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Cooking From Scratch Tips And Tricks

Updated on November 1, 2012

Cooking From Scratch - Why Bother?

Cooking from scratch is one of the best things you can do for yourself and for your family and friends. Especially in this economy, it is a great way to save money. As well, in this day and age of salt-laden, sugar-enhanced ready-made food products (not to mention overly processed almost nutritionless food) you would be doing yourself the greatest health favor there is. How hard is it? My answer to that question is that if you can read, you can cook!

In my personal observations of people I know, watching what people put into their shopping carts at the market, listening to reports on TV, reading about cooking techniques in books, on TV and on the Internet, a lot of people these days feel that adding that extra 'thing' to their day such as cooking is just too hard to fit in. A lot of folks also seem to think that cooking from scratch means tearing open a packet and dropping something into boiling water, or opening a jar and pouring it on top of something else that came out of a package, jar or can.

Again, if you can read, you can cook! Anyone can do it. It just takes time and dedication. The key is getting back to basics and taking a bit of extra time to plan meals ahead that fit into your budget and your timeline and then following through. The benefits are long-lasting and the health benefits are enormous.

Some Tools of the Trade

Pictures by Audrey Kirchner
Pictures by Audrey Kirchner

Some Benefits of Homemade

These are just a few of the benefits of making food from scratch but in my mind they make everything I prepare worth the effort.

  • Sodium content - I can totally control the amount of salt that goes into anything I prepare
  • Sugar content - same thing; especially into middle age and older years, sodium and sugar content are huge factors and limiting both intakes is crucial to good health
  • Fat content - I can find low fat or nonfat recipes for just about anything I cook and thereby reduce my cholesterol without medication
  • Fiber content - I can monitor how much fiber daily is going into our diet by making foods that are fresh and not processed
  • Quality ingredients - some of the things on labels really frighten me as I have no idea what they are or where they came from. Cooking my own food for the most part ensures that I know exactly what ingredients go into what I prepare
  • Eliminating processed foods - statistics show that this is one of the greatest health risks facing most American families - too much processed food is coursing through our bodies and it is the #1 cause of obesity. The alarming rise in obesity in the United States has to be turned around somehow as it has trickled down to our children. The statistic is that 66% of Americans are overweight by at least 31 pounds

Homemade vs. Storebought

The video by Linda Miner says it all - it is 'just so easy' to make things from scratch as opposed to buying prepackaged foods that contain all kinds of artificial ingredients when in fact, you will probably save yourself 30 seconds in time preparing the same exact cake for instance from scratch. That extra 30 seconds was factored in because you were measuring ingredients as opposed to ripping open a package.

As she points out as well, it is just not worth the health risks. The fats that are used in most prepackaged foods are exactly the fats that most of us are told to be avoiding. Again, the sodium content alone makes most packaged or processed foods in my age bracket a forbidden item. Same with sugars. Sometimes in a package you can find 3 separate listings for different sugars - that is ONE PACKAGE. How healthy can this be?

The fact of the matter is, cooking from scratch does take time and research. It takes planning ahead. But with a little effort, you can start small and work up to full meal planning - and as Linda points out - get your family involved. As a kid, I would have loved to cook all the time and it was one of the things I was forbidden to do. I think in part that is why I love cooking so much now as an adult. I also so enjoy the ambiance that creating a meal from scratch gives to a house - the wonderful aromas, the chatter of people enjoying a delicious meal and the satisfaction of knowing that I gave them a little part of myself by preparing them something straight from the heart.

In giving over our diets to fast foods and processed, packaged foods, we are missing the very basics of health that are so vital to living longer and staying healthy. It is perhaps the greatest health risk in our country today and no one seems to be paying attention.

  • We are stuffing ourselves with calorie-dense foods that have relatively zero nutritional value.
  • We are becoming victims of portion distortion. In an effort to draw us to the fast food restaurants in particular, everything is over-sized and no one seems to be calculating the calories (and the fat, sodium and sugar content) in that oversizing practice.
  • We are a convenience culture. If it isn't going to be ready in 10 minutes, it isn't worth the effort. Couple that with the concept of instant gratification, and it is no wonder we are a nation with 66% of our population in the obese range of body mass index.
  • Between the fatty, unbalanced and over-sized portions that we are consuming, I would venture a guess that most people are not consuming even 1/3 of their daily nutritional needs. Most people that I know do not take vitamins so the fact that diseases of the heart, circulatory system, intestines, bones and joints are on the rise should not be a surprise.

