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Tidbits: Taking back control of the kitchen

Saturday, June 16, 2012

In the past two weeks, I've reviewed two books dealing with food, food preparation, and the way they fit into the family dynamic. I'm not new to these types of books: in the past year or two I've become very interested in food science and in the way that we, as Americans and husbands and wives and employees and humans, view food.

I've found myself trying to make a change of my own in this time, as well. I've started cooking more from scratch. Yes, it is time consuming. Yes, at least up front, it may cost a little more money. But I'm making an effort to switch my eating habits in this direction, for some of these reasons.

Cooking from scratch guarantees that I am eating foods that did, in fact, come from the ground. I was in the store the other day looking at a package of cookies, and both my husband and I spent a considerable amount of time trying to find a cookie whose ingredient list was not larger than the treat itself. Here is what should go into a cookie: flour, sugar, butter, eggs, salt, chocolate chips. You don't find "maltodextrin" next to the Betty Crocker mixes, I can assure you.

Cooking from scratch is, in fact, cheaper over time. I can spend $25 or $30 for a batch of tomatoes, onion, garlic, and herbs. And, the next day, I will have five or six quart-size jars of marinara sauce. For the same quality and amount of sauce, I would pay upwards of $10 a jar at the store. At a minimum, I have $20 savings, nearly enough for another batch.

Cooking from scratch is better for me. I challenge you to go through the canned soup aisle on a "sodium hunt." What brand has the lowest sodium? What brand has the highest? Cost aside, homemade can easily have less sodium, because the amount of sodium is controlled by whoever made the soup. Sodium, in excess, retains water, and can lead to health problems later in life (A similar challenge for sugar and pie: homemade pie has only as much sugar as is added).

That being said, I understand the time and money factor. It's probably the biggest hesitation to this simpler-esque lifestyle. I face these challenges every week as well. I don't necessarily have all day to slave over a hot stove so that I can put a meal on the table each week. Here are some tricks I've found helpful to have the best of both worlds.

Plan ahead. This is perhaps the biggest and most helpful tip I can offer. Jenny Rosenstrach wrote an entire book about keeping a "dinner diary" ("Dinner: A Love Story" -- fabulous book!) She can tell you exactly what she ate for dinner on January 5, 2007. I, best efforts notwithstanding, am not nearly that organized. But, I keep a note on my phone that tells me, one week at a time, what's for dinner. When you plan ahead, you're less likely to spend excess money on food you don't need for that week.

Make it a game. In Austin, Nic and I would go to the grocery store every three days. We would get exactly enough food for those three days, as long as the total bill didn't exceed $30. There were choices involved on many of these trips: often we would have to look in our basket and determine which was needed and which was not. Honestly, it was a lot more fun than it was stressful.

Make/buy in bulk. Dried chickpeas are about $1 a bag and make a lot of hummus (healthier than mayo and tasty on turkey sandwiches). Hummus, already made, costs $4 or so for an 8-ounce dish. My marinara sauce, $30 for five quarts, will last most of the summer.

The biggest tip I can offer is: Do the research. Find recipes that everyone can eat or that can be deconstructed for certain people, and work with those. Find a way to make healthier, cleaner food a part of your natural environment. If the other food is not in the house, you won't eat it. Then take a Saturday afternoon and make everything for the week, or even for the month, as a family adventure. By the end of the evening, you'll not only have quality food, you'll have quality family time and the experiences that will make great stories for years to come.

Kate Padilla
Tidbits