Cooking in a Shared Kitchen

Dear Home-Ec 101,
I am new to your blog and to cooking. I have been married for only 9 months and my husband just got out of the Army and we are staying with my grandparents while he looks for work. We have some money saved but it wont last forever, and we have been eating out a lot lately and it just isnt going to be affordable anymore. I have been teaching myself to cook and so far I’ve been focusing on baking and learning to make different things from scratch so I can freeze the dough and use it later.

Well I’m emailing you for a few different reasons. First of all we try to eat healthy and dont like to use processed or chemically enhanced food. We buy grass fed meat and I am trying to make alot of things myself so we wont have to use many packaged or canned products, but my grandparents eat alot of ‘crap’. Its hard to plan my meals around theirs. My grandma and I argue over the kitchen and I feel like a burden. Second, how do I keep it exciting for just the two of us. Sometimes it seems pointless to get excited about meals when I know I’m only cooking for my husband and I and then I just have to clean it all up. Until we have kids I want to be able to stay motivated in the kitchen. If you have any tips for me it would be very appreciated! Thanks
Cramped Quarters

Heather says

First of all, thank you to you and your husband for his service. If you didn’t know, I’m involved with Cooking With the Troops and we work with service members and veterans. People like you and your husband hold a special place in my heart.

Then I want you to know that you’re in the midst of a very stressful life change; cut yourself some slack.

Next remember as frustrating as it is, you are a guest receiving the benefits of your grandparents’ generosity. Repeat to yourself: This is a temporary situation. You will get back on your feet and in all honesty I’m going to say that, in the long run, you’ll be healthier (emotionally and physically) by not arguing. A temporary relaxation of your dietary ideals isn’t going to kill you. Make the best choices you can and let it go. The stress of worrying about a temporary situation is going to cause more problems than an imperfect diet.

Sit down with your grandmother and see if you can work out a schedule for cooking. This is conjecture, but there seems to be a lot of effort spent feeding four people. Offer to take turns cooking. Unless you are incredibly careful with your dietary choices when eating out, almost anything made from whole ingredients at home is going to be healthier. I know I’m speaking broadly, but the amount of sodium and excess fat that goes into most middle of the road restaurant food is insane. Remember, this is coming from a woman who isn’t scared of healthy fats (butter, whole milk, etc).

Almost all of the recipes here on Home-Ec 101 are written for beginner cooks with limited access to fancy ingredients. When I’m selecting recipes to modify and share, I head up to my local grocery store, if the ingredients aren’t at my Bi-Lo or *gasp* Walmart, I assume that there is a fair amount of the population who may not have access. (I also shop at Publix, but in my immediate area, that’s the “fancy” grocery store and has some more exotic ingredients. *Charlestonians, I know we have a Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Earth Fare but those are 45 minutes from me and therefore not on the easily accessible list)

Check out the meal planning primer series.

Also helpful for variety – A guide to cooking and using chicken

When it comes to cooking for a couple or small family planned overs and freezer friendly menu items are a great way to keep variety in your diet. When you get your own place, consider even a small chest freezer. Use it as an end table if you are really short on space in your new place.

Check out How to Freeze Food and Cooking Homemade Frozen Foods.

Side note: I have a chef friend who likes to tell me, “All foods are a conveyance for sauce.” Marinades, sauces, and rubs are a great way to add variety to a fairly limited menu.  Just something to keep in mind.

Finally remember that cooking seasonally -planning your menu around the seasonal availability of produce is a great way to keep variety in your diet without thinking too hard. Check out: Paradox of Choice and the Weekly Menu Plan.

Okay Home-Eccers, what advice do you have for this couple in a shared kitchen?

Send your domestic questions to





  1. Valerie on June 7, 2012 at 11:20 am

    Don’t forget that you can cook a bit more, and freeze half.  When I make lasagna I’ll make 2 (sometimes 3) pans and freeze the rest, with just 2 of you can make 1 lg pan into 2 smaller ones and freeze one, eat the other.  OR, you can make lasagna rolls, basically set out the noodles, put a layer of sauce, sprinkle meat, layer of cheese filling (I include spinach in mine), roll up, place on freezer sheet to flash freeze (20 min) and place in baggies.  I’ve done giant shells this way too.  Take out what you need, pour sauce on top, sprinkle some cheese on it, cook it and viola, dinner.  These are life savers if you have kids at home and it’s been “one of those days”.  Soups are great too, make a big batch, freeze some in a larger container, and invest in a few single serving size containers (small sour cream containers work great), and when it’s just one, or each of you wants a different kind, or someone is sick, you are ready to go, just add crackers or cornbread…..