Switching to Homemade

I like to eat out as much as the next person and it is a great way to treat myself for all that I do every week. However, for the reasons mentioned above, I have learned to use eating out as a 'treat' rather than as a standard practice. For one thing, it is a very expensive way to live. For another, it is far from nutritional even if you frequent restaurants that actually cook rather than serve fast food.

I have an extremely busy life and schedule as I always have. When I was raising our 3 kids, I worked full-time and for many years outside the home until I was able to transition to working at home. However, even when I worked away from home, cooking from scratch was always a priority. It started out because I loved my husband and I wanted to do everything I could to prolong his life. It also was a present I wanted to give to him of myself.

After our first son was born with ADD, it became very important for me to try to control his sugar intake and eliminate certain foods so the practice of making things from scratch intensified a bit and just stuck with me. Moreover for me though, cooking just became a hobby. I never wanted anyone to get tired of one certain dish or type of cooking, so from the beginning, I have embraced other cuisines and have brought these regularly to the table simply because I feel it is important to experience many things on many different levels in the course of a lifetime. Exposure is education.

I started out with a Betty Crocker cookbook back in the 1970s and I am almost ashamed to admit that I presently have over 200 cookbooks. That does not include all the binders I have amassed over the years with recipes from the Internet, cooking shows, borrowed cookbooks from the library, etc. I am always in search of a new recipe and basically that is one of my many hobbies - I just love to cook. I also love to tweak recipes for special diets and special needs because as we grow older, we need to be mindful of certain health issues. What better way to ensure that we are getting things right than to monitor it from the origin - how the food is prepared?

I have learned over the years with my schedule that if I have a day where I am not as busy, it helps me to make up or at least 'prep' several meals. I have first planned what I will have for at least 3 days in advance. Further out for someone well organized doesn't always work out because we all have unexpected turns in our lives. Knowing I have 3 days planned makes me very comfortable. I plan other meals for the week tentatively by buying the ingredients but don't cook or prep everything ahead.

On a day when I have more time (for instance sometimes on Sunday afternoons), I make 1 or 2 soups for the week that serve as lunches or dinners, I might bake a loaf of bread or biscuits/rolls, and I might cook a turkey or roast in the crock-pot for sandwiches. I also prep lettuce and salad fixings so that they are readily available and easy to throw together for lunches or add to a meal.  When I'm cooking in 'quantity' mode I generally cook all at the same time and that saves me a ton of time.

When the kids were living at home, I also added cooking muffins that were easily popped into lunches or cookies/snack cakes that were low in sugar, etc. When I look back on family times, so many of them were centered in the kitchen because that was where we were - eating or kids were doing homework or talking to me while I cooked - or they were helping me cook. Bob has always been a godsend in that even though he does not cook per se, he is great at breakfasts and putting together lunch from leftover anything, great at prep and clean-up! You cannot put a price on that! He also is mean with a BBQ or cooking something simple like steaks or chops on the George Forman grill. The bottom line here is that over the years, we have all learned as a family to cook and prepare food together. The greatest benefit of all is that all 3 of our children cook and cook well to this day.

As Linda Miner points out in her video, today we don't even need cookbooks. I like having them just because if I want to go look at something or look at a picture of how it is prepared, it is right there in black and white for me. I love the fact that today almost every cookbook has pictures. Then there are the videos on the Internet or the TV cooking shows, the millions of recipes on the Internet. I have had ingredients before and not known what to do with them and simply typed in on the Internet what they were - voila - produced a terrific recipe to use those ingredients with. It is all just so unbelievable today that we have so many tools at our disposal and still we are gravitating away from the old-fashioned way of cooking.

Tips on How to Get There

  • You could start with a basic cookbook - any one will do but it should have all the basics for cooking everything from breakfast to dinners.  It will also give you all kinds of information on techniques for preparing meat for instance
  • Start small - don't go overboard at first because you may give it up
  • Try making something simple like pancakes from scratch instead of from a mix
  • Try making muffins from scratch instead of buying a mix
  • Grill a hamburger instead of stopping at McDonald's
  • Try some oven-baked French fries
  • Make homemade lemonade instead of buying pop
  • Bake an easy cake from a recipe rather than buying a mix
  • Steam some green beans instead of buying frozen or canned
  • Bake a potato instead of buying a processed box of mashed
  • Roast or crock-pot a chicken and use that for lunch meat rather than buying processed, chemical-laden deli chicken
  • Buy leaf lettuce, wash it and spin it dry - use that for a salad rather than premixed salad greens
  • Make your own ranch salad dressing - it takes about 5 minutes
  • Set yourself free and make a list of the foods you love and then research in cookbooks or on-line to figure out how to make them and do it!  You will love the results and so will your family

How Simple is This?


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