Nest PictureAn Empty Nest Shouldn’t Mean Empty Nutrition

By Tamara Duker Freuman, MS, RD, CDN (, March 2013

An NYC-based registered dietitian who specializes in digestive disorders and food intolerances

After spending two decades shopping for food, planning meals, cooking and thinking about everyone else’s dietary needs, you find yourself in an empty nest, and with an empty fridge and cupboard.  Tamara hears it from her clients all the time. They are tapped out. Spent. There’s no energy left for even thinking about meals, let alone cooking them. Besides, what’s the point of preparing a big, elaborate meal for just one or two?

The problem, of course, is that empty-nestdom arrives at a time in one’s life where nature is most unforgiving. Your metabolism has likely just taken a nosedive, meaning you can get away with far fewer dietary indiscretions without paying for them on the scale. Your bones need extra TLC if they’re going to last you through retirement—particularly if you’re taking a calcium-sapping acid reducing medication. And when you skimp on fiber rich veggies and probiotic-rich cultured dairy, things tend not to go so smoothly in the loo. In other words, Empty Nestdom is a particularly inopportune time to give up on nutrition. 
Fear not. Armed with some basic pantry and fridge staples, creativity and a reminder that taking care of yourself is more important now that ever—you can improve your diet quality tremendously without much effort at all.

Here’s how:

• Make cultured dairy your essential fridge staple: More than ever, you need the convenience, protein and the calcium that low-fat yogurt and kefir offer. These foods happily fit in at breakfast, for a snack, with lunch and even at dinner, and if you’ve got some on hand, a respectable meal is never too hard to conjure up. Yogurt stands on its own, or accessorizes other meals (add cucumbers and a bit of garlic, you’ve got Middle Eastern veggie dip; add Indian spices, you’ve got Tandoori marinade). Kefir (liquid yogurt) is the secret to perfect smoothies, fluffy pancakes and easy overnight oatmeal. Once you start keeping these kitchen multi-taskers on hand, your fridge will feel like an empty-nester without them.

• If your intestines retired from their job of digesting dairy a long time ago, look for Green Valley Organics Lactose Free brand of yogurt and kefir. It’s organic, real cow’s milk dairy with the lactose pre-digested, making it an easy-to-tolerate source of essential calcium for your bones and live, active probiotic bacteria for your digestive health. It’s a far better option than non-dairy milks and yogurts made from almond milk, coconut milk or rice milk, as these latter options lack the protein you need to maintain lean body mass and feel satisfied after a meal. 

• Make lunch your main meal: To take the pressure off of dinner prep each night, consider lunch your main meal of the day. This especially makes sense if you’re working or otherwise out, as you may have more options available. Be sure to include a good portion of lean protein from fish, poultry, beans or tofu, paired with loads of veggies and a modest amount of slow-digesting carbs to keep you feeling satisfied through dinner.  Save the entrée salads for dinner; they’re more likely to leave you feeling hungry a few hours later, which means you’re less able to control portions at night when most people get into trouble. A more substantial mid-day meal means you’ll be less hungry in the evening and more satisfied with a light supper.

• Keep fancy condiments on hand: Fancy accessories like pesto, Dijon mustard, chipotle hot sauce and truffle oil can transform workaday pantry items like pasta, tuna, canned white beans, eggs and frozen veggies into appealing meals that take 10 minutes or less to assemble. Pasta tossed with (frozen) broccoli, white beans and pesto?  A Mediterranean dieters dream. Tuna with plain yogurt, Dijon and a hit of hot sauce?  Serve atop bagged salad greens, and you’ve got a respectable meal. An omelet drizzled with truffle oil and served aside (frozen) French green beans?  Oooh la la!  Dinner is served. 

• There’s no shame in breakfast for dinner: Veggie and lox omelets, whole grain pancakes, green smoothies…there’s no law saying a dinner plate needs to have a protein, starch and veg lined up side by side. Whole grain pancake mix spiked with canned pumpkin puree and topped with plain yogurt provides a low-glycemic carb, an orange veggie and a good serving of lean protein.  A low-fat kefir smoothie with spinach, mango and banana delivers protein, a day’s worth of Vitamin A and complex carbs—a far better option than pizza delivery or greasy takeout!  In other words, breakfast for dinner doesn’t have to mean standing over the sink and eating a bowl of cereal.

*Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.*