Cooking at Home: The Worst Idea Ever?

Maybe the Money Saved by Cooking at Home Just Isn’t Worth It

In these times of economic crisis (I make article #3,664,908 that begins with that phrase, by the way), you may have decided – wisely – to examine your budget. Don’t have a budget? Perhaps you’ve decided to create one, to map out your spending. You know you can’t cheat, so this is a scary prospect. I, for instance, knew exactly how much I was spending on cheese danish from the vending machine at work – but that didn’t make me any less apprehensive about actually writing down the figure. Perhaps you’re deciding that some spending needs to be cut. Perhaps, for you and your family, that clearly means eating out less, and eating in more.

It can’t be that hard, can it? I mean, people have been cooking for themselves since the first caveman stuck an antelope leg into a forest fire. Surely, your natural genetic memory will kick in, and before you can count to four you’ll be a regular Top Chef in the kitchen, flipping stir-fried vegetables and “eyeballing” your seasonings just like Emeril. Bam! Or maybe you imagine yourself strolling happily through the Farmer’s Market on a warm Saturday morning, in a wide-brimmed straw hat and a large canvas shopping bag, intelligently selecting only the most delectable fresh-picked produce for your family’s table. Perhaps you’re even starting to get a little excited by the prospect of cooking for yourself more.

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Now, you may never have been the “Donna Reed” or “Mr. Mom” type, but you’re savvy enough to know that “home-cooked” doesn’t mean “nuked for 4-6 minutes.” And you certainly know that take-out isn’t any better than delivery, even if you don’t have to tip. But let’s find out how much you do know: can you name the basic components needed to make bread dough? How about the four types of foods needed for a casserole? How long should you boil an egg before it’s considered “hard-boiled”? How long do you leave food in your fancy Phillips air fryer? Most importantly, do you even care? It’s an awful lot to learn, and you certainly don’t want to be spending money on books, videos, or classes at your local community college – isn’t the point here to save money?

Don’t get me wrong; I believe cooking is a very important skill that everyone should spend a little time learning. But do try to take it all into consideration – the money for tools, equipment, and education, the cost of the ingredients, and what about your own time? What is that worth to you? Remember that back in the day, cooking dinner took up the better part of the housewife’s day. It’s really not something you can throw together in that hectic time between 5:30 and so-hungry-I’m-ready-to-eat-my-shoe-o’clock. It takes real commitment, and a huge personal obligation to manage all the planning, shopping, preparation, and clean-up. And yes, buying disposable cookware IS cheating.

If you’re really that interested in learning how to prepare home-cooked meals for your family, then more power to you. There are a ton of resources out there for you, and the benefits are definitely worthwhile. But be realistic. It was a lack of realism that got us into this mess in the first place, and the last thing we need is a massive nationwide movement to Walden Pond living. Find the balance that works for you. Even if your “dining out” numbers are leaping off the page and begging for adjustment, consider turning your attention elsewhere for now. Don’t be hasty or overzealous about cooking – you will almost certainly find yourself beaten down, fanning the smoke through the open window, barely able to see the buttons on the phone through your tears. Thankfully, you have the number for the Chinese place memorized. Now what to do with all that burnt lasagna…

Get Kids Cooking: Let Them Create a Cookbook

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My daughter has loved corn on the cob since her new top teeth met her very young bottom teeth. Still, if you’d had told me that at age eight she would love to prepare and eat and a cold corn and basil salad with scallions and red wine vinegar no less, I would have been skeptical. I can take no credit for this blessing, other than enrolling in her a culinary kid’s camp. Daily she came home with delightful leftovers and big smile.
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At the end of the week though she came home with the crown jewel- a laminated copy of a cookbook with recipes she’d tried and liked, complete a photo of her donning a chef’s hat and stirring away in a large blue mixing bowl. Throughout the week we had enjoyed her homemade lasagna rolls, chocolate chip cookies, chives and red potato smash, banana muffins and then of course, the corn and basil salad. The only thing we enjoyed more than her tasty contributions to our meals was her incredible enthusiasm for cooking. While the extra frozen slice and bake chocolate chip cookie dough was an incredible gift, we quickly learned that what really sealed the deal for our daughter to initiate cooking was the handmade cookbook. It was all about ownership. This was Her cookbook and therefore, she was excited to cook Her own dishes.

We’ve enjoyed her corn and basil salad many times at home. Then she took her show on the road. When we travel we always pack a box of dry goods as well as a cooler of local meats and produce. We were packing for a week of fishing and as soon as we added in the locally grown corn our daughter ran and grabbed her cookbook and put it in the box. When we arrived, she cooked the corn, cut it off the cob, diced the scallions, measured the olive oil and red wine vinegar and added the basil. It made a perfect side for both our grilled dinners and river side picnics. Our friends were impressed that she cooked it but they seemed even more impressed that she enjoyed eating it. I suppose it just doesn’t’ seem like a kid attractive recipe. I dare think our daughter would have been enticed by this recipe if it had simply been presented from a cooking magazine, cookbook or cooking show. Kids are very egocentric and while this can often be exasperating, it can also be used to an advantage to expand their horizons, in life and certainly in the kitchen.

Homemade cookbooks can take family recipes, trial, and error experiments or even recipes from books, magazine or shows and turn them into your child’s Own recipes. Handmade recipe books or boxes can be created in a variety of ways. The important thing is that they participate in making the collection and most important that they choose the recipes that they include.

Our daughter’s cookbook was made by printing recipes she chose on colored paper and laminating a cover with her name and photo. It was hole punched and tied by together by her hands with a sparkly ribbon. In some of my own kid’s cooking classes, I’ve offered up reusable cardboard and wallpaper book scraps for covers. Given materials and free range, kids always delight me. One of my students chose a cloud covered wallpaper scrap for her cover and called her cookbook “Recipes from Heaven.” Index cards and a flip top box will do as long as the recipes inside are of their own choosing. Some may say, “Build it and they will come.” When it comes to recipe collections, I say “Let kids build it and they will cook.”

Corn and Basil Salad

3 ears of corn, cooled and cut off of the cob
2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1/3-cup olive oil
¼ cup basil
1 chopped scallion

We often double the recipe as it stores and serves well leftover.