Homemade Food Makes a House a Home

gatheredtablecropped As a writer on a parenting blog, I’m what you might call a sleeper candidate. My children like to joke that I’m a “slug mom” – as in, the opposite of the infamous “Tiger Mom” type. My laissez-faire parenting attitude springs from a cocktail that’s one part nostalgia for my casual Midwestern 1970’s childhood, one part practical time constraints, and one-part deliberateness (I believe that independence is good, kids are born with their own north star, and creating the right environment is most of what we do.)

What I do take an active role in is creating the right food environment. For snacks and make-your-own breakfast and lunch days, kids by default must choose from what’s in the house, so I’m thoughtful about what I buy and long ago eschewed packaged and processed foods. My three kids used to occasionally complain that their friends made fun of our kitchen “snacks department,” which features nuts and fruit.  They’re used to it now, and both my daughter and son have solved the visiting friends problem by heading to the kitchen when friends are over to bake up some homemade treats.

I’m especially passionate about healthy, homemade dinner – it’s part of the home environment I invest in creating – together with cozy kids’ bedrooms, loads of books and various nooks to read them in, and a pet to snuggle up with. The physiological benefits of real food – homemade from scratch – are well documented. It doesn’t matter which nutritionist or wellness guru you read, this they all agree on.

A decade after The Omnivore’s Dilemma was published, Americans “get it”: 95% are “committed to eating more real food, homemade from scratch, and less packaged and processed food.” Yet knowing the rewards of homemade doesn’t make it any easier. If you’re rolling your eyes and thinking “I hate to cook!” or “I don’t know how to cook!” and/or “I don’t have time to cook!” then bear with me, I’m here to help.

Here are some tips to make homemade meals possible, no matter where you start:

Create weekly meal plans and grocery lists.
As a working mom, I realized that I had until Sunday night to decide what we would make and get all the ingredients we needed on hand. If I didn’t get it done by then, the week was likely to be a hodge-podge of “breakfast supper,” pizza delivery, or another rotisserie chicken. A plan sets me up for a successful week.

Lower the bar for “knowing how to cook”.
Keep going… all the way down. Obviously you can read, so therefore you can cook.  Just read a recipe. Don’t give up after one try (the second time you make any recipe it’s much, much easier). If it’s bad, it’s probably not you. I believe there’s no such thing as a bad cook, only a bad recipe.

I run a cooking website but I’m not a notable cook. In the annals of my children’s “remember the time when mom…” stories, there are ample chapters on my kitchen misadventures. What I do have going for me is perseverance. Plus, meal planning has made cooking part of my routine, and like with anything, I’ve gotten better with practice.

Create a weekly meal planning/ grocery list system that works for you.
Unfortunately my insight that meal planning is required to make healthy homemade meals a routine only got me so far. The problem was time, or more specifically, lack of time. On average it took me 1-2 hours each weekend to meal plan (decide what to make, make a list of all the ingredients needed for all the recipes, and check off what we already have in the pantry/freezer).

I’m not alone – over 80% of moms meal plan at least some weeks, and on average they report that it takes 1.5 hours…  that’s why I developed a software system that would make weekly meal planning, grocery lists, pantry management , and shopping faster and easier.  Maybe in your case it’s a three-ring binder instead of an app, but whatever it is, find a repeatable system that makes weekly meal planning and grocery lists a snap.  It will not only help you eat better and save time, it will also save you lots of money (you’ll eat less takeout as you cook more and have yummy leftovers for those don’t-feel-like-cooking-days, and you’ll spend less on groceries as you shop with a plan and manage your pantry).

Suspend preconceptions about cooking and “Home Ec”.
As an ardent feminist it took me some time to discover and accept that I actually derive great pleasure from cooking. I love the joy of creating something with my hands after hours of facing a computer screen — the creativity, and the spontaneous conversations with my now-budding teenagers during prep, dinnertime, and clean up. Cooking doesn’t have to be a chore, and unencumbered by expectations, it might even bring you joy.

Build a rotation of recipes that work for you.
No one wants to make a new recipe night after night. Find things that work and build your repertoire over time, balancing repetition and experimentation with new recipes at a cadence that works for you. Go for fast, easy and not-the-first-time on weeknights, and experiment with new, longer recipes on weekends. Work leftovers into your plan. Save recipes you love and build up a repertoire.

I used to be a math teacher and in closing I’ll loosely apply the transitive property:

  • You (like everyone) want healthy, homemade meals more often.
  • Meal planning makes healthy homemade meals frequent, easy, affordable.
  • Ergo, in order to cook (regularly), you need to meal plan.

Did you know real estate agents like cooking smells wafting through during an open house? It’s deep in our psyche. Homemade food really does make a house a home.

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marygatheredtable1Mary Egan is the Founder and CEO of Gatheredtable, a software service that makes healthy homemade meals easier with personalized weekly meal plans, grocery lists, personal recipe libraries, and optional home grocery delivery.  Check out their special offer for mommybites.



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