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Cooking When Your Kid Is At College

Cooking when your kid is at college is a big change — much bigger than I ever expected. Here’s what we’ve discovered in my house.

Throughout my son’s senior year, I felt it — the way a chapter was wrapping up in our lives. And like a good book chapter, it had so much left unanswered that I was compelled to keep reading forward.

What I didn’t expect in the next chapter — the one where Will is away at college, leaving just my daughter and me at home — was how it would upset the balance of our lives. It wasn’t just my son not being home, it was everything from how we run our house to the flow of our lives to what we keep in the fridge.

That last one? That’s been the biggest reckoning with change.

I really wasn’t expecting it. After dropping Will off to college in August, Paige and I returned home and I suddenly was at loose ends with all things food. Shopping for just two felt arduous. I had to consider each purchase in a way I haven’t in — well, maybe ever.

Planning meals felt nearly impossible. I was overwhelmed with questions.

Without a third appetite to consider, what did we need to buy

Without a third eater, what did we want to eat?

Without a third person eating, how much did I need to make?

Without a third plate, what recipes still worked for us?

The change was stark. I’d never really considered how I’d adapted our grocery shopping, meal planning and eating to meet the needs of both my kids.

All through high school and for most of middle school, Will was a runner competing in multiple seasons on cross country and track teams. Over time, I’d upped how much protein we had available for him — hard-boiled eggs, deli meat, smoked salmon and more. He also drank untold amounts of milk and loved cereal for breakfast.

With him away at school, I realized that we didn’t need to buy cereal at all. My daughter and I don’t eat it. And we barely needed milk. We don’t drink it.

The obvious question became what does Paige want to eat?

The answer hasn’t been so obvious. Without Will, the possibilities were wide open for Paige and me. A lot of trial and error has ensued. We both enjoy appetizers, for instance, and sometimes make a meal of them.

Other days, we make variations on cheese boards. Sometimes we have roasted vegetables with them. Other times, crudites.

Deli meat — wildflower honey ham, specifically — is good once in a while. But we need significantly less than we used to and buy it significantly less often.

We don’t need bread often. Neither of us eats it that much.

We do like taste tests — like the frozen Italian-style meatball test we did recently. And meatballs are generally a thumbs up here. But we don’t need anywhere near as much pasta. In fact, we eat pasta pretty infrequently without Will around.

Eggs are good to have in the house, but hard-boiled eggs are a no.

Prepping recipes like Kale Feta Pasta Salad and poached chicken makes packing lunch super easy. Roasted veggies are great too, and while I use them for lunch more than Paige does, she does reach for the containers to have with eggs, in ramen or otherwise for snacking.

We go through significantly less lettuce than I expected we would, but I think that’s just a temporary thing. We’ve always gone in cycles with lettuce use.

It’s been three months since we dropped Will off at school. Paige and I are still figuring out what works for grocery shopping and meals when it’s just us — and I think that’s okay. Our food habits at home have been developed over years and years. They won’t be undone or rethought quickly. Taking time, being patient and experimenting with what works will be what helps us figure it out.

Have you experienced something similar with cooking when your kid is at college? How did you find your footing with grocery shopping and meal planning again?