this whole subject might just be completely impossible. But I’m at least going to give it a try!

  • Sarah Jane says:

    I don\’t know what I found more comical … the blog or the fact that some people just don\’t get exaggerated humor. The entire time I was reading it I thought \”YES!!! This person understands my struggle!!! (As I slowly ate 1/2 of an amazing pumpkin pie cheesecake that I just couldn\’t throw out.) I had to share it with my best friend, who while reading kept saying \”Sarah – This is you!\” Totally made my day. Love your blog by the way. As a newly childfree married woman, (my husband had a vasectomy less than 2 weeks ago) I\’ve found your blog to be just simply delightful and while you\’re still thinking about it I know it helped us with our decision.

    • Maybe Lady
      Maybe Lady says:

      Aww, thank you Sarah Jane! I’m so glad you can relate. And don’t feel too bad about your pumpkin pie cheesecake pigout – I ate apple pie for breakfast this weekend. Yup.

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