I’ve been doing some research on food and families recently, and I’ve uncovered a few surprises. The first is that according to many sources, 49% of our food dollar is spent away from home. That’s an average, of course. Some people spend more and some far less, but it’s still a pretty scary statistic.
I think there many reasons people don’t cook at home. And here are three of them:
1. Expectations are too high/lack of knowledge. First, mass media would try to convince us that if a meal isn’t up to magazine (or pretty Pinterest pin) standards it doesn’t count. Second, I’m pretty sure a lot of young people don’t have any idea how to cook. Adding a can of one thing to a box of another is not actually cooking. It’s assembling, and it’s hard to get much satisfaction form it. And let’s not forget that leftovers get a really bad rap. If I had to make seven completely new meals each week, I would get worn out from the mere
idea. Lowering expectations doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor or nutrition. It simply means focusing on reality – your reality. As the old phrase goes, “There’s what’s perfect…and then there’s what’s practical.”
2. Don’t have time. The most common reason people give for eating out so much is a lack of time. I think that’s legitimate. It is pretty hard to come home and prepare dinner from scratch when you’ve just spent 8 hours in an office and another hour on your commute. Add in the household chores and homework that needs to be supervised and you come up with precious few minutes left for creating the perfect plate for your evening meal. I won’t presume to know the financial reality of families who choose a two-income life or the hardships faced by single parents. I will say that cooking from scratch does take more time, but at least some of that time is spent with an oven or crockpot doing the work.
3. No one to help. Cooking should be a family affair, and a lot of it can be done by children and spouses. I know one family who devotes Saturday morning to preparing meals for the upcoming week. The investment pays off in good food and less stressed families. A little preparation goes a very long way! Start by cutting up vegetables and cooking meat during your meal prep times, so it’s ready to pull out of the refrigerator when you need it. Or, make meals in bulk and freeze them. I do a lot of bulk cooking, so my freezer and pantry are full of pull-out, made-from-scratch meals.
Dinner Lifesaver Meatloaf
Makes up to 6 loaves for the freezer
If you often feel strapped for time, take a slow morning (like on a weekend, am I right?) and make some meatloaves.
You will need a total of five pounds of ground beef, pork and/or ground veal or lamb. Mine is usually ½ beef and then ½ whatever else is available. Place this in your most giant mixing bowl. Now slice up about three onions. I like to brown mine in some olive oil. Add in some garlic too. If you have some leftover mushrooms you can add them at the last minute.
Now take all of the leftover bread you’ve been saving in the freezer. The heels and crusts, the biscuit that was getting stale, those two rolls you didn’t eat. You should have about 5-6 cups, loosely packed. Your children can break up the bread. Pour three cups of milk over the bread and let it soak for a few minutes. You can use reconstituted dry milk, canned milk mixed 1:1 with water, whatever suits your wallet (did I mention that this is a frugal as well as fast recipe?). I always add a few eggs too. Three or four is good.
Mix this all together in your really big bowl. Your hands work best for this. Add in some salt (½ tablespoon) and some ground pepper. My family likes a good splash of Worchestershire sauce too. If the mixture feels too loose, add some bread crumbs; if it’s too dry add another egg or a splash of milk.
Now get out a bunch of loaf pans. If you don’t have enough pans to hold all the meat mixture, you can shape the loaves and cook them in aluminum foil on a rimmed baking sheet. They will cook together in a 375 degree oven for about an hour. I get six loaves that are just the right size for my small family. Let them cool, remove from the pans and then wrap tightly in a double layer of aluminum foil, label and freeze.
When you want a meatloaf for dinner, take it out the night before and let it thaw in the refrigerator. When you get in the door you can slice it, top with tomato sauce and/or cheese, heat it up in a covered pan and dinner will be ready in less time than it takes to pick up an order of chicken. If you also have dinner rolls in the freezer and you get someone else to cut up potatoes and boil them while the table is being set, it takes only a vegetable or salad to make a really good, hearty meal.
And voila – you’ve done it. You’ve cooked and served a hearty, homemade, from-scratch meal. On a weeknight, no less! Congratulations, and bon appetit.