By Dixie Andelin Forsyth, 06/26/2020
When I was little, going to a movie was a rare and expensive occasion, and now anyone can watch movies in their own home at the press of a remote button. Cars used to be terrible gas-guzzlers and often didn’t have seat belts or tinted windows; now driving is safer and a lot more comfortable too. So many things in life are better than when I was a kid, but there’s something old and lovely that’s slipping through our fingers, something that hasn’t gotten better over time: the tradition of a home-cooked meal.
If you’re lucky, you grew up with a mother, aunt, grandma or some other wonderful person that cooked fresh meals for you, and you knew the comfort of biting into something hot, delicious and satisfying in a way restaurant meals have never been able to equal. Has this feeling become one of nostalgia and longing for you, or are you keeping that torch burning for yourself and those you love?
I know, sometimes it’s hard to muster the energy to create an entire meal from scratch, especially if you’ve already had a long workday. There are times when you really do need to just rest and order Chinese takeout. But you can absolutely enjoy the art of the well-prepared family meal and even find hidden stores of energy and motivation in your soul that will help you keep the tradition alive.
Here are some reasons why:
1. Cooking is a wonderful CREATIVE OUTLET. Any day, any meal is a wonderful opportunity for you to think outside the box and create something wonderful that you can be proud of. And that’s just the beginning of the satisfaction you’ll achieve, because being creative is a great way to decrease stress and enhance your feeling of well-being. In my Timeless book, there is a section teaching how to help yourself (and those you care about) “upstairs”, where all the happy hormones are. Cooking covers several of the tips I outlined; in addition to creativity, cooking helps DISTRACT you from your worries, giving you something productive to do with your mind. It can also be a form of exercise, especially if you knead bread! And if you cook with a grateful heart, you’re just adding to the benefits and getting upstairs much quicker.
2. Eating meals together STRENGTHENS YOUR RELATIONSHIPS with those who join you. Can you remember a wonderful meal you were part of where the food was great and everyone was enjoying each other’s company? We never want those times to end, and we never forget the bonding that went on. Studies show that children who grow up eating regularly in their homes are more successful academically. Eating with my family every evening when I was a child definitely helped me feel more secure, more regimented. Some of our best times as a family were spent chatting around the dinner table, hearing about each other’s days, unloading stress and receiving comfort from siblings and parents. Not all meals will be stress-free, but as a Gatekeeper of Civilization you have the skill and influence to help all who eat in your home find family mealtime a refuge from the troubles of the outside world.
3. Learning to cook and doing it on a regular basis is a valuable LIFE SKILL. As with most jobs, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Who are the most amazing cooks you’ve ever known in your life? Chances are, at least one of them was a wonderful old grandma who had fed her family for so many decades she could win all the prizes at the county fair and charm the socks off anybody who tasted one of her cheese blintzes or slow-cooked stews. If you have children, you’re also setting a great example for them, and if you encourage them to join you in the kitchen, you will be passing on the life skills you possess, helping them learn to be more self-sufficient when they leave the nest.
4. Cooking and serving fresh foods is much HEALTHIER than the many alternatives out there. Think about all the vitamins and health benefits missing from a fast food dinner. Consider how amazing you feel after you’ve eaten a home-cooked meal that includes crisp, steamed vegetables and freshly-cut fruits, hand seasoned meats, legumes, noodles, rice or potatoes, delicious homemade salads, gravies, relishes and sauces. Realize that you are enjoying food in the best possible way, and that physical health is only part of the joy because it’s also good for your mental health, and for your soul.
5. Preparing food from scratch, and in your own home, gives you a lot of PORTION CONTROL over what you’re eating. Have you ever been to a restaurant that served you so much food you were able to eat the leftovers for a couple days afterward? Or perhaps you’ve experienced the reverse, where you order something that’s disappointingly small and doesn’t begin to fill you up? At home, you decide who much food is cooked and what size portions are served. Bob and I are empty nesters, and I know how much he tends to eat during a meal, as well as my normal appetite. This makes planning and preparation quite simple, and I usually make just the right amount after all these years of practice. Unless it’s my special meatloaf, in which case I make a lot extra so we can have meatloaf sandwiches the next day! It’s wonderful to be able to decide how much food to make, and how much you want to have leftover.
6. I just mentioned control. Think about how that extends into making your food SAFER. Do you want to buy all your meals from a stranger who may or may not wash their hands after they use the restroom? What about all those horror stories we hear about disgruntled employees spitting in people’s food, or dropping it on the ground, then picking it up and serving it to you anyway? Or maybe you or a loved one has a life-threatening allergy to certain herbs or nuts. How stressful is it to order a meal without parsley, only to see parsley sprinkled on your plate anyway after you’ve waited half an hour for your food? Do you or your allergic family members enjoy having to dig quickly for an epi pen to save the victim’s life? When you cook at home, you control how clean your food is, and you decide exactly what goes in it. No more surprises.
7. Cooking meals at home is CHEAPER in general, especially for larger groups. For the price of one nice meal at a restaurant, I can easily feed 4 people at home, sometimes more. I heard a chef say once that “Any time a knife blade touches your food, the price goes up”. That’s why a whole fryer chicken at the market tends to be much cheaper than buying the same amount of raw chicken in separate pieces, and buying an entire chicken fried and ready to eat is more expensive still. When you chop your own fresh vegetables, crush your own garlic, and then saute them together in a pan, the smell is intoxicating, and the price can’t be beat. The extra effort is beyond worth it.
8. When you cook at home, you have a lot more FREEDOM. You can decide when to eat, not base it on a restaurant being closed from 2-5pm, or how long it takes to drive there. You don’t need to belt young ones into car seats or get a sitter. And you can change the plan last minute. The other night, my husband and I ran out of time to make the dinner we had planned, so we quickly whipped something else up after most restaurants in our area had closed. And because I had a large stock of green peppers and onions, we had the wonderful aroma to enjoy while it cooked. We called the shots, instead of being at the mercy of someone else’s schedule.
9. If you haven’t already, you will find that cooking SAVES TIME in the long run. As mentioned in number 8, you’re not driving anywhere across town or marshalling your family into a traveling party. And if you prepare ahead, you can shave off big chunks of time by marinating meats hours in advance, slow-cooking entire meals in crock pots, letting bread dough raise while you run quick errands, or making extra so that you can keep one meal in the freezer for a rainy day (or eat leftovers the following day—either way it’s a big win!). There are so many cooking hacks that will help you make the most of your schedule, as some of you have already discovered.
10. Home cooking BUILDS AND PRESERVES CULTURE AND TRADITIONS. Do you have a family heritage you’re proud of? I always envied Italian friends whose entire families seemed to know how to make huge, delicious holiday meals. Passing on family recipes and methods is a valuable part of preserving whatever culture you are proud to belong to. Bob’s mother was Swedish and made butterhorns (sweet rolls with icing and nuts) every Christmas. Making and eating them is a way for us to remember her and capture the nostalgia of our younger days, and teaches my children to value their heritage. Don’t feel bad if you don’t have traditions already, because you can start them any time you want. For example, pick a holiday like Valentine’s Day and decide that from now on, every year you will bake a heart-shaped dessert, or come up with a dinner item that’s red, like spaghetti or borscht, then continue the tradition with your own family. Perhaps you’ve found a special dish that’s a particular favorite of your husband or someone you love. Take mental note and make that for them every year on their birthday.
Cooking from scratch (whether you’re creating a gourmet meal or throwing together a batch of chili, baking a glorious showpiece cake or whipping together a simple batch of brownies) is a satisfying activity you can take pride in. It doesn’t require a lot of skill, just desire and persistence. And if you make it a joint effort, you can build relationships and pass on valuable skills while making great memories. As women, we are particularly good at blending all the benefits I mentioned above into a wonderful tradition that blesses the lives of everyone we care about. Make the tradition of home-cooking a priority in your life, and you’ll be grateful about the decision for the rest of your life.