Sunday, May 17, 2015

Why Learning to Cook from Scratch and Why Making Your Own Dinners Makes Sense


(Photo:  )

             This is an incredibly timely post for those considering preparedness issues, as inflation, civil unrest, and other factors may make older habits of eating out less attractive.  These are some of your alternatives.


              I used not to put much thought, time or money in making food when I was first married.  Since we both worked, we ate out a lot.   Cooking has also not been a skill I acquired early in my marriage.  There were other things which interested me, and I was quite happy in those early years to eat crusty bread, cheese and fruit and then go out to dinner a couple of times a week. I baked a cake once a month or so, and keeping the kitchen clean was more of a priority for me than making it dirty.

              As our family grew and we became even busier, eating out wasn't really an option as much.  With four and then five children, it also became more expensive an option.  In addition, we might be willing to take the chance on food poisoning ourselves (a statistical possibility at most restaurants), but we were not willing to take such risks with our children.

               When we moved out to the country, eating out wasn't even an option.  There were no Chinese restaurants in our rural county.  Pizza delivery wasn't available. There are no "Mom and Pop" restaurants for fifty miles.  We needed to make tasty food ourselves.  Homeschooling also took a lot of time and sometimes we weren't finished with studies when I really needed to start dinner.  We found that one or two days a month, the kids and I could make our own family dinners from scratch. We would freeze them in a large freezer and then we had "healthy convenience food" for almost the next month of dinners.  This also allowed our children to learn something about cooking and about nutrition.  Because one of our sons had some food allergies, it also allowed us to carefully select some of the ingredients in order to stay on the safe side with him.

Kids will make some irregular looking pizzas at first, but they will quickly catch on.  (Picture: )

                In those years, we took a trip with the minivan to Sam's Club and bought the correct flours, tomatoes, sale foods, meats, and everything else, and then another day we would cook all day.  On those days we made the following:

Green peppers stuffed with beef with rice
Quiche Lorraine
Broccoli and Cheddar Quiche
Pizza Quiche
Cabbage stuffed with beef
Chicken parmigian with spaghetti
Cheese Pizza
Pepperoni Pizza
Pizza with green pepper and chicken
Shepherd's Pie    (the kids use beef as they are not big fans of pork or lamb)
Turkey meatballs in Italian sauce (for use on long rolls for sandwiches)
Pancakes and sausage (these freeze quite well and they like "breakfast for dinner every couple of weeks)
Broccoli and cheddar casserole
Cheesy rice and spinach casserole
 Beef stew
Hearty chicken noodle soup stew
Lighter macaroni and cheese casserole
Red Meat Sauce for Spaghetti
Lemon Cod and Fries
Meat pie
Chicken Alfredo
Homemade hamburger helper

On days when we don't need to pull something ready made from the freezer we would occasionally cook steaks on the grill, make hamburgers, a shrimp salad with garlic toast or tacos.

cheesy broccoli and cheddar casserole  (this picture:  )

Some of the recipes were adapted from family traditional recipes. All of the recipes listed above are available on quick internet searches, just as I did when I found I needed to make quick food and wasn't a big fan of the cooking process. Note also that the calorie count per serving and other nutritional information is available on many of the recipes found on the internet.   When you like a recipe, print it out and place it in a plastic protective sheet in a three ring binder.

      Sometimes, while the stove and the cook top was running, we would be using two slow cookers on the counter for beef stew and chili.

    The other clear benefit to cooking two days a month with your kids is that you will have time to bake an apple pie or two as you learn to coordinate how to cook rice while cooking pasta and prepping one thing while waiting for another. Over time, this will teach your children, and yourself how to better time the coordination of the cooking of different dishes.

       After cooking, you can double package the food in freezer wrap and mark and date it, so that you can pull the oldest frozen dinner. This also allows you to avoid the plastic containers that many prepackaged foods come in.   We really don't know the potential effects of plastic food packaging which is in direct contact with your food, and is microwaved from frozen.  I suspect that it does deliver some chemicals to our systems particularly in the long term.  Making and packaging your own allows you and your family to sidestep such chemicals.    I usually add frozen vegetables and/or salad at the last minute to each entree when it is served.

      The part that I like best is that we really only significantly dirty the kitchen and the oven and stove two days a month, so it saves on at least some of the daily kitchen cleaning.

         Last, you would be surprised as to how much money a large family can potentially save by forsaking Stouffer's and Lean Cuisine, and learning to make your very own frozen meals.  You can also make some individual servings of special foods if they need to be decalorized or specially made due to allergies.  This can also work well for families with a member who has gluten or casein allergy.   Did you know that cupcakes and decalorized mini chocolate pound cakes can be frozen and are fantastic even  when defrosted ?

       Best of all, I haven't had a headache due to MSG (Monosodium glutamate, which is in almost all prepared food and mixes.) in years, except when I forget and taste something at a tasting station at Sam's Club !

         If you are interested in prepping then this method of pre-making dinner can be especially helpful.  It puts you in better tough with meal planning, with using up what you have rather than letting it age.  It incorporates your children into at least one aspect of preparedness, which is meal preparation and sensible food shopping.  It puts your attention, at least monthly when you cook on food rotation.  It will also help you see what items need to be purchased in larger quantities at your house, and what you might wish to abandon altogether.  We learned that we use an awful lot of oatmeal at our house, but very little in terms of creamed soups. We use a variety of beans but not as many as I thought we needed to stock.   I hope this endeavor is as helpful to you.

The next post deals with the value of spices, especially for preppers.