  2. QuiltinJenny on May 15, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    This isn’t so much about the menu as to be careful about wishing your life away.  I say this from experience after 20 years of marriage and 17 as a mom.  I remember not wanting to “bother” cooking before we had kids because it was so hard to cook for two…and often it was just me if my husband was working late.  Then when we had our first baby, of course he wasn’t eating normal food for at least a year and even then it wasn’t a nice meal.  Baby #2 came along less than 2 years later, and pretty soon I was making a lot of convenience “kid foods” and nibbling myself fatter and fatter on what they liked.  Soon came baby #3 and even more pounds.  It wasn’t until about the last 7-8 years that I really started cooking dinner regularly.  I can’t believe how much healthier and tastier it is!  But it is sometimes hard to keep it up, and I fall into old habits when someone has a late sports practice or a meeting.  My friends who always cooked (usually because they couldn’t afford to eat out so much as newlyweds) are much better at putting a healthy meal on the table. Start the habit now, save a lot of money and calories, and enjoy this time with your grandma together in the kitchen.  It’s a gift that doesn’t last forever!

  3. Amy H on May 15, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    My husband’s brother and his family have been living with my in-laws for almost a year now, and they take turns preparing dinner; my mother-in-law takes three nights per week, my sister-in-law takes three, and on Fridays each family does their own thing, which is usually eating out separately.  It seems to be working well for them.  Is it possible to make some of the food your grandparents like but with better ingredients?  Then you could all eat together and you would still feel like you are cooking the way you want to.  If not, I agree with other posters who have said to make the best of this time and do it all your way when you can move out.  Good luck to you!

  4. deneicer1 on May 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I would like to suggest making dinner special…..dig out your Grandmother’s china and crystal (with her permission,) find a lovely table cloth (I bet she has one somewhere!)  Use those lovely dishes, stemware and silver…why have them if they stay boxed up on a shelf somewhere?  You can make dinner special for you and your husband, of course.
    You could also make a special dinner for your Grandparents.  When was the last time they had a special “date?”  Set the table gorgeous, light some candles, make a pretty center piece, make them something they would like….but maybe something somewhat “new”……A special act of service like that may just go a very LONG way to mending some fences with your Grandmother.
    I agree with many of the commenters….try to make this time with your grandparents special and build a bond with them.  They won’t be here forever and you have a very special opportunity to become very close with them.  

    • HeatherSolos on May 14, 2012 at 7:26 am

       @deneicer1 I need to get back in the habit of Sunday dinner. For a long time around here, that was my big effort day. With all the busyness of late, cooking has become another chore. I do it, but I’m not necessarily happy about it and I’m pretty sure it’s showing. That’s probably a post all on its own.

  5. mperry8304 on May 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    I like your idea about getting excited about cooking.  There’s an art to making daily meals special.  One idea is that you could document your Grandmother’s recipes, collect a few family stories and then make a family cookbook.  OK, they might not be the most health-friendly recipes around but you’d change the dynamic of the conversation to a place that may be more enjoyable for both of you. 

  6. stark23x on May 11, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    I can’t speak to the shared kitchen, but I can speak to cooking for two. I cook for myself and my wife. I used to be fairly blah about it, just making whatever. But what turned the corner for me was scaling down my “reaction expectations” (I can’t think of another term for it. Can anyone else?). It’s super cool when a table full of people ooh and ahh at your work, for sure. But I started taking joy in that look she gets when a particular dish went well and she gets that perfect bite. I can almost survive without food just off that look alone.

    • HeatherSolos on May 14, 2012 at 7:24 am

       @stark23x I just want to note that it is obvious you adore your wife. She is an incredibly lucky woman. 

  7. HomemakersDaily on May 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    My son & daughter-in-law lived with us for 1-1/2 years.  I did most of the cooking and they just ate with us.  She had a baby so it was a break for her not to have to cook.  I think you should all work together and eat together.  Like writercook said, “let Grandma teach you”.  See this as a time to really bond.  I was already close to my son but I really got to know my daughter-in-law during reall well during this time.  We have a very special relationship as a result. 
    Or maybe you could take turns with grandma.  She might like to have a break, too.  You’d just have to be sensitive to their likes and dislikes.
    And definitely anything made at home is going to be better than out food – even if it isn’t as healthy as you would like. 

  8. writercook on May 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    I so agree that not worrying about grass-fed beef and organic this -and-that is the way to go for now. Whatever you are eating in Grandma’s kitchen is virtually certain to be better for you than eating out, so check your ideals at the grandparents’ door for the duration. If you handle this right, some day you’ll look back and be sooo glad you had this time to spend with your grandparents. Let Grandma teach YOU — be humble and teachable. You may not agree with all she has to say and show, but there will be much of value there if you look for it.

    • HeatherSolos on May 14, 2012 at 7:25 am

       @writercook that is an excellent suggestion. Thank you.

  9. suemaynard on May 11, 2012 at 11:39 am

    My first thought on reading this is that a crockpot may well be your friend – it’s hard to mess up, will be as healthy as you want it, and you can prepare and clean up not-at-dinner-time. It’s also easy to scale recipes so you have plenty of leftovers. I love Stephanie O’Dea’s “Year of Slow Cooking” –

    • deneicer1 on May 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm

       @suemaynard I TOTALLY second the crockpot!  You can prepare your meal either before or after lunch, eat at dinner time and then clean up after your Grandmother has exited the kitchen.  GREAT idea, Sue!

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