Is There A Crisis in Home Cooking?
November 3, 2010 § 9 Comments
Is it true that fewer and fewer of us are cooking at home?
Recently I read a poll by Harris Interactive finding that nearly 60% of Americans eat at least half of their meals out each week.
And last week, I attended a conversation between Mark Bittman, The New York Times food writer, and Ruth Reichl, author of multiple food memoirs and former editor-in-chief of the sadly now-defunct Gourmet. The dialogue encompassed a number of topics about food today, but the thing that struck me most was a conversation about this strange dichotomy in our society, where on the one hand we’re more food-obsessed than ever — watching shows like Top Chef, salivating over food porn and dishing about the hot restaurant in town — yet on the other, fewer people are cooking at home, from scratch, on a regular basis. Bittman and Reichl noted that people seem to feel that if they can’t make the restaurant-quality dishes they see on the Food Network, what’s the point?
But the thing is, that’s not the point. Home cooks generally don’t, and maybe even can’t, cook like restaurant chefs (I certainly don’t!): they don’t have a line of cooks, each focused on some minute detail like shaving carrot ribbons, they don’t have all day to put dinner on the table and they don’t have a restaurant-grade kitchen and clean-up staff.
The point of cooking at home is not to feel like you’re in a restaurant (because if it is, why not just go to one?), but to create food, from scratch, that is so much better for us, in myriad ways:
- It’s cheaper and healthier
- It strengthens your connections, to what it takes to make good food, to recipes that are favorites of family and friends, to your partner or child that’s helping you prepare and serve the meal (or who’s at least enjoying eating it!)
- If you buy local ingredients, it helps to sustain your economy and community
To be fair, we’re all busy, and it does take time to shop, prep, cook and present a meal. You can’t cook food from scratch in 10 minutes or less, unless you’re eating a salad with few ingredients, and even then — you’d have to be pretty speedy to wash, chop and assemble that fast.
But it is possible to cook healthy weeknight meals in 30-45 minutes or less from scratch, especially if you have access to fresh, local ingredients that don’t need much fussing to taste good. And, if you eat less meat, which many argue is better for you and the environment (click here for more info on that topic), that cuts down on cooking time too.
Spurred on by the Bittman-Reichl discussion, I wanted to share:
- How we menu plan and shop for the week
- Our actual menu plan for this week — plus a link to a lot of other menu plans
- A recipe for one of the meatless menu plan dinners that can be made in 30 minutes from scratch — and that even my husband, who generally insists on eating animal protein at every meal, enjoys (I’ll share this in a post later this week; this one is already quite long!)
I’m posting this now for three reasons:
1 — I’d love to know if the Harris poll, Bittman and Reichl are right — are we facing a home cooking crisis where fewer of us are cooking from scratch? Or do you cook at home regularly?
2 — If you don’t cook at home regularly, I’m hoping this post and the tools within it might inspire you to plan and cook some healthy, simple and tasty meals at home this week or next
3 — If you do cook at home regularly, I’m hoping this post might inspire you to go to the farmers’ market this week, try something new and bring it home for dinner. (If you live in S.F., you could head to one of the markets listed here.)
MENU PLANNING AND FOOD SHOPPING
Here are the three easy steps we take weekly to plan and shop for our meals:
1 — Plan how many meals I need to make: Every Saturday morning, I use this template (Menu Plan & Farmers Market List) to map out how many meals we’ll eat at home. Some weeks, you might be traveling, or have work or social lunch or dinner plans, so this helps you see how much food you need to buy and cook so that it doesn’t go to waste.
2 — Go to the farmers’ market: I like to see what’s in season before I decide what to cook. While it may seem weird to go shopping without deciding your ingredients first, this method leads you to eat what’s freshest that week and to try new things (for example, we tried sunchokes this week — amazing! More on that soon). And by using the meal plan template, you know the volume of food you need to buy (e.g., 10 servings of fruit; vegetables for two people for five dinners).
3 — Decide on dishes and go to the grocery store: Armed with a bagful of produce, I write down in the meal planning template what dishes to make. So, if I nabbed a great end-of-the-season eggplant, I’ll make Indian baingan bharta if we’re going meatless, or moussaka if we want some meat. Then I’ll write a grocery list to buy the remaining ingredients (dairy, eggs, meat, cereals) — and I’ll write them in the order I walk through the store so I can get in and out in 30 minutes. Here’s the completed menu plan template and grocery list: Menu Plan Completed & Grocery List.
ACTUAL MENU PLANS
You saw above our menu plan with what we’re eating this week. You’ll see that I usually cook enough for dinners so that we have leftovers for lunch. Here’s a link to This Week For Dinner, a blog where the writer posts her weekly menu plans every Sunday and her readers post theirs (click here). Lots of ideas!
How many times per week do you cook at home?
How do you approach menu planning and food shopping?