Suddenly, the kitchen is quiet. Come 5 p.m., I’m no longer hustling to feed hungry teens in time for a game.

No gallons of milk fill the fridge, no more king-size boxes of cereal stuff the pantry. The nightly choreography of cooking for many has slowed to a dance of two.

With less pressure comes the pleasure of time. Time to page through cookbooks, try new flavors and experiment with different techniques. It’s as if we’re reliving the years before our three sons entered our lives. I’m free once again to wander the farmers markets and co-ops and decide, spur of the moment, what we will eat.

Many of my friends claim, often proudly, that they simply don’t bother to cook anymore. No wonder. The takeout options keep getting better and better. Recipes in books and magazines are geared to at least four to six, or more, and leftovers can be daunting.

Who wants to eat the same pot of chili night after night or let fresh vegetables wither and rot?

I’m not talking about turning out five-star meals or relying on expensive, esoteric ingredients. Some nights we may feast on finger-licking short ribs and smashed new potatoes or, if I’m weary, dinner is simply a warming bowl of curry carrot soup, toasted naan and a tossed green salad.

Eating in means it’s OK to splurge once in a while — a lovely Porterhouse steak, a great bottle of wine, the pretty tartlets from your favorite bakery.

Cooking for two is inherently thrifty and healthy, and it saves time. Once I changed how I shop and figured out how to pare down quantities, the evening ritual, especially after a long, busy day, is now more relaxing and certainly more fun.

So crank up the music you like best. Smash garlic, chop onions, sizzle and simmer away. When everything comes together, set the table with cloth napkins, light candles, open the wine, toast the day. Let evening come.

Here’s how to prepare for few in the kitchen:

Buy less; shop more often. You’ll actually save money and time by purchasing only what you need and quickly getting through the store and out, via the express lane.

Avoid large packages of any food, especially dairy, eggs, poultry and meat. Ask the butcher at the meat counter to wrap up what you need.

Peruse the salad bar. Those fresh vegetables you want for stir-fries and sautés come already prepared. This saves time and money because you’ll waste less.

Buy small quantities of dry goods. Nuts, dried fruit, granola, grains, sugar, flour and beans can be purchased from the bulk bin in small quantities.

Stock the pantry. Keep seasoned salts, interesting vinegars, good oils and spice blends available for last-minute fixes.

Don’t skimp on quality. You’ll be saving money so treat yourself to well-made products that you enjoy, such as good butter, freshly baked bread, artisan cheeses and fresh herbs. These little luxuries make a big difference.