Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cooking with Love

I still remember the first full meal that I prepared on my own: Loma Linda Chicken Supreme (in a can), green peas, and real mashed potatoes and gravy. Though I made my first full meal that day, my love for cooking began long before that when I stood in a chair at my grandmother’s kitchen counter and she let me pour and mix the ingredients for pound cakes and birthday cakes and baby cheese cakes. My love of cooking began in the kitchen with my mom as she made marinara sauce and eggplant parmesan. The realization that most foods are not simply born or picked and then heated or used came the day I saw my dad turn cream into butter (and buttermilk).
I have friends who enjoy cooking from scratch and do it regularly and then I have other friends who have said to me, “Why make it when you can buy it?” and meant it. I believe that if you can make it, it’s better than buying it. Cooking from scratch is better than buying it pre-made for many reasons, but I will only address a few. Food tastes better, its healthier, it creates an opportunity for quality time with a loved one and learning opportunities for children, and it is more emotionally satisfying when you prepare it at home from scratch.
I have a friend who has looked me in the eye and told me that she honestly believes that store-bought jarred spaghetti sauce is just as good as homemade and she's not the first to tell me that. I’ve had other friends tell me that boxed or frozen mashed potatoes rival homemade. Sauce in a jar tends to be overcooked and too chunky or too smooth without the distinct and fresh flavors of minced garlic and fresh herbs, the bright slightly acidic taste of the tomatoes and the buttery smooth flavor of the olive oil. How is something that was mass produced and sitting in a jar for a couple of months going to compete with that? It can’t. Just like mashed potatoes from a box aren’t as good as creamy, slightly chunky homemade ones. Just like vegetables from a can are blander than fresh or frozen vegetables or vegetables that you’ve pressure-canned yourself. And you can’t tell me you’d rather have a canned biscuit instead of grandma’s soft buttery biscuits and homemade strawberry jam!
The one point everyone seems to want to argue on the homemade versus store-bought debate is time. My sauce takes five minutes to prepare and about twenty minutes to simmer. Your pasta and garlic bread are going to take almost that long! Mashed potatoes are even faster to make than marinara sauce. If you look at most everyday meals, you will find that the time investment isn’t that much greater than the amount of time you would put into throwing together a meal with heat-and-serve foods. If time is a concern, my advice is to carefully plan your meals and make what you can ahead of time and freeze it if necessary.
I’m not going to go into depth about why homemade meals prepared from whole foods are healthier than processed foods, because there are plenty of books and websites out there to do that for me, but I will summarize a few points. Typically store bought foods are going to be higher in fat and sodium and sugar and we all know that excess fat, high sodium, and too much sugar in our diets is bad. Processed foods are also usually lower in vitamins and minerals than homemade foods. If you can’t buy or grow fresh fruits and vegetables, at least go with frozen. If you’re eating healthier, you’re going to live longer and have better quality of life to spend with those you love.
Image Borrowed from
One way to spend that extra time with those you love is in the kitchen. If all I'm doing is opening up a can of vegetables and heating them in the microwave while I stir some water into dry potato flakes on the stove and bake some chicken nuggets (vegetarian or otherwise) in the toaster oven and open a box of cookies from the bakery there isn’t much opportunity for help. I like to cook, but I’ve also made my fair share of cheater meals so I know how easy it is and how little help you need. Take that same simple meal, and make the mashed potatoes homemade and you have an opportunity to spend time with your husband while he peels the potatoes for you to cut or you can talk to your kids about their day while they sneak the chocolate chips that are supposed to go in the cookies. And what kid (or person) doesn’t like raw cookie dough? In addition to providing opportunities to spend time together it also provides a teaching moment for your kids when you measure the ingredients for your cookies and teach them about how each of those ingredients plays an important role in the food they are going to be eating. Each homemade meal presents an opportunity to spend time together; it creates memories and a sense of pride when the food is finished.
Going back to the point that it’s healthier, it’s going to be easier to get your kids to eat healthy foods that they helped make. While they might look at something you made and immediately turn their nose up at it, if they had their hands (washed please) in it mixing it, they are more likely to give it a try and like it.
Making your own food is more emotionally satisfying than store bought food. When I cook, I put myself into what I’m doing. If I’m having a bad day, I hit the hand chopper a little harder or cut a little faster. On a good day everything tastes a little better and is extra special because I have the energy to put into it. I spend time making sure that coconut cream pie is just right for my mom because I love her and she would rather have a pie from her daughter that she loves than from the stranger at the grocery store. I try to replace the eggs in recipes with other things to help my dad out with his cholesterol because I love him, but I doubt the lady in the bakery is going to do the same. There is a sense of pride and accomplishment that comes when you cook a meal and it’s delicious and everyone compliments you on it. There is security in knowing exactly what ingredients are going into your food and what is going into yours and your family’s bodies. And when you bite into that rich, cheesy baked macaroni and cheese it does so much more to lift your spirits than a box of noodles and powdered cheese.
Cooking from scratch requires a little more time and a little more creativity than opening up a box, but it is so worth it.

1 comment: