With takeout options galore and grocery store convenience food, it seems that our culture is fast losing the art of cooking from scratch. Here’s how (and why) homemakers can recover the old-fashioned practice of home cooking.
Among the other lost arts we’d do well as a culture to keep alive, perhaps one of the most practical is the lost art of cooking from scratch.
For me, cooking from scratch conjures up homey feelings of tying on an apron in a sunny kitchen, starting the music, and burying myself in the rhythm of measuring and mixing.
But that picture might seem too domestic for some–or simply not enjoyable. And what I’d really like to do is inspire everyone to learn to cook from scratch, even if cooking isn’t your particular hobby and you’re not the apron-wearing type.
It’s a skill we’re losing, despite the fact we’ve been learning more about processed, prepared foods in the last decade. Instead of making meals at home, we fall back on takeout and have increasingly become a delivery nation.
According to a 2015 Washington Post article, “Less than 60 percent of suppers served at home were actually cooked at home last year. Only 30 years ago, the percentage was closer to 75 percent.”
But our nation is obsessed with food. So is cooking from scratch really a lost art?
Perhaps it seems like cooking from scratch isn’t a dying art, after all. With the rise of foodie culture, Food Network stars, and cooking competitions, it seems like everyone’s obsessed with food these days. (For a fascinating look at the popularity of food shows and the decline of home cooking, check out this essay by Michael Pollan.)
I also see a push towards constant “creativity” and innovation among recipe creators. We have access to dozens of trendy “new” ingredients to use in our cooking, thanks to Whole Foods and similar grocery chains. Gone are the days when a classic, delicious dish was good enough. Now you have to combine ingredients in new and surprising ways, add your own twist, and basically attempt to reinvent the wheel. This pressure to create novelty shows up relentlessly in magazine issues and food blogs. I’ve encountered it firsthand as a blogger: when you apply for a sponsored recipe post, the sponsor is always looking for something offbeat and unexpected.
A few years ago I wrote about how the media incessantly talks about food in terms of its nutrients–antioxidants, protein, heart-healthy Omega-3s. I was fed up with the jargon and declared “I want this space–this blog–to throwback to an old-fashioned way of eating. I’m not going to break it down for you and tell you why my recipe is good for you, although I hope the recipe’s wholesomeness will be self-evident when you scan the ingredient list. I’ll just give you delicious food, straight up.”
Now I’m reasserting my commitment to simple, wholesome food. Just as I won’t pick apart my food into compounds and buzzwords, I’m not going to lace my dishes with esoteric, trendy ingredients just for the sake of being creative.
You see, although foodie culture has boomed, simple, old-fashioned cooking from scratch has not. We’ve either become food aesthetes, scoping out hipster restaurants and dabbling in exotic ingredients, or we turn to junk food takeout and processed food from the grocery store.
At its core, recovering the lost art of cooking from scratch means that we put homespun, nourishing meals on the table for our families on a consistent basis.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with creativity and innovation in the kitchen.
Or with getting takeout sometimes.
But mastering the basics of cooking empowers us in so many ways. It gives us more control over what ingredients our families consume. It saves us [lots of] money and time in the grocery store. It gives us more options for hospitality. And I believe home cooking also gives us a source of joy and pride in our work.
Every adult should have the confidence that they can prepare good food for themselves and others in their care–even if it’s nothing fancy.
3 Habits Every Home Cook Needs
The secret to cooking from scratch isn’t really about natural talent in the kitchen. The much more valuable skills you need are efficiency and good timing. As a girl, I learned that these skills will keep you from getting burned out, spending daunting amounts of time cooking, and creating huge messes.
To get from-scratch meals on the table each night–without spending forever in the kitchen–do this:
1. Check your supper plan right after breakfast
I highly recommend creating a loose meal plan every week. As soon as breakfast is over, check your meal list and pick which one fits best for that night. Then make basic supper prep part of your morning routine–take out meat to thaw, start the broth for soup, make the dressing or marinade, etc. Starting the supper process first thing in the day will make you much less stressed in the afternoon, when the pressures of the day have built up and you’re losing steam fast.
2. Have an afternoon cut-off time for other work and activities
It’s easy to get wrapped up in your or your children’s activities, and get a very late start on supper (which pushes bedtime later, too)! So each day, pick a stopping point for yourself when you’ll set aside what you’re doing and turn your attention to making supper. Since you checked your meal plan after breakfast, you’ll know if cooking requires an earlier cut-off time that day.
3. Tidy the kitchen as you go along
Any time you cook, you can make the job easier by controlling your mess. When you’re done with ingredients, put them back right away. Get dirty bowls and utensils soaking to save scrubbing time later. You’ll be more efficient if you have less clutter to navigate, and the clean-up afterwards will be quick.
Resources for Cooking from Scratch
The best way to master the skill of cooking from scratch is to keep practicing! As you do, here are some links and resources for improving in the kitchen:
Stocking the Real Food Pantry, Fridge, and Freezer – These are great cooking and baking staples to keep on hand, plus a printable checklist to go along with it.
How I Organize My Recipe Collection – My method for keeping track of the recipes I find online, in magazines, or inherit from family.
Kitchen Tool Champions – Here are my essential, multi-tasking kitchen tools and gadgets. I don’t want a cluttered kitchen, but some items have definitely earned a permanent spot!
What’s Saving My Meal Planning Routine Right Now – These 3 things keep my meal planning on track, so I can put good, frugal food on the table for my family.
Streamline Your Kitchen Organization – Here’s a helpful, in-depth guide (with pictures) to creating a more efficient kitchen.
The Secret Ingredient–Preparing Food with Love Really Makes a Difference – This post is a wonderful and needed reminder that cooking doesn’t need to be a burden or give us a martyr complex. We can show our families great love by this simple act!
You can find many more kitchen and meal prep related blog posts in the Your Kitchen archives.
Books and Courses
Real Food for the Real Homemaker – This eCookbook has 75+ recipes for kitchen classics (see the contents here). No complicated steps or ingredients, just simple, delicious food. It also includes 8 chapters on topics like frugal grocery shopping, hospitality, and freezer cooking. I’m proud of it because it’s the eCookbook I co-wrote with two blogging friends!(:
Dinner at Home – This book is packed with practical instruction and friendly encouragement to help you build confidence in the kitchen.
Kids Cook Real Food – If you want to pass on kitchen life skills to your kids, this eCourse will help.
This post is part of my “lost arts” series, where I pick an old-fashioned habit to discuss and talk about why we should blend it back into our modern-day lives. Here are the other posts in this series (I’ll be adding more in the coming months!):
And here’s my post on 5 Old-Fashioned Habits That Are Due for a Comeback