Before my brothers made it to puberty, we were a house full of leftovers. My mom would make lasagna, stir fry, beef stroganoff, and always with a large serving of vegetables on the side. I even remember my mother boiling lobster that was flown in by a local guy (1,300 miles from the nearest ocean port). My mom was a kitchen all star. All the desserts of my youth were homemade (crust too) and made frequently; supplemental fare for church potlucks and school carnivals. I am not afraid to admit that I would enter school cake walks enough times only to select the cake my mom made for the event.
Some recipes live on despite my inability to make dough rise. My aunt and my cousins down in Monteverde, Costa Rica sell my grandmother’s recipe of caramel rolls and fudge at local restaurants and a cheese factory. It is only in my fantasies that I regularly pick up the rolling pin and take the time to put together wholesome dinners that don’t come from a steamable bag. In truth, I succeed maybe once a week during the school year and it’s usually an amalgamation of rice or noodle, protein, and vegetable so at least I’ve got that going for me.
There are so many fond memories of watching mom or grandma cook and all the smells and tastes that accompany those memories. The most important gift of all was our time together. Today, as the girls and I spent time making lunches in the kitchen, I hope that they will savor these moments in the future and try to recreate them with their own children one day.
So, in a late nod to Mother’s Day, I would like to thank my foremothers for the gift of food and kitchen snuggles.
What We Gain When We Cook at Home
This isn’t an unusual experience, I know, but the sheer number of homemade meals and treats probably saved my mom and dad a good deal of money. Home cooking also provided memories of comforting smells and tastes when life just felt too overwhelming. Clearly, there are a wealth of reasons to cook at home. In fact, we might as well start with wealth:
Reason Number 1: More Money in Your Bank Account
When it comes to cutting costs, cooking at home wins out. According to a Forbes article from July of 2018:
[I]t is almost five times more expensive to order delivery from a restaurant than it is to cook at home. And if you’re using a meal kit service as a shortcut to a home cooked meal, it’s a bit more affordable, but still almost three times as expensive as cooking from scratch.Priceonomics
In the article, there are several charts highlighting the different in cost in making many of the more popular meals appealing to American palates.
I see this in my bank account almost right away. Most of our shopping is done at Aldi’s and about two weeks worth of food for four people (two adults, one three year old and one five year old) costs about $100, whereas we’d spend that much on three to four meals eating out together. It’s worth doing the dishes yourself.
It also helps to plan ahead. On Sundays, I prepare my work lunches for the week. We also eat a lot less meat than we used to which has translated to our money going further. Eating less meat and junk food has also meant that we waste less fresh produce. You know, the kind you buy and mean to eat and then don’t.
Reason Number 2: Less Waste
Fast Food Is So Wasteful
Have you ever really taken a good, hard look at what waste a fast food restaurant serves up? I took the kids to a McDonald’s yesterday in a bid to convince my 3-year-old daughter not to sit out her entire soccer game. It worked like a charm, once I uttered the magic words “McDonald’s,” she was off like a shot. She even scored a goal for the other team.
Once we sat down for our victory meal, each burger was snuggled in a plastic-lined wrapper, our fries were in a small cardboard container with plastic lining, the plastic toys were plastic wrapped; then there were the happy meal containers, the milk containers, and the soda cups and straws and lids. It’s even worse if you order the salad. If you needed a reason to order a burger instead of a salad, use that excuse.
In comparison to fast food chains, sit-down restaurants are better at reducing waste with packaging. There is, however, a lot of food waste if you don’t take your leftovers home in a container (often Styrofoam or plastic but you might consider bringing your own). Also, the cost of a sit-down meal dwarfs that of a fast food meal in most locations. Sometimes, if you are a parent, you can get by with knowing which restaurants have “Kids Eat Free” nights. We have a favorite around here that does dollar kids menu on Wednesdays along with Bingo night.
At-Home Meals Are More Frugal and Sometimes Even Fun
At-home meals offer families a chance to connect, eat more healthily, and plan events together. I remember hanging out with some of the neighborhood kids and praying I’d be invited over to dinner on Make-Your-Own-Pizza Night. Especially since, once all the eating was finished, they’d transition to board games and ice cream.
There is a premium to pay, however, for at-home meals and that premium is time. Many things we get from the supermarket are made for quick meals for on-the-go families. I don’t have time to make bread from scratch when my preschooler has homework, my three year old is bored, and I have a stack of papers to grade. The turkey my husband gets for sandwiches comes in a plastic container, the good tomatoes are packaged in cellophane, and the veggie burgers I love come individually-wrapped in plastic. It’s a price we are paying for convenience but all the kids are fed.
Start at Home and Find Your Stride
Even though I have so many fond memories of my mother baking, my generation has learned to equate sugar with evil. I think I’m more afraid of childhood obesity than I am of my children missing out on licking the bowl clean of batter. On the flip side, you don’t see me getting my hands dirty and sprouting seeds every spring. My husband once asked me if I wanted to use a neglected but re-sprouting onion for a garden and I told him with a smirk to knock himself out if he thought he had the time.
We still don’t have a garden and we don’t plan on one. I may never be the home cook that my mom was but then again we have different tastes and preferences. What I can shoot for, in this crazy period of my life, is a healthy, happy, fulfilling childhood for my girls.