I recently read a cooking article over at Taylor-Made Homestead that posed the question, “How Homemade Is It?” When I first started living on my own, I cooked but didn’t make many truly homemade things. Most of my recipes required canned cream-of-something soup, a boxed mix, or other items that contained unpronounceable ingredients. I still felt like I was cooking because I wasn’t bringing supper home in a restaurant carry-out box.
Once my son was born money became very, very tight because I gave up outside employment and stayed home with him. That meant living without my paycheck, something that represented 2/3 of our family income and all of our insurance at the time my husband and I married. (I still think good youth ministers are underpaid, but that’s another blog post.) Meal planning, sale shopping, and couponing became a way of life and I learned to make and serve variations on store brand boxed macaroni and cheese. We still had to eat when there was no money for anything else, so cooking was my hobby because it was something upon which I could justify spending some of our limited income.
Thankfully our situation improved over the years!
Then I almost simultaneously became interested in building up a deep pantry, keeping my grocery budget the same despite feeding a bottomless pit of a teenage boy, cooking with more actual food, and avoiding ingredient lists that sounded like chemical equations. That’s when I started buying flour and sugar in 25-pound bags, began serving more beans and fewer slabs of meat with potatoes, and almost totally stopped using coupons for food, because the coupons were usually for the chemical-equation-sounding stuff. I was doing a lot more “scratch” cooking and loving it.
Now the more I learn and read, the more I realize how far I have yet to go. I still use white flour and white rice even though I know whole wheat flour and brown rice are better for us because the good stuff tends to be more expensive and goes rancid more quickly, making it harder to store in my deep pantry. (I don’t own a wheat grinder. Yet.) I use canned or frozen fruits and vegetables. I like to home can when I get the opportunity, but since I’m not a great gardener (working on that) I don’t always get to. And honey, do I love honey, but it’s so costly, my family doesn’t like the strong honey taste in everything, and I honestly don’t think beekeeping is in my near future.
So I’m working on the cost-benefit balance in my kitchen. More real ingredients, more frequent beans & rice meals (which my daughter considers “comfort food”), and more from-scratch baking, even if the flour and sugar are white most of the time. Stock in a box has been all but eliminated in favor of homemade but still has an “in case of emergency” spot on the pantry shelf. Canned soup hasn’t been totally banished from the kitchen but is used far less often because I prefer to use homemade bases made from DIY soup or sauce mix. Cakes are made from scratch and not boxed mixes. The ingredients I keep in the pantry are generally more versatile, less expensive, and healthier than they used to be.
Making things increasingly homemade has not only made my kitchen healthier and more economical, it has also allowed me to minister to others. My daughter’s friends recently arrived for a visit with their little brother unexpectedly in tow. The young man has severe food allergies, which is difficult for families who face them and downright scary for those who aren’t used to dealing with them every day.* Thankfully, the pantry is better stocked with real, uncorrupted food than it has been in the past and I was able to quickly pull out appropriate items to make his meal as much like what the rest of us were eating as possible without risking a trip to the Emergency Room.
So how homemade is homemade at my house? More than it used to be but not as much as I hope it will someday be. I’m reading a cookbook right now for one of my New Year’s Goals. Yes, a cookbook. It contains a lot of Amish and Mennonite recipes, so it’s geared toward pantry-friendliness. I already knew but am still amazed at how a few simple ingredients can be combined and prepared so many ways to make a variety of foods. I’ll tell you about it when I finish reading it.
How homemade is it at your house?
*I have some limited experience dealing with food allergies because I used to cook for the youth group at our previous church. We accommodated allergies that ranged in severity from inconvenient to life-threatening. It is my experience that parents of children with food allergies are grateful to those who make the effort to provide their allergic kids with safe alternatives that are (pretty much) the same as what everyone else is having.
One of my favorite meals to serve when there are multiple allergies is Burrito Bowls. Have adults serve the ingredients to prevent cross-contamination, let the kids with allergies go through the line first as extra insurance if you want, and everybody gets to customize by taste or allergy without anybody sticking out as different.
Moms & Dads who are dealing with food allergies, please comment with your input!
This is the part where I remind you that I’m not a registered medical or dietary professional and I’m certainly not an allergist. I’m just sharing my experience in the spirit of having a chat over a cup of coffee. If you have special dietary needs, you should seek the advice of a licensed professional.
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Update: This post was shared at Happiness is Homemade Link Party #156.