Scratch Cooking: The Whys

Heather says:
I had totally planned on starting a new series today, Kitchen Bravery. It’s meant to be an encouragement for cooks to step outside their usual bounds and try new things, but there was a comment on How to Use Dry Beans in Recipes

Bottled water for cooking? That’s pretty wasteful. Not to mention expensive. That would cancel out the savings from using dried beans, and also be really bad for the planet.

Of course I addressed the worry about it being wasteful and not cost effective, but then I got to thinking. I don’t always cook from scratch to save money and there certainly isn’t always a time savings.

Why do I cook from scratch?

I want to know exactly what is used in my food.

I want to use real and fresh ingredients. If I make it myself my goal is nutrition and taste, not profit and shelf-life.

I don’t want to consume flavor enhancers like MSG.

MSG tricks your tongue into believing something tastes better than the inferior product it is.

Generally it is much less wasteful than convenience food.

Some of my neighbors have much  smaller families and have the trashmen pick up two of the large green bins each week. (We do not have curbside recycling, so I can only be so nosey. Can you imagine? “Hey look, that weird Solos lady is looking through our recycling again. Is she taking notes?!”)

I am teaching my kids to cook.

By doing so I am ensuring their palates are accustomed to real foods and healthy levels of sodium. Yes, there is a difference between storebought and homemade and if possible, I want my kids to crave the foods that are closest to the real deal, not something designed to sit on a shelf for years. I read a piece from The New York Times just yesterday (it was an old piece) that noted a steep increase in pediatric kidney stones. The cause? Excess salt:

He and other experts mentioned not just salty chips and French fries, but also processed foods like sandwich meats; canned soups; packaged meals; and even sports drinks like Gatorade, which are so popular among schoolchildren they are now sold in child-friendly juice boxes.

This photo is from Peter Menzil's Book Hungry Planet, a visual tour of the world's weekly food consumption. The book is eye opening.

This photo is from Peter Menzil's Book Hungry Planet, a visual tour of the world's weekly food consumption. The book is eye opening.

I don’t want to be preachy (it’s too late, I know), but convenience foods have a cost. My goal here on Home-Ec101.com is to help our readers learn the alternatives so they have a choice when it comes to feeding themselves and their families. I didn’t learn to cook until I was an adult. My initiation to cooking was a trial by fire week when my boss decided to leave town and I had to fill his shoes. Now, it inspired a love of cooking and I had been lurking around the kitchen looking over his shoulder for a while. A couple years later I worked my way through the line at very nice steakhouse in Minnesota. Still, cooking for a family is different. Yes, I learned a lot of skills that helped me make the transition, but cooking with kids under foot and on a budget is a far cry from having the best and freshest ingredients on hand on someone else’s dime.

Tell me, why do you or why are you interested in cooking from scratch?

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Comments

  1. As we walked thru the grocery store, my 17 year old daughter said, “Frozen food is just not worth it!!”………she understands that even though it is convenient, the taste, cost and nutrition level is really not worth going that route! Score! She knows some basics, but really needs to learn better how to do things from scratch, but I’d say that’s pretty good motivation to do so, wouldn’t you????
    thanks,
    Suzanne

    • Good work with the daughter! I think one of the most valuable things my parents (mostly mom) taught me is how to make healthier choices when it comes to food. A 20 year old that thinks about eating healthy… seems almost odd but I actually think healthier food almost always tastes better!

  2. Why do I cook from scratch? Cost is a big factor, but the biggest for me is health. Food additives affect our health without people even realizing what is the cause!

    My “wake up call” came about 13 years ago — I was in a choir that was getting ready to record an album, and the week before the recording, we had practices EVERY night. So, every night that week, we had a frozen dinner or Hamburger Helper. By the day of the recording, I was holding so much water that I could not even close my fingers into a fist. My joints all ached. Somehow, by the grace of God, I realized it was from what I had been eating (and feeding to my CHILDREN!!!!) and not some illness that would trigger a “what’s wrong with me?” trip to a doctor and whatever medical “treatments” they wanted to try on me. (Can you tell I’m not big on doctors? But that’s for another time…)

    I had always cooked from scratch, but it was because I liked it and to save money. Now it had become a necessity – if having a ton of processed food in a short period had done this to me, what was smaller amounts of it doing to all of us on an ongoing basis? What damage was being done, that most would attribute to disease?

    I can physically tell when I’ve had something with MSG. Unfortunately, it’s not until the next morning — I wake with my right wrist swollen and in pain, and it’s hard to make a fist. The left wrist is slightly affected as well. Why more so on the right? It may be due to trauma — I broke that wrist about 11 years ago. I no longer buy broth – no matter what the label says, it has MSG in it. I also have to be careful not to overcook my homemade stock, because “free glutamates” form if its cooked too long, and that can have the same effect as added MSG (mononsodium glutamate).

    I started a blog for cooking real food – Real Easy Cooking (with no funky stuff!) – because of these very issues. I haven’t posted anything yet this year, but your post today has motivated me. Maybe I’ll get something going on there again soon.

    http://nofunkystuff.blogspot.com

  3. although I haven’t done nearly as much cooking the last couple of years as I used to (something I need to change), I’ve always looked at cooking as a fun exercise in creativity. Going through what I have on hand and flipping through my cookbooks for interesting recipes I can modify to use what I have on hand is fun. Some of what I come up with is pretty good, sometimes it just flops. There’s also a lot of satisfaction in enjoying a dish (or watching others enjoy it) that you made yourself. I don’t think you’ll find too many people that will say the same about the frozen dinner they just ate.

  4. Imabug, you just reminded me of Jim Gaffigan’s Hot Pocket routine. “No one says, ‘Wow! I’m glad I ate that!’”
    Crap. Now I’m going to be singing Hot Pockets! all day today.

  5. I’ve been thinking about homemade vs. convenience foods recently… in fact you prompted me to finish the post I started and post it this morning!

    http://stockingthelarder.blogspot.com/2009/05/price-of-store-bought-vs-homemade.html

    As you point out, you need to look at more than just price when comparing the two. I made my first attempt at homemade mayonnaise this week. I will post about it in the next few days. What a difference in taste from store bought… and really easy too!

  6. I started my cooking from scratch journey initially out of necessity in that making basic muffins from scratch was much cheaper than buying packets…that hamburger helper-like concoctions made at home were cheaper, went further…things like that were my first wake-up call back when our pennies were fewer n farther between.

    That journey has evolved into a quest for healthy eating, I strive to have little to no artificial ingredients in our food and want the freshest I can offer my family. Cheaper isn’t always my highest goal anymore, better is.

    If there’s one thing my kids take away from this cooking-from-scratch thing Mom has going on, I hope it’s a like and desire to eat real food, using healthy ingredients.

    ~~

  7. I cook from scratch because:
    1) it tastes better (my No. 1 reason!)
    2) it’s fun
    3) it’s less expensive
    4) it’s healthier
    5) it’s an “old skill” I’d like to keep alive
    6) it’s less wasteful (usually less packaging)
    7) it’s rewarding
    8) my Mom told me to (and sometimes she DOES know best)

  8. Ha! when I keyed an 8 and a ), I got the smilie with sunglasses. But it works, I think.

  9. It really tastes a lot better, whether it’s something totally simple or more complicated. It’s sooo much healthier, with fewer calories and more fiber. And you can control the amount that you’re cooking. You can take leftovers for lunch the next day or use them in a different way entirely. It also displaces a lot of the processed stuff — you simply don’t need it. Cooking from scratch is one of the best things you can do to nurture your people.

  10. Hey Heather–
    Love this post–what a wakeup call!
    This might not be the place to post this question, but what’s up with Ivy? Is she doin’ OK?

  11. I do homemade for, well, all of the same reasons! Taste, cost, health benefits, what it teaches my kids, etc etc! I don’t do homemade everything but I do quite a bit and I’m getting pickier and pickier about products and ingredients that are pre-made.

  12. What a great post! I would love to cook from scratch….I just don’t know how YET! One of the reasons I love reading your blog.

    • Dont worry heather made from scatch,isnt as hard as you think., I ammit that I have bought alot of Hamburger helpers and process food. , And Watch what my family eat. . Examples I dont buy no more french fries, i made homemade potota wedges. I Make homesoups,cream of mushroom. homemade laudy soap. I Still buy can veggies,cereal,chip,cookies,koolaid. Which that's probbly defeating everthing iI'm doing. .But I'm doing it in baby steps more and more. I would love to afford organic veggies. cooks.com has alot of made from sratch recipes. the lesser the indergedents the better i think. I tend to stay away from the bigger ones that cost more moneyi'm learning maybe were all learn together. god bless sharon

  13. Oohh….Jim Gaffigan is TOO FUNNY. We do the “Hot Pockets” creepy voice all the time in my house.

    Anywho, I wish I did cook from scratch more than I do currently. My biggest thing, though, are the horomones. If Organic didn’t cost so darn much I would be all about getting rid of all this junk that has hormones in my house.

    Also, I like the idea of the kids not getting all that fat and salt and preservatives from the things you buy right off of the shelf.

    My goal, for the moment, is to cook one truly homemade thing a week. We’ll bump it up to twice a week over the summer. Eventually I would like to get it up to 5x a week with the other two being a take-out and a left-over night.

    It is just SO HARD to find the time to do homemade with a business to run and 5 kids to chase/yell at all day long.

    One day I shall be rich and famous and we will have a personal chef who cooks the most DIVINE home made dishes.

  14. Sometimes it is doing what needs to be done to eat at home. I am horrible at cooking/baking (have set 2 ovens on fire) and convenience food is something that I can make most times with out failure, also it is most as emotional when I family does not like it… I am an emotional person. I hate when I make the effort to try and cook and fail by nobody liking it.

  15. It’s not an all or nothing situation. Set a goal of learning one meal a month. By the end of the year, you have almost two weeks of dinners. Is it in an overnight fix? No, but it’s a step. No one is saying go from all Stouffers frozen dinners to grinding your own wheat and slaughtering your own chickens.
    Maybe this month you decide to figure out how to make meatballs and next it’s something else. It’s a learning process. I have bad days and ruin things, I have nights where I call Tim and say hit the drive through, but it happens much less than it used to and that’s important to me.

  16. Deanna says:

    I enjoy making wholesome, healthy attractive meals for my family. I want my food to look and taste good and I really get a lot of gratification out of making that happen. I just don’t want to spend a lot of time making it happen. Because of this I will likely never cook from scratch 100%. I may never make my own pie crusts for my chicken pot pie, but I now make the filler myself. I may never make my own pasta noodles, but my sauce is no longer jarred. I initially became aware of the necessity of avoiding processed and prepackaged foods when trying to control my swelling after being diagnosed with pre-eclampsia 8 years ago. I knew what it was I needed to change, but wasn’t exactly sure how to do it. It has taken me a long to come this far, but I ‘think’ I have now found my comfort level. And I too had a similar experience where I was ‘fed’ pre-packaged and frozen foods during a long weekend stay at a relatives house. Not only did my body feel disgusting after leaving for home that weekend, but so did my kids bodies. That made this momma feel pretty great about the changes she had made. :D

  17. My husband and I love the easy prep frozen meals {like Skillet Sensation}, but they are so expensive! My husband and I are also very active and in order to feed both of us {mainly him!} I have to make at least 4 portions. So instead of making 2 pre-made meals, I pull out things I have frozen ahead of time {pasta noodles, baked chicken, sauce, and a bag of frozen veggies}. I can still have dinner ready in the amount of time it takes to heat it all up! Check out my blog in the next few days I will be posting a recipe!

  18. I cook a lot from scratch.

    It is easier to stock ingredients that can be made into multiple options for meals than it is to store boxes of prepackaged mixes like hamburger helper, esp. in a small space.

    It TASTES BETTER!

    I can easily expand a meal to accommodate extra people – offering a seat at our table is important to me.

    It is easier for many children to help cook when making things from scratch, and is a good skill for them to learn, too.

    My son was able to get off of prescription medication for his neuro probs when I removed artificial colors, sweeteners, MSG, and lard substitutes from his diet. He is doing well in school now. I could not do this if I bought more convenience fooods.

    It’s very often cheaper (I figured I save $9 a week when I bake our own bread).

    It’s a useful skill. During Hurricane Ike – or any event when typical foods aren’t available- knowing how to make tasty food with basics on hand is a skill that cannot be overestimated. A bag of flour takes up as much room as Pour n Shake Bisquick- but the options are endless, it’s cheaper, and makes more pancakes!

    Cooking from scratch has helped me develop instinctual cooking skills, also invaluable for “cooking on the fly”.

    MSG is a trigger for me, as well. I like to know what I’m eating. I’m diabetic when pregnant and my blood sugars are better because I can avoid HFCS, white flour, etc. Try eating diabetic with convenience foods!

    I firmly believe it is healthier. And cooking some things from scratch doesn’t take longer, either. I make stove top mac and cheese (well, I used dried pasta). It takes just as long for the noodles to boil as the blue boxed stuff; the sauce mixes up in the same amount of time. The difference? Lower fat, more calcium, and no Yellow #5.

  19. I can’t say I started overnight. In college, I was diagnosed with many food allergies, including corn and onions. Do you know how many things have corn syrup in them? Since then I have made my own spaghetti sauce. I make my own meatballs because the premade ones had green peppers and/or onions in them.

    Some things I have tried to do homemade, but it just did not work out. I have given up on homemade ice cream, because the cost of cream is just exorbitant, and good ice cream is loss-leadered fairly frequently at the grocery stores. I would love to do homemade bread, but finding a recipe that my children will eat that works at this altitude (7400 ft) has been difficult.

    It’s funny that you cite that picture. I got an e-mail a few years back showing people in different countries, with how much they spend per week and what they eat. That picture was in it. There was also a family in Italy, with almost no processed food in front of them, feeding a larger family than mine for something like $150 a week. I can’t recall exact numbers, but it was much less than I was spending at the time. Something about that photo appealed to me, and I am continuing to strive to become that picture.

    A friend introduced me to Good Eats a year ago, and since then I have attempted more than a few things I would never have tried before, including sausage, corned beef, homemade pasta, and baked beans. I have started making my own breakfast sandwiches (sausage, egg and cheese on biscuit) for my husband, to keep him from stopping at 7-11 in the morning. The King Arthur Flour Blog also has shown me a number of excellent recipes for baking from scratch, often with cost breakdowns of Buy vs. Bake. They got me making my own hamburger buns.

    My daughter has been bringing home the Little House books from school, and many of those show how people back then were much more skilled at making things from scratch than today. Some part of me would like to be more like that. And while I doubt that society is going to collapse into another Great Depression any time soon, and I don’t worry about our nations food supply, still I think it would be good to have those skills just in case.

    In retrospect, I have also done things because my mom did. My mother used to grow potatoes in the back yard, and one day one of the neighboring children asked us what they were. “Potatoes”, we said. He insisted that those could not be potatoes, potatoes only came in a BOX! It has been a family joke for years, and as a result, no one in my family would be caught dead making instant potatoes. Now I am contemplating my own backyard, wondering where there is a sunny enough spot to grow potatoes.

  20. I like cooking from scratch b/c I have PCOS and try to watch the kind of foods I am eating, I basically try to follow a diabetic type diet. I also have horrible migraines! Now that I am pregnant and my only options are Tylenol and Loritabs (no thanks!) I have to really watch my triggers. MSG is a huge one for me and also makes me very sick to my stomach. I have to watch my salt intake and intake of refined flour and sugars and such. I know that if it is good for me it is good for the family…they don’t need to be eating the junk that makes me sick either. It is helping my husband lose weight and I feel like my baby is getting better nutrition. We also save A LOT of money by cooking at home…which is a huge plus.

    I don’t do as much cooking from scratch since I got pregnant. Morning sickness stopped me at first then the smell of raw meat made me sick…ugh. Now my husband and I have figured out that he can take one night a week and pre-cook all the raw meat for me and then I can make mostly homecooked dinners the rest of the week :)

  21. I went to culinary school, and we had to make EVERYTHING from scratch. Some of it was awesome, but other parts were a pain in the butt. I do have to say, I HATE baked goods from grocery stores, they taste bad and nothing like the real thing.

    As for food for the family, on busy nights we stick to grilled chicken and baked potatoes, and then other night we go all out and make a huge meal. Freezing stuff for the future is the BEST thing my mother has taught me, then all you have to do is thaw something and bake it! Oh, and there is nothing wrong with a frozen meal once in awhile. Just don’t get into the habit of it!

  22. I grew up cooking from scratch, and not from recipes, necessarily. I have some favorite dishes that I replicate fairly regularly, but I got to the point that I can walk into the kitchen, survey what I have, and cook something from it, even if the stocks are low. This saves time and money, and varies the diet.

    Health is a huge issue for me. I react violently to MSG and aspartame, and rBGH and wheat are now off the menu for me, too. Processed foods make me quite ill. I ate three Doritos last year (I was working 16+ hours a day and starving; a coworker offered it to me…) and within two hours had a raging migraine and swelled up all over.

    Over the past decade, I’ve taken to reading every label and buying only organic foods, but over the past couple of years, it is becoming increasingly difficult to buy “real food” at the store, at any cost, and I’ve reacted badly to several organics I had been happy with previously – only to find out that the brands had been bought out by frankenfoods corporations and the labeling was clearly a lie. So I’ve been slowly migrating to making my own and growing my own.

    This week, I made my own yogurt and put up a batch of homemade strawberry jam (strawberries were on sale). Except for not knowing what treatment the strawberries may have had, I know exactly what went into those foods. And they’re better than storebought, and substantially cheaper. I already bake, make granola, and meat/veggie stocks from scratch. I’m working on reducing my reliance on anything in a can (unless I put it up myself in glass) and eliminating the purchase of anything that comes packaged in plastic.

    My garden is growing well, the peppers and wax beans are already blooming. I’ll be canning, drying, and freezing like mad when the crops mature, with the goal of having a year’s worth of frequently used veggies that are not only completely organic, they’re also nonhybrid/non-GMO, and I will be saving seed for next year’s garden.

    Something else I have done is to get rid of nonstick coatings, aluminum pots, and plastic food containers. I have a strong concern about what those things may be putting into the food. Everything is stored in glass, served on glass, and cooked in cast iron, stainless steel, glass, or ceramic. I also switched from aluminum foil to parchment paper for everything but occasional use on the grill.

  23. Why do I cook from scratch? For the reasons you stated already:

    1) I want to know what I am eating and what I am feeding my kids.
    2) Buying staples in bulk is much less expensive than people think.
    3) I like feeling capable.
    4) I’m passing on skills that do not involve swiping my card at the checkout!

  24. Chevalier says:

    I’m vegetarian, and in the part of the country that I live, it’s meat ‘n’ potatoes all the way. I’ve started cooking a lot since I moved here. All I get when I eat out is a choice of salads, or fries or bread-heavy stuff, not real food.

    But, having said that, it’s nice that I’m cooking for myself – I’m a fairly good cook and I like what I make, and so does my husband!

  25. Yea i love cooking from scratch as it gives me great pleasure to know what goes into my food. It tastes so much better and is healthier as I can control the salt and sugar.

  26. I never realized how much stuff is in processed foods, even supposedly healthy prepared foods until my daughter had to give up all dairy products. Even organic canned chicken broth is not labeled dairy free.

    Thanks for this article.

  27. Great topic. New to the blog – but really enjoying it and all the thoughtful comments. I'm in the learning to make more from scratch camp – but I am doing a lot more than I used to. I agree it does taste better and I FEEL better too. I like the idea of learning one new dish a month – I'm going to work on that as a goal.

  28. I too have become a from scratch nut of late. I am very concerned about the chemicals, such as MSG in our foods and the effects it has on our health. My kids have a chore of helping cook dinner each night so that they learn the skills, and to feel good about the food that we put on our table. I am also hoping to really trim our food bill too. More for us and less for the food conglomerates.

  29. culinary123schoo says:

    Yeah, I try to cook from scratch as much as possible, and it saves me money too.

  30. I wanted to start serrving organically grown food only for my family, but it takes forever to get my shopping done looking for the organic items I need and lable reading is slow going. Now I take Jamie Olivers idea, if it wasn't in your nana's cupboard you don't eat it. I also like to know what is in my food, but I think the main reason is political, I hate how the food industy and chemical companies and our government are treating the farmer, ranchers, migrant workers. It is shamefull. So when I buy, I believe I am also voiting, and I try to buy accordingly.

  31. I totally agree. Cooking from scratch is a great way to save money, but that's not all it's about. Really getting involved in the cooking experience is a great way to learn and to bring friends and family together.
    http://www.somedayilllearn.com/2010/04/the-perfec

  32. mailani4 says:

    My husband and I are going organic. It costs more for many of our staples, but it's worth it. I've always had an avid love for cooking from scratch- I know it goes back to when my mother was teaching me and my four brothers the ins and outs of a mixing bowl. I haven't been living in the home-cooked lifestyle for a few years. I'd make something from scratch here or there, but never really went all out. I'm staying at home now, and crossing my fingers for kids soon, but until then I'd like to learn some new skills. I'd like to pass on to my kids what I took for granted with my mother. The art of cooking. I truly want to couple this with the love of growing :D, so my husband has agreed to make me a garden (as I have black thumbs and he's got green). I hope to get my hands dirty in the kitchen and the dirt. I look forward to reading through your blog and I'm glad to see tons of enthusiam from people about what I thought was a lost art… the home cooked meal.

  33. floweryhedgehog says:

    I cook from scratch for all the reasons mentioned above: it tastes better, I like having complete control over the ingredients, and it's so satisfying to see my family enjoying the food that I prepared, with care and attention, in my own kitchen.

    I also find it encouraging that my toddler has a taste for real food, prepared simply. When I see her devouring healthy, home-cooked food and asking for more, I feel good because she is developing healthy eating habits for life.

  34. I find it to be CHEAPER! I never throw away leftovers and often use the same main food to make two to five meals. I also love that it tastes BETTER